Military Collaboration in Shandong

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

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