Rebels and Revolutionaries in North China, 1845-1945

By Elizabeth J. Perry | Go to book overview

6. Rebels Meet Revolutionaries: The Communist Movement in Huai-pei

When Communist cadres first penetrated the Huai-pei area, they encountered a peasantry well schooled in the art of collective violence. Banditry was rife, underground religious sects plentiful, and memories of massive rebellions fresh and vivid. Brigands and sectarians alike were skilled practitioners of collective warfare, tempered by the hard-won wisdom of generations of peasant rebels before them. Clearly, however, the underlying motivation for this impressive experience in peasant protest was pragmatic and parochially specific. How then would these battle-wise peasants, masterly in fighting for their own local interests, greet the advent of outside revolutionaries? How too would the revolutionaries, for their part, choose to deal with the myriad of armed and organized units that predated their arrival? Would existing patterns of rural violence constitute building blocks or barriers to revolutionary change?

The answers to these questions, we will discover, are complex. In the first place, there were of course two distinct strategies of peasant violence in Huai-pei, each with its own rationale, organization, and limitations. Furthermore, the Chinese Communist revolution itself passed through a series of distinct phases: from peasant movement, to soviets, to war of resistance, to civil war. Each period was marked by somewhat different problems and priorities, calling for changing relations with both types of local rebels.

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