Prospects of Peace.
(FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.)
SHANGHAI, October 7.
The suggestion was made in the letter writ-
ten on September 18 that the events of the next few weeks were likely to be interest- ing. The forecast was more fortunate than most of those ventured upon in regard to this country. Since it was written the Pekin Government has ceased to be (in fact at all events); the Manchurian troops have occu- pied Chili and are astride the Tientsin-Pukow railway; Weihaiwei has been handed back to the Chinese; Great Britain has made counter proposals in regard to extra-territoriality; the two lady missionaries who had been in the hands of the bandits in Fukien since July have been murdered, and Mr Lenox Simpson (bet- ter known as "Putnam Weale") has been the
victim of attempted assassination.
There is a welter of conflicting views about the dramatic move of Marshal Chang Hsueh- liang, the ruler of Manchuria. This young man, as has previously been indicated, astutely resisted all overtures from Nanking and Pekin to lend his support to either. He was wisely content to allow the Kuomintang and their adversaries to exhaust themselves thoroughly. The expected exhaustion mani- fested itself by the collapse of General Yen Shih-san's Shansi troops in the Tsinan region and the failure of General Chiang Kai-shek's hammer blows against Marshal Feng Yu-hsiang's forces on the Lung-Hai railway in the vicinity of Kai- feng and Chengchow. The collapse of the Shansi forces was too obvious to be ex- plained away, but the Nanking people made desperate efforts to hide their continued lack of success. Three times in succession they announced "our troops after a fierce battle have captured Lanfeng and are pursuing the remnants of the rebels." These victories were announced at intervals of about a week between each, and now the announcement is made by Nanking that "the rebels have voluntarily evacuated Lanfeng." And they see nothing strange in themselves exposing the falsity of their previous announcements, as they have done in this and on numerous previous occa-
As a matter of fact there is no doubt that towards the end of September the Nanking people did manage to achieve some success on the Lung-Hair railway. Desperate and suc- cessful attempts to secure enough money to buy off some of Feng Yu-hsiang's generals were made during the month, and two at least of these Kuominchun generals were eventually bought over, and Lanfeng was occupied with- out further fighting. But Feng Yu-hsiang has retained the loyalty of most of his own generals, and the defections of which Nanking has made so much have been on the part of
men whose adherence to any party was always doubtful. Just as it is doubtful whether the real Shansi armies could be bought over, so it is extremely improbable that the army that Feng Yu-hsiang has welded together could ever be made responsive to the silver solvent that has been used by Nanking. That sol- vent has been applied with success to what are called the "grey" troops, namely armies whose allegiance was purchasable by the side that could offer the greatest financial inducement. It could not, and cannot, be applied to the personal armies of either Feng Yu-hsiang or Yen Hsi-shan. The latter, that is to say Yen himself, has been eliminated, not perhaps with- out secret self-satisfaction on his part, and will for some time, at all events, simply become ruler in his own domain of Shansi.
PROBLEM OF FENG.
But Feng Yu-hsiang is still an uncracked nut; an unsolved problem. Nanking has been making frantic overtures to him for some time past with the desire to end hostilities before October 10, the Double Tenth—tenth day of tenth month—and thus to inaugurate the 19th year of the Republic is an atmosphere of com- parative peace. Nanking now recognises that the people are extremely restive under the ter- rible load of taxation that they have been bearing, and that several months of resultess warfare has wearied their financial supporters. In spite of the constant flood of bulletins about "victories" from the official propagandist news agency, many of the people know that the actual military position has not altered after seven months' fighting and an enormous expen- diture of money. Even if the Kuomintang Government be able to announce that Kaifeng and Chengchow have been taken this marks no signal military success—certainly none that would justify Nanking in claiming that they had prosecuted a successful military campaign. On the other hand enormous losses have been sustained by some of their best troops, and they have definitely lost control of all China north of the Yellow River.
What will happen now is absolutely a matter of conjecture, in which one man's opinion is worth as much, or as little, as another's. It is quite obvious that, before moving his troops south of the Great Wall, Marshal Chang Hsueh-liang was acting in accordance with a secret understanding with General Yen Hsi-shan. Thus the position becomes claimed to an extent that has not occurred for many years. A glance at the map will show that the region under northern control embraces all the territory north of Tehchow and, of course, includes Peking and Tientsin. It is thought, in fact it is almost certain, that, while the fiction that Chang Hsueh-liang holds his position by grace of Nanking may be preserved, the revenue col- lected in the north will be diverted to covering the cost of the Manchurian occupation. While this may be held to be regrettable for political reasons, if it comes about there will be re- joicing among merchants. They consider that it is much better that officials who are congenial to the northern people should be in control, and they believe that peace, at all events for an appreciable time, will be secured by this virtual division of the country into north and south. This would lead to a renewal of confidence, and the volume of trade which had shrunk so lamentably would ex- pand enormously.
It is only fair to record that General Yen Hsi-shan behaved very well in regard to his withdrawal. Political or military turnovers in China almost invariably mean serious hard- ships for civilians. The retreating leaders are in the habit of gathering up all the avail- able cash and property in sight and carrying it off with them. Usually chambers of com- merce and banks are assessed heavily by evacuating militarists.
But General Yen did nothing of the sort, and gave up a rich area without making any attempt to injure North China in any way. He made no assessments, and left behind a well-organised and competent force to main- tain order in Tientsin and Peking until Man- churian troops arrived.
Peking has been "captured" many times in recent years, but never with so little dis- turbance or loss as this last time. When the Shansi evacuation became known, exchange shops refused to accept Shansi banknotes. Everybody believed that Peking residents had lost heavily on worthless paper again, as they have in the past. But General Yen's repre- sentatives immediately announced that all banknotes would be honoured at their full face value, and the two Shansi banks, which were closed, left enough money with the Chamber of Commerce to pay these notes.
So far as can be learned this is the first time in modern Chinese history when an evacuating force has not only left everything intact, but actually paid its debts before leav- ing. General Yen made a good impression. The exigences of civil war compelled his tax- collectors to be severe, but certainly not more so than elsewhere in China.
[Since this letter was posted the cables have announced the death of Mr. Lenox Simpson (Putnam Weale).—Editor, SMH]