In the Sino-Japanese conflict that stretched from the 1930s until 1945 Chinese “puppet” military forces were to be found wherever Japanese occupation forces reached, and in the earlier stages, sometimes beyond the edges of its direct control. These treasonous troops sometimes worked closely with the Japanese, sometimes launched campaigns to suppress Communist and other insurgency forces, sometimes engaged in wild banditry, but more often than not, tried to stay alive and carefully monitor which way the wind was blowing in the war. They have been almost unanimously dismissed as being militarily ineffectual. Regardless, these forces, whether they originated as bandits, surrendered Nationalist units, or fresh levies, did not have a major impact on the outcome of the war.
As the war drew to an end, however, there emerged a debate among the contending forces in the Chinese theater of what to do with these military forces, many of whom had experience fighting guerrillas. The Nationalists in particular, had significant internal debate about whether or not these forces were a great asset to be immediately absorbed into the national army for possible use against Communist forces in the coming civil war (Jiang Jieshi, He Yingqin, and Bai Chongxi), or were a treasonous poison which would offer little help militarily but result in a public relations disaster (Chen Cheng). Many of them were eventually incorporated into the Nationalist forces, but without great effect.1 A much smaller number were used by Communist forces, not necessarily because they didn’t want them but because puppet troops were much less likely to be willing to surrender to Communists. Some that did switched to the Nationalist side when given the opportunity to do so.2 At any rate, the relative little use of these puppet troops by the Communist side in the civil war was a propaganda victory. In the mainland historiography and contemporary reports, as Chen Cheng warned, the Nationalists were harshly criticized for being willing to quickly use these traitors to preserve their feudalistic reactionary regime and wage a war against the Communists.
As I was looking through microfilms of China related documents in US State Department today, however, I found a document which adds to the common sensical idea that, if given the opportunity, the Communists would have been happy to incorporate these “puppet” forces. I found a translation of a letter, dated January 23, 1945 from China’s premier military commander, Zhu De, to General Albert C. Wedemeyer (a committed anti-Communist), asking for a “favor” (not sure what the original Chinese for this was) of a $20 million dollar loan, to be repaid after the war.
In the letter Zhu De claims that 3.8% of the 900,000 puppet troops he estimates to be active had been “turned over” and provides detailed statistics in what can only be described as a proposed puppet bribing budget. He estimates that with another $20 million and continued Allied victories, they can bring this up to 10%, or 90,000. He then proceeds to budget the bribe expenditures and reserve fund that will be needed.
After they were “turned,” Zhu De reports that the forces would be reorganized, paid their original salary, given “comfort gifts,” offered subsidies to have some “puppet families” resettled and would then be used to engage in sabotage attacks against the Japanese.
This is, of course, good realist style wartime politics going on here. Zhu De has no qualms about asking their US ally for the loan, or to use this loan to bribe and make use of the traitors against the enemy. Nothing terribly surprising, but worth keeping in mind given the “clean hands” memories of the Communist wartime effort, untainted by the relations with traitors that they frequently point out on the Nationalist side.
I saw no other documents showing Wedemeyer’s reply, but I think it is highly unlikely that the US approved the proposal, especially since most the other documents from this time are expressing huge alarm at increased power and influence of the Chinese Communist forces throughout rural China.
I have uploaded this document to the Frog in a Well Library, and you download the full 5 page PDF of the letter: