Winning Over the Puppets: Conclusion

This posting is part of a series which comprise a draft dissertation chapter. Read more about it here. The first posting is found here. The post preceding this one is here.

There was a girl whose father was executed by shooting. She cried continuously as she faced the war criminal and accused him of the crime. Then she climbed up onto the stage and beat him to death with a stone.
Reaction: The masses were moved and began to cry.

-Example case from the “Oppose Treason and Voice Grievances” campaign in Rizhao county, Public Security Bureau Report, 1946.

The Communist Party in Shandong province understood just as well as the Nationalist regime that the tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers who helped maintain the Japanese occupation in the peninsula were as valuable for their manpower and their rifles as they were reviled for their treason and their violence. This value did not diminish with Japanese surrender and the approach of a devastating civil war. The Party’s wartime efforts to win over military collaborators, shield them from retribution, and redeploy them were renewed in the postwar period, but as we saw, this was punctuated by a short period in which tens of thousands of Chinese treated as prisoners of war found themselves caught up in twin processes of reform and retribution in the fall of 1945 and spring of 1946. Here too the Party pressed hard to limit the scope and severity of retribution through its policy of magnanimity, but found this impossible to achieve.

If puppet soldiers feared retribution in the mass trials carried out throughout Shandong in 1945 and 1946, their alternative was to be a part of Chiang Kai-shek’s “conspiracy” to merge his troops with the puppets. Just as the major puppet army commanders who were won over to Communist control in Shandong, including Mo Zhengmin, Zhang Xixian, Han Shouchen and later Wu Huawen, retained command of their forces and went on to successful postwar careers in the People’s Republic, many puppet commanders in the province were able to rejoin the Nationalist army, and some estimated 100,000 puppet soldiers joined them. These include Zhang Tianzuo, Ning Chunling, Wang Jimei, and Wang Jinyang. Some, such as Cao Keming survived the civil war in Shandong and joined the Nationalist retreat to Taiwan.

The fate of puppet commanders who stayed in the few Nationalist controlled areas was not guaranteed, however. Two of the most important wartime puppet army generals, Zhang Buyun and the former Japanese citizen Zhang Zongyuan were both executed after being tried by the courts of the Nationalist administration. Zhang, tried for “pillage, murder, and treason,” was executed in Qingdao, January 1948.

Zhang Zongyuan’s origins made his case more complicated. Even though the Nationalist government’s law for the punishment of treason did not stipulate that those charged have Chinese citizenship and, in fact, tried number of foreigners for the crime, Japanese prisoners of war were to come under the laws for prosecution as war criminals. Though born in Japan, Zhang Zongyuan claimed ties to a Chinese ancestor that had joined the crew of a Japanese pirate ship during the Ming dynasty. Zhang’s convoluted case resembled the challenge faced by the Nationalist government in prosecuting the last Chinese and later Manchurian emperor Puyi’s cousin Kawashima Yoshiko, as well as a small number of accused Taiwanese traitors who could claim they were Japanese citizens during the time they committed their alleged treason. Like Kawashima Yoshiko, who at various times described herself as Chinese, Manchurian or Japanese, after his arrest Zhang Zongyuan could not seem to make up his mind whether he wanted to be treated as Chinese or as Japanese. A military investigation looking into the problem was equally confused and ruled he had two native places. It claimed this merely made the severity of his crime, which was to include “war crimes and treason” (戰犯漢奸) among others, all the more serious. He was executed in Shanghai, in June, 1948.

On the Communist side, those puppet soldiers who were subjected to mass trials in the Oppose Treason campaign of 1945 and 1946 were sentenced in a legal process which was not terribly concerned with particular crime its convictions were filed under, even if its campaign was ostensibly organized to target those guilty of collaboration. On the contrary, from the Party’s perspective, the key was to tie this process to its preparations for full scale land reform by linking it with the Rent and Interest Reduction campaign. As a report from northern Binhai put it, “The Oppose Treason campaign is a movement with two sides. One is the national struggle (民族鬥爭). It is a struggle of all the classes against the small time traitors. Secondly it is a class struggle, a way to attack landlords who maintained their wealth through their treasonous acts.” Of these, the second was by far the most important. Puppet soldiers were thus largely peripheral to this process, all the more so because they often came from relatively humble origins and were needed in the fight against the Nationalists.

From the perspective of the population, however, the military collaborators who were briefly subjected to mass justice were as reviled as the Japanese occupier. Indeed, for those who lived in areas without regular Japanese patrols, these Chinese military collaborators were the only face of the long occupation. Having stood by during the war while dozens of small groups of military collaborators transformed overnight by the Enemy and Puppet Work teams into units of the army of resistance, it is not terribly surprising that many had little patience for the Party’s “policy of magnanimity” when their opportunity finally came for retribution.

Note:  If you have any interesting information about 伊達麟之介 / 伊達順之介 / 伊達順之助 / 張宗援 / 张宗援 I’d love to hear from you. I’ve been collecting information about him and his fate for a separate article.

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