General Chen Cheng — WWII Hero Who Defended the Free China

By Eric Wu,

Yangtze River and Yellow River are the two longest and most famous rivers in China. They also played vital roles in China’s War of Resistance during WWII. The 1938 Yellow River Flood was created by the Nationalist Government in central China in an attempt to halt the rapid advance of Japanese forces. An estimated 800,000 people in Henan, Anhui, and Jiangsu provinces were drowned. The strategy worked to some degree, and Japanese troops, whose initial plan was to occupy the whole China in three months, were forced to move slowly along the Yangtze River from east to west toward Chongqing, the wartime capital of free China.

In the mid-August 1940, General Chen Cheng deployed five army groups in the sixth war zone, which consisted of 400 thousand troops, to Enshi in Hubei Province, guarding the entrance on the east of Chongqing. Subsequent to the falling of Nanjing and Wuhan, the Japanese Army kept concentrating its main force to break into the China’s wartime capital. In Hunan and Hubei Provinces, which were located on the way to Chongqing, flames of the war had never been put out. The Chinese Army in the sixth war zone had to defend against not only the Japanese Army that was moving to the west, but also another group of Japanese intruders who attempted to break into Sichuan Province along the Yangtze River.

General Chen Cheng was the highest commander of the sixth war zone and the governor of Hubei Province at that time. Once arriving in Enshi, he provided a shelter for teachers and students, and initiated the educational industry. Three province colleges and academies, including the Hubei Province Normal Academy, Hubei Province Agricultural Academy, and Hubei Province Medical College, were established after General Chen’s arrival. The presidents of these three academies were all scholars who received doctor degrees overseas, invited to Enshi from Chongqing by General Chen Cheng with a sincere effort.

General Chen Cheng also gathered the students and teachers who fled to Enshi from other places, forming many high schools name “the Secondary School Alliance of Hubei Province”, which was also called “School Union” by the local civilians. General Chen himself was the president of the alliance.

General Chen often came to talk to the teachers and students in a gentle manner with a smiles and asked them for ideas and suggestions, trying every efforts to get advocacy from the intellectuals and young people. He provided instructions for educators and ordered specialists to publish the “Outline of Education Implementation”, “Ruless of Employment and Admissions for Secondary School in Hubei Province” and other regulations in the educational circle. The so-called “planned education” meant all expenditures were covered by the educational foundation established by the government, aiming at training specialists in all fields and areas.

General Chen kept being in charge of the educational industry. He was “strict as an instructor and kind-hearted as a parent” towards teachers and students.

He dismissed the headmasters of the Jianshi High School and Badong Junior High School for their encroachment on students’ interests. The manager of a granary in Enshi was imprisoned for distributing moldy corns to students. A student was murdered by bandits in Lichuan, soon after which the angry General Chen had the case solved and the murderer arrested.

In January, 1938, the government of the Republic of China moved from Nanjing to Wuhan, and Hubei became the main gateway at the rear of Sichuan province. In the spring of the same year, the garrison headquarters of Wuhan was set up for the defense of Wuhan Province and the surrounding areas. General Chen Cheng was designated as the commander. As the minister of the Department of Politics in the Military Commission of the Government, General Chen Cheng stayed in Wuhan. Recalling the early years at the Whampoa Military Academy with Zhou Enlai, General Chen invited Zhou to join the affairs at the Department of Politics. Getting the permission of the Central Government of the Chinese Communist Part, Zhou Enlai was designated the vice minister of the Department of Politics while General Chen was the minister, during the years of cooperation between the Nationalists and the Communist for the second time.

In June of the same year, the ninth war zone was open, defending the south of Hubei Province, Human Province and part of Jiangxi Province, and participating the Wuhan Campaign. General Chen was designated the highest commander (General Xue Yue as the proxy). General Chen Cheng had also contacted other organizations and their leaders, including the military training officer of Luojiashan Garrison, the Air Force Commission, minister of the Training Department of the Central Guardian Troops, vice commander of the First Training Center of Military Officers, the clerk of Three-Principles-of-the-People League, and the educational officer of the Central Training Group.

In July, 1940, when General Chen was the governor of Hubei Province and the commander of the sixth war zoneset by the Supreme Command Center, his troops garrisoned at Enshi to defend the path to the secondary capital, Chongqing. His armies defeated the intruders in the Shanggao and Hubei Campaigns.

In 1943, the Japanese launched a large-scale attack into the sixth theater, and Enshi was endangered. As General Chen ordered, all the officials of the government of Hubei Province should not leave their position in Enshi. Meanwhile, teachers and students were the first to evacuate; besides, the officers in the department of education were sent to the vicinity of the borders between Sichuan, Hunan and Hubei Provinces at a whole speed, aiming at finding a safe and stable place to settle the schools down. He telephoned the department of education several times to confirm that the schools had been evacuated in time, even when the battles became fierce. He ordered that no student could be lost, or the leader of the educational department should pay.

General Chen was appointed the commander of the Chinese Expeditionary Force in 1943. In May that year, leaving Yunnan for Hubei, he led his troops to gain the victory in the west of Hubei, directing the battles against the Japanese invaders. In November 1944, General Chen was in charge of the Department of Military Bureau; in January, 1945, he also served as the chief of the Department of Logistics. During the entire Eight-year War of Resistance against Japan, General Chen Cheng’s armies had participated the battles against the Japanese intruders many times, which made a contribution to defending the secondary capital, Chongqing, and finally led the Chinese Force to victory in World War II.