A small temple with white walls and black tiles bakes under the hot sun in a green paddy-field. No frogs or cicadas can be heard in the still, silent landscape.
The temple is located in Ruijin, more than 400 kilometers from Nanchang, capital city of eastern China's Jiangxi Province. Ruijin was the capital of the first state established by the Communist Party of China (CPC) in the 1930s.
According to locals, the small temple was demolished and rebuilt several times. More than 70 years ago, it was called "solitary house" because there were no other buildings nearby. In his bestseller, The Long March--The Untold Story, the American writer Harrison E. Salisbury described it as bleak.
The man living in the house during the tumultuous events of the 1930s was Otto Braun, a German military consultant assigned to Red China by the Comintern, the Soviet Union's policy maker for communist parties in other countries.
"Never heard of him"
Otto Braun, an agitator and street fighter after World War One and a graduate of Frunze Military Academy in the Soviet Union, had a Chinese name, Li De, which he thought meant "Li the German".
In 2006 when China commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Long March victory, Otto Braun was chosen by a newspaper in Beijing, in partnership with scholars from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, as one of 50 influential foreigners in modern Chinese history.
The small temple is now named Fuzhu (god of good luck). A pair of couplets pasted on either side of the temple door are resolutely optimistic: "Let thousands of families flourish in weather propitious for crops and let them rejoice at the nation's prosperity and the happiness of all the people."
In the main room of the temple, a horizontal board hanging from the ceiling is inscribed with the words "The gods will help you fulfill your every wish". Underneath the board, there is a niche containing small statues of five cereal gods--rice, two kinds of millet, wheat and beans. Yellow tables and chairs are piled up in a corner of the room, which make the temple look like a restaurant. Round tables and square stools are also heaped up in the side room.
The temple watchman sits on a bamboo chair on the threshold, resting. A peasant woman with her five-year-old son is also taking a break at the temple. They have never heard of Li De, or Otto Braun.
People are still debating where exactly the German military consultant lived.
Some CPC history experts believe Otto Braun did not live in the small temple. They think a house was built specially for him some 100 meters southeast of the temple. But no trace of the house remains.
Daily life recalled
At Guanshan village, half a kilometer from the temple, lives 84-year-old Yang Shixiang. He said that when he was 13 years of age, he often went to Otto Braun's residence to play with the German's helpers. Yang remembers a red-haired, red-bearded, powerfully built foreigner. He always rode a yellow horse and was accompanied by his bodyguards when he entered or left his house.
"We never had the chance to talk to him and were not allowed to go inside his rooms," said Yang Shixiang.
"But Deng Xiaoping was different. I often collected paper cigarette packs dropped on the ground in Deng's room. When Deng saw me, he called me naughty boy."
The peculiar political life inside the CPC, with its almost unconditional obedience to the Comintern, meant that Otto Braun exercised virtual supreme authority for military command and had enormous prestige. Initially, even Zhu De, one of the founders of the CPC's Red Army and an experienced commander, visited Braun's home almost every day to ask his advice.
Despite the harsh living conditions in Ruijin with the Red regime beleaguered by military units loyal to Chiang Kai-shek, then paramount leader of Old China, the CPC central committee spared no effort to look after Braun. He was provided with secretaries, interpreters, bodyguards, an exclusive doctor and chefs. Coffee and cigars which he loved were obtained for him from big cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou.
"Li De (Braun) had the most nutritious and delicious dishes. He ate a duck every day," said Yang Shixiang.
According to Liu Liang, a local expert on CPC history, Mao Zedong quarreled with Braun, who despised Mao's ideas about guerrilla warfare, on each of the five visits he paid to the German's home. Mao was then deprived of power and his influence curtailed.
As Braun's interpreter Wu Xiuquan recalled, Braun did not speak a word of Chinese, nor did he possess any background information about China. Instead of carefully analyzing the real situation on the ground, he simply applied military academy doctrines. The results of his foolish command were disastrous: heavy casualties and a substantial part of Communist territory lost to Chiang Kai-shek in his fifth Campaign.
Braun's last residence and days
In July 1934, CPC central organizations were moved from Shazhouba to Mount Yunyan.
Today at Yabei Village on Mount Yunyan, tourists can see a two-storey Jiangxi-style building. A plaque on its yellow brick wall states that Otto Braun lived in the building from July to October 1934. Living with him were two senior CPC leaders, Zhu De and Wang Jiaxiang. They started their Long March from there. Braun was the only foreigner in the Red Army to complete the 12,500-km long trek.
Ling Buji, a CPC history expert in Jiangxi, said, "Actually it was Braun who came up with the evacuation idea that was later called the Long March. That was a wise decision, which should be recognized. Chinese historians have reached consensus on the point."
Braun's last residence was also called "solitary house".
In January 1935, a meeting was held in Zunyi, in southwest China's Guizhou Province.
At the meeting the CPC, for the first time since its inception in 1921, made an independent decision about the destiny of the revolution in China.
The Zunyi Meeting, free from Comintern intervention, is regarded as a critical turning point in CPC history. It was the first time the CPC made an independent strategic decision about the direction of the Chinese revolution. Braun was dismissed from military command and the first CPC leadership with Mao at the core began to take shape for New China, according to Shi Zhongquan, a CPC history expert in Beijing.
Braun returned to the Soviet Union in 1939 and lived a peaceful life in East Germany after World War Two. He died aged 73 in 1974.
According to Liu Liang, since 2000 he has received more than a dozen journalists and scholars from the United States, Canada, Israel and other countries and regions. Most of them were interested in Otto Braun, even in details of his daily life in China, including what he looked like when he lost his temper.
Since the beginning of 2006, Chinese media have flocked to Ruijin to collect information for stories about the Long March. Xinhua, however, is the only agency to have released a story about Otto Braun.
(Xinhua News Agency September 15, 2006)