Though no one could prove it, at the end of World War II the Chinese army in the non-Communist and non-Japanese areas comprised 2,700,000 men in 290 divisions, approximately 50 divisions fewer than at the end of 1943. Their loyalty and efficiency aside, this army deserves the closest study and attention, for it was more an institution for taxing the peasantry than a military body; it rarely fought the Japanese or the Communists during the war - and it became a critical vehicle for breeding the revolution. The so-called Chinese army was probably no less consequential an instrument for oppressing the peasantry during the war than the Japanese, and probably a more significant factor because it persisted in the critical years after the defeat of Japan when it might otherwise have been the sole barrier between a decadent Kuomintang and the people
The Chinese army was based on conscription. The rich could provide substitutes, the educated at the high-school level and above were exempt, as were only sons, and there were few physical disqualifications. At the end of his command of the American forces in China, General Albert Wedemeyer described his view of the conscription army in a remarkable memo to Chiang himself: "Conscription comes to the Chinese peasant like famine or flood, only more regularly - every year twice - and claims more victims. Famine, flood, and drought compare with conscription like chicken pox with plague." As a system of direct and indirect physical liquidation only the Nazi terror surpassed it during the war. Press gangs conscripted peasants out of the fields, tied them, and transported them away. "Hoe and plow rest in the field," Wedemeyer write to Chiang, "the wife runs to the magistrate to cry and beg for her husband, the children starve." If she could manage to pay for his release he was free until the following visit. In other instances the county magistrate would arrest ten men for each conscript needed and permit all but one to buy their freedom - if they could. "The conscription officers make their money in collaboration with the officials and through their press gangs." At the first stage the army was a vast traffic in human lives on an organized, legal basis depending on state power and the justification of national defense. In its macabre way it was the classic mandarin tax system of traditional China imposed on a distintegrating civillization. "So everybody is happy," Wedemeyer wrote, "except the conscript who soon will realize that he has been sold to something worse than death...." At the next stage the army herded new soldiers together for a long march with little or no food. Wedemeyer's description cannot be paraphrased:
Later they are too weak to run away. Those who are caught are cruelly beaten. They will be carried along with broken limbs and with wounds in maimed flesh in which infection turns quickly into blood poisoning and blood poisoning into death. As they march they turn into skeletons; they develop signs of beriberi, their legs swell and their bellies protrude, their arms and thighs get thin.... From this point of view the conscripts' bodies have a great value....A Chinese conscript's pay can be pocketed and his rations can be sold. That makes him a valuable member of the Chinese Army and that is the basis of the demand for him. Because of this demand, the journey has no end. Being sick, he has to drag himself along.... Dysentery and typhoid are always with them. They carry cholera from place to place.... If somebody dies his body is left behind. His name on the list is carried along. As long as his death is not reported he continues to be a source of income, increased by the fact that he has ceased to consume. His rice and his pay become a long-lasting token of memory in the pocket of his commanding officer. His family will have to forget him.
Nearly every report the United States military authorities were ever to prepare on the subject corroborated Wedemeyer's statement to Chiang, which apparently did not move the knowledgeable Chinese ruler to action or sympathy. Americans in China compared hospitals there to Buchenwald, and on inquiring into the situation in one representative troop center an American military team revealed that "conditions proved horrible beyond imagination." One particular center carried 4,400 soldiers on the overhead charge, but only 2,000 were actually there. Of these, "One hundred percent were suffering from malnutrition, T.B., and other diseases, but no medical care was being given." "One of the first things that strikes the eye of an American in China," another officer reported, "is the physical condition of the troops dragging along the streets and highways. Their clothes are old, patched, and tattered, but far worse is their physical condition. Obviously they are suffering from every sort of disease and are just able to walk." This army would not and could not fight- against the Japanese, the Communists, or anyone else. At the end of the war Wedemeyer estimated that only five of the approxiamately three hundred Chinese divisions were effective military units, and American officers commanded three of those in India.
The basic ration of the Chinese soldier consisted of an issue of rice and salt, and at the end of 1944 a money allowance sufficient for a pound of pork per month supplemented it. The Chinese troops rarely saw the money and the ration was always much less than promised. To survive, the system compelled the oppressed, sick mass of victims called the Chinese army to live off the land by looting. The oppressed became oppressors, the system of corruption and decadence pryamided. The Chinese army became the vehicle for the further destruction of the peasantry and the corrosive and sustaining ingredient of total collapse in China. Once that instrument and victim of oppression disappeared, or switched sides to end its misery, nothing stood between the rulers and those who had ample cause to seek revenge and revolution.