20 JANUARY 1967, Page 19

Mao and the Warlords

Mao Tse-tung. By Stuart Schram. (Penguin Books, 7s. 6d.) A Study of the Chinese Communist Movement, 1927-1934. By Shanti Swarup. (O.U.P., 35s.) Chinese Warlord. By James E. Sheridan. (Stanford/O.U.P., 80s.) A Mortal Flower. By Han Suyin. (Cape, 35s.) DURING Bertrand Russell's brief occupation of the Chair of Philosophy at Peking University in 1921 he was reported to have incurred student displeasure by incautious praise of China's cul- tural heritage. Without offering prizes for a large-character poster, one can find some evi- dence, in the reflective volume now re-issued just as it was printed in 1922, of the pitfalls awaiting the commentator whose affection and percipience are vitiated by his class origin. The attractive picture which Russell then drew of 'the traditional Chinese character,' as contrasted with that of 'powerful Western nations,' is picked out in his new foreword as something which still seems mainly correct. And, indeed, one element that he detected, an ingrained view that 'correct ethical sentiments are more im- portant than detailed scientific knowledge,' has been duly reformulated in the 'red and expert' theory with 'politics in command.'

But what are we, or the Chinese, to make of `the belief that progress consists in the spread of a doctrine' or 'the cultivation of will at the expense of perception,' when they are displayed as Western heresies sensibly rejected in China? How is the achievement of Mao Tse-tung to be evaluated if the concept of 'mankind as raw material' is dismissed as 'an evil belief shared by Imperialism, Bolshevism and the YMCA'? And how many of the cheering millions with their little red books can be said to display the national virtues of `tolerance,"humour, re- straint and understatement,' the courage of independent thought and speech, with `no ad- miration for the ruthless strong man'?

Such questions would be captious if they were merely intended to pick holes in a book written nearly half a century ago and one which can still stimulate any reader, amuse him with its Voltairean touches and now and then surprise him with its shrewdness. It just happens that the 'problem of China' to which these inquiries lead us took a peculiarly engrossing turn while Lord Russell's reprint was in the press. We want to know how Chinese (i.e., how enduring, how acceptable) is the Maoism of the headlines.

The latest biography of Mao, a Pelican Original by Stuart Schram, ends at a point at which the author, perceiving the approach of an unprecedented political conflict, nevertheless ex- pects that 'in the long run . . . Mao's heaven- storming policies will be replaced by others better adapted to the dull but efficient rationality of modern industrial society.' Until that happens, the personality-cult (here traced back to Mao's own initiative even before Liu Shao-chi's 1945 panegyric) will retain its external appeal as the readiest approach to the modern history of a quarter of mankind. Mr Schram, by accepting Mao as in some sense a character out of a Chinese popular novel or opera, in whom the force of his own ideas, inheritance and ex- perience is stronger than the much-advertised 'objective reality,' produces a version of the cult which can encompass political criticism.

That being so, one could have wished for a closer coverage of the seventeen years of national power, which occupy only the last quarter of a long and lively narrative. But the complaint is almost silenced by the excellent arrangement of notes and references, with scrupulous indications of points of departure from other authorities. And it is, of course, in the years of struggle that most of the con- troversies arise. More particularly, the vital period between the collapse of the Kuomintang- Communist alliance in 1927 and the beginning of the Long March in 1934 has been made even more tumultuously dark by the separate neces- sities of covering up the mistakes of Stalin and the Comintern, of the Chinese Communist party, and of the Mao 'line.' The celebrated article of February 1926, in which Mao is now officially held to have 'correctly solved all the fundamental problems' of the Chinese revolution, is incidentally shown by Mr Schram to have been paralleled by, if not derived from, the pro- gramme blazoned by Chiang Kai-shek in the euphoria of the Northern Expedition.

What matters, however, is the successful appli- cation of the wonder-working slogans. Mr Schram concludes that Mao's achievement in adapting Marxist theory and practice to the patterns of Chinese behaviour is circumscribed by his failure to produce a 'real synthesis.' Mr Shanti Swarup's broader study of the 1927-34 phase, while fully acknowledging its complexity, does credit Mao with the gradual development of a synthesis—though since this is in the terms of revolutionary action which concern the author as a political scientist, it is not to be taken as fulfilling a deeper cultural requirement. Within those terms, indeed, he extends the deter- mining factor—the simultaneous prosecution of the national and social revolutions—into a `triple synthesis,' achieved by Mao's pragmatic acceptance of the pattern of Chinese war- lordism in which to learn from defeat the lessons necessary for victory.

As if to carry this further, the formidable and relatively neglected subject of the warlords at last emerges, in Mr Sheridan's carefully-researched study of Feng Yu-hsiang, from its comic-opera cocoon. As 'the Christian warlord'—a title inter- estingly examined in this book—Feng attracted a special attention, and legend, in the West. Mr Sheridan not only restores him to credibility, but sheds light upon the whole genus (not excluding Chiang and Mao): on the conditions that pro- duced them, the means by which they operated, and the disposition of at least some of them to identify their own ambitions with the needs of their distressful country.

Feng reappears, his private army across her father's railway, in Han Suyin's second volume (1928-38) of autobiography-cum-history. So do the Chiangs, Chou En-lai, Teilhard de Chardin, Dr Hu Shih and other key figures, in China and the West. The mixture of ostensibly total personal recall with actualities sieved through a temperament still does not seem quite right. But the whole subjective dish keeps the com- pulsive flavour of The Crippled Tree, and will be as widely enjoyed. Anything that can rescue for us some part of a living and breathing China from the obscurantism of its rulers is to be valued. And the very passion of Han Suyin's affair with the country of her birth and spirit adds to our understanding of her student- generation, and the several gods that failed them.