Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
Japanese invasion was unfolding, and by the summer of 1936 Zhang
had significantly downscaled his anti-Communist campaigns
and was, by some reports, even conferring with Chinese Communist
leaders. Continuing reports to this effect were distressing to Chiang
Kai-shek, and in early December 1936 he boarded a plane and flew to
Xi'an, the provincial capital of Shaanxi, intending to persuade Zhang
Xueliang to continue with the anti-Communist struggle. He arrived
in Xi'an on December 10 and soon realized that he was getting
nowhere with Zhang.
What happened next is a matter of some controversy. In the early
hours of December 12, Zhang and his men apparently surrounded
Chiang Kai-shek's quarters to kidnap him. Chiang attempted to
escape but was soon captured by Zhang's men, who treated him well
but insisted that he call off the anti-Communist campaign and instead
fight the Japanese. On December 25, 1936, Chiang Kai-shek was
released and allowed to fly back to Nanjing, but with Zhang Xueliang
in his company as a prisoner. Once back in Nanjing, Chiang Kai-shek
did call off the anti-Communist offensive but placed Zhang under
house arrest. (Zhang endured this punishment after the removal of
the Nationalist government to Taiwan in 1949. He was finally released
in the late 1980s by Chiang Kai-shek's son and allowed to move to
Hawaii. Astonishingly, Zhang was still alive in the year 2000, aged
101.) In early 1937 Chiang's government declared all-out war on the
Japanese invaders, much to the relief and satisfaction of the Chinese
Communists and much of the rest of China's educated population as
well. This was the beginning of the Second United Front, a period of
renewed cooperation between the Nationalists and Communists. In
the First United Front the common enemy had been the warlords,
and now the common enemy was Japan. The Second United Front
lasted until 1941, when it largely fell apart as both parties renewed
armed attacks on one another.
Was Zhang a sacrificial lamb of sorts? Was an agreement reached
during the Xi'an Incident that enabled Chiang Kai-shek to call off the
anti-Communist offensive while saving face? Did Zhang agree to
become Chiang's prisoner in exchange for the cancellation of his war
against the Communists? Only Zhang Xueliang knew the real answers
to these questions, and hopefully he had them recorded somewhere
for the benefit of history prior to his death in the early twenty-first cen-
tury. In the People's Republic of China today, Zhang is highly revered,
and if while he was alive he had ever chosen to return to the mainland,
he would have received a tumultuous hero's welcome.
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