The Wuhan Incident
During the summer of 1967, China descended into a state of what Mao later described as "all-round civil war," at the start of which rival groups used cudgels and knives, but soon moved on to machine guns and artillery.1 According to Mao, "Everywhere people were fighting, dividing into two factions; there were two factions in every factory, in every school, in every province, in every county; every ministry was like that, the Foreign Ministry was split into two factions … the Foreign Ministry was in chaos … In July and August 1967, nothing could be done; there was massive upheaval throughout the country."2 As Lin Biao put it in mid-1967, "The 'Great Cultural Revolution' has turned into the great martializing revolution!"3
At his birthday party the previous December, the Chairman had welcomed the prospect of civil war. Now he, or rather Zhou Enlai, had to deal with actual threats of anarchy.4 The most dangerous incident occurred in central China, and embodied the potential fracture of the radical alliance of the PLA and the CCRG.
The triple city of Wuhan—comprising Wuchang, Hankou, and Hanyang, separated by the Yangtze and its tributary the Han River—is the capital of Hubei province, and the most important industrial city in central China.5 The country's fifth most populous urban area, with about 2.5 million people in 1967, it is a strategically key transportation crossroads, a transit point for Yangtze River shipping between Shanghai and Chongqing and rail traffic between Beijing and Canton.
The city was also the headquarters of the Wuhan MR, which embraced Henan as well as Hubei provinces. The regional commander in 1967 was a threestar general, Chen Zaidao. According to Red Guard allegations, General Chen