A Biographical Note on He Long, Commander 120th Infantry Division, Minority Bandit-Turned-Hero
1986 Statue of He Long (1896-?), 6.5 meters high, 9 tons; reputedly China’s largest ever individual statue, in his native NW Hunan hilltop county of Zhangjiajie (Sangzhi county),elevation 1,200 meters. The county was (in the 1950s) subordinated to a Miao (Hmong) SAR. Several of his (unofficial) biographies peg him as a non-Han ethnic, which wouldn’t be surprising given that where he was born, 88% of the population was “non-Han”, mainly Tujia, hill-dwellers with a long history of persecution by authority (they “self-governed” by the hereditary tusi or “tribal headman command” system).
His involvement with hill-country armed “bandit” (ethnic?) violence surfaces in 1916 (age 20), when he led a force of 20-odd fellow mountaineers on a murderous attack on the BamaoXi 芭茅溪 Salt Tax Office, which made him an outlaw. The “bandit” units he brought into the Red Army at (?) Jinggangshan, NW Hunan (the 2nd and 6th Battalions) would therefore have been a tujia (minority) agglomerate; for that ethnos, forced to live in contest with (flatcountry) military authority and with no medium of exchange, opium as a barter crop would have been logical: the units’ soldiers would have been used to trading it, even without themselves consuming it. Substantiating detail is of course long gone, but my best guess is that the drug-running habits and even perhaps lingering gangland connections He’s subordinates brought with them from Hunan explain why the 120th Division had such a bad reputation; and thus perhaps why the (apparently) clean 359th Brigade under Wang Zhen became (I think unjustly) tarred with the brush of running a poppy plantation at Nanniwan.
But there is no doubt about He Long: First Vladimirov:
“It took us ten days to reach Ho Lung’s headquarters [from Yenan]…. the place had more than its share of bandits and other riff-raff, Many gangs pass themselves off as guerrillas …[and] terrorize the population…. The poverty and illiteracy of the peasants are astounding. …. All their meager possessions are in ramshackle huts. They sleep naked on a kang and cover themselves with lice-ridden rags. There is hardly a family that does not stupefy itself with opium. Literally all children suffer from worms, gastric diseases, rickets, and terrifying skin diseases…”
[He Long:贺龙, 1896-1969]
Then from the memoirs of a fellow Hunanese ex-bandit, Gen. Su Yu:
“His youthful career as a “Greenwoods Bandit” influenced him in a way still visible. This subject of his bandit past was broached by Sub-Brigadier of the 120th Division, Xiao Ke, who laid the whole matter before Mao Zedong; the allegations were frightening; he described the (persisting) local bandit ways his in-law(?) He Long’s 120th Division. But Mao naturally didn’t believe a word of it, and Xiao’s accusations went the rounds then came back to fall into the hands of “the accused” He Long. So everyone from spirits to ghosts, from his enemies to his friends, had but to be frightened of him. You couldn’t bring up the subject of where he had hid out, or where he had set his ambushes then disappeared….”
Early (ca 1916?) Photo of He Long in “ethnic” (tujia/tuzu) headgear, from wall of family home (museum) in Sangzhi
红二六军团 Headquarters of He Long’s “26th Red Unit”, (? 2nd and 6th Units, which later transferred to Yenan under He Long.
reorganized as 中国工农红军第二方面军 during the Long March