Wu Huawen’s Crooked Road to National Salvation

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

One response

  1. A terrific piece – I have always thought of Wu Huawen as the ulitmate turncoat. Now I have seen from your wealth of detail that he was even worse than I thought.

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