David P. Barret and Larry N. Shyu eds., Chinese Collaboration With Japan, 1932-1945: The Limits of Accommodation

The title of this book is enough to arouse interest since
it deals with a particularly sensitive phenomenon in modern Chinese history: collaboration
with the Japanese during the occupation. It is therefore very much to the credit
of the two editors, David Barrett and Larry Shyu, to have brought together the
papers presented on this subject during a conference held in Vancouver in December
1995, and devoted to the Sino-Japanese war. As David Barrett reminds us, Western
historiography on the period has focused above all on the study of the communist
movement, and to a lesser degree, of the nationalist government. The collaborationist
regimes and the situation in the occupied zones have been neglected. This deficiency
is partly linked to the difficulties in gaining access to primary sources; but
the ideological prejudices of many researchers in the 1960s and 1970s are also
involved. One should not forget that at least 200 million Chinese lived under
the direct or indirect administration of the occupying forces, for periods which,
in certain cases, lasted up to eight years. Situations varied considerably from
one region to another, depending on the motivations of collaborationists, and
local relations with the Japanese military administration.

Fortunately, research conditions and the attitude of historians
have made much progress since the mid-1980s. An increasing number of archives
have been opened and a growing number of publications have appeared in China.
Although Chinese historians unanimously describe all collaborators as traitors
(hanjian), and all the collaborationist regimes as “puppets”
(wei), their studies have provided new information. David Barrett devotes
a very welcome part of his introduction to the question of themes, sources and
historiography (“Introduction: Occupied China and the Limits of Accommodation”,
pp. 1-17). Besides the recent Chinese publications, several authors have also
exploited Japanese sources. For his part, Odoric Y. K. Wou details the series
of provincial and local communist publications, such as those in Henan. Without
losing sight of the situation in the country as a whole, he draws attention to
the extreme diversity of local conditions, to which the behaviour of the communists
was adjusted (“Communist Sources for Localizing the Study of the Sino-Japanese
War”, pp. 226-235).

On the actors and the forms of collaboration, the discourse
of justification, or the functioning of the “puppet” regimes, the authors
immediately challenge any over-simplified or moralising approach. Many have highlighted,
for example, the connections between these phenomena of collaboration and the
socio-political situation before the war. The major factor involved is certainly
the division of central power and the political dislocation which affected China
after the fall of the Empire. The journey of Wang Jingwei, from the highest nationalist
leadership circles, to the forefront of collaboration, is demonstrative in this
regard. Prime minister of the Kuomintang (KMT) from 1932 to 1935, Wang was not
in any way a pro-Japanese politician, as some historians have suggested: he was
a fervent promoter of the line of so-called “negotiation in resistance”
(yimian dikang, yimian jiaoshe) in the face of an overpowerful and insatiably
ambitious Japan. Supported by a part of public opinion, especially by the realist
liberals like Hu Shi and Jiang Tingfu, this policy came up against the divisions
among the military and the de facto control exercised by Chiang Kai-shek over
the government army. Under such conditions Wang’s only option was to reach
humiliating and unpopular compromises with the invader. Through his “peace
movement” (heping yundong), Wang gave himself a mission similar to
Li Hongzhang’s under the Qing dynasty: his avowed objective was to avoid
the total destruction of China, and to maintain, with Japanese support, a political
opposition to Chiang. (Wang Kewen, “Wang Jingwei and the Policy Origins of
the Peace Movement’, 1932-1937”, pp. 21-37).

One of the major negative characteristics of the nationalist
regime lay, as is well known, in the existence of deep political and military
divisions between the central power and the regions. This state of affairs largely
contributed to Japanese tactics and arguments during the 1930s. Marjorie Dryburgh’s
study relates, in this framework, the interplay of three protagonists: the Kwantung
Army (Kantogun), the Nanking government and General Song Zheyuan, in charge of
defence and peacekeeping in the Hebei-Chaha’er region. Coming from the Northwest
Army of Feng Yuxiang, Song had to tack between Nanking’s mistrust and Japanese
pressure. The circumstances made his mission all but impossible, and drove him
into secret negotiations with the occupying forces who were only too happy to
widen the existing divisions between the centre and the region (“Regional
Office and the National Interest: Song Zheyuan in North China, 1933-1937”,
pp. 38-55). These conflicting relations also appeared on the social level, between
the nationalist state and society. In Shaoxing, in Zhejiang, the Japanese occupation
thus appeared to the merchant worthies—at least initially—as an unexpected
opportunity to revive the local economy, severely affected by social crisis and
the fiscal policy of Nanking, and to reinvigorate the traditional banks, which
were declining in the face of the offensive of the official establishments (R
Keith Schoppa, “Patterns and Dynamics of Elite Collaboration in Occupied
Shaoxing County”, pp. 156-179).

National reintegration was particularly fragile in northern
China. The politicians of the Zhixi and Wanxi cliques, who had been sidelined
by the KMT regime, had swallowed the Japanese bait simply in order to be involved
in politics again. The collaboration of some regional military leaders, moreover,
could be explained quite simply by the necessity they found themselves in to maintain
their troops, on whom their survival depended (Lo Jiu-jung, “Survival as
Justification for Collaboration, 1937-1945”, pp. 116-132). In the sub-prefecture
of Neihuang, in Henan, the Japanese occupation merely exacerbated the political
disorder established since the fall of the last dynasty. Fratricidal struggles
were unleashed between bandits, the “Red Lance” militias and the various
elements affiliated with the nationalist and communist movements (these were to
begin again after the retreat of the occupying forces in the summer of 1945).
Indeed, the Chinese killed or wounded more of their own compatriots than of the
Japanese enemy, in general conditions that were finally favourable to communist
implantation. Peter J. Seybolt is right to bring up this hidden and embarrassing
chapter of Chinese history under the occupation. One can however voice certain
reservations about his too systematically mathematical approach, which seems to
assess on the same rigid level the blind massacres carried out by bandits and
“Red Lance” groups on the one hand, and the fight against the occupying
forces and collaborationist soldiers on the other (“The War Within a War:
A Case Study of a County on the North China Plain”, pp. 201-225).

In an extremely weak position in the face of the Japanese
enemy, the Chinese leaders nevertheless proved to be as skilful at negotiation
as their Qing dynasty predecessors. Indeed, during the entire conflict Chongqing
and Tokyo were to continue peace talks, using the most diverse intermediaries.
But it was no longer a matter, as it had been under the Manchus, of “using
certain barbarians to control others”. Nor was there any question, as was
long asserted by communist historiography, of accepting any bargaining over Chinese
interests: Chiang Kai-shek always refused to yield over the principles of China’s
territorial integrity and national sovereignty. But if Chongqing made a Japanese
government—which was anxious to bring an end to the war in China—wait
for so long, it was essentially to weaken Japanese support for the Wang Jingwei
regime, and if need be to obtain US or British aid (Huang Meizhen and Yang Hanqing,
“Nationalist China’s Negotiating Position During the Stalemate, 1938-1945”,
pp. 56-76). In contrast with the stereotypical image of base and powerless collaborators,
paralysed by any government initiative, Timothy Brook shows that the leaders of
the collaborationist regimes themselves managed to find room for manœuvre
by exploiting the rivalries between the two Japanese expeditionary forces in northern
and southern China. Founded in Nanking in 1938, the reform government of Liang
Hongzhi was not a mere creation of the occupying forces, but rather “the
result negotiated between a range of Chinese and Japanese interests through a
process of dialogue, the outcome of which was quite unpredictable” (p. 84).
The negotiations and conflicting pressures ended up by fracturing Tokyo’s
control (“The Creation of the Reformed Government in Central China, 1938”,
pp. 79-101).

Historians of the French Vichy regime have drawn a distinction
between “collaboration” and “collaborationism”, using the
latter term to mean engagement and ideological identification with German Nazism.
This concept seems difficult to apply in the Chinese case (Barrett p. 8). It is
true that, by manipulating Sun Yat-sen’s ideas on pan-Asianism, Wang Jingwei
attempted to combine Chinese nationalism with Japanese Great Eastern Asia theory.
But his efforts had little effect, on a theoretical and day-to-day level, given
the presence of 800,000 to 1,000,000 Japanese soldiers south of the Great Wall.
David Barrett finally finds more convergence than divergence between the Wang
Jiangwei and Chiang regimes: ideological orthodoxy, predominant factionalism,
promotion of the personality cult, moralising and conservative tendencies, military
campaigning against communism, re-establishment of the baojia system, etc.
One single point—and it is an important one—divided the two rivals:
Wang Jinwei accepted the Japanese demands which Chiang had always refused. For
the author (“The Wang Jingwei Regime, 1940-1945: Continuities and Disjunctures
with Nationalist China”, pp. 102-115), these differences made less and less
sense as Japanese defeat grew nearer. One can object, however, that the cult of
full Chinese sovereignty, deeply rooted in the masses, never ceased in their eyes
to be essential. Just like Chiang, the Chinese Communist Party—the real winner
of the Sino-Japanese war—never deviated from the promotion of this cult.

Following Wang Jingwei’s example, many of the collaboration
politicians sought retrospective justification in their declared concern to preserve
the interests and the survival of the Chinese nation. We have seen that their
real motives, when not purely opportunistic, were often less exalted. On the regional
level, most of the administrative and military leaders of the KMT had fled before
the Japanese arrived, simply abandoning the population to the invader, and it
was often the merchant worthies of the Chambers of Commerce who found themselves
in the front line facing the occupying forces. In Zhengzhou (Lo Jiu-jung) as in
Shaoxing (Schoppa), which were both overrun in 1941, these elites decided to collaborate
with a view to restoring the order and stability necessary for the preservation
of the interests of all, those of the local community as well as their own. There
were also a few déclassé elements who joined the collaborationist
militia as shameless henchmen (goutuizi). In all cases the Nationalist
state failed gravely in its responsibilities by its improvidence and its glaring
shortcomings. It was left with an image all the more unflattering for the fact
that its leaders were often less answerable to the law after the war than the
involuntary or unwitting “collaborators”, who had been abandoned without
any specific directives at the approach of the enemy.

The fate of Shanghai under the occupation has already been
the subject of several major books (1). The ground there was favourable to all
sorts of intrigue, arrangement, collaboration and resistance. In this book Parks
Coble confronts Japanese economic policy with the reaction of Shanghai capitalists
(“Japan’s New Order and the Shanghai Capitalists: Conflict and Collaboration,
1937-1945”, pp. 135-155). While making a lot of noise about promoting a “co-prosperity
sphere in Greater Eastern Asia”, Japan’s main preoccupation was taking
over property and resources, and controlling prices and Chinese companies in order
to satisfy its military needs and imperialist objectives. Local capitalists who
agreed to collaborate in order to keep or to get back their factories, or share
access to raw materials, were quickly disillusioned. One very specific sector
enjoyed prosperity: Shanghai’s film-makers, who used an institutionalised
Sino-Japanese co-operative framework to produce a sizeable number of films with
romantic or fantastic subjects, which satisfied the understandable desire of the
population to escape from the dark daily atmosphere of the occupation. Poshek
Fu sees in the actions of the producer Zhang Shankun, the main partner in these
kinds of projects, a sort of “passive collaboration” and “indirect
resistance”. Zhang did indeed manage to extend his film empire, while providing
subsistence to a team of 1,300 people. In order to avoid being compromised, he
obtained the backing of Chongqing and refrained from transmitting, in his films,
the political and cultural messages of the occupying forces. The Shanghai film
industry shows that it is impossible to apply ready-made phrases to the experiences
of collaboration: resistance could exist in one case, collaboration in another,
as well being intermingled elsewhere (“Resistance in Collaboration: Chinese
Cinema in Occupied Shanghai, 1941-1945”, pp. 180-198).

This group publication contains a wealth of information useful
to our knowledge and understanding of the period. It is a pity, however, that
the editors did not include an index, in Chinese characters, of the names and
main terms concerned. The reduction or omission of these transcriptions, which
are extremely valuable to researchers, seems to follow a general transatlantic
trend at a time when the improvement of computerisation has made their display
much easier than it was ten or twenty years ago.

Translated from the French original by Michael
Black

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