Thursday, November 6, 2008

The China Beat: The Last General of the Red Army

Ed Jocelyn at China Beat published a fascinating account on the life of General Xiao Ke (肖克), who died last month at the age of 101 as the last General of the original Red Army. Throughout his military career, General Xiao Ke had a penchant of choosing the wrong side in political conflicts, falling into disgrace of both Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Yet he managed to survive with remarkable longitivity.

In 1989, General Xiao Ke once again chose the "wrong side", as Ed Jocelyn describes:
The events of 1989 shook Xiao and many of his old comrades in the Central Consultative Committee. As the crisis over the Tiananmen Square demonstrations intensified, Deng Xiaoping decided to call the army into Beijing. Xiao Ke adamantly opposed this move. Together with former Minister of Defense Zhang Aiping, another veteran of the Long March, he composed a letter to Deng, which was signed by five other generals. They told Deng that if the army entered the city and opened fire, “the common people will curse us for 10,000 years.” Inspired by this example, more than one hundred other retired generals and Party leaders, mostly also members of the Central Consultative Committee, signed and sent a similar letter.

Gravely concerned at such opposition, Deng dispatched two of his most senior supporters, Yang Shangkun and Wang Zhen (political commissar to Xiao Ke’s Sixth Army Group during the Long March) to see Xiao Ke and the other six original signatories. They demanded retraction of the letter, arguing that such influential men could not be seen to oppose the Party leadership. None of them retracted, but their call went unheeded.

After the Tiananmen massacre, Deng dealt with his high-ranking opponents by trying to eliminate their political influence. As most of them were already retired, Deng contented himself with denying them official resources and forums to express their opinions. The Central Consultative Committee was abolished in 1992.

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