Writing in Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, Jung Chang offers her view on why the CCP was able to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Chinese people in the last months of the civil war:
“The Guomindang position continued to deteriorate through the late summer – and not only because of military action. Corruption wreaked havoc. Inflation had risen to the unimaginable figure of just over 100,000 percent by the end of 1947 – and it was to go to 2,870,000 percent by the end of 1948 in the Guomindang areas. The price of sorghum, the main grain available, increased seventyfold overnight in Jinzhou. For the civilian population the situation was becoming more desperate every day, as increasingly more food went to the army, much of which was sold by local commanders on the black market…
It was Communist policy not to execute anyone who laid down their arms, and to treat all prisoners well. This would help win over the ordinary soldiers, most of whom came from poor peasant families. The Communists did not run prison camps. They kept only middle- and high-ranking officers, and dispersed the rest almost immediately. They would hold ‘speak bitterness’ meetings for the soldiers, at which they were encouraged to speak up about their hard lives as landless peasants.
The revolution, the Communists said, was all about giving them land. The soldiers were given a choice: either they could go home, in which case they would be given their fare, or they could stay with the Communists to help wipe out the Guomindang so that nobody would ever take their land away again. Most willingly stayed and joined the Communist army.
Some, of course, could not physically reach their homes with a war going on. Mao had learned from ancient Chinese warfare that the most effective way of conquering the people was to conquer their hearts and minds. The policy toward prisoners proved enormously successful. Particularly after Jinzhou, more and more Guomindang soldiers simply let themselves be captured. Over 1.75 million Guomindang troops surrendered and crossed over to the Communists during the civil war. In the last year of the civil war, battle casualties accounted for less than 20 percent of all the troops the KMT lost.
One of the top commanders who had been caught had his daughter with him; she was in an advanced stage of pregnancy. He asked the Communist commanding officer if he could stay in Jinzhou with her. The Communist officer said it was not convenient for a father to help his daughter deliver a baby, and that he would send a ‘woman comrade’ to help her. The Guomindang officer thought he was only saying this to get him to move on. Later on he learned that his daughter had been very well treated, and the ‘woman comrade’ turned out to be the wife of the Communist officer. Policy toward prisoners was an intricate combination of political calculation and humanitarian consideration, and this was one of the crucial factors in the Communists’ victory. Their goal was not just to crush the opposing army but, if possible, to bring about its disintegration.
The Guomindang was defeated as much by demoralization as by firepower. The most immediate problem was food. The new government urged the peasants to come and sell food in the city and encouraged them to do so by setting prices at twice what they were in the countryside. The price of sorghum fell rapidly, from 100 million Guomindang dollars for a pound to 2,200 dollars. An ordinary worker could soon buy four pounds of sorghum with what he could earn in a day. Fear of starvation abated. The Communists issued relief grain, salt, and coal to the destitute. The Guomindang had never done anything like this, and people were hugely impressed.
Another thing that captured the goodwill of the locals was the discipline of the Communist soldiers. Not only was there no looting or rape, but many went out of their way to demonstrate exemplary behaviour. This was in sharp contrast with the Guomindang troops…
The Communists proved extremely efficient at restoring order and getting the economy going again. Banks in Jinzhou reopened on 3 December, and the electricity supply resumed the next day. On December 29th a notice went up announcing a new street administration system, with residents’ committees in place of the old neighbourhood committees. These were to be a key institution in the Communist system of administration and control. The next day running water resumed and on [December] 31st the railway reopened. The Communists even managed to put an end to inflation, setting a favourable exchange rate for converting the worthless Guomindang money into Communist ‘Great Wall’ currency.”