Red Cliff Village, Chongqing, China

One Week At Red Cliff Village

Our flight from Bangkok to Chongqing, China, was packed with Chinese. The Air Asia crew made announcements first in Chinese and later, seemingly as an afterthought, in Thai or English. During takeoff and landing, Chinese passengers laughed and shouted, jumped up and down, and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. I got the impression that many considered flying a novel, fun time.

Air Asia’s nonstop, low-cost flights from Bangkok to Chongqing have become irresistible to Chinese tourists. To Vicki and me, too. We like China and decided to wander around here for a few months. We were in Thailand, and Chongqing seemed as good a place to start our China visit as any.

Besides, I wanted to see Red Cliff Village.

Most of us think the war against Japan started on Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor. But the Japanese attacked Shanghai in 1937. Japanese forces quickly took major ports on China’s eastern seaboard and moved inland to Nanjing, Wuhan, Beijing, and other large cities. Chiang Kai-shek’s government retreated to the west, out of harm’s way, and finally settled the wartime capital here in Chongqing. (Chongqing is pronounced Chong-ching. The old name was Chungking, as in the awful, canned, hard-noodle chow mein of my youth, now mercifully long gone.)

The U.S. embassy also moved to Chongqing, and eventually the U.S. army set up shop here, too. General Vinegar Joe Stillwell arrived in 1942 and took charge of the U.S. army’s India Burma China theatre. He became Chiang Kai-shek’s chief of staff.

But I wanted to see the headquarters of the Red Army, not the U.S. army. And the Red Army, under the command of Zhou Enlai, was set up in Red Cliff Village.

These days modern Chongqing has a light-rail Metro system. I figured there must be a stop near Red Cliff Village. So I took the Metro map to the desk at the hotel and asked what was the stop for Red Cliff Village.

The woman I asked starting talking to the other woman at the desk. After discussion, the first woman checked the computer. She then made a phone call and then again talked to the other woman. On and on. I intervened and said I would ask at the Metro station. They ignored me, continued talking, debating, checking the computer. Another phone call.

Finally they called a bilingual guide, handed me the phone, and said, “She will explain to you how to get there.”

I got on the phone and the guide said, “Take a taxi.”

I did. I found Red Cliff Village tucked away on top of a rock, extremely easy to defend, provided the Japanese could find it. I doubt the Japanese had much interest in Red Cliff Village, or even Chongqing, for that matter. The Japanese already controlled the heart and soul of China–Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan. I suspect they bombed Chongqing only to keep the Chinese government on edge. Whatever, Chongqing remained under Chinese control until the end of the war.

In Red Cliff Village I saw where Zhou lived, saw his office and meeting rooms. Zhou managed the Red Army’s propaganda operation during the war, and I saw his printing presses.

In 1945 Mao came to live in Red Cliff Village, too. Americans, desperate to end the quarrel between Chiang and Mao, had arranged a meeting between the two here in Chongqing. That meeting lasted 40 days and turned out to be the only face-to-face meeting Chiang and Mao ever had. In Red Cliff Village I saw where Mao and Zhou walked to discuss their meeting strategy.

Vicki and I spent a week in Chongqing. Besides Red Cliff Village, I saw General Stillwell’s home and office, the Flying Tigers museum, and Chongqing itself, with parts of the city barely changed from when the Japanese bombed it.

We also watched the Olympics on TV. We understood very little of the Chinese commentary. But China TV covered the Olympics straight, with very few up-close-and-personal views, ads, or background talk. Instead we saw all sports all the time, sometimes on three or four channels simultaneously: hundreds of hours of whatever we wanted to enjoy.

Paul Terhorst