• U.S.

CHINA: Time for a Visit?

3 minute read

In starving Changchun, capital of Manchuria, human flesh sold at $1.20 (U.S.) a pound. Each day upwards of 500 of its 200,000 remaining citizens died of starvation. A Nationalist airdrop of four planes a day barely managed to keep the 100,000-man garrison alive on half rations of rice and flour.

The besieging Communists, estimated at 160,000, sat back and waited for the city to fall into their laps. Day & night Communist voices called across no man’s land: “Did you join the Kuomintang army? You were dragged into it at a rope’s end . . . Come over to us . . . There is no way out of Changchun now . . .”

Behind his barricades long-jawed Nationalist Commander General Cheng Tung-kuo listened and waited. A professor leaving the city asked him: “If Changchun falls, do you really think Peiping will be safe?” Sighed Cheng: “No place in China will be safe.” Then came Nanking’s sudden order to evacuate the city and cut southward to Mukden.

Cheng had two armies to withdraw: the 60th, composed mostly of dispirited Yunnanese, and the new Seventh army, made up of U.S.-trained veterans of the Burma front. The Seventh sallied out as ordered, but failed to break through. The 60th refused to budge, turned its guns against the courageous Seventh army and surrendered the city.

General Cheng and a thousand loyal men chose to make a last stand behind the massive concrete walls of the Central Bank of China, on Changchun’s central plaza. One night last week, after three days of pointblank artillery bombardment, Cheng radioed his farewell to the Gimo. “My failure . . . is profoundly regretted . . . It puts a shameful spot in the revolution . . . The general situation has become hopeless . . .”

“The general situation” contained other bad news. Nationalist troops retreated from Paotow, Western terminus of General Fu Tso-yi’s northern corridor through which had funneled grain for Peiping and Tientsin. To the south, Nationalist troops withdrew from Chengchow, railway center of Honan Province, and from Kaifeng, the provincial capital. Nanking explained that it was shortening its lines.

Many Chinese were heartily sick of the government’s method of warmaking. Lu Fu, 70-year-old delegate from Chahar Province, rose last week in the Legislative Yuan. Said he: “President Chiang is too tired after all these years . . . We should now urge the President to take one year’s time for a visit to the United States . . . He should find some man he trusts and give that man all of his powers . . . If by the end of one year the situation becomes better, he can always be invited back to China to take charge.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com