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21st Division (People's Republic of China)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

21st Division (1949–50)
Tianshui-Lanzhou Railway "Trailbreakers".jpg
The "Trailbreakers" of the Tianshui-Lanzhou Railway in China, a group that the 21st Division would be part of from the group's creation until the division's dissolution in October 1950
Active1949 - 1950
Country China
Flag of the Chinese Communist Party (Pre-1996).svg
Communist Party of China
Flag of the People's Liberation Army.svg
People's Liberation Army
Part of7th Army
EngagementsChinese Civil War
BrigadierFan Zhongxiang
Political CommissarLi Jianliang
  • Li Yuanming
  • Duan Shikai

The 21st Division (simplified Chinese: 第21师; traditional Chinese: 第21師; pinyin: dì-èrshíyī shī) was a short-lived division of the Chinese People's Liberation Army which was in service both during and after the Chinese Civil War.[1] The division was created in June 1949 by the Regulation of the Re-Designations of All Organizations and Units of the Army, issued by Central Military Commission on November 1, 1948,[2] being formed from the People's Liberation Army 5th Independent Brigade. The division's history can be traced to 2nd Independent Brigade of the Jinzhong Military District, formed in October 1948.[2]

Though the extent of the service of the 21st Division would be limited, it would participate in the Chinese Civil War through support of other divisions, such as those in the Taiyuan Campaign. The division would participate in the Battle of Weinan in before it would be moved to southern China to continue minor operations there until the end of the Civil War.

In March of 1950, the 21st Division participated in the construction of the Tianshui-Lanzhou Railway in central China.[3] The division would be dissolved in October 1950, before the railway was completed in October 1952, to become the similarly short-lived 4th Artillery Training Base, the predecessor to the 31st Artillery Division.[4][5]

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Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course: World History, and today we’re going to talk about China, which these days is discussed almost constantly on television and in newspapers—wait, are they still a thing? So, we used to print information on thinly sliced trees and then you would pay someone to take these thinly sliced trees and throw them onto your front lawn, and that’s how we received information. No one thought this was weird, by the way. [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] Right but anyway you hear a lot about how China is going to overtake the U.S. and bury us under a pile of inexpensive electronics, but I don’t to address those address those fears today. Instead, I want to talk about how the way you tell a story shapes the story. China was really the first modern state--by which I mean it had a centralized government and a corps of bureaucrats who could execute the wishes of that government. And it lasted, in pretty much the same form, until 150 BCE to 1911 CE, which is technically known as a long-ass time. The Chinese were also among the first people to write history. In fact, one of the Confucian Classics is called the Shujing, or Classic of History. This is great for us, because we can now see the things that the Chinese recorded as they were happening, but it is also problematic because of the way the story is told. So even Me From The Past with his five minutes of World History knows that Chinese History is conveniently divided into periods called Dynasties. Mr. Green, I didn’t even say anything. That doesn’t seem very fair- Sshh! What makes a dynasty a dynasty is that it’s ruled by a king, or as the Chinese know him, an emperor, who comes from a continuous ruling family. As long as that family produces emperors, and they are always dudes, and those emperors keep ruling, the dynasty gets to be a dynasty. So the dynasty can end for two reasons: either they run out of dudes (which never happened thanks to the hard work of many, many concubines), or the emperor is overthrown after a rebellion or a war. This is more or less what happened to all the dynasties, which makes it easy for me to go over to camera two and describe them in a single run-on sentence: Hi there-- --camera two. Leaving aside the Xia dynasty, which was sadly fictional, the first Chinese dynasty were the Shang, who were overthrown by the Zhou, which disintegrated into political chaos called the Warring States period, in which states warred over periods—oh, no, wait, it was a period in which states warred, which ended when the Qin emperor was able to extend his power over most of the heretofore warring states, but the Qin were replaced by the Han, which was the dynasty that really set the pattern for most of China’s history and lasted for almost 400 years after which China fell again into political chaos – which only means there was no dynasty that ruled over all of China – and out of this chaos rose the Sui, who were followed quickly by the Tang, who in turn were replaced, after a short period of no dynasty by the Song, who saw a huge growth in China’s commerce that was still not enough to prevent them from being conquered by the Yuan, who were both unpopular and unusual… because they were Mongols, which sparked rebellions resulting in the rise of the Ming, which was the dynasty that built the Great Wall and made amazing vases but didn’t save them from falling to the Manchus who founded a dynasty that was called the Qing, which was the last dynasty because in 1911 there was a rebellion like the ones in, say, America, France or Russia, and the whole dynastic system which at this point had lasted for a long-ass time came to an end. The concept of the Mandate of Heaven dates from the Zhou Dynasty, and current historians think that they created it to get rid of the Shang. Before the Zhou, China didn’t even have a concept of “Heaven” or T’ian, but they did have a “high god” called Shangdi. But the Zhou believed in T’ian, and they were eager to portray the idea of heaven as eternal so they ascribed the concept of the Mandate of Heaven back to a time even before the Shang, explaining that the Shang were able to conquer the Xia only because the Xia kings had lost the Mandate of Heaven. (This of course would have been impossible, partly because the Xia kings had no concept of “heaven”, and partly because, as previously noted, they didn’t exist, but let’s just leave that aside.) The Shujing is pretty specific about what caused the Xia kings to lose the Mandate, by the way, explaining: “The attack on Xia may be traced to the orgies in Ming Tiao.” Sadly the Shujing is woefully short on details of these orgies, but orgies are the kind of behavior that is not expected of a ruler, and thus Heaven saw fit to remove the Mandate, and therefore heaven saw fit to come in, remove the Mandate, and allow the Shang to take power. But then the Shang lost the Mandate. Why? Well, the last Shang emperor was reported to have roasted and eaten his opponents, which, you know, bit of a deal breaker as far as the Mandate of Heaven is concerned. Of course, that might not actually have happened, but it would explain why Heaven would allow the Zhou to come to power. So basically the fact that one dynasty falls and is replaced by another in a cycle that lasts for 3000 years is explained, in the eyes of early Chinese historians, by divine intervention based on whether the ruler behaves in a proper, upright manner. It’s an after-the fact analysis that has the virtue of being completely impossible to disprove, as well as offering a tidy explanation for some very messy political history. And even more importantly, it reinforces a vision of moral behavior that is a cornerstone of Confucianism, which I’ll get to momentarily. But first, let’s see an example of the mandate of heaven in action. The Qin dynasty on lasted only 38 years, but it is one of the most important dynasties in Chinese history, so important in fact that it gave the place its name, “Chin- uh.” [chalkboard joke] Hahahaha. Can I just tell you guys that we literally just spent 20 minutes on that shot. We shot it like 40 times. Stan, you are in love with puns. The accomplishment of the Qin was to re-unify China under a single emperor for the first time in 500 years, ending the warring states period. As you can imagine, the making of that particular omelette required the cracking of quite a few eggs, and the great Qin emperor Qin Shihuangdi, and his descendants developed a reputation for brutality that was justified. But it was also exaggerated for effect so that the successor dynasty, the Han, would look more legitimate in the eyes of Heaven. So when recounting the fall of the Qin, historians focused on how a bunch of murderous eunuchs turned the Qin emperors into puppets, not literal puppets, although that would have been awesome. And these crazy eunuchs like tricked emporers into committing suicide when they started thinking for themselves, et cetera. So the Mandate of Heaven turned away from these puppet emperors, which set up a nice contrast for historians of the early Han emperors, such as Wen, who came to power in 180 BCE and ruled benevolently, avoiding extravagance in his personal behavior and ruling largely according to Confucian principles. Under Wen, there were no more harsh punishments for criticizing the government, executions declined, and, most importantly for the Confucian scholars who were writing the history, the government stopped burning books. Thus, according to the ancient Chinese version of history, Emperor Wen, by behaving as a wise Confucian, maintains the Mandate of Heaven. So who is this Confucius I won’t shut up about? Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. Confucius was a minor official who lived during the Warring States period and developed a philosophical and political system he hoped would lead to a more stable state and society. He spent a great deal of his time trying to convince one of the powerful kings to embrace his system, but while none ever did, Confucius got the last laugh because his recipe for creating a functioning society was ultimately adopted and became the basis for Chinese government, education, and, well, most things. So Confucius was conservative. He argued that the key to bringing about a strong and peaceful state was to look to the past and the model of the sage emperors. By following their example of morally upright behavior, the Chinese emperor could bring order to China. Confucius idea of morally upright behavior boils down to a person’s knowing his or her place in a series of hierarchical relationships and acting accordingly. Everyone lives his life (or her life, but like most ancient philosophical traditions, women were marginalized) in relationship to other people, and is either a superior or an inferior. There are five key relationships—but the most important is the one between father and son, and one of the keys to understanding Confucius is filial piety, a son treating his father with reverential respect. The father is supposed to earn this respect by caring for the son and educating him, but this doesn’t mean that a son has the right to disrespect a neglectful father. Ideally, though, both father and son will act accordingly: The son will respect the father, and the father will act respectably. Ultimately the goal of both father and son is to be a “superior man” (chunzi in Chinese). If all men strive to be chunzi, the society as a whole will run smoothly. This idea applies especially to the emperor, who is like the father to the whole country. Oh, it’s time for the Open Letter? Alright. [scoots to throne] God, that’s good. But first, let’s see what’s in the Secret Compartment today. Oh, an iPhone? Stan, this doesn’t factor into Chinese history until much later. An Open Letter to the Xia Dynasty: Dear Xia Dynasty, Why you gotta be so fictional? You contain all of the most awesome emperors, including my favorite emperor of all time, Yu the Engineer. There are so many The Greats and The Terribles among royalty and so few The Engineers. We need more kings like Yu The Engineer: Peter The Mortgage Broker; Danica The Script Supervisor; Stan The Video Editing and Producer Guy. Those should be our kings! I freakin’ love you, Yu The Engineer. And the fact that you’re not real- it breaks my heart, in a way that could only be fixed by Yu The Engineer. The circularity actually reminds me of the Mandate of Heaven. Best wishes, John Green But back to the chunzi: So how do you know how to behave? Well, first you have to look to historical antecedents particularly the sage emperors. The study of history, as well as poetry and paintings in order to understand and appreciate beauty, is indispensable for a chunzi. The other important aspects to chunzi-ness are contained in the Confucian ideas of ren and li. Ren and Li are both incredibly complex concepts that are difficult to translate, but we’re going to do our best. Ren is usually translated as “propriety”. It means understanding and practicing proper behavior in every possible situation, which of course depends on who you’re interacting with, hence the importance of the five relationships. Li is usually translated as “ritual” and refers to rituals associated with Chinese religion, most of which involve the veneration of ancestors. Which brings us back, in a very roundabout way to the fundamental problem of how early Chinese historians wrote their history. Traditional Chinese historians were all trained in the Confucian classics, which emphasized the idea that good emperors behaved like good Confucians. Would-be historians had to know these Classics by heart and they’d imbibed their lessons, chief among which was the idea that in order to maintain the Mandate of Heaven, you had to behave properly and not engage in orgies or eat your enemies or eat your enemies while engaging in orgies. In this history the political fortunes of a dynasty ultimately rest on one man and his actions, whether he behaves properly. The Mandate of Heaven is remarkably flexible as an explanation of historical causation. It explains why, as dynasties fell, there are often terrible storms and floods and peasant uprisings... If the emperor had been behaving properly, none of that stuff would have happened. Now, a more modern historian might point out that the negative effects of terrible storms and floods, which includes peasant uprisings, sometimes lead to changes in leadership. But that would take the moral aspect out of history and it would also diminish the importance of Confucian scholars. Because the scholars can tell you that one of the best ways to learn how to be a good emperor, and thereby maintain the Mandate of Heaven is to read the Confucian Classics, which were written by scholars. In short, the complicated circularity of Chinese history is mirrored by the complicated circularity of the relationship between those who write it and those who make it. Which is something to think about no matter what history you’re learning, even if it’s from Crash Course. Next week we’ll talk about Alexander the Grape—really, Stan, for an entire episode? That seems excessive to me. They’re just like less sour, grapy-er lemonheads—ohh Alexander the GREAT. That makes more sense. Until then, thanks for watching. Crash Course is produced and Directed by Stan Muller. Our script supervisor is Danica Johnson. Our graphics team is Thought Bubble and the show is written by my high school history teacher Raoul Meyer and myself. Last week’s phrase of the week was "Right Here In River City". If you wanna guess at this week’s phrase or suggest future ones you may do so in comments where you can also ask questions about today’s video that'll be answered by our team of historians. Thanks for watching Crash Course and as we say in my hometown, don’t forget to be awesome.



The 21st division was part of the North China military region, the successor to the Chinese former Beijing Military Region, and the current Northern Theater Command. For the time of its service, the division was part of the 1st Field Army of the Chinese 7th Army.[6] From its creation in 1949 to its disillusion in 1950, the division was composed of three separate regiments. Those being:

  • 61st Regiment;
  • 62nd Regiment;
  • 63rd Regiment.[1]

Leading the division was the division's brigadier, Fan Zhongxiang (Chinese: 范忠祥; pinyin: Fàn Zhōngxiáng). Fan, an early member of the Chinese Communist Party, became the 21st division's sole brigadier from its creation in 1949 until its disbanding in 1950. A participant on the Long March, Fan would become one of the People's Republic of China's founding generals in 1953 after his career in leading the 21st division and its successor, the 31st Anti-tank Artillery Division. During the Korean War, Fan was awarded the rank of Major General while still retaining his role as brigadier of the 21st Division's successors until his retirement in 1982.[1][7]

The political capabilities of the division were lead by Li Jianliang (Chinese: 李建良; pinyin: Lǐ Jiànliáng) as its political commissar. Li, along with Fan, took part in the Long March, though Li took part in the Second Sino-Japanese War as part of the infamous Eighth Route Army before his service in the 21st Division.[6]

Though the division did have multiple commanders under the central command of Fan Zhongxiang and Li Jianliang, two of the division's best known commanders include figures such as Li Yuanming (Chinese: 李元明; pinyin: Lǐ Yuánmíng)[8] and Duan Shikai (Chinese: 段士楷; pinyin: Duàn Shìkǎi).[9]

Duan Shikai, a commander of the 21st division later involved as a major general of the People's Liberation Army[10]
Duan Shikai, a commander of the 21st division later involved as a major general of the People's Liberation Army[10]


With much of its early leadership and base of soldiers from Shanxi, the division would be sent to participate in the larger capture of Kuomintang-controlled territory across neighboring Shaanxi in early- to mid-1949. Gradually, the area around the city of Weinan was captured by the 21st Division and its allies, only facing minor fighting as the city itself was fully captured by about the middle of the year. The city, previously faced with a Communist insurgency, housed little resistance as time went on and the general advance of the People's Liberation Army continued.[1][9][11]

After the fall of Weinan, the 21st Division was moved to South-Western China, facing little combat in the areas already controlled by the People's Republic of China.[1]

By the time of the war's end, the division was sent to Gansu, where it would participate in the construction of the Tianshui-Lanzhou Railway, a sub-section of the Longhai Railway that would be completed in 1953. Included as part of the so-called "trailbreakers" (Chinese: 开路先锋; pinyin: kāilù xiānfēng) of the railway, being some of the first to participate in its construction and expansion.[3][12]


The division was led as part of the 1st Field Army of the People's Liberation Army's 7th Army. Despite it only being in service for two years, in October 1950 it was disbanded to become the similarly short-lived 4th Artillery Training Base, becoming the 31st Anti-tank Artillery Division after that.[5]

Many of the commanders of the 21st Division would still be involved either in the division's successors, or would be involved in larger roles as part of the 7th Army itself. An example being Duan Shikai, a commander of the 21st division who would become the director of the political department of the 7th Army itself later.[9]


  1. ^ a b c d e "第7军21师、柒贰壹" [Seventh Army 21st Division, Seven Two One]. 360DOC. Beijing Six Wisdoms Information Technology Co., Ltd. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  2. ^ a b "关于统一全军组织及部队番号的规定[一九四八年十一月一日]" [Regulation of the Re-Designations of All Organizations and Units of the Army] (in Chinese). Sina Weibo (published 12 February 2012). 1 November 1948. Archived from the original on 23 July 2017. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  3. ^ a b Wu, Yanjiang (18 April 2014). "一野西北七军21师62团2连通过地方邮局邮寄的军邮封" [The Military Postal Seal Sent Through the Local Post Office by the 62nd Regiment of the 21st Division of the Seventh Army of the Northwest]. Chinese Postal Network (in Chinese). Chinese Postal Network. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  4. ^ "陇海铁路天兰段" [Tian-Lan Section of the Longhai Railway]. Baike Baidu (in Chinese). Baidu, Inc. Retrieved 10 July 2019.
  5. ^ a b Wang, Zhongjun (24 Feb 2015). "我军反坦克炮兵团的简史" [A Brief History of Our Anti-tank Artillery]. Weibo (in Chinese). Sina Weibo. Archived from the original on 28 Aug 2016. Retrieved 10 July 2019.
  6. ^ a b "将军人已去 忠魂归故里 荆门市举行李建良将军衣冠安放仪式" [The General Has Gone — His Loyal Soul Has Returned to His Hometown, Jingmen City Has Held General Li Jianling's Clothing Placement Ceremony]. Jingmen City Civil Affairs Bureau (in Chinese). Department of Civil Affairs of Hubei Province. 23 March 2011. Archived from the original on 11 March 2016. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  7. ^ Fan, Xifeng (28 Mar 2016). "军队媒体人撰文回忆父亲:开国少将范忠祥" [Military Media Writes to Recall a Father: Founding General Fan Zhongxiang]. China Military (in Chinese). Retrieved 10 July 2019.
  8. ^ "李元明" [Li Yuanming]. Party History Encyclopedia (in Chinese). People's Daily. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  9. ^ a b c Zuo, Li (11 Jan 2016). "段士楷" [Duan Shikai]. Hongse Jinsui (in Chinese). Shanxi Jinsui Culture Education & Development Foundation. Retrieved 11 July 2019.
  10. ^ "开国少将" [Founding Major Generals]. Zhongguo Gongchandang Xinwen (in Chinese). Retrieved 11 July 2019.
  11. ^ Chen, Yuhuan (2014-08-31). 滄海橫流: 黃埔五期風雲錄 [Azure Oceanflow: The Fifth Phase of Whampoa's Instability] (in Chinese). Xiuwei Publishing. ISBN 9789863262589.CS1 maint: Date and year (link)
  12. ^ Hu, Xinmin (6 June 2019). "胡新民:毛泽东为何决心要搞三线建设?" [Hu Xinmin: Why is Mao Zedong Determined to Engage in Third-Line Rail Construction?]. Hongse Wenhua Wang (in Chinese). Retrieved 11 July 2019.
This page was last edited on 12 July 2019, at 08:23
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