“Red” Poppies and Nanniwan: A Second Look

(Caption illustrations: poppy fields in Salachi, Suiyuan, as photographed by Robert Larimore Pendleton, 1931-2, American Geographical Society Library)

Boosted by the patient researches of Chen Yung-fa (Taiwan, Academia Sinica), a scholarly but also amateur wave of accusations have run riot over the last 10-odd years about the planting and marketing of opium in the Maoist Wartime base areas of Shanxi/Shaanxi/Suiyuan. Not that there is by now any doubt remaining that the Yenan “High Command”, probably including Mao and certainly his chief political commissar Ren Bishi, gave a green light to systematic poppy cultivation early in 1942. Nor can there be any doubt why: the Special Area (Shen-Gan-Ning) and the adjacent Base Area (晋绥, or Shanxi-Suiyuan) needed hard currency to buy military- and cadre- use goods unavailable in the “Yenan” and nearby perimeters, and the only way they could (quickly anyway) gain that asset was by exporting an equally “hard” commodity, whose acceptance was as (or more) universal than any paper money (KMT or Japanese/Manchukuo), but which also carried a very high value-to-weight ratio, making its physical transport – aka smuggling – logistically straightforward.

The whole thing is of course disillusioning, to say the least, and wonderful ammunition for those (inside as well as outside of the PRC) who – and there are many- have backed away from the mythologies of Mao I (the Jiangxi Soviet/Long March), Mao II (the claim of victory against the Japanese in North China) and of course Mao III (the Great Leap Forward and the GPCR). Although of course there was well before this set of discoveries much prior evidence of false heroics and economic Potemkinism.

The Hillside Tujia/Miao Lady Takes a Bandit Husband Rich from Growing Opium (Honest!)

Back again to the opium traffic and CCP history. (The subject will never lose interest….)

Surely one of the (since covered over) conduits for Yenan 120th Division Gen. He Long’s interest in opium production and sale (see previous…) is his birth-connection with Northwestern Hunan’s tujia minority in Sangzhi county.

As the below attests, and the referenced documentary confirms, montagnard “minorities” in the Hunan hill country where He Long grew up take poppy-growing and marketing quite casually. They seem habituated to low dosage levels of consumption (one pipe per day), limited to older men (the younger ones seem to be aware of the danger of debilitation, a hazard in an environment where blood feuds and armed resistance to authority is a way of life – one summarized by the Chinese grabbag phrase “tufei” – or “bandits with roots in the local hills”.

“In Guzhang County in the (N) West Hunan Tujia/Miao Minority AR, there is a picture-perfect village atop the hills called Li Family Cave, within which is Zhang Family Mound. It hasn’t lost its primitive innocence/simplicity of manners. [But] every traveller who shows up is, besides being shown the scenery, always taken off with great curiosity to meet an oldster, a lady [named Yang Binglian} known as the “last bandit-wife in China”. ….{her husband] Zhang Ping some time ago discovered [in this spot] a “plot perfect for opium-poppies”. He used the opium to trade for rifle(s), and then retailed the weapons at a handsome mark-up to the peasants [ordinary folks]. He window-dressed his weapons as so-called “Self-defense guns”, and stipulated that every household must buy one, or else…. The petty exactions [that accompanied all of this] were infinite: a tax on land, a poll tax, a harvest tax, a warehousing tax, a rifle cartrudge tax, and a fortification [earthworks-building] tax. There was a behind-his-back saying thereabouts: “If Heaven sees Zhang Ping, neither the sun nor the moon shall shine; If Earth, then the grass and trees will not grow; if Humans, only one in ten shall survive the sight.” But Ms. Yang swears she never saw him kill anyone. ”


Below: a Nearby Tujia settlement today:

2013012517043522810Guzhang village

Local Heroes or Aboriginal Predators?: 土匪 or “Embedded Banditti” in PRC Lore

Marxism and Mao never DID get on well together. But this is no news.

What needs more attention is not who his first-phase constituents WERE NOT (urban workers/proletariat), but who they WERE. There is already a degree of evasion in the early-on use of the facile “Peasant Rebellion” (nongmin qiyi) designation. Starting with the chapter-opening “Autumn Harvest Uprising” 秋收起义 of Sept. 1927, a widely fragmented series of confiscatory and or revanchist acts of violence spread across seven pockets dispersed across three (?) different provinces – Hunan, Jiangxi and Hubei, there was a good deal of unorganized, truly spontaneous backcountry violence too widely discontiguous to be explained by any single command or plan.

The key tag in all of the narratives is the almost ubiquitous binome 土匪, lit. “territorially [embedded] banditti”, the more revealing word being “tu”. Like many but not all political descriptives used to identify a tension, it can be read, as it were, from top down (elite view) to bottom up (indigene view). From the elite or government point of view, it meant territorially confined and attached, always to small stretches of out-of-the-way, hard to reconnoiter terrain. The perimeter might or might not include settled villages, though it was only when such settlements were within the “territory” (tu) that the potential for insubordination became serious. There were also, however, standalone “embedded bandits” in the flatcountry of North China who took advantage of tall-stalk crops’ natural cover to plant themselves near lesser roadways or trails and waylay isolated travellers (merchants). In essence toll-collectors. These were (literally) The “heroes” of the brush/bushes (caomang), much storied in vernacular literature because, like the gunmen of the Ol’ West, they were true survivors.

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

The “Local History” Re-enactment and Theme Park: Inflation for Tourists…..but

(see May 24 2013 post Enter the Bandits of the Hills: Mao in Jiangxi, 1927-34 for background)

“Officially” organized Re-enactment/Theme Park on Jinggangshan (center of the 1927-34 Jiang-

Mo Yan’s disgust with the re-enactment theme park (Life and Death are Wearing me Out, transl Goldblatt, pps 440 ff) is probably more than deserved. Few local histories deploy enough re-enactable history and (more important) song and opera performance material to resonate or dignify. With one interesting exception, whose origins go back to the “onsite re-enactment” fad’s first product, Zhang Yioou’s feckless “Impression: Liu Sanjie” (Guilin, Guangxi, 2003), now remembered for its Zhuang diva’s nudity. For tourists…

But at least two such Onsite Re-enactment/Theme Park complexes have managed to achieve a stature equal to or higher than historical museums, in spite of the Big Tent atmosphere, nighttime hyperlighting, and parades on a scale perhaps larger than the real thing.

Of these, the first and more in need of interpretation is the (clumsily entitled) Grand-scale Revolutionary Sacred Ground Onsite (re)-Enactment “Jinggangshan”, whose first performance took place in mid-2008, on the top of the Jinggangshan escarpment in W. Central Jiangxi (Kiangsi), near or at Maoping zhen. The attached clip is a recent, Min. of Propaganda et al., sponsored “trailer” (12 mins) of a much longer nightly performance, well over an hour’s length, and engaging the acting and singing of some 800 “people from the locale”, principally women. (Logically so, since the working age male population would even now – and certainly was back then (ca 1929-30)- off on the road pursuing seasonal “migrant-worker” or army pay (as enlistees).

Enter the Bandits of the Hills: Mao in Jiangxi, 1927-34

One of the several border zones between “fact” and “memory” in Mo Yan is one that preoccupies orthodox (Maoist and after) historians to this day, and always has. What is the social “filling” from which the “bandit” is fashioned? Is there an intrinsic “class content” or empathy that guides his (and her’s) choice to join with or fight against the (orthodox meaning Part-organized) Partisans spun off from the 8th Route Army? Meaning: is there a staying power that can survive victory and keep the well-choosing “bandit” on the side of the Revolution? Or is it (his “innards”) mainly or only a matter of turf and honor, that quintessential feature of hill-mafia chiefs’ concerns?

In Mo Yan’s E. Shandong and perhaps more widely in the Henan-Hebei-Shandong conflict zone that was home to the Boxers then Red Spears, the local lore at least favors a portrait of the bandit as heroic and turf-protective individual (or heroically traitorous..). To somewhat oversimplify, the “greenwoods” chief (best personified in Mo Yan’s Yu Zhan’ao and Sima Ku) acts as an extension of privileged village society (the lineage and charitable estate such as the Sima clan and Felicity Manor in BBWH; or the 18-li Distillery and its Shan lineage-recruited worforce in RSF) in that he shares the village properties class’s view that protection and security and the priorities. For which of course martial arts prowess and a violent temper (charismatic overawing) are the most obvious assets. Typically, qua bandit, this kind of “hero” has a history of violent crime that has taken him away on and off away from “home” (where his kin reside). He is a kind of Houdini, knowing how to “hang out” and make jianghu (casual, drifter-world) connections well away from his birthplace village, then suddenly reappear on the news of crisis. In the latter scenario, he is logically the one to “train” the raw “yeoman” in the art of low-tech self-defense – a stunning portrayal of which is provided of course in Kurosawa’s 7 Samurai. Here he exoterric tie-ups help; often surfacing in the armature of banghui or “secret brotherhood”. But – and this is crucial – he neither can nor wants to enter a broader and impersonal organization. Which of course predicts an unhappy end: as we hear… “Heroes do not die in their beds”…

(for more on this see Re-enacting Revolution in Hakka-land (Jinggangshan, June 1 2013))