The key innovation of the Communist Party in dealing with military collaboration with Japan was that, up until Japanese surrender, its general policy was to treat puppet soldiers as neither traitors nor as war criminal suspects, even if it portrayed them as such. In propaganda, in Party sponsored publications, and in postwar literature their violence and national betrayal was a regular topic of discussion. Threats made to puppet soldiers who the CCP tried to win over, and the red and black point system also, of course, primarily focused on the seriousness of the crimes they were guilty of. However, the Enemy and Puppet Work Bureau judged its success by the metric of loyalties won, not by criminals punished. Every puppet soldier executed for crimes committed against civilians or resistance forces could potentially frighten away an entire unit of his fellow soldiers. Until a new regime under the leadership of the Communist Party was strong and stable, those lost rifles and the lost fighting ability would not only denied the Party but serve the Japanese or the Nationalist central government that sought its destruction. We already saw this threat become a reality in Laiwu when the Party alienated the followers of the Middle Way society and even more following its attack on the leadership of the Hard Fist Society.
In order to keep enemy and puppet work separate from the process of apprehending and punishing traitors and collaborators in general, the work of the bureau was kept explicitly distinct from the “traitor elimination work” (鋤奸工作) carried out by the Social Affairs Bureau and later the Public Security Bureau. A Shandong Party Sub-Bureau directive clarifying the relationship between enemy and puppet work and traitor elimination work ordered that, “No targeted individual may be handled by both.” Its instructions on how to determine who should assume responsibility were not terribly helpful. Those who were to be won over, it explained, were to be handled by the enemy and puppet work groups, while traitors were to be handled by the traitor elimination cadres. Puppet soldiers generally but not always fell into the former category, something that is mostly confirmed by traitor elimination work reports up to 1945. For example, internal statistics on traitor elimination and police work in the Bohai district for 1944 lists 2,529 arrests in thirteen categories of crimes. Of these, 466 were executed. While there were many categories of treasonous behavior and other crimes listed, none of these listing puppet armies. As we shall see, this changed after Japanese surrender. The two largest groups executed were 181 enemy spies (敵探) and 103 bandits or thieves (盜匪). The same report mentions elsewhere, however, that almost a hundred puppet soldiers had been won over in a discussion of its work with apprehended enemy agents, suggesting at least some flexibility in the divisions of labor. Another 1944 list of punishments meted out in almost 200 cases of treason elimination work in the Jiaodong area included one puppet police officer, who was released, but no other puppet soldiers. Puppet soldiers do appear occasionally in traitor elimination statistics from earlier years, but they were very small in number.
Japanese surrender would bring a number of changes to this arrangement. As we saw earlier, on 14 August the Sub-bureau threatened liquidation to any puppets who did not immediately surrender. On 20 August, new “Shandong Military District Regulations for Handling Puppet Soldiers and Puppet Police” were issued.
1) For those that secretly helped the resistance or surrendered before Japan did so, the regulations confirmed the “three guarantees” that had been offered: not to be disarmed, not to be disbanded, and to be allowed to continue fighting.
2) Even those who had “caused relatively large damage to the resistance efforts but who gave in before Japanese surrender” were to be treated leniently.
3) Those who were under attack by Communist forces and finally gave in under direct military pressure were to have their units reorganized but given preferential treatment.
4) Those who gave up when Japan surrendered were to be given treatment according to the regulations for prisoners of war.
5) Those who refused to surrender were to be liquidated and considered guilty as traitors.
Soon enough, however, article five would lose some of its bite, and the work of combining threats with enticements was to resume. A 25 September directive ordered that the work of the enemy and puppet bureau was to continue but its form and approach would change. Instead of focusing on the upper ranks of puppet soldiers in order to secure large-scale defections, the emphasis was to shift to primarily convert the lower ranks. Also, because the territory under Communist Party control had vastly expanded, cadres were to widen their efforts to register the family members of former puppet soldiers.
From this point on the term “puppet soldiers” became a more ambiguous term. It could refer to those who had previously fought for the Japanese, but increasingly, it could refer to anyone who fought in the central government’s army. During the war, military collaborators with Japan and Nationalist forces were distinguished. The latter called either the “allied army” (友軍) when the Party wished to emphasize the united front but they were more often referred to as the “stubborn army” (頑軍) when relations were hostile. After the war, Nationalist troops who had never fought for the Japanese might find themselves referred to as puppet armies to rob the central government of its claim to legitimacy.
As a result, there emerged a very unfortunate group of former military collaborators caught between two Communist policies. Those who surrendered in time could retain their weapons, unit integrity and sometimes even their commanders. They had picked the right side at a moment when a new stage in the Chinese civil war was about to begin and could potentially avoid punishment for wartime crimes completely—or at least until future political campaigns in the 1950s and 1960s dug up their past sins once again. On the other hand, those who remained safely in Jinan, Qingdao, or a handful of strongholds in the otherwise Communist landscape of Shandong stood a reasonable chance—but as we shall see by no means a guarantee—of continued employment under a Nationalist regime desperate to reestablish its hold on the province. They could then defect to the Communist enemy work bureau when the opportunity presented itself and continue to serve as newly minted revolutionary soldiers.
The puppet soldiers who found themselves faced with the real prospect of punishment, now at the hands of “traitor elimination” cadres were primarily: 1) those puppet soldiers who were already in Communist custody and had neither defected or been released according to the “seven captures of Meng Huo” policy, 2) those puppet soldiers who surrendered to Communist forces in or around August, 1945. After Japanese surrender, these unlucky puppet prisoners of war would find themselves merged together with the ranks of other “puppet government employees” and enemy agents who were the primary targets of the traitor elimination cadres.