“What have the violations of our policies been like over the past year? Those of disorder…the eight great disorders of luan (wanton, chaotic and indiscriminate) beatings, luan arrests, luan killing, luan punishment, luan imprisonment, luan torture, luan confiscations, and luan sealing off of buildings. One can say this explains the luan state of our policies.” Public Security Bureau Report, Bohai District, 1946
The formal and almost bureaucratic process of purging guilt through repentance and re-education overlapped with a simultaneous process of mass trials for traitors. As Communist control was consolidated over dozens of towns, counties, and even a few cities that had been under some form of occupation by Japanese or puppet military troops, its new administrators subjected their inhabitants almost immediately to two increasingly linked campaigns, the “Rent and Interest Reduction” (減租減息) campaign and the “Oppose Treason and Voice Grievances” (反奸訴苦) campaign. This second campaign was also called the movement to “Settle Accounts with Traitors” (漢奸清算). In the vast territories of Shandong liberated during the aggressive push of Communist forces in the last months of the war, the Oppose Treason campaign was both the main vehicle for retribution against both wartime collaborators and a preliminary blow against local elites that would soon become the main target of the massive land reform efforts that would follow.
Though it was carried out on a rolling basis as areas were liberated, the peak of the campaign in the Shandong base area was in the first half of 1946. It combined the public airing of grievances against collaborators with mass trials of selected suspects. Each town and village was to collectively request the purging of their community. The Shandong provincial archives holds a number of petitions of this kind, all dated February or March of 1946, calling for the new democratic government to punish collaborators. They are often signed by a list of family or clan representatives with an indication of the number of its members. While each of them have some variation in the list of their demands, most include the request that the new Shandong government under the Communist party carry out the, “disbandment of the puppet armies and strict punishment of traitors” Each petition then usually lists some of the local collaborators and their crimes, and sometimes includes and account of the deaths and possessions pillaged in attacks by a particular puppet army unit.
For many communities in Shandong, the Oppose Treason movement and the Rent and Interest reduction movements were the first taste of the large scale mass political campaigns to be felt throughout China in the decades to come. The Oppose Treason campaign does not appear to have focused on puppet army officers and soldiers but for the first time puppet soldiers begin to appear consistently as a category in lists of cases and sentencing reports of treason elimination cadres summarizing their progress. At least some of these puppet soldiers subjected to mass trial were prisoners that had completed the process of registration and repentance but were found to have been guilty of particularly heinous crimes. In the eyes of the local population as well as the local cadres who lived and worked among them, the transfer of puppet soldiers and other collaborationist employees from the repentance and training process to public trials did not happen enough. Acknowledging a growing criticism of its policy of leniency, in the case of puppet soldiers in particular the Public Security Bureau blamed its failures on the difficulty in sharing information about alleged crimes from one county to the next.
As a 1945 report on traitor elimination work in Kunlun county put it, “there is criticism of our paralysis. We think if the [puppet soldiers] confess we should be lenient and after show our magnanimity there is no need to continue to collect material [for their cases].” The problem was also, however, that the reform and repentance process usually included at least one large rally where puppet soldiers and collaborators made their remorse public. In Zhaobei county, this was accomplished over the course of two days in rallies attended by 9,600 men, women, and children. Evaluating their response, the county administration noted that most people felt the government was showing its desire to follow the will of the people, but noted that other criticized it saying, “Today, were they suddenly reborn when they confessed their crime? That is just too easy.” Both administrators and the local populace began to take things into their own hands and the Shandong Party Sub-bureau found it impossible to control the retributive violence it had sought to channel into political mobilization. Reports came in of local militias refusing to hand over their prisoners, or of executing them rather than risk Party “magnanimity.”
Party officials were also eagerly joining in. In Bohai, for example, “the cadres are enthusiastic, but they usually believe that all the world under Heaven is ours. They lack political consciousness in the dealing with puppet police, traitors, and so on and simply view their task as one of revenge.” Throughout the newly liberated districts, Party cadres were engaged in “wanton arrests and killing” (亂捕亂殺), wanton beating, and the torturing of prisoners. “The beatings and arrests have become as regular as one’s daily meal. Where the campaigns are being carried out, every village has its own jail and its own militia.” The violence also spread to the handling of other crimes as in one village where a few suspected bandits were beaten to death on the spot by a cadre sent to apprehend them without any formal proceedings. Most of the violence, however, seemed to be at the hands of local militias (民兵) and those who attended the rallies organized in the Oppose Treason rallies. In one county carrying out the Oppose Treason campaign, it was reported that 40 treason suspects had been beaten to death by locals, 24 in a second, 8 in the county of Putai, and 20 accused “war criminals” (戰犯) stoned to death in the county of Gaoyuan.
Retributive violence against collaborators, or at least carried out in the name of vengeance against collaboration, is found in formerly occupied territories throughout the world in 1945, and the violent repression of the Japanese and puppet army occupation in Shandong gave its population more than enough reason to demand punishment. Beyond this, at least two factors contributed to the scale of retributive violence in Shandong. The first was the mass character of campaigns themselves. Treason elimination cadres, especially those in Shandong, were on notice for their excesses in earlier years, whether this was mass executions like those carried out at Huxi, a tendency to pursue vendettas and the “subjective” punishments of traitors, or for causing general fear among the peasants when secretly arresting and executing suspects (密捕密決) in the dead of night. The mass trial approach that was developed in the last years of the war tried to combine meticulous stage management of trials with an effort to carry out of the will of the people and thereby win their support. Activists were planted, suspects chosen, evidence carefully prepared, but disappointment expressed at the outcome in some internal reports suggest that the outcome of trials was at lease sometimes genuinely left up to the people, with calls for execution subject to confirmation from the district leadership. It was essential to create the impression that the people were sovereign, while the Party merely carried out its wishes. When it was reported that the people did not feel their will was carried out in treason trials, this was blamed on insufficient preparation by traitor elimination cadres. This process of managed empowerment of the people lay at the heart of the Party’s ability to rapidly gain trust in areas it captured, but was a double-edged sword. The time and manpower required to prepare and direct these trials might have been manageable in wartime years, but in 1945 and 1946, cadres were completely overwhelmed. Their control over the trial process deteriorated as a result.
The second significant factor contributing to the scale of violence in Shandong was the huge growth in people’s militias. These forces, often armed to some degree, played an important role in rapidly expanding a nominal Party presence in areas beyond the wartime base area as the war drew to an end, but they lacked discipline and often ignored directives, especially where Party authority was still weak. The militias of towns began to fight with each other, with militias of one village threatening to arrest the collaborators of neighboring communities. In a reference to the brutal counter-insurgency raids of the Japanese, it was reported in one district that the local militias had been, “carrying out a mopping-up campaign for three months.”
Not surprisingly, word of the uncontrolled violence against puppet soldier prisoners and collaborators alike was beginning to reach the puppet troops that had not yet surrendered. Word of their responses, in turn, made their way back to the Party. “If you are going to surrender, do it directly to the government. If the people’s militia catch you, they will stone you to within an inch of your life,” one was reported saying. Another pointed out the risks of magnanimity being combined with mass rallies where their victims could call for their death, “The government is magnanimous, but if the people in the village aren’t magnanimous, it does you no good.” And again, “There is lenient, and then there is lenient. If they ‘struggle’ the life out of you, what good does it do you?”
This was precisely the kind of distrust that jeopardized the continuing work of the enemy and puppet cadres after Japanese surrender. It could even threaten the base area’s control over whole communities as another report from Jiaodong pointed out. “You must be careful in carrying out the Oppose Traitors campaign. In some villages there were a relatively large number of surrendered puppet soldiers and their families. If they come under attack [by the movement], they will resist us and come under the influence of bad elements.” Most of all, however, it meant more men under arms serving the armies of the Nationalist government. An intelligence report on the state of puppet troops in Luzhong from the summer of 1946 saw this as translating directly into a military threat. There an estimated 50,000 puppet soldiers had joined 38,700 Nationalist forces entering into Shandong after Japanese surrender. The report lamented that these Luzhong puppet soldiers had not been won over and that they had failed to appreciate the Party’s policy of leniency. The reason for this was not hard to grasp, as the report admitted. The soldiers were terrified of the Party’s mass movements, saying, “Even if the Eighth Route Army forgives me, the people cannot.”