Chiang Kai-shek and Vietnam in 1945

Last year I wrote a post (here) in which I tried to refute the idea that Hò Chí Minh said in the late 1940s that “I prefer to sniff French shit for five years than eat Chinese shit for the rest of my life (or some versions have ‘for a thousand years’).”

This statement was allegedly made in reference to Hồ Chí Minh’s agreement in 1946 to let French troops return to Tonkin, which had been occupied by Nationalist Chinese troops in 1945 that had arrived to disarm the Japanese.

hcm

At the end of World War II, the southern half of Vietnam was occupied by British forces which were also responsible for disarming the Japanese there.

Today I came across a cable (telegram) that was sent from the British (in Saigon, but via London) to the Australians in late December 1945. It states the following:

“The Political Adviser to the Allied Force Commander in Saigon reports that French authorities there have been advised by the French Ambassador at Changking [should be “Chungking” (i.e., Chongqing)] that Generalissimo Chian[g] Kai Shek has decided to withdraw Chinese forces in the near future though the date has not yet been fixed from that part of French Indo-China north of 16 degrees.”

So as early as December 1945, Chiang Kai-shek apparently already made it known that he would pull his troops out of Tonkin.

cks

This report also states the following:

“Adviser learns that the Chinese government are still insisting vis-à-vis French authorities that Chinese Nationals should have the same rights in French Indo-China as the French Nationals. The French are particularly anxious to withhold the right of ownership of land and are reporting that they are unable to agree to Chinese demand since it is not possible to lay down in advance future policy of the Federation of French Indo-China.”

This is further proof that this alleged statement by Hồ Chí Minh that “I prefer to sniff French shit for five years than eat Chinese shit for the rest of my life” is a myth.

Chiang Kai-shek didn’t care about Vietnam. He had no desire to control that country, and there was no possibility that Hồ Chí Minh or anyone else in Vietnam was ever going to have to “eat Chinese shit” for the rest of their lives.

shanghai

What Chiang Kai-shek did care about was the Chinese people and how the French treated them. He was angry that Chinese had been treated as second-class citizens by Westerners since the Opium Wars of the nineteenth century. He hated the extraterritoriality laws that Westerners had forced the Chinese agree to. And he wanted to make sure that nothing like this continued in the post-war era.

He knew that the French wanted to create some kind of Federation of French Indo-China in the future, and he was ok with that. He just wanted Chinese to have equal rights to reside and do business in that federation that French nationals did.

In other words, Chiang Kai-shek wanted Chinese to be treated as the equals of Westerners. As for Vietnam and the Vietnamese, my guess would be that he couldn’t have cared less.

cks2

So there is no “history of Chinese aggression” in anything Chiang Kai-shek said or did, nor did he reveal any “eternal Chinese desire” to assimilate Vietnam.

In the 1940s there was no chance that Hồ Chí Minh or anyone else in Vietnam was going to have to deal with the Chinese for the rest of their lives. The people that Chiang Kai-shek and Hồ Chí Minh were concerned with at that time were the French, and they both dealt with the French in their own ways.

[See NAA: A1838, 494/14 PART 1, China – Relations with Indo-China, 1945-1964, page 200.]

28dec45

19 thoughts on “Chiang Kai-shek and Vietnam in 1945

  1. Chiang also didn’t care much about the local Taiwanese as well, the 228 incident and years of martial law can testify for that.

    1. “local Taiwanese” are not natives of Taiwan.

      The so called “native Taiwanese” are actually Han Chinese migrants of Hoklo and Hakka origin who migrated to Taiwan from Fujian province of mainland China during the Qing dynasty until 1895. “Taiwanese” is actually the same language as Minnan dialect in southern Fujian in mainland China.

      They number 85% of Taiwan’s population.

      The actual real natives of Taiwan are Austronesian Aboriginals and they are only 2% of Taiwan’s population.

      1. The “study” you cited was done by people with blatant pro-Taiwan independence political leanings.

        100% of the “mixing” with the native inhabitants consisted of Hoklo Han men seizing Plains Aboriginal native women as trophies after conquering the land from the Aboriginals. And that was only in Southern Taiwan.

        There was a massive surge of Hoklo migration from Fujian to Northern Taiwan in the 19th century of entire Hoklo families. They have no Aboriginal admixture at all and make up the majority of Hoklo.

        The local Plains Aboriginals essentially told the people behind the genetic studies to buzz off and stop trying to push a political agenda. The Plains Aboriginals are trying to resurrect their culture and don’t want to be used by Hoklo propagandists.

        The Mountain Aboriginals who make up the majority of the Aboriginal population did not mix with the Hoklo and most of them are traditional blood enemies of Hoklo and Hakka people. 90% of Mountain Aboriginals vote for the Kuomintang and hate the DPP.

      2. Melissa J. Brown wrote about Hoklo migration to Taiwan. Hoklo migrants to Northern Taiwan came in the 19th century and brought their entire families. They have zero Aboriginal admixture.

        The Southern Taiwan Hoklo seized Aboriginal woman from the Plains Aboriginals tribes. It was an entirely imperialistic, chauvinistic and detrimental relation to the Plains Aboriginals and not some “peaceful mixing”

        Thats why Mountain Aboriginals fought tooth and nail against Hoklos and still despise Hoklos to this day and vote for the Kuomintang and are against the pro-Taiwan Independence DPP which is Hoklo dominated. Its apparent that you don’t know any Aboriginals in person.

  2. Yea, I’m sure he was thinking about power first, but perhaps the Taiwanese were not “real” Chinese to him, since they had been living under Japanese rule.

    Your comment made me look up the “Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall,” because I knew that the name had been changed, but I couldn’t remember what exactly it had become. I guess it was the “National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall,” but now it has been changed back to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.”

    What is interesting though is that if you do a google search for “Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall,” the first page that comes up is the official page, and in the google search list it is still called the “National Taiwan Democracy Hall,” but when you click on that link, the actual page says “Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.”

    The man has left a very ambiguous legacy. . . 🙂

  3. Whenever I read about this episode in Vietnamese history, I’m reminded to think in a larger context. What were the realities of the world around southern China and Indo-China at the very end of World War Two… Much of China had been brutally occupied by the Japanese. Most of the former French-Indo-China had been also. The major war had just ended, the Japanese were being disarmed and going home. For China, there were the dual challenges of trying to overcome the massive trauma of that occupation and to rebuild the country as well as the renewed fighting with Mao’s communists. When considering all this, the latter part sticks out in my mind. Chiang Kai-sheck found himself in control of a nation in tatters- so from a social standpoint, a military standpoint and an economic one- to have some sort of ambition to occupy and colonize northern Vietnam while grappling with a civil war- would seem out of the question. That argument I can accept.
    Nevertheless, when thinking of how a Vietnamese leader would approach this unfolding reality- I still think it’s within reason that he might want to use some tough language to reinforce his own position to his followers that Vietnam had to be independent. Even when he surely knew the Chinese were agreeing to withdraw, would everyone else have that same confidence- while the troops were still there? Thinking in context- probably not, it’s politics, he needs to reassure them, and sound tough while doing it. He may not have made that exact statement, or what if he did and was just being humorous to a closed room of confidants? I don’t think that the Chinese leader’s motivations and challenges necessarily stands as proof of whether or not Ho Chi Minh said that phrase. The only real proof to me would be that one of the people at the alleged meeting refuted that phrase.

    1. Thanks for the comment. We also have HCM saying things like this:
      https://leminhkhai.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/overseas-chinese-in-the-democratic-republic-of-vietnam-in-1945/

      I think you are right in that there was a lot of uncertainty everywhere at that time. However, what the above blog post tries to point out is that it looks like there was uncertainty about who the overseas Chinese would show their allegiance to in a post-colonial world – a Vietnamese government in Hanoi or a Chinese government. Colonial rule had put that “Chinese question” on hold for many decades (certainly as long as most living people at that time could remember), but in a post-colonial world there was no guarantee that that situation would stay the same. This, I would argue, was a bigger long-term “Chinese threat” than CKS’s troops. And indeed, it did turn out to be a long-term “problem,” because once the PRC came to power, the ethnic Chinese in North Vietnam were treated as “Socialists brothers/sisters” and were not forced to assimilate. In the late 1970s this then backfired as there was no space anymore in Vietnam for “Chinese.”
      So what I’m trying to say is that there is more complexity to the “China issue” than a dichotomy between “the Vietnamese” and “the Chinese,” because you had “the Chinese in Vietnam” as well, and they have to be considered when we think about what people in the past may have or may not have said.

  4. HCMinh’s father was a confucean scholar . He himself was quite proficient in Han chinese characters and wrote many poems in literary Han style ( wenyan )
    The Chinese CP was godfather at the founding of the Vietnamese CP .. HCMinh had personal acquaintance with then Chinese communist leaders ,
    among them Chou en Lai

  5. I agree with the conclusions of this blog.

    In Barbara Tuchman’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Stilwell and the American Experience in China, she writes that Roosevelt, not wanting the French to return to Indochina, had offered Chiang Kai-Shek, in the Cairo Conference (1943) and again in Potsdam (July, 1945), the control of the entirety of Vietnam but Chiang had declined, arguing that he preferred Western “International Forces” to remain.

    1. Thank you very much for this comment. I have to say though that I’m always suspicious of Pulitzer Prize winning authors because many of these scholars who rapidly produce one book after another usually have a team of research assistants working for them, and this does not always lead to the best scholarship (it’s not an academic prize). So I thank you for pointing out a source that I (or anyone) should follow to delve deeper into this question. I think that it’s really important to see where these statements were made. Tuchman could be right, and I’ve heard these claims before, but I would like to see where her sources lead first. Thank you again though for pointing out where to start this search.

  6. I’m laughing because you make Chiang out to be fighting for the dignity of the Chinese people when he repeatedly slaughtered or caused the death of so many millions of Chinese. He was interested in business and his capitalist utopia – not human dignity as others have pointed out is once again proven by his acts in Taiwan. Just another neo-liberal thinking he can remake the world without any regard to human life.

    1. I had to go back to see what I wrote. I see this sentence: “What Chiang Kai-shek did care about was the Chinese people and how the French treated them.” Ok, yea, you’re right in that in a lot of ways we can argue that CKS didn’t give a #$%^ about “the Chinese people” (although it’s not so simple as to be able to negate anything positive that the guy might have had in his head – think New Life Movement), however when it comes to how Chinese in Vietnam played into Sino-French relations at that time, then yes, on at least an abstract level he wanted to get benefits for them, if for no other reason than that it benefited his government’s position in foreign relations.

  7. One other important aspect of this episode (which ultimately would lend support to the Professor’s position) is the fact that Chiang Kai-shek’s agreement to supply those troops was at least partially a subterfuge for the purpose of removing most of the troops which were under the command of General Long Yun, the warlord who had been governor of Yunnan since 1927, over whom Chiang had never exercised anything more than the most tenuous control. This was almost certainly why the command of the forces sent to French Indo-China was given to Long Yun’s cousin, General Lu Han. The absence of those troops allowed Chiang to depose Long Yun as governor, which he did in late 1945. Lu Han may or may not have been complicit in this; I’m not aware of any documentary or other evidence either way, but Lu Han was appointed to succeed his cousin in that position.

    1. Yea, good point. I think Christopher Goscha puts forth an argument along those lines in his recent history of Vietnam. I’d have to go back and check what he cites for his information.

      I have a tendency to exaggerate when I write in order to emphasize a point. When I originally wrote this post I think my intention was to counter the endless Vietnamese discourse about how “the Chinese have always been looking for an excuse to annex Vietnam”. . . And this case is usually included, but CKS did not care about Vietnam, did not want Vietnam to be part of China, etc. Did he care about Chinese? On some levels, yes. Things like the New Life Movement were at least theoretically supposed to benefit “the Chinese.” But then there is plenty of counter evidence, like blowing up dams to slow down the Japanese advance and drowning thousands of Chinese in the process. . .

  8. Thank you for mentioning that, Professor! If Professor Goscha agrees with me, I was probably correct. I’ll have to get a copy of his history sooner rather than later…
    You have no idea how much this means to me. I’ve been waiting nearly twenty years for a “real scholar” to either confirm that interpretation or introduce evidence to disprove it (obviously, I had only secondary sources to work with- and by no means a majority of those, even just counting English-language works).
    The way I discovered this fascinating little side-issue was completely accidental. I normally try to stay out of the “labyrinth” (so to speak) of Chinese history; it is simply far too vast, and even a few steps inside to chase down some fact or other may end with one becoming distracted and/or lost for some time. Besides which, there is more than enough reading and study to be done regarding Indo-China, not to mention other topics. Regardless, in this case I ignored all that simply because I was curious- I don’t know about anyone else, but it drives me crazy to be unable to read this or that book due to my ignorance of the language in which it is written. Across the river from Detroit, in Windsor, Ontario there are many Vietnamese & Chinese immigrants. Consequently, the Windsor Public Library has fairly large holdings in those languages, and when these books are discarded it is not uncommon for them to end up on the U.S. side of the river. Around 1997-98, I obtained gratis a copy of one of those discards, a Chinese-language book called “Long Yun zhuan (Zhongguo zheng tan feng yun ren wu)” by Nan Jiang. As I have no knowledge of Chinese, I didn’t know what it was, but it looked interesting and I hoped that my father could help me figure out at least the title (he was trained as a Mandarin linguist at the Army Language School in Monterey during the mid-1960s). In the event, he didn’t remember enough characters to read even the title, but he did a few minutes worth of web searches and figured out that it was a book on General Long Yun, of whom neither of us had ever heard. After checking every book I could get my hands on that might be relevant (Patti, Marr, Lancaster, Tønnesson, Bodard, Bùi Diễm & several others I cannot remember off the top of my head), I had within a month or so put the pieces of the puzzle in the order I explained above.
    I just discovered after some cursory web-searching that Professor Marr seems to have been on the same track in his ‘Vietnam: State, War, and Revolution (1945–1946)’, which was published in 2013. He doesn’t explicitly lay out the same theory, though he does add the detail that General He Yingqin (Ho Ying-chin) was sent to Hanoi “to convince General Lu not to oppose the forcible removal by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the governor of Yunnan, Long Yun, who was Lu’s patron and relative”; he cites two sources for this. The first source cited is Peter Worthing’s ‘Occupation and Revolution: China and the Vietnamese August Revolution of 1945’ (2001), which is for all intents and purposes impossible to get, which is why I’ve never read it. Although Professor Tønnesson apparently took issue with one part of Professor Worthing’s conclusions in a fascinating review in The Journal Of Asian Studies (http://www.cliostein.com/documents/2002/02%20bn%20worthing.pdf), and faulted him for inadequate use of already extant secondary sources, over all his reaction was positive. So, it seems Professor Worthing was on to the same thing I was at roughly the same time. This brings me to the second source cited by Professor Marr, ‘Chiang Kai-Shek, De Gaulle Contre Hô Chi Minh: Viêt-nam 1945-1946’ (1994) by Lin Hua. Mon Francaise c’est tres limité, but if my rough & cursory partial translation of the relevant passages is accurate, Lin Hua may have reached these conclusions well before any of us. I can’t be certain, because the only part of the text I can access online is the preface by Jacques Guillermaz. Lin Hua’s book was also cited by riroriro in a comment under the original post on the alleged Hồ Chí Minh quote, which I suppose brings this full circle…

    You have no idea how much this means to me. I’ve been waiting nearly twenty years for a “real scholar” to either confirm that interpretation or introduce evidence to disprove it (obviously, I had only secondary sources to work with- and by no means a majority of those, even just counting English-language works).
    The way I discovered this fascinating little side-issue was completely accidental. I normally try to stay out of the “labyrinth” (so to speak) of Chinese history; it is simply far too vast, and even a few steps inside to chase down some fact or other may end with one becoming distracted and/or lost for some time. Besides which, there is more than enough reading and study to be done regarding Indo-China, not to mention other topics. Regardless, in this case I ignored all that simply because I was curious- I don’t know about anyone else, but it drives me crazy to be unable to read this or that book due to my ignorance of the language in which it is written. Across the river from Detroit, in Windsor, Ontario there are many Vietnamese & Chinese immigrants. Consequently, the Windsor Public Library has fairly large holdings in those languages, and when these books are discarded it is not uncommon for them to end up on the U.S. side of the river. Around 1997-98, I obtained gratis a copy of one of those discards, a Chinese-language book called “Long Yun zhuan (Zhongguo zheng tan feng yun ren wu)” by Nan Jiang. As I have no knowledge of Chinese, I didn’t know what it was, but it looked interesting and I hoped that my father could help me figure out at least the title (he was trained as a Mandarin linguist at the Army Language School in Monterey during the mid-1960s). In the event, he didn’t remember enough characters to read even the title, but he did a few minutes worth of web searches and figured out that it was a book on General Long Yun, of whom neither of us had ever heard. After checking every book I could get my hands on that might be relevant (Patti, Marr, Lancaster, Tønnesson, Bodard, Bùi Diễm & several others I cannot remember off the top of my head), I had within a month or so put the pieces of the puzzle in the order I explained above.
    I just discovered after some cursory web-searching that Professor Marr seems to have been on the same track in his ‘Vietnam: State, War, and Revolution (1945–1946)’, which was published in 2013. He doesn’t explicitly lay out the same theory, though he does add the detail that General He Yingqin (Ho Ying-chin) was sent to Hanoi “to convince General Lu not to oppose the forcible removal by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the governor of Yunnan, Long Yun, who was Lu’s patron and relative”; he cites two sources for this. The first source cited is Peter Worthing’s ‘Occupation and Revolution: China and the Vietnamese August Revolution of 1945’ (2001), which is for all intents and purposes impossible to get, which is why I’ve never read it. Although Professor Tønnesson apparently took issue with one part of Professor Worthing’s conclusions in a fascinating review in The Journal Of Asian Studies (http://www.cliostein.com/documents/2002/02%20bn%20worthing.pdf), and faulted him for inadequate use of already extant secondary sources, over all his reaction was positive. So, it seems Professor Worthing was on to the same thing I was at roughly the same time. This brings me to the second source cited by Professor Marr, ‘Chiang Kai-Shek, De Gaulle Contre Hô Chi Minh: Viêt-nam 1945-1946’ (1994) by Lin Hua. Mon Francaise c’est tres limité, but if my rough & cursory partial translation of the relevant passages is accurate, Lin Hua may have reached these conclusions well before any of us. I can’t be certain, because the only part of the text I can access online is the preface by Jacques Guillermaz. Lin Hua’s book was also cited by riroriro in a comment under the original post on the alleged Hồ Chí Minh quote, which I suppose brings this full circle…

  9. I don’t know why my comments keep posting in disarray, sorry about that. Please feel free to cut the repeated section if you can…

  10. Thanks for sharing this amazing story!! I’m reminded of an episode from Japanese history – I think it was in the 18th century that some Japanese scholars got their hands on a Dutch book on anatomy, and they spent something like a year translating it, with no prior knowledge of Dutch. . .

    The curiosity to know what it is written in a book that one cannot read can be very powerful!!!

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