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Yang Jingyu (traditional Chinese: 楊靖宇; simplified Chinese: 杨靖宇; pinyin: Yáng Jìngyǔ; February 13, 1905–February 23, 1940), born Ma Shangde (traditional Chinese: 馬尚德; simplified Chinese: 马尚德; pinyin: Mǎ Shàngdé) in Queshan, Henan, was a Chinese Communist, commander-in-chief and political commissar of the First Route Army of the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army, in the guerrilla war in Manchuria against the Japanese campaign to pacify Manchukuo during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Yang joined the Chinese Communist Youth League in his home town in 1926, and joined the Communist Party of China in 1927. After the Autumn Harvest Uprising he organized local farmers in Queshan into a Revolutionary Armed Force unit. Later he did other underground work in Kaifeng and Luoyang.
In 1929, he was sent to northeast China, where he held the post of Communist Party of China Fushun special branch secretary. Imprisoned by the regime of Zhang Xueliang, he was rescued during the chaos following the Mukden Incident. After the rescue from prison, he successively held the offices of Harbin district party committee secretary, municipal party committee secretary, and Manchurian Acting provincial party committee secretary of the Central Military Commission.
In September, 1933 he was appointed commander-in-chief and political commissar of the Independent Division of the First Army of the Northeastern People's Revolutionary Army. In 1934, the Independent Division became the First Army of the Northeast People's Revolutionary Army, with Yang as commander-in-chief of the army and the Anti-Japanese United Front Army Headquarters.
In February 1936, Yang was appointed Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army First Army commander and political commissar, in June he was appointed Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army First Route Army commander-in-chief concurrently political commissar. Zhou Baozhong commanded the 2nd Route Army, and Li Zhaolin the 3rd Route Army. This army was open to all who wanted to resist the Japanese invasion and proclaimed its willingness to ally with all other anti-Japanese forces. This policy won over some of the shanlin bands, including former National Salvation Army units. After the Marco Polo Bridge Incident a number of Manchukuoan troops deserted to the Anti-Japanese Army.
The Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army conducted a protracted campaign which threatened the stability of the Manchukuo regime, especially during 1936 and 1937. By the beginning of 1937 it comprised eleven corps in three armies, estimated by the Japanese to be about 20,000 men. Lacking the troops and materiel to conduct full-scale conventional warfare, the army's strategies were primarily to form pockets of resistance in occupied areas to harass the Japanese troops and undermine their attempts at administration, and to put up small attacks to divert resources from Japan's advance into China or against the Soviet Union after the border clashes of Chengkufeng (1938) and Battle of Khalkhin Gol (1939).
Yang twice commanded western marches that threatened Japanese lines of communication to Tieling and Fushun in Liaoning Province. From the latter half of 1938, Japan concentrated large numbers of its troops in Manchukuo with the mission of encircling Yang's army and placed a 10,000-yuan bounty on his head. By September 1938, the Japanese estimated that the Anti-Japanese Army was down to 10,000 men.
By 1940, the war was stalemated although Japan held most of the Manchurian coastal areas and the open country along the railroads, small forces of Chinese guerrillas fought doggedly on from the mountains and woodlands. The Kwantung Army then brought reinforcements into the northeast with a plan for "maintaining order and mopping up anti-Japanese elements". They cut off the supply lines to the troops of the United Front, the Chinese soldiers persevered, frequently launching attacks that compelled the enemy to divert its main force from punitive expeditions against the Chinese forces.
Yang led more than 40 engagements in Jilin Province, despite critically lacking supplies. In response, the Japanese committed a scorched earth strategy by routinely looting rural harvests, confiscating food from villages, and forcefully segregating civilians into "lawful settlements", in the attempt to deprive the resistance any means of supply. Large collaborationist patrols were also frequently deployed to inflict attrition on the guerrillas.
Yang and his men were closely encircled by 40 000 Japanese troops in January to mid-February 1940. Facing a dire situation, he organized his forces to disperse into small units and break out of the encirclement. His detachment of 60 troopers were betrayed to the Japanese by a staff officer on February 18. After the last two soldiers at his side were killed in action, Yang continued fighting alone for another 5 days. He was eventually cornered in a small forest by a large combined force of over 40 000 Japanese and collaborationists in the Mengjiang County (蒙江县), and was killed during a fierce firefight by multiple shots from machineguns. It was reported that the Japanese troops, fearing Yang's famed marksmanship from previous encounters, refused to approach his body for a long time after his death.
Unable to understand Yang's source of perseverance (Yang had not eaten for over 6 days), the Japanese ordered an autopsy after cutting off and preserving Yang's head. When they cut open Yang's stomach, they found only tree bark, cotton batting and grass roots within — not a single grain of rice. The Japanese commander at the scene, Ryuichiro Kishitani (岸谷隆一郎), was so shocked at the revelation that he "went silent, and appeared aged a lot within the next day". Kishitani committed seppuku after Japan's defeat, but wrote in his will that "His Majesty might be wrong in launching this war. China has steely soldiers like Yang Jingyu, and it would not fall."
After Yang's death
The Japanese initially buried Yang's beheaded body carelessly in the wild. It was then rumored that the Japanese commander-in-chief in the area, General Shōtoku Nozoe (野副昌德), was having nightmares and feared that it was Yang's ghost. Panicked, Kishitani ordered his men to rebury the body properly with full cemetery ritual and military respect, honoring Yang — though an enemy — "a true warrior".
Yang's death was a great blow to his remaining troops, who turned their sorrow into anger. Over the next few months, Japanese forces reported increasing attacks by "fierce, mad insurgents".
After the end of the Second World War, Yang's severed head was recovered by the People's Republic of China, rejoined to his body and reburied with full military honor. The Mengjiang County was also renamed to Jingyu County in his memory. Many traitors who betrayed Yang and contributed to his death were tracked down and executed.
- Yang Jingyu
- 杨靖宇 Chinese Wikipedia biography with photo
- A Look Back: The Anti Japanese War
- The volunteer armies of northeast China