Wu Huawen’s Crooked Road to National Salvation

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:20 am

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.

Laiwu offers a look at how important the particular circumstances of a locality is in understanding the challenges faced by the resistance, whether it was Communist or Nationalist in its leadership, in tackling the phenomenon of military collaboration. Sometimes, however, the personality and ambitions of a single commander could be as important a factor as the complex workings of county society. In both Nationalist and Communist accounts of the wartime years in Shandong province it is the remarkable personalities and terrifying deeds of the leading warlords which stand out. They include the Shandong bandit Liu Guitang, who had already earned infamy fighting and pillaging as far afield as inner Mongolia before returning to his home province to fight under both Nationalist and Japanese orders. He was killed in 1943 at the hand of local communist forces and his body was paraded around the communities who bore a deep hatred of him. There was Zhang Buyun, a general who served under the commander of nationalist forces in Shandong Han Fuqu until Han was executed by Chiang Kai-shek for refusing to follow orders to halt the Japanese advance into the province. Zhang became one of the first major commanders to surrender to the invading army and remained active in Japanese service even at the end of the war. He is remembered in Shandong for a number of brutal massacres carried out during mop up operations in the spring of 1945. A more complex figure was Zhang Tianzuo, the former police chief of Changle county who discovered a way to simultaneously hold military commissions from both the Nationalist army and the Japanese through an act of mutual deception. Undoubtedly, however the most unique figure of them all was Zhang Zongyuan. Born in 1892 as Date Junnosuke in Japan, Zhang took on Chinese citizenship in 1931. He called himself a Luren, a person from Shandong, and fought for a wide variety of causes, including independence for his beloved Shandong. When Japan occupied the province, Zhang assumed the titular head of many of its puppet armies.

One of the commanders whose forces had a relatively wide field of action in Shandong and had frequent occasion to clash with the Communist Shandong Column and the Eighth Route Army’s 115th Division is Wu Huawen. When Japanese forces flowed into Shandong in 1937, Wu was a subordinate of Han Fuju, the Nationalist commander executed for his unwillingness to defend the province. For years thereafter he continued to serve the Nationalist forces who remained behind in the province as part of the Civilian Intelligence Guerrillas commanded by Qin Qirong, who we saw fighting with the Communist resistance in Laiwu. Wu commanded tens of thousands of soldiers in a New Fourth Division that was one of the largest and strongest cohesive units among the Nationalist forces in the province. Together with Qin Qirong and Shen Honglie, he was one of the core leaders of provincial Nationalist power to remain behind during the occupation. The relative freedom with which a large Nationalist division under Wu could move across Shandong province without major battles with the Japanese is an example of the extremely porous nature of Japanese control in the large province. In 1938 Wu served under Shen in southwestern Shandong but late in the year moved to the north of the province, before being relocated to southern Shandong again the following year and eventually focusing his operations around the Yimeng mountains that encircled Laiwu district.

In August, 1940 to the forces of Wu Huawen and Shen Honglie launched multiple attacks on a detachment of the Communist Shandong Column around Lucun, just east of Laiwu. Each time the attacks came as the Japanese were launching their own attacks on the detachment. Events such as these led to accusations that Wu Huawen and Shen were coordinating their actions against Communist forces with the Japanese. This may well have been the case, but what could seem to one side as insidious cooperation could, to another, be seen as attacks of opportunity based on intelligence. When Nationalist forces came under strong pressure from Japanese and puppet army attacks in later years, the 115th Division enthusiastically finished the job by eliminating most of the remnants.

If the suspicious timing of Wu’s attacks on Shandong Column had already earned him a reputation for betraying the cause of resistance and anti-Communist fervor, his reputation grew even worse by the following year in the area around Zichuan, just beyond the northern pass out of Laiwu. There, the atrocities of Wu’s soldiers earned his army the nickname “Fresh Corpses” (xin sishi) in a play on the name “New Fourth Division.” By mid-1942, Communist reports noted that Wu’s forces were confiscating ever larger amounts of materials from the local populace, which they took to mean that he was running low on supplies. After a two day battle between Communist units and Wu’s forces in late 1942, it was noted that the New Fourth Division had grown markedly weaker when compared to earlier attacks. Squeezed between the Japanese and Communist forces in the mountainous areas, the very survival of his army as an independent force was in question.

In January, 1943 Wu Huawen turned his fortunes around and defected to the Japanese. His New Fourth Division was reorganized and Wu was placed in command of a Third Army of Peace and National Construction. He almost immediately launched attacks on his former allies, in the form of the Nationalist forces under the commander Yu Xuezhong. Wu’s defection had a powerful impact on Nationalist fortunes in Shandong, forcing its provincial government and most of its remaining organized resistance to withdraw from the province.

Beyond the impact of Wu’s defection on Nationalist military and political presence, his armies reputation for atrocities and causing devastation increased. In February, 1943 Wu Huawen’s division moved into the district of Linqu, over the mountain northeast of Laiwu. In his wartime diary, Feng Yizhi, then sub-commander of a local regiment of the 115th Division stationed in the area, claims the district was laid to waste when Wu moved in, transforming it into a “no-man’s land” (wurenqu) as the refugees flowed out of the district or starved. Feng’s unit moved in to provide relief in the aftermath but found only abandoned villages and a few “wandering ghosts” along the road. Feng claimed he had never seen such devastation up to this point. Between the dead and those who had fled, only ten households remained out of around a hundred in the village he set up his base and his unit had to bury the bodies of the dead themselves. Those that survived blamed Wu.

Merely bringing up the name of Wu Huawen brings forth both grief and hatred. They say he is not a human but a demon. He brought upon the people unprecedented disaster. What made their hate even more impossible to placate was the fact that not only did he cause so much damage but had also surrendered to the enemy and become a traitor. Gnashing their teeth they said, “If Wu Huawen was captured, covered with oil and lit on fire, it still could not purge our hatred.”

Laiwu also remembers Wu Huawen for the atrocities of his armies. For part of 1944, Wu was based in eastern Laiwu and it was forces under his command that was responsible for the “Xujiadian Massacre,” the single largest massacre of civilians to occur in the district during the war. One of Wu’s battalions, commanded by Ma Zhengyuan, were attacked by Communist forces. After the attack they surrounded the two nearby villages of Xujiadian and Xiachen to carry out retribution. They were set alight and the inhabitants attacked indiscriminately. According to a local gazetteer, those killed included an eight year old girl thrown in the fire, an eleven year old beaten to death, and others shot, stabbed, or thrown into the village well. Altogether 34 villagers were killed and 21 injured, over five hundred homes burned, and the crops in the field, leading to starvation and another 35 dead within a year.

Wu was always able to escape the oil and fire his victims might have wished for him. His forces grew to be the strongest unit among the puppet armies in Shandong by 1944. By the end of the war, however, he had lost more than half of his strength in three “Attack Wu Campaigns” launched by the Communist 115th or to defections and desertions. Along with many other puppet armies, he withdrew out of the province to the south in the summer of 1945. Despite his prominent role in crushing the remnants of Nationalist strength in the province, Wu was welcomed back by Chiang Kai-shek in 1945 and his forces were reorganized, leaving him in command. Wu was unhappy with the terms and supplies given to him, and at least one returning Nationalist general in Shandong, Li Yannian, wanted Wu tried as a traitor. From 1946-1948 Wu hedged his bets and developed contacts with the Communist forces that occupied most of Shandong province. When his forces in the provincial capital of Jinan, which was virtually surrounded for much of the civil war, came under attack in the fall 1948, Wu immediately defected to his Communist attackers with his men, making any further defense of the city impossible. Nationalist control in Shandong collapsed with this act of betrayal and an American marine presence in Qingdao was all that kept that last Shandong city safe until the following year.

Both Mao Zedong and Zhu De congratulated Wu for his timely defection in a telegram after the fall of Jinan and Wu was allowed to continue to command his own men, though likely under the strong influence of his appointed political commissar, He Kexi. Wu’s reorganized army immediately joined the sweep south during the final stage of the civil war. When soldiers raised the red flag on the roof of the Nationalist government headquarters in Nanjing in 1949, a famous scene reminiscent of the Soviet capture of the Reichstag in Berlin in 1945, it was soldiers in Wu’s 35th Army who carried it out. By this time, however, it was no longer the warlord’s personal army and had absorbed thousands of other troops.  The unit that captured the capital building had fought against Wu during the war of resistance in the Communist 115th Division, only to later find themselves nominally under his command and fighting side by side with Wu’s old troops in the 35th Army’s 104th Division.

The defections of Wu Huawen are not unique, nor is their final fate in the vanguard of the southern advance of the Communists. If anything, his transfers of loyalty, the violence and devastation caused by his forces, and the Communist approach to this forces are found in the experience of many puppet armies in Shandong. As we shall see, beyond Wu’s many twists of fortune and the dramatic impact of his 1948 defection his forces were active targets of the Communist policy towards puppet armies. Its best known victory might have been at the walls of a besieged Jinan, but just as important were the more piecemeal efforts to win over Wu’s forces in towns and fortresses across the province during the long war of resistance against Japan. The approaches to this effort varied, but the fundamental principal behind this effort begin with Mao Zedong himself.

Next: Puppet Army Policy and the Seven Captures of Meng Huo


The Puppets of Laiwu

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 12:36 pm

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.

Laiwu lies tucked in a valley just east of Taishan, one of the most celebrated mountains in China. Variously designated as a district or county by its various wartime governments and today returned to county status, Laiwu is surrounded on three sides by mountains but located only a mere 110 kilometers southeast of the provincial capital Jinan. Laiwu was overshadowed by the prominence of the nearby town of Tai’an and its famous mountain, but was an important producer of coal and valued for its yellow and white silk production. To the north, a mountain pass connected it to the city of Zichuan on the JiaoJi railway, the artery connecting Jinan with the port of Qingdao. To the west beyond Tai’an lay the important north-south JinPu railway from Tianjin to Pukou, just outside of Nanjing. The district had the misfortune of being located in the shadow of the mountainous districts that were home to many Communist forces, but also close enough to be easily accessible by Japanese forces and their allies.

(Map of Laiwu and environs)

Laiwu offers a setting where a number of the differing forms of military collaboration with Japan can be found as well as the interaction between puppet armies, Nationalists, Communist forces, and other armed groups. Japanese forces entered the county on 1 January, 1938. Only two days later, local Communist party and other armed locals rose up in revolt and within a week had joined forces with other revolts in nearby Tai’an and the town of Xintai. Japanese troops continued their progress south in February without leaving a garrison, but no sooner had they left than Nationalist guerrillas under Qin Qirong entered the district and fought a series of battles with the local Communist-led resistance. A semblance of a “united front” between Communists and Nationalists was only restored with help from the Nationalist 69th Corps commander, the former warlord Shi Yousan, who helped local Communist forces expel his supposed ally Qin from the district.

In August, 1939, a resistance government was formally established for Laiwu in the southeastern mountain village of Zhujiazhuang under Communist Party member and guerrilla leader Tan Keping. Together with a county magistrate appointed by the Nationalist forces in 1940, an avowed anti-Communist Liu Boge, the county would soon have three separate governments. The Japanese army, which had reestablished some presence in the county by late 1938, sought to strengthen its control beginning in September, 1940 by building up local strong points and recruiting military collaborators. It also carried out its first major mopping-up operation in the county. Communist sources claim that some 360 civilians were killed in 25 separate Japanese massacres during this campaign. However, a new collaborationist county government established by the Japanese occupying forces was deeply infiltrated by 1943, with a number of its leading members Communist Party members accepting Japanese sponsored county positions under its policy of “white skin, red heart.” As a result, much of the county remained effectively under Communist Party control until the end of the war, while puppet armies and Japanese troops continued to occupy strong points in the county seat of Laicheng and a few other locations such as Kouzhen and Luxi villages.

This distribution of power in the district can be found in many Japanese occupied areas in northern China, but the simplification is only possible by subsuming a number of other armed groups under either the Japanese or Nationalist corner of the triangle, or else classifying them as apolitical bandits. Religious sects and rural self-defense associations were also important players. Four or five distinct armed groups in Laiwu eventually fought together with Japanese occupation forces. A county level security battalion and a county garrison are referred to in a number of sources, but it is not clear if these were separate organizations. The former is described as mostly made of up of soldiers who were not from the county, and were of poor quality. One unit deserted in 1943. In 1945 many of them retreated into Anhui province, while those that remained revolted on behalf of Communist forces and attacked the Japanese supported county government. The least information remains about a separate “Revive Asia and Eliminate Communism Army” (xingya jiaogong jun) headed by a local bandit named Yan Jiguang and an “intellectual,” Liu Yaonan as his second in command. Its other officers were said to include local merchants, and was alleged to operate an intelligence network in the county that depended on its traders, but the whole army was merged into the county controlled security battalion in 1942. The more formidable, and dangerous, of the puppet armies in Laiwu came from organizations that predated the war and could command stronger loyalties from its thousands of members across multiple villages in the county.

In the mountainous east of Laiwu, an “Eliminate Communism Autonomous Army” (jiaogong zizhi jun) operated under the command of one Zhang Wenzheng. Zhang was the “great teacher” and leader of the local branch of the “Middle Way” (zhongyang dao) religious sect, which was active in over 20 counties of Shandong. There are two versions of how the followers of the Middle Way in Laiwu. Communist sources, some of which where used to suppress the sect in the early 1950s, claims that around 1,800 followers of Zhang fought on behalf of the resistance with a Nationalist commander operating further south, Zhang Liyuan, but that they later transferred to the control of two important commanders who eventually surrendered to the Japanese, Zhang Buyun and Wu Huawen. By the time the army of the Middle Way had joined Wu Huawen’s forces, most likely when he was stationed in Laiwu, they had dwindled to some 500 men and were of little use. Their leader Zhang Wenzheng was killed by Communist forces in 1945.

A 1947 Nationalist report on puppet armies in Laiwu tells their story somewhat differently. It claimed that early in the war against Japan, the Middle Way followers first fought in league with local Communist forces but, following disagreements, they were expelled from the county and surrendered to the Japanese in 1941. They then returned to Laiwu and grew in strength to about 3,000 rifles with Japanese support. The Middle Way then turned upon their former allies and were responsible for the capture and killing of hundreds of members of the “treasonous Party” (the Nationalist term for the Communist Party). Part of their army was dispersed by the Japanese in 1942 on suspicion of working secretly with the resistance, while the remainder was wiped out by Communist forces in 1946, after Japanese surrender.

Better remembered in Laiwu is the army of the “Hard Fist Society” (yingquan dao), which was connected to the Red Spears (hongqiang hui) movement. This organization, also with a strong religious element, was one of many in a complex world of rural defense associations and religious societies found throughout Shandong and northern China. The Hard Fist society was, like other Red Spear societies, led by local landlords and rich peasants, but had wide community participation. It grew rapidly in the 1920s in Shandong, where the “Hard Fist Society” resisted warlord and bandit violence and appropriations in rural areas. Both Nationalist and Communist sources agree this time that the Laiwu based Hard Fist Society began the war in alliance with the Communist-led revolt. They were predominantly active in western Laiwu, especially around the village of Luxi where they worked together with the resistance movement until late 1939. It was then that the relationship fell apart, thanks to the “leftist deviations” of the Communist Treason Elimination Bureau (chujianbu).

The year 1939 was already a bad one for Treason Elimination Bureau agents who, at this point, focused more on rooting out Party heterodoxy than exposing enemy spies and punishing collaborators. By the end of the year, the provincial Party Sub-Bureau was reeling from that news that over 300 executions of accused Trotskyites had been carried out by bureau agents in southern Shandong in a widely condemned witch-hunt that became known as the “Huxi Incident.” In Laiwu, the Hard Fist Society became their target, where agents of the Bureau executed two of the society’s leaders and beat other prominent figures in the organization. Suspicion and factional strife broke out and head of the society, Qi Xiangde, fled the county and went over to the Japanese in September, 1940.

Qi was just in time to help the Japanese in their new efforts to strengthen control in Laiwu and, with their support, he returned to gather his followers and create around half a dozen separate armed units. Communist sources claim that they included around 1,000 armed followers, while the 1947 Nationalist government report claims that they had 7,000 followers of which 2,000 had firearms. Until the Hard Fist Society retreated into Anhui province as the Japanese surrender neared, they were a menace to both Communist and Nationalist forces in Laiwu. The postwar Nationalist report claims they often carried out nighttime assassinations of resistance leaders and members of a Nationalist youth group. A Communist source claims the Hard Fist Society broke up 100 Party branches, coerced 600 party members to give themselves up to the Japanese, and killed around 400 members of the resistance. After the war Qi and the Hard Fist Society’s remained in Laiwu in service of the returning Nationalists as an autonomous unit. When Qi’s unit was captured by Communists in 1947, he was executed for the society’s wartime crimes.

In Laiwu, there was no shortage of bandit figures or ragtag soldiers serving in the Japanese supported county garrison. In this county, however, the most serious threats from the puppet armies supporting the Japanese occupation came in the form of local institutions with local ambitions for power and a reason to carry out violence in the name of vengeance. Communist Party propaganda deployed a patriotic rhetoric describing a national problem of puppetry: armies filled with deceived and drafted farmers, of heartless bandits, and of urban ruffians who were betraying their country through ignorance, desperation, or a propensity for cruelty. In places like Laiwu, however, local Communist Party resistance forces faced circumstances that came nowhere near to fitting this picture and its Enemy Work Bureau, tasked with winning them over to the resistance, adapted accordingly.

Next: Wu Huawen’s Crooked Road to National Salvation


Military Collaboration in Shandong

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 7:00 am

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.

Shandong offers a particularly rich environment to examine the response to military collaboration with Japan. The province occupies the peninsula southeast of Beiping and includes the important ports of Qingdao, Yantai (Chefoo) and Weihaiwei (now Weihai).  The Japanese North China Army completed the conquest of its major urban and strategic targets in the province by mid-1938. During the occupation, the province was garrisoned by the Japanese 12th Army and the most important military units to carry out operations in the province at various points in the war were the 17th, 21st, 32nd, 35th, and 59th divisions along with the 5th, 6th, and 7th mixed brigades. By the spring of 1945, almost all of the Shandong countryside had been abandoned to Communist control. Only the Japanese 59th division and the three mixed brigades remained in control of the cities and a dwindling number of strongpoints near the main lines of communication.  After surrender, Communists claimed control over 92% of the land area.

(Map of districts and points mentioned here)

Table: Communist Administered Population in Liberated, Occupied and Contested Zones, 1943 and the First Half of 1945

Liberated Contested Occupied
1943 1945 1943 1945 1943 1945
Binhai 2,120 (43%) 3,481 (71%) 934 (20%) 705 (14%) 1,839 (37%) 407 (15%)
Lunan 1,245(30%) 2,921 (70%) 1,041 (25%) 668 (16%) 1,888 (45%) 584 (14%)
Luzhong 1,130 (19%) 4,564 (70%) 3,330 (56%) 1,051(17%) 1,487 (25%) 891 (13%)
Jiaodong 1,707(20%) 5,508 (64%) 1,195 (14%) 1,205 (14%) 5,633 (66%) 1,893 (22%)
Bohai 2,275 (31%) 4,355 (58%) 1,615 (22%) 826 (11%) 3,449 (47%) 2,328 (31%)
Total  8,477 (27%) 20,829 (66%) 8,114 (27%) 4,454 (14%) 14,295 (46%) 6,403 (20%)
Land 185 (31%) 403 (68%) 168 (29%) 77 (13%) 240 (40%) 113 (19%)

Note: Units in thousands. It is unclear which category includes those areas under Nationalist control but by 1943, these would have been relatively small in total area and population.

The peninsula offers a wartime setting which combined characteristics of a number of other regions. It had both rich agricultural areas with terrain that was relatively easy for the Japanese to operate in, large cities with significant foreign populations, as well as rugged mountain districts ideal for guerrilla activity. The mountains in central Shandong southeast of the provincial capital of Jinan and on the Jiaodong peninsula to the east became particularly important for the resistance. These mountains became the two primary centers of Communist guerrilla activity in Shandong while the western rim of the province fell under the responsibility of a separate Communist military district called the Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan border region. Communist organizational efforts in Shandong began with a series of uprisings throughout the province in 1938 in which the Party played a leading or important part. The resulting patchwork of Communist-led groups only gradually united as sub-districts of a Shandong Base Area. Party control in this new base area centered on a Shandong Provincial Sub-bureau while the various local military units united under a “Shandong Column” (shandong zongdui).  The Column later merged with the more professional 115th Division of the famous 8th Route Army, which made its way into Shandong in the spring of 1939.

In 1939 there was still little confrontation between the Communist resistance and the Japanese occupation forces. The Shandong Sub-burea, under Zhu Rui, focused on building up its strength and working towards centralization. Instead, Communist soldiers in the province lost more casualties in battles with the hundreds of thousands of Nationalist forces that stayed behind in Shandong than with the invading Japanese. It was the dwindling units of these Nationalist forces and their own locally recruited guerrillas that would, in large part, defect to the Japanese. These included forces under the overall command of Qin Qirong, Yu Xuezhong and former Qingdao mayor Shen Honglie.

The most rapid growth of puppet armies in Shandong occurred between 1940 and 1943 when they grew in number from an estimated 80,000 to 180,000. This coincides with the highly destructive mopping-up campaigns carried out by the Japanese 12th Army in 1941 and 1942 that nearly succeeded in destroying the headquarters of the Shandong Base Area and encircle the main body of both the Shandong Column and the 115th Division. While Communist forces were able to rebuild, Nationalist forces caught in these campaigns were not as effective in restoring their strength and often switched sides to retain their arms and organization. By 1943 most of the Nationalist forces under their command that had not switched to Japanese allegiance withdrew from the province, or disintegrated under Communist attacks.

Even as its puppet armies exploded in size, the Japanese capacity to deploy its own forces in strength declined. In 1942 and at a growing pace thereafter, Japanese strength in many areas of occupied China was increasingly sapped to meet the needs of its expanded conquests in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. As its expansion within China slowed, it was more important than ever to consolidate control in its rear without the costly concentration of large numbers of its own forces for mopping-up campaigns. Also, it was equally important to quickly garrison areas that were newly deemed to have been purged of resistance forces. The new puppet armies played a key role in achieving both of these goals: they helped the Japanese carry out their brutal counter-insurgency campaigns, and as each district was cleared, assumed garrison duties.

None of the puppet armies were as well equipped and often far more poorly trained than Japan’s Imperial Army. Even optimistic Japanese reports on their performance always prefaced their hopes for the future with the observation that in their current form they were not of sufficient quality to be trusted to carry out operations without Japanese assistance. More training was needed, it was argued, and more time for them to become accustomed to the challenging work of mopping-up guerrillas. Despite their weakness, however, they did free up Japanese soldiers to operate elsewhere. Even before their explosive growth in numbers began, the ratio of puppet soldiers to Japanese soldiers in 1940 was three to one in Shandong. By the following summer they were garrisoning an estimated 800 forts or strongpoints throughout the province. Even in one of the areas with high concentrations of Japanese forces, the Jiaodong peninsula, a Communist intelligence survey from 1944 listed 87 strongpoints occupied by the Japanese (with a total of 8,364 soldiers) and 156 strategic points manned by 21,879 puppet soldiers.

The puppet armies were most reviled for their violent repression and pillage, as we shall see examples of shortly, but even without these excesses, they were also significant in terms of the raw financial burden they placed on the communities surrounding them. Their forces added a further level of resource extraction in the form of taxes that, depending on the district, could overlap with that of the Japanese, Nationalist guerrillas, and Communist forces. In December, 1942, the Shandong Sub-bureau produced a remarkably detailed economic report on the relative financial burden of various occupation forces on village life. This combined studies focused on several villages under various circumstances, as well as a focus on a few individual families, and claimed that districts under puppet control had a financial burden more than three times that of districts under Japanese control. The overall compiled averages from the studies were summarized as follows.

Table: Monthly financial burden by district type, 1942 

District Per Person Per mu of land GMD % Puppets % Japanese % CCP %
Guerrilla Zone 128[.]38 yuan 49[.]39 yuan 48% 25% 16% 7%
GMD District 98.66 22.5 69.7% 20.3%
Puppet District 35[.]2 13.2 96.1% 3.9%
Japanese District 9.32 10.36 83.9% 16.5%
CCP Base Area 3.17 2[.]57

Note: Percentages do not include amount paid for public village funds. The missing decimal points are added based on additional calculations supplied in the description which followed the table. GMD districts are those controlled by Nationalist guerrillas or regular army troops.

These amounts were not, for the most part, collected in cash, and these estimates are based on the converted value of the various agricultural products and raw materials appropriated. The resources and taxes extracted in districts controlled by Nationalist forces was far higher than those in puppet districts. These numbers do not, however, quantify the labor corvée which, the report claimed, was most severe in puppet and Japanese controlled districts. The most contested areas unsurprisingly placed a particularly large cumulative burden on its inhabitants due to extractions by all parties.

These puppet armies had a reputation for cowardice and incompetence in battle, but it would not be accurate to suggest that they merely sat behind the safety of their fort walls, emerging only for the occasional plunder or tax collection. They are mentioned in almost all accounts of wartime battles involving Communist guerrillas and until the weakened state of the Japanese occupation emboldened them, were the primary target of many guerrilla attacks. Statistics for body counts in Communist battle reports were undoubtedly widely exaggerated, but even if they claimed double or more, they suggest that thousands of Chinese puppet soldiers were dying in battles with Communist forces of Shandong alone, at a rate that equal and sometimes higher than for Japanese casualties.


Table: Shandong Sub-Bureau Battle Results for January, 1938 to April, 1940 and July, 1940 to April, 1941

Japanese Killed Japanese Wounded Puppet Army Killed Puppet Army Wounded
1938.1-1940.4 12,051 7,023 11,971 10,241
1940.7-1941.4 2,084 2,378 2,625 2,118


Behind the front lines where Chiang Kai-shek’s battered forces held off further Japanese advances, the Sino-Japanese war was as much a conflict in which Chinese fought and killed their own fellow Chinese as one in which the “Japanese devil” played the most visible villain. This fact is usually pointed out in order to emphasize the bloody nature of a conflict between the Communists and Nationalists as their Second United Front collapsed. The costs in casualties from this civil war were already significant in Shandong long before the New Fourth Army Incident of 1941 brought the severity of the break between the two parties out into the open. However, the scale of Chinese on Chinese violence during the war is no less impressive if exclude all Communist battles with “stubborn army” (wanjun, the Nationalist forces) units that still proclaimed the cause of resistance. Surrendered Nationalist forces dominated many of the puppet armies, but this designation overplays the attachment these surrendered forces had to the ruling Nationalist party, an ideological anti-Communism, or for that matter, a Chinese nation.

The war between the puppet armies and their mostly Communist adversaries simply cannot be seen as a continuation of a great contest for supremacy between two well-formed political adversaries, with the weaker Nationalist armies taking a “crooked path to national salvation” (quxian jiuguo) by surrendering to the Japanese. This is not because Communist propaganda was wrong about the pragmatic, if treasonous, intentions on the Nationalist side, but because it imagines a degree of central control and selfless sacrifice to a national purpose which does not fit most of Chiang Kai-shek’s “National Revolutionary Army” in the 1930s.

In Shandong, a July 1945 Communist report estimated that puppet soldiers had reached 200,000 in number, and that 80% of these were former Nationalist soldiers. Time was quickly running out for them. On 14 August, the day before Japan’s official surrender, the Shandong Sub-bureau political commissioner Luo Ronghuan ordered that all puppet armies and puppet employees who did not immediately surrender to Communist resistance forces be eliminated. Attached to the order was a long list of prominent members of the Japanese supported provincial government and puppet armies in the province. The list contained 57 military units and their commanders (See Appendix C1). Some 37 of these, or 65%, also added a note with the original Nationalist army unit they belonged to before surrender.

Not mentioned in the note, however, was how recent these Nationalist army designations themselves often were, or which local warlord, bandit group, or secret society had once claimed their obedience. Most of all, what is missing from statistics and lists of this kind, and their use in postwar Communist propaganda focusing upon the connections between the puppet armies and the Nationalists, is how “crooked” the path truly was for many of these forces. To better understand this complex picture and to anchor an examination of wartime and early postwar Communist policies towards the puppet armies in Shandong, let us use the example of one location, the district and later county of Laiwu, and separately, one among the many puppet army commanders operating in Shandong, Wu Huawen.

Next: The Puppet Armies of Laiwu


Puppet Soldiers

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 8:34 am

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.

After the establishment of a new Nationalist Government of the Republic of China in 1940 under Wang Jingwei (Wang Zhaoming), a growing mix of Chinese soldiers, bandits, and militias fighting with the Japanese military were claimed to constitute a national army for the new regime. In reality, these units bore dozens of different titles and served hundreds of largely independent commanders. Though some were directly recruited and eventually commanded by graduates of military academies established during the occupation, the majority were not created under Japanese military or Nanjing sponsorship. These forces were often units that had been encircled, captured, or that had defected to the Japanese, often abandoning a proclaimed loyalty to Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist army. The Japanese military referred to these as the “surrendered units” (kijun butai). To the resisting Nationalists and the Communists, all of the Chinese armies under Japanese command were collectively known as the “puppet armies” (weijun).

For convenience I will continue to employ the widely used term puppet armies here, without scare quotes, despite its derogatory and political nature. The term does accurately reflect the degree to which these diverse forces were dependent upon Japanese tolerance, supplies, and occasional financial sponsorship to survive.  The term falls somewhat short, however, in accounting for their changeable loyalties. They did not blindly serve any master but actively sought to retain or expand their power within the limiting parameters of a tactical alliance with the Imperial Japanese Army. When this proved stifling or dangerous, they were often content to switch sides whenever the opportunity presented itself. As Liu Hsi-ming has argued in a detailed study of the weijun, these soldiers were “pawns vacillating among hegemonic powers” who chose their own preservation over the presiding ideological or nationalist causes of the day.

The regional character of these forces is important. The puppet armies are closely tied to, and operated for the most part within, narrow local boundaries. Units that operated in the Yangzi valley in relative proximity to the Nanjing capital were more likely to conduct themselves as parts of a national army under the Wang Jingwei regime. In northern China, the multiple layers of political and military power that emerged out of years of Japanese encroachment made for a complex environment. Japanese military influence stretched back to the Manchurian incident of 1931, and well beyond that to the years of Japanese presence along the South Manchurian Railroad. In addition to its sponsorship of a new Manchurian nation in the northeast, in the early 1930s the Japanese military cultivated a number of local autonomous political bodies to fragment Nationalist control including the Hebei-Chahar Political Council and the East Hebei Autonomous Council. The Japanese military and its intelligence operatives also developed relationships with local military commanders and semi-independent warlords, including the powerful Yan Xishan of Shanxi.

These efforts were not always unified in purpose or in approach. Japanese policies in northern China reflected the competing visions of the occupation of the various Japanese forces taking part. This was especially true after 1937 when the conflict expanded. The Manchuria based Kwantung army, the North China Army and the Central China Army all jockeyed for influence in planning. Until the defection of Wang Jingwei provided the Japanese with a compliant Nationalist party leader of unquestioned stature, a collaborationist government in the north under Wang Kemin, supported by the North China Army, competed for legitimacy with that of a regime in the south with sponsorship of the Central China Army.  These appointments and changes had only limited bearing on the ground however. Under occupation, provincial governments operated more or less autonomously under officials either reconfirmed in their pre-war positions or appointed with the blessing of the Japanese military. Similarly, at the level of local districts throughout North China, local collaborators approved for membership on Committees of Public Safety operated in coordination with local Japanese units.

The Japanese military was reluctant at first to allow its collaborators to raise an armed force beyond a few local police and personal bodyguards. Part of this fear grew out of the revolt of forces belonging to the ostensibly pro-Japanese East Hebei Army in Tongzhou in late July, 1937. Official support for the creation of a national Chinese army that was capable of working with the Japanese military came while the battle for the large city of Wuhan raged in the summer of 1938. In northern China, a military academy was established at Tongzhou in May, and some recruitment and direct training was carried out. The North China Army referred to these soldiers as the Peace Preservation Corps (J: chiangun C: zhi’anjun) while in Chinese it sometimes went by the name North China Pacification Army (huabei suijingjun). By October, 1940 this new army, which was to become the nucleus of a new national military, had been granted responsibility for security in two counties of Shandong and ten counties of Hebei province.

The Peace Preservation Corps was given the greatest proportion of training and supplies but the North China Army placed greater confidence in another collection of more local forces: provincial and county level garrisons (J: keibitai C: jingbeidui). By 1940, Shandong province had 4,000 provincial level garrison forces and there were a reported 72,000 at the county level throughout occupied territory in the north; a reported average of 200 per county. As we shall see, Communist enemy work teams found these local garrisons to be, by far, the easiest to win over, but a 1940 Japanese report on their development was strangely optimistic. Aiming to eventually have 300 in every county in northern China, the fact that these forces were locally recruited was assumed to ensure that they would take an active role in preventing infiltration by resistance guerrillas.

Unfortunately, this tidy picture of the structure of collaborationist forces composed of local garrisons and a nascent national army rapidly breaks down. The Peace Preservation Corps (zhi’anjun) could be found operating in areas with other peace preservation units (baoandui) of various scales. The new national army is sometimes referred to as the “Peace and National Salvation Army,” (heping jiuguojun) but elsewhere we find armies going by variations such as the “Peace and national construction army” (heping jianguojun) and “Peace and Communist Extermination Army” (heping chaogongjun). Its other local title, the North China Pacification Army made it one of many other units supporting Japanese operations that included “pacification” (suijing) in their title that may have had no direct connection to it. The Japanese military apparently attached the name “Communist Extermination Army” to stronger units within the Peace Preservation Corps, but some of the large and small units found in accounts of the war in northern China went by similar terms, including the similar “Communist Annihilation and National Construction Army” (miegong jianguojun), and may have arrived at their name separately. The title “Assist the Emperor Army” (huangxiejun), also found throughout contemporary sources, was apparently attached by the Japanese to surrendered Chinese forces that were of a particularly poor quality. These units were to be temporarily supplied while being reorganized or demobilized. At Japanese surrender, over a dozen units including this title were operating in Shandong alone. These included five divisions operating in the plains of northwestern Shandong under the title “Assist the Emperor and Protect the People Army” (huangxie huminjun).

In the end, it is futile to reconstruct any sense of organization on these armies, nor did their unity improve significantly with time. Quite the opposite is true, especially in the aftermath of Japanese mopping-up campaigns in northern China in 1941 and 1942. During this time, the most active and the strongest of the puppet armies to fight for Japan came into being from a growing number of surrenders of units of Nationalist forces, former bandits or small scale warlords. These units ranged in size from a few dozen to over 20,000, and Communist guerrillas simply referred to them by the names of their most important commanders, many of whom were well-known military figures in the districts and provinces they operated in.

Next: Military Collaboration in Shandong


Winning Over the Puppets: Intro

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 3:24 pm

This posting is part of a series of postings which comprise a draft dissertation chapter. Read more about it here.

Nowhere in the Japanese Empire was military collaboration more important and carried out on a larger scale than in occupied China. By 1945, there were over 900,000 Chinese men under arms garrisoning towns and strongholds on behalf of the Japanese Expeditionary Army and its Chinese client regime in occupied Nanjing. In accounts of Japan’s conquests on the Chinese mainland from 1931 to 1945, these Chinese soldiers are remembered for their incompetence, their treason, and their cruelty. They not only prolonged the Japanese occupation, but contributed to its brutality as active participants in mop-up campaigns throughout the countryside. While Japanese training and discipline may have curbed some of their excesses, that of violence was not among them.

For the Chinese Communist Party, these military collaborators played an important role in the Party’s postwar political struggle. They served as the most direct link between the repression of the Japanese invaders, and that of a returning Nationalist government which integrated the Chinese collaborationist armies into its own forces. By doing so, Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government inherited a stain of treason, widely invoked in variations of the phrase, “the Chiang conspiracy to merge with the enemy and puppets” (jiang di wei heliu de yinmou). In Communist propaganda, the Nationalist government was to be remembered not for leading the national resistance, but for colluding with the enemy and reabsorbing its despised henchmen.

This chapter does not fundamentally challenge this portrayal of the Nationalists. No shortage of Chinese war criminals and other unsavory officers made their way from allegiance to Japan to fight for the Nationalists in the civil war of 1945-1949. Indeed, many of them began their careers in units at least nominally loyal to the Nationalist government. Returning to the fold, they found good company and familiar assignments among the executioners of Nationalist pacification teams. Deployed once more into the field, they were asked to exterminate the real traitors: Communist bandits (gongfei).

Instead, the focus here will be on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) response to military collaboration with Japan both as seen in its central party directives, and as carried out more locally in the Shandong Base Area. The CCP and its resistance forces in Shandong province understood the vital role played by military collaborators in preserving Japanese control over occupied areas, especially after 1942. They also understood how valuable these armed groups could be as sources of information, supplies, and in the end, of fighting men. As the chapter will show, the Party placed tremendous emphasis on “winning over” (zhengqu) or else “disintegrating” (wajie) Chinese units under Japanese command. Historians, including the accepted narrative put forth by the CCP itself, often emphasize the greater success–or treachery–accomplished by the Nationalist party in absorbing these Chinese forces in the immediate aftermath of Japanese surrender. However, this often ignores the considerable numbers of military collaborators who covertly cooperated with or defected to Communist control.

That some of these commanders were responsible for horrendous violence against civilians was no insurmountable problem, even when the Party had helped mobilize rallies condemning these same men for their brutality. Instead of being targeted by the local teams of the “treason elimination bureau,” (chujianbu) which dealt with informers, spies, trotskyites, and collaborationist officials, military collaborators with Japan were wooed by agents of the “enemy work bureau” (digongbu) who offered very generous terms for those who defected in time. After being “won over” collaborationist units were in many cases not dissolved or disarmed, nor was it official policy to do so.

Following a common practice in Chinese military campaigns well into the 20th century, these units were simply renamed and their commanders allowed to remain in control. Following Japanese surrender, reform and trials of those who failed to submit in time were carried out under an official policy of magnanimity, though sometimes, as we shall see, calls for vengeance by the communities who suffered at their hands during the occupation made this a challenge. Those who survived, or by defection avoided the first round of retribution would remain easy targets for every wave of revolutionary violence in the movements to come.

Next: Puppet Soldiers

A Draft Chapter

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 3:15 pm

I haven’t been posting much here but I am very happy to see Frog in a Well is alive and well. Alan Buamler, Jonathan Dresner, Sayaka Chatani, John DiMoia, and Charles Hayford have been especially great at serving up some great content. I have been focused on the completion of the dissertation.

I long ago promised myself to try to be open about the writing process and share what I was writing as I wrote it. I have always been deeply frustrated by the culture of fear around me against this kind of openness which argues that ideas might get stolen, foolish mistakes ridiculed, or publishers frightened away.

Up to now, however, I haven’t shared much of the dissertation, which has taken an unexpected Southeast Asian turn. Now that I’m finally finishing up a draft chapter that is appropriate for one of these three blogs, I thought I would experiment by posting it here. I’ll divide the chapter up into pieces and share them in a series of postings spread across a week or two.

The overall dissertation looks at the politics of retribution against treason and war crimes in several places occupied or colonized by the Japanese empire, especially where these two overlap in the case of military collaborators. Excluding the special case of Taiwanese and Korean soldiers who fought in the Japanese Army, the military collaborators who were guilty of some of the worst kinds of repression we associate with Japanese rule faced retribution as traitors more often than as men guilty of illegitimate violence. My work explores the way that this distorted efforts to confront the violence of occupation and colonization.

The draft chapter I’ll be sharing here is on Chinese Communist policies towards the “puppet armies” (伪军), especially the work of the Enemy Work Bureau (敌伪工作部) in occupied Shandong province. It is the only chapter which deals with the wartime as well as the early postwar period when the work of retribution and reform was handed over to the Traitor Elimination Bureau (锄奸部) that is the central topic of research I have decided to attempt to publish separately.

I welcome your comments and corrections but since I’m under the deadline gun, I apologize in advance if I’m not able to respond to everything. Also, to save time I will not be converting all the footnotes (which are not all yet well written out anyways) into the format that is understood by WordPress, but if there is a source you are interested in following up on, I’m more than happy to share. At any rate, when I finish the diss, it will be available in its entirety as a PDF download from my homepage.

Winning Over and Reforming the Puppet Armies of Shandong, China, 1937-1947

Puppet Soldiers
Military Collaboration in Shandong
The Puppet Armies of Laiwu
Wu Huawen’s Crooked Road to National Salvation
The Seven Captures of Meng Huo
The Enemy and Puppet Work Bureau in Shandong
Megaphone and Frontline Propaganda
The Registry of Good and Evil
Zhu De and the Prices of Betrayal
The Wartime Gains of the Bureau
Traitors, Puppets, and Divided Responsibilities
Magnanimity, Repentance, and Reform
The Eight Great Disorders and the Oppose Treason Campaign

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