The previous articles to this series are as follows –

Part 1 – The Nehruvian Blunders – Part 1

Part 2 – The Nehruvian Blunders – Part 2

Part 3 – The Nehruvian Blunders – Part 3

Part 4 – The Nehruvian Blunders – Part 4

Part 5 – The Nehruvian Blunders – Part 5

Part 6 – The Nehruvian Blunders – Part 6

Part 7 – The Nehruvian Blunders – Part 7

Mao’s Spy

One big reason that Mao was able to intimidate his critics so consistently and so effectively—aside from his famous mercurial temper and iron will—was his chief of internal security, Kang Sheng. Ever since the mid-1930s, Kang Sheng had been entrusted by Mao with the task of compiling secret dossiers on all party leaders at or above the provincial level.

Knowing that such career-damaging ‘black materials’ existed and that Mao would not hesitate to use them to destroy his colleagues was a huge deterrent to would-be critics. In this respect, Kang Sheng was Mao’s chief enabler, in much the same way that Lavrentiy Beria had been Joseph Stalin’s principal spy. Without such loyal and utterly ruthless security chiefs, both Stalin and Mao might not have enjoyed such apparent invincibility.

Kang Sheng was a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official, best known for having overseen the work of the CCP’s internal security and intelligence apparatus during the early 1940s and again at the height of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A member of the CCP from the early 1920s, he spent time in Moscow during the early 1930s, where he learned the methods of the NKVD.

In 1936, Kang established the Office for the Elimination of Counterrevolutionaries and worked closely with the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, in purging perhaps hundreds of Chinese in Moscow.

After returning to China in 1937, Kang switched his allegiance to Mao and became a close associate of Mao during the Anti-Japanese War, the Chinese Civil War and after. Kang was a valuable catch for Mao as he strove to consolidate the power he had won at the Zunyi Conference in January 1935. Kang could betray all the secrets of Wang Ming, Mao’s political rival in the Party, and his supporters.

At Yan’an, Kang was close to Jiang Qing, who may have been Kang’s mistress when he visited Shandong in 1931. In Yan’an, Jiang became the lover of Mao, who later married her.

Kang Sheng was the mastermind behind the “pain and friction” that underlay the Rectification process. He used a classic Soviet technique of accusing loyal party members of being Nationalist spies. Once they had confessed under torture, their confessions could then set off an avalanche of accusations and arrests. At the same time, Mao was not keen to have a single man in such a position of power. Accordingly, following the CCP’s Seventh Congress in April 1945, Kang was replaced as head of both the Social Affairs Department and the Military Intelligence Department.

Kang with Mao

After his fall from the security posts, in December 1946 Kang was assigned by Mao Zedong, Zhu De and Liu Shaoqi to review the Party’s land reform project in Longdong, Gansu Province. In the name of social justice, he encouraged the peasants to settle scores by killing landlords and rich peasants.

Early in 1948, he was appointed deputy chief of the Party’s East China Bureau, under Rao Shushi. Some commentators speculate that the private humiliation of being placed under a former subordinate may be one reason why Kang “fell ill” and largely disappeared from view until after Rao’s fall in 1954. Kang seems to have displayed, manic-depressive psychosis and temporal lobe epilepsy.

The challenges that Kang faced during the early months of 1956 underscored the dangers he would have risked by continuing his retreat. As soon as he reappeared, Kang encountered serious problems that caused his position in the hierarchy to fluctuate dramatically. After the purge of Gao Gang and Rao Shushi in 1954, he ranked sixth, below Chairman Mao, Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai, Zhu De and Chen Yun. But in February 1956, just weeks after his return to public life, he was listed below Peng Zhen.

By the end of April, he was reported in tenth place, even below Luo Fu, the only member of the 28 Bolsheviks who still held a Politburo seat. Yet on May Day of 1956, Kang was suddenly back in sixth place. Kang suffered a severe reversal of fortune at the Central Committee plenum that followed the first session of the CCP’s Eighth Congress when he was demoted to alternate, nonvoting member of the Politburo.

Mao’s own position was weakening, as evidenced by the decision of the CCP’s Eighth Congress to delete the phrase “guided by the thought of Mao Zedong” from the new Party constitution and by re-establishing the role of General Secretary, abolished in 1937. Kang’s emergence during the cultural revolution as one of the most important Maoist stalwarts suggests that it is not unlikely that at the 8th Congress Mao saved Kang from even greater humiliation.

Thereafter, Kang remained at or near the pinnacle of power until his death in 1975. After the death of Mao and the subsequent arrest of the Gang of Four, Kang was accused of sharing responsibility with the Gang for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution and in 1980 he was expelled posthumously from the CCP.

To divert the mass attention from the strife in China and the threat to his leadership inside the Party, Mao planned the attack on India.

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