By the time of Japanese surrender, the work of traitor elimination cadres had gradually moved away from its roots in the liquidation business. During the period of Communist control in the Jiangxi Soviet period, and in Shandong during the early years of the resistance, the traitor elimination work lived up to its name most fully, as its work often consisted of the arrest, trial, and execution of those deemed traitors. Though these were often referred to with the common word for traitor hanjian (漢奸) or, one who has betrayed the Han people, the term most directly referred to the betrayal of the Party and only indirectly the Chinese nation as a whole. Those accused were most often Party cadres accused of Trotskyist or other heterodoxy. They were overwhelmingly “internal traitors” (內奸) who were accused of secretly plotting the destruction of the Party and working in league with international fascism. Following the mass witch-hunt of Trotskyists in the Huxi Incident of 1939, along with several similar incidents, the Shandong Sub-bureau began to slowly deemphasize the threat of Trotskyists in its internal directives to traitor elimination cadres, call for greater attention to the threat of Japanese and Nationalist spies and, most importantly, reform the procedures for the punishment of accused traitors. Increasingly, treason elimination work was to be carried out through the masses in the form of struggle sessions and mass trials.
While treason elimination cadres had to take responsibility for ensuring that liberated zones remained free of enemy spies, the Party purged of its crticis, and uncooperative collaborators in nearby communities kept continuously under threat of liquidation, there was ever greater emphasis on using their work as another way to mobilize or awaken the masses. While enemy and puppet work teams stayed focused on winning over their enemy, treason elimination committees paid closer attention to the number of passive peasants who were transformed into political subjects by a process of mobilization (發動 or 震動起來) than to the number and fate of traitors they apprehended. The reaction of the masses to any given sentencing and their numbers of attendance at mass assemblies were the subjects of extensive comment in treason elimination reports, while the facts of a case or the justice of any ruling were only important when some grave injustice had caused widespread discontent with the Party.
It was this world that puppet soldiers in detention in 1945 found themselves thrust into. Prisoners were were subject to a new set of regulations which merged the crimes of treason with those of war crimes, the “Provisional Regulations for the Punishment of War Criminals and Traitors in Shandong Province.” It called for a sentence of death or 10 or more years of imprisonment for a wide range of crimes including:
1) Those who from start to finish showed loyalty to Japanese imperialism, were guilty of great crimes and had caused suffering for the people.
2) Those who were leading officers or conspirators who served in the Japanese military, intelligence organs, liaisons, or military police.
3) Those who, after Japan declared surrender, refused to surrender, and continued to resist, or killed the people.
4) In the confusion of war caused disorder.
5) Those who were leading officers and conspirators among the puppet military and police, were puppet officials, or who actively destroyed the efforts towards national liberation.
6) Those who killed or abused prisoners
7) Those leading conspirators who, through feudal societies and superstitious organizations served the enemy and actively destroyed the efforts towards national liberation
8) Those who massacred the people.
9) Those who arranged for betrayal and surrender to the enemy or who themselves treasonously surrendered to the enemy and actively destroyed efforts towards national liberation.
And so the list went on. Unlike the Nationalist regime’s own law for the punishment of traitors published in draft form later that winter, these regulations contained no mitigating clauses. They were flexible enough in their definition that they could ensnare almost any military collaborator and sentence them to the ultimate punishment. After all, what puppet soldiers had not “treasonously surrendered to the enemy,” or at least “caused disorder” doing the war? Instead of mitigating clauses for those who had somehow helped the resistance or helped the people, only the magnanimity of the Party allowed traitors a chance to reform themselves, be forgiven, and welcomed back into the community. This “magnanimous policy” (寬大政策) was to serve as a general guide in all treatment of collaborators but, on the ground, puppet soldier prisoners would face two potential processes of retribution and reform: one administered directly by treason elimination cadres of the Public Security bureau, and the other incorporated directly into the mass campaigns in the local community, in which treason elimination cadres played a more indirect role more akin to theatrical directors.
In the early months after surrender, puppet soldiers found themselves for the first time subject to a joint process of retribution together with other accused traitors. They were required to complete a program of re-education in a special “training unit” (偽組織人員訓練班) which included a process of supplying written confessions and open expressions of repentance (悔過). In Weihaiwei, on the northeastern coast of the Jiaodong peninsula, these training units were assembled October 2nd, 1945. The course they were offered was carried out in two cycles to accommodate the large numbers of puppet employees, and were divided into two stages. The first stage consisted of a period of educational lectures on the nature of the new democratic government, lectures on the Party policy towards land reform, on the resilience of the Eight Route Army, on their accomplishments during the war of resistance, on the Party’s policy of leniency, and then a selection of public confessional speeches by former leading collaborationist officials. Two hours of classes were offered in the morning, followed by one hour of discussion and each day concluded with two hours of informal discussion (座談) in the evenings. The second stage of the course was conducted in small groups, during which time course participants were expected to produce detailed self-criticisms of their past behavior. In order to promote sufficiently repentant behavior, in each group activists (積極份子) were cultivated who would urge the others on. Those who showed remorse passed the course, and would be conditionally released. Particularly stubborn or uncooperative course participants were forced to enroll in an additional short training course.
The first two cycles yielded 178 “graduates,” including 60 “puppet” village mayors, 71 officers of various ranks in neighborhood associations, 13 “puppet” secretaries, as well as a number of commerce chamber members, and city district chiefs. Most of the trainees were from poor backgrounds: 103 were poor farmers, 14 were registered as merchants, and only one a landlord. By the end of the total four months of training courses provided, two hundred more collaborators had completed the training course, and its targets had significantly expanded, including police chiefs, security guards, bandits, spies, “puppet” laborers, “puppet” teachers and students, puppet village level officials, and puppet soldiers.
In Bohai district, a more scaled-down and decentralized process was adopted for an estimated 40,000 puppet soldier prisoners and other collaborators. Those in towns were processed directly by Public Security bureau cadres who manned special “Offices for Repentance” (悔過處), while in the country county government officials handled their cases. Accused puppet soldiers were collectively registered and organized into training units with 70-80 puppet troops each. These units were given a mere two days of intense re-education that was to emphasize the forgiving nature of the Party’s magnanimous policy, the severity of their past crimes, and carry out group exercise of self-reflection and confession.
Not all areas of Shandong had such organized re-education programs for puppet soldiers and other collaborators. In some, areas the processing of puppet soldier prisoners consisted of a more simple process of organizing a single mass rally, and have the assembled puppet prisoners collectively express remorse for their crimes. The sheer numbers involved sometimes made it impossible to do more. For example, in Yongzhi county which had a total population of 180,000 in 1946, there were no less than 10,000 puppet soldiers, most of whom were poor farmers from the area. After asking them to confess their crimes and write letters of self-examination (反省), they were allowed to regain their political rights.