Having just done a collaborative presentation with the vibrantly old (and wise) China hand Sidney Rittenberg at Pacific Lutheran University, I should share a few of his insights:
Rittenberg believes that certain documents have enduring value in assessing Mao Zedong’s pragmatic brilliance and strategic insight. These include, in particular, On Protracted War. “This was written ten months after the war began, but reads like a postwar assessment of exactly what happened,” Rittenberg noted. Of course, Rittenberg has the rare credibility, having translated this work for the first time into English, to state that he himself “certified that the essay was indeed written in 1938, and not edited after the fact.”
Rittenberg dwelled for a few minutes on the communist victory at Huai-Hai in 1948 [淮海战役], the great turning point and military victory in the Chinese civil war.
Rittenberg used Huai Hai to make the point that the communist intelligence apparatus was extensive. Setting up the battle, Rittenberg narrated that the PLA had the Nationalist forces completely surrounded, but as Marshal Chen Yi explained, the communists “had the walnut in [their] teeth, but could not crack it.” Chiang Kai-shek flew over the battlefield, and then was happy to hear that one of his loyal generals was going to break out of the encirclement. Rittenberg, observing the battle from a post in Beijing and next to Liao Chengzhi, learned that this “loyal general” had in fact been a Communist Party member since 1926! And thus the battle at Huai-Hai ended in victory for the PLA. (Rittenberg also noted that Liao Chengzhi was rather portly, having been a boatman in Germany in the Weimar Era before returning to do Party work in China, and resulting in his nickname “Fatty Liao.”)
Further notes on Chairman Mao in subsequent posts!