Re-enacting Bandit Revolution in Hakka-land (Jinggangshan)

Magical Escape

One other salient (vector) ties our mountaineer-rebel Hakka Communist (-linked) “bandit” to his venue in the hillcountry, but in a romantic rather than (just) spook-mongering way: that is the ability to disappear. Not just vanish, but vanish then turn up somewhere that wrongfoots his seemingly clumsy opponent. Like other fragments of Red Hakka lore, the technique was at least half “impressive” – the classic Immortals who also inhabited “high”-er terrain were known/believed to have this ability, so any mortal who could similarly dissolve and reappear (seemingly) at will was already charismatically qualified. In the decade or so prior to the Mao-Zhu occupation of the Maoping zhen perimeter, a master showman also almost certainly of Hakka blood named “Old Deaf Zhu” (Zhou Longzi) had indeed (or in folk memory of deed) achieved the sobriquet of “Lord of the [Jianggang] mountains” by systematizing an infrastructure for maximizing the advantage of geofamiliarity (= alien defamiliarity) and utterly evil reconnaisance conditions (one cannot but be reminded of the Ardennes “blind” in the German staff plans of both WWs; or perhaps of the spooked Potomax Wilderness shrub-forest that held up Grant and Sherman for so many weeks) – this done through careful surveys of terrain and roads – actually donkey trails or less – and constantly updating the statistics on where friend and foe were deployed and re-deployable. In later times still, the unearthly “wizardry of Mao Zedong Tactics” (yong bing ru shen) continued undiminished in song and story. Spectral mobility and seemingly magical skill at escape from entrapment(s) became, if only somewhat later (after the Great Breakout of 1934 and unblocked roundabout 10 month advance clockwise through Guizhou, SW Sichuan, Qinghai/Tibet, and Gansu/Ningxia) part of the Mao Charisma Catechism:

四渡赤水 兵逼贵阳
巧渡金沙江 飞跃大渡河


The ex post facto miraculizing of the Zhu-Mao (4-5th Armies’)track record in escaping for four times entrapment by much much larger warlord and Nationalist forces is of a kind with folk-Daoist lore about any number of devious spirits, but it also reminds us of the enormous advantage of having Hakka “mountaineer” (ex-) students not just as guides and spies but as actual unit commanders or staff advisers, able to formulate plans and oversee their elaboration. Of course, by the same logic, even the most talented Hakka officer cadre (and Yuan and Wang surely exemplify this category) lost political traction as soon as his unit was posted beyond its recruitment watershed or dialect zone. That of course dramatically limited how high men like Yuan and Wang could rise (or, having risen, remain trusted).

Which in turn raises two further definition-linked questions about what the Hakka-haranguing pejorative “bandit” (fei) could be taken to signify in objective behavioral terms – terms with a more stable and precise meaning than just a way of listing out as transgressants those who threaten or use violence to acquire property.

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