The Will of a Traitor

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 11:39 pm

Running Dog Wang JingweiThere is a lot of treason to be found in the vicinity of LOC number DS777.5195.W34 in the Harvard-Yenching library. It’s Wang Jingwei (汪精衛) territory, infamous puppet lord of wartime occupied China, and reviled former patriot turned running dog of Japanese imperialism. He is also known as Wang Zhaoming (汪兆銘 Wang Chao-ming), Wang Jingwei being his pen name. On the shelves nearby we find books by and on his underlings Chen Gongbo and Zhou Fohai, equally reviled figures who lived long enough to go on trial for being Chinese traitors, or hanjian (漢奸).

In the Harvard-Yenching library’s English language collections, this section houses an unusual volume only a few pages in length:

Will of Wang Chao-Ming
Translated by Bonggi Kim
The Korean Republic
Seoul, Korea

It opens, “This translation of Wang Chao-ming’s will into English is intended to look into his cause in collaborating with imperialist Japan.”1 Following a short introduction is the dozen page translation of what claims to be Wang Jingwei’s final written testament. It is signed October, 1944 — he would die in November, before Japan’s defeat and the text is now known as “My Final State of Mind” (我最後之心情), a document whose authenticity has been contested ever since the original was first published in the Hong Kong Chunqiu (春秋) in early 1964.2 Its publication was also widely reported in Japan, including the English language Japan Times.3

Justifying Collaboration

This text attributed to Wang, if real, is of historical interest because its author offers detailed justifications for collaboration with Japan, and writes about his plans for the postwar period.4 “We planned to hand over to the Nationalist government the areas recovered from the enemy occupation,” he writes, though at the time, the “enemy” Japan is his military ally. Using the famous “Shield” argument used to justify Vichy collaboration with Nazi Germany, Wang goes on to say, “the Nanjing government entered into an alliance with Japan as a means to fight for lost sovereignty and get as many materials as possible under Japanese occupation.”5 He writes of his successes so far in supporting Japan’s war effort including the overturning of unequal treaties, recovering foreign concessions, and claims that he has “not tolerated any foreign intervention in domestic affairs…”6 He worries about the fate of Manchuria, which Japan refuses to return to China, but claims that he must press on in his efforts. “I am well aware of the forthcoming surrender of Japan,” and is optimistic since the Japanese show renewed sincerity in their negotiations with him.7

In his closing, Wang even expresses hope for the future of Sino-Japanese relations after Japan’s defeat, which will ultimately hinge upon a thorough enlightenment of the Japanese people and the magnanimity of the Chinese government.8

Kim Bonggi – The Korean Translator

The translation of this text is, perhaps ironically, interesting for a similar reason. Following the copy of the translation, we find attached a letter from the translator, addressed to the chief librarian of the “University of Colombia” in New York.9 In it, Kim writes with what can only be interpreted as a significant degree of sympathy for Wang. In the letter, dated August 10, 1964, we find the following passage.

Wang, A leading political figure in modern China, played a vital role in the formation of the country. His collaboration with the [sic] however, tarnished his image as the great patriot with lifelong devotion to his country.

Many Chinese people, in fact, did not hesitate to call him a traitor, but others think that he was forced to bow to the inevitable and that what he did was a risk that had to be assumed in the interests of the Chinese people.

Whether servile collaboration with the Japanese militarists is precisely the term for the acts of Wang is still open to debate, but it is not difficult to suppose that his actions proceeded from the difficulty of finding solutions to the problem of a war that had been dragging on with no end in sight. He strove to regain the lost sovereignty of the Chinese people, but he fell short of the affecting it despite his determination. Even his death was at one time rumored to be an unnatural one.

Whatever his real motive was, it cannot be denied that the last words of Wang himself will be helpful in determining why he made the decision to establish the Nanking government with the support of the invading Japanese. As far as his will is concerned, it is apparent that he did not act for personal gain, but rather with the hope that he could restore the lost land of China through negotiations—not through force of arms against the overwhelming odds with which China was forced at the time.

In order to avoid attaching undue significance to his real motives which resulted in the establishment of the Nanking regime in collaboration with the invading Japanese militarists, I had better refrain from commenting on the issue; nevertheless, I sincerely hope thet [sic] the material which I send you will be of some interest in helping your studies on matters that concern the modern history of China.

Kim Bonggi, born in 1921 or 1920, was one of the founders, in 1953, of the English language newspaper, The Korean Republic, and at the time of writing this letter, its “President-Publisher.” That newspaper later became The Korea Herald but during the anti-government protests and martial law atmosphere of 1964 it was, like most of South Korea’s media, barely more than a propaganda pamphlet and devoid of criticism for the dictatorship of Park Chung-hee.

According to this biographical entry, 김봉기(金鳳基) was born in Seoul, graduated from Seoul University10 and held positions in two conservative newspapers, the Chungang ilbo and Chosŏn ilbo, as well as serving on the council of the Asian People’s Anti-Communist League.11

What led Kim to translate this Chinese text into English, or even if he merely posed as its real translator, go through the trouble to have it sent to an American university?

Kim was under 25 at the time of Japan’s defeat in 1945 so this did not leave him much time to progress along the careers paths under Japanese colonialism that could have given him the brand of collaborator.12 However, at the peak of Japan’s power in 1942, he was surely old enough to have been caught up in the excitement of Japan’s seemingly unstoppable military advances against the colonial powers of the West or to at least have begun thinking about what his place would be as a Korean in a Japanese empire.

On the highly symbolic March 1st and August 15th anniversaries in 1964, Kim’s Korean Republic was filled with stories of a valiant Korean resistance to Japan and reported on celebrations commemorating Korea’s final liberation from its colonial master, but reading Kim’s August letter I think we can see clearly the sympathy many Koreans who had lived through the Japanese colonial period felt for the collaborator’s dilemma, and believed, though they might be careful where and how they expressed their views, that even despised figures like Wang Jingwei might ultimately be remembered one day as national heroes.13

UPDATE: For one more location which has a more rich, if very dated, discussion about the mysterious document and the controversy surrounding it, see John Hunter Boyle’s bibliographical note in his China and Japan at War, 1937-45: The Politics of Collaboration (1972) on pages 395-397.

  1. Wang Jingwei, Kim Bonggi trans. Will of Wang Chao-Ming Unpublished manuscript in Harvard-Yenching library. Hollis number 009048141. []
  2. See 沈立行 《汪精卫的《日记》和“遗嘱”之谜》纵横 2000.2, 56-57 for an inconclusive discussion of its authenticity. []
  3. I haven’t checked the microfilm of their early May, 1964 issues to see if their reporting on the will included any translation of the document but if they did, it might be interesting to compare it to Kim’s. []
  4. The Chinese text can be found online at 人民网 here as of 2010.4.12. Wang Jingwei justified his collaboration in a number of other texts as well, including in a March 30, 1939 open letter “A Reply to an Overseas Chinese” (复华侨某君书). See 劉傑 「汪兆銘と「南京国民政府」―協力と抵抗の間 in 劉傑, 楊大慶, 三谷博 eds. 『国境を越える歴史認識―日中対話の試み』 (Tokyo, 東京大学出版会 2006) for the full text in Japanese. []
  5. ibid., 6. []
  6. ibid., 10. []
  7. ibid., 11. []
  8. It is remarkable that he sees only the need for the magnanimity of Chinese government policy, and not by the Chinese people who suffered under Japanese occupation. The original Chinese is, “將來戰後兩國能否有自動提攜,互利互賴,仍有賴于日本民族之徹底覺悟,及我政府對日之寬大政策。” []
  9. I assume Columbia University Starr East Asia library has the original letter and document. A CLIO library search reveals an entry for the translation and attached letter located at DS778.W3 []
  10. Unless he actually graduated from the Japanese run Keijō Imperial University and someone changed the name to its postwar equivalent, this would seem to suggest he completed his university education after the summer of 1946. []
  11. 亞細亞反共聯盟 in Korea, these organizations, founded throughout Asia in the 1950s still exist but have changed their names. They are national chapters of the World League for Freedom and Democracy, formerly the World Anti-Communist League. Kim was also involved in the 大韓公論社, which appears to have published a number of things, but I don’t know much about the organization. []
  12. Someone by the name 김봉기(金鳳基) is listed on a recently published list of suspected Japanese collaborators, in the category of “pro-Japanese” organizations, but I am not sure this is the same person. Another 김봉기(金鳳基) was executed in 1907 for his anti-Japanese resistance efforts. []
  13. The political cartoon shown here is by 麦非, and can be found in 沈建中 ed. 抗战漫画 (Shanghai, 上海科学院出版社, 2005), 206. []


Tonghak and Taiping

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:45 pm

I was struck, preparing for class yesterday, that the Tonghak and Taiping faiths were surprisingly similar and arose nearly simultaneously: Syncretic monotheistic faiths drawing on Confucian, Christian and indigenous magical traditions, with anti-foreign reformist programs and a counter-cultural ethos of equality.1 There are obvious differences, too, in teachings and in the leadership, but the structural similarities raise some interesting possibilities for research and teaching.

I’m not the first person to have this insight apparently, though it doesn’t look (from what little I can tell from these links) like there’s any hint of direct connection between them. I’m a little surprised, frankly, that World History textbooks (which love those kinds of parallel moments) haven’t picked up on it. Of course, Korea’s place in World History textbooks overall is pretty pitiful at the moment and the Taiping movement rarely gets more than passing mention in an already busy and traumatic Chinese 19th century. With the rise of religious history, it seems likely that these issues might come closer to the forefront, though, and I’d be curious to know if anyone else out there does something with this confluence.

  1. The Japanese “New Religions” of the 19th century are very heavily Shinto-influenced, with some Buddhism and almost no Christianity, nor did any of them become political movements. It’s not the same. []


Asian symbols

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:39 am


Useless Tree has a post up on the Chinese roots of the Korean flag. This post led me to look up an interesting, if rather old, article on the use of “the T’ai Chi symbol in Japanese wartime propaganda.”1 That Japanese governments in  China used “Chinese/Pan-Asian” images like the Great Ultimate was not news to me. What was new was his discussion of the use of the image in Korea. Obviously in the end it ended up on the Korean flag, but before that it was a very common symbol in Korean architecture, turning up on all sorts of gates and entryways, especially for official buildings, schools, temples, etc. Rowe also says that the symbol turned up on the Independence Arch in Seoul, which was erected right after the Russo-Japanese War and symbolized Korean independence. Soon after that the flag became a symbol of resistance against Japan. Has anybody done anything more recent than Rowe on Korean nationalist symbolism?

  1. Rowe, David Nelson. “The T’Ai Chi Symbol in Japanese War Propaganda.” The Public Opinion Quarterly 5, no. 4 (Winter 1941): 532-547. []


(A Little) Chinese History at ASPAC

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:14 am

There was, I’ll admit, a lot of Chinese content at ASPAC which I didn’t see. Such is life. I did see two papers which I want to discuss here briefly, though, from the “Globalization and Cultural Links” panel: on Qing “Dragon Robes” and transnational adoption.



Asian History News Dump, March 2007

This is a “dump”: all the Asia related stuff I’ve saved over the last…. two months? Anyway, nobody else has blogged about it, so I thought I’d toss it out there. I hope to resume more … measured blogging soon.
[Crossposted at all three Frog Blogs; sorry about the irrelevant stuff.]


AHC Call for Posts, plus

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:09 am

Roy Berman, the MutantFrog himself, will host the next Asian History Carnival at Mutant Frog Travelogue on the 18th. Get your nominations in to him directly (roy dot berman at gmail dot com), through blogcarnival.com or with del.icio.us tags. Remember, if you don’t submit anything, we may pick the worst thing you ever posted publicly….

A few other news notes:

Pandas are cute particularly when they move

China establishes new rules for News services, and they’re not liberalizing them, either.

“No surprises”: Korea-China History Wars Continue, in anticipation of the collapse of North Korea. Or just because.

Jeffery Wasserstrom reviews Peter Hessler’s Oracle Bones, and finds it superior to Kristof and WuDunn among others. It’s going on my shortlist for next semester’s “Issues and Problems of Contemporary China”.

NPR’s take on the new Mao-lite Shanghai textbooks.


Creating East Asia

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:50 am

东亚三国的近现代史 A History of Modern and Contemporary East Asia is a book that got a lot of press when it first came out, since it was written by a team of scholars from China, Korea, and Japan, and is being published in all three languages. If you want ground zero of creating a common East Asian identity this book is it. Needless to say there are some problems with this whole project.

三国人民作为近邻,从很久以前就开始友好相处。但有时也发生争斗和战争。The people the three countries are neighbors, and have long had good relations. But at times there have been conflict and war. p.2

This is something of an understatement, since the book focuses heavily on the War (Two of the four sections deal with it.) This is a bit disappointing. Not to deny the importance of the war, or to suggest that we should miss a chance to point out how badly the Japanese behaved, but it does not help as much as it could in creating and East Asian history. In the Korean preface we are told that China and Korea have had a long relationship. In the modern period they have both been invaded by “other countries” (别国家) Obviously imperialism is a big part of the modern history of all these places, and the Japanese Empire is probably the most important aspect of imperialism. Focusing too much on the war, however, leaves very little room for comparative stuff on how the people in the various countries have dealt with the problems created by modernity.

The editors seem to be aware of this, however, and the book has a lot of sideboxes. In fact there is not much of a narrative thread at all, just bits and pieces of the stuff that would seem to go into a comparative re-thinking of East Asian history. Some of this is fairly mechanical. For instance in the section on women we get three short accounts of feminist pioneers from China, Japan, and Korea. These are the type of things the authors could have lifted from lots of other textbooks, and, as in other places, these bits seem to still be tied to national history.

Much more interesting is the section on the Independence, resistance, and social movements. 独立抵抗运动与社会运动 They open with a section on the Korean March 1st (Samil) independence movement of 1919. They then discuss the Chinese May 4th movement of the same year. They point out that May 4th was inspired by Samil, although they don’t take this as far as I would like. They also take both movements out of their national ghetto by calling them reactions to Wilson’s idea of National Self-determination. Next is a section on the “social movement” which includes a section on the plight of workers and peasants, accounts of the founding of Communist parties in all three countries, and an account of movements on behalf of outcastes in Japan and Korea.

All of these are movements or things that could be considered “anti”, especially if you look at them from the point of view of the Japanese state. How to tie them all together? The final part of the section is an account of the Kanto earthquake of 1923. (Actually they say 1932. Too many typos in here.) This was a big earthquake that killed a lot of people, but is also known for the massacres of Koreans and leftists that took place in its aftermath.

The authors point out that not only Koreans were killed. Chinese and rural Japanese were also attacked, in part because the police and mobs asked potential victims to pronounce “One yen fifty sen” to test their Japanese-ness. In addition to mob killings the police directly targeted known leftists. The authors claim that the Japanese authorities were afraid that the leftists would use the earthquake to tie together the various strands of popular thought, and so the police used people’s prejudice against Koreans, Chinese, and socialists to encourage attacks on scapegoats and take pressure off the government.

There are some problems with this. First, if the government really did think that Japanese leftists were capable of anything that organized and competent they were really ill-informed. The authors also don’t explain where “the people’s” dislike of Koreans and socialists came from or what it meant. “The Japanese state disliked them all” is a nice deus ex machina in linking all these things together, but it does not really work.

The approach is particularly weak when it comes to China. Focusing on Japanese ultra-nationalism is o.k. for understanding 20th century Japan, helpful for understanding Korea, and probably counter-productive for understanding China. It is significant that Mao and Chinese revolutionaries in general get very short shrift in here. No doubt the 1/3 of the authors who were from China were reluctant to get all revisionist on Mao, but more importantly the whole focus on Japanese imperialism puts a lot of China’s revolutionary history in the shade. I wonder how it would be different if they decided that Vietnam was part of East Asia.

Despite all that, I like the attempt. It almost feels like the beginning of Western Civilization as a concept, people casting around for the things that will tie together clearly related but also quite different histories. Sadly at least to start with in the modern period the Japanese imperialist make a good central pillar for this project.


A simple Miscellany

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:03 am

Ralph Luker‘s uncovering of the wonderful linguistic debunkings of 1421 by Bill Poser and friends (in two parts; note: Is Menzies just making up words in Chinese, and if so, why do so many Chinese people seem to take him seriously? theory: he’s exploiting the linguistic uncertainty of diverse dialects.) reminded me that I’ve got a few other interesting links tucked away.

The archaeo-biological investigation of an imperial garden from the Southern Yue state (a breakaway from Qin not reconquered by the Han until 111 bce) has produced another claim of Chinese origins (the “wax gourd”) as well as some fascinating detail about foods and garden design. Also, more Koguryo finds in the oddly contested region (subscription required: this one’s free) will undoubtedly be cited by both sides.

Speaking of anniversaries: Andrew Meyer notes the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre and muses on its meanings. I don’t have anything new to say on the subject, so go read him.


Asian History Carnival #3

Welcome to the third Asian History Carnival!

It’s traditional for blog carnivals to have some kind of internal organization…. Heh.



World Historical Trends: Valentine’s Day Surgery?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:52 pm

My father sent along this article about the rise in Shanghai of plastic surgery being marketed to couples as a Valentine’s Day celebration/present.

I don’t know which is the more interesting world historical trend: the rise of Valentine’s Day as a secular world event or the spread of plastic surgery as a status symbol, in spite of its risks [via].

Of course, at some point someone will try to make an analogy or comparison or otherwise link this with footbinding, but I think it’s going to be a tough sell, given the temporal and cultural distance between the two practices, without some serious underlying theoretical foundation….

On slightly more serious note, the latest Japan Focus (which is going to have to change its name soon, given its broader scope) includes an interesting and nicely detailed article by Yonson Ahn about the historiographical border war between Korea and China.

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