UNDERNUTRITION AND PEASANT VOLUNTEERS
As we have already seen with regard to rifles and ammunition, pre-war planning had indeed anticipated food supply problems, and drafted multiple plans for all-China and provincial level collection and distribution of cereals: rice, millet, and wheat being the most common varieties over which controlled extraction (but never production enhancement) was formulated.
But, again as with the inner/outer circles of armaments, the huge balance of non-elite units (perhaps 4 – 4.5 million of the 5 million+ total) mandated that shortages and under-nourishment would be much more severe in the “conscripts” divisions. A misnomer to some degree because much of the draft quotas were met by peasant VOLUNTEERS, whose main, perhaps only, reason for enlisting was the (forlorn) hope of a diet better than that of the poor-peasant class(es) in their native villages.
The same held of course even in the utopia of the Special Area, where irreverent enlistees recomposed a medicine-peddler’s ditty into a satirical ballad, ironically later (1943) re-phrased as the infamous East is Red (the music is the same):
Mounted on a white nag, a rifle slung over my (his) shoulder
Brother 3 (me…) is fed on Eighth Route Army rations
He wants to get back home to see his sweetheart, but she must be forgotten – hitting the Japs comes first!
(i.e., he needs to preserve his ration book…)
Buckwheat husks are scattered upon the ground
The old nag I’m to marry is no match for “Lil ‘Sis”
So let’s ditch her and run off together….
No doubt such satirical ditties were omnipresent, though I’ve yet to find a serious compilation. Soldiers always gripe.
But the compact: carrying an (obsolete) rifle to fill out unit strength is to be exchanged for food, is omnipresent.
Nor is it in any sense a peculiarly Chinese arrangement. Poorly armed mercenaries mobilized for numbers not for prowess, is as old as the hills, as is mutiny over inadequate or pilfered rations: though in the post-Napoleonic era, political indoctrination and the bannering of political change imposed limits on how far this could go without one or another form of preemptive action. Even at Valley Forge, Washington’s Continentals though literally dying of malnutrition and exposure were systematically re-moralized by Baron von Steuben’s endless drills, as they listened to the fife and drums – their interim diet.
But such amelioration required the leadership of a dedicated and self-sacrificing class of NCOs: without their ability to project officer class political goals
down into the ranks and by example in the field, it was food and food alone (or its lack) that cemented the ranks – and (Peattie 96) the NCO class was almost an afterthought in the resistance armies.
That was a serious omission/weakness, for it meant there was no one to resist the inevitable corruption of the quartermasters.
The emaciated musters whose photos are embedded in this post’s head are (were) therefore probably a lot more representative than KMT propagandists cared to be circulated, though still these and many more found their way into Life magazine.