Japan’s Puppet States in China

From The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West, by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press, 2006), pp. 481-483:

Japanese atrocities may have played some part in the refusal of Chiang’s government to contemplate a negotiated peace after 1937, despite German efforts to broker a truce. Of more importance was probably the manifest inability of the Japanese to inflict a decisive defeat on Guomindang forces, despite the poor leadership, low morale and appalling under-equipment that afflicted the latter.* Although the Japanese armies continued to advance steadily westwards in the course of 1938, capturing Canton, Wuhan and Xuzhou, they suffered increasingly heavy casualties as their lines of communication became overextended. At Taierhchuang [sic] in March 1938, for example, the 10th Division found itself all but surrounded and ended up losing 16,000 men in days of intense house-to-house fighting. Eighteen months later the 11th Army was heavily defeated at Changsha (Hunan). The invasion of Guangxi at the end of 1939 was short-lived; by the end of the following year the Japanese had been forced to abandon Chinhsien, Nanning and Pinyang. By 1940 they had more or less reached their limits in China and the location of the front line did not significantly change again until 1944. The effect of all this was to strengthen the hand of the more extreme elements within the Japanese military, the so-called ‘Control Faction’, who advocated ignoring the existing Chinese authorities and dealing with puppet regimes, as they had done in Manchuria.

Here, it might be thought, the Japanese had miscalculated. Who in China would want to lend his support to invaders capable of such terrible atrocities? As in other theatres of war, however, the key to securing collaboration turned out to have little, if anything, to do with the cruelty or kindness of the invading forces. The decisive factor was the extent to which the invaded people were divided among themselves. The Japanese invasion did not elicit national unity, as some Chinese Nationalists had hoped it might. It boosted support for the Communist Party, which under Mao Zedong’s leadership now committed itself to a campaign of protracted guerrilla warfare. At the same time, Japanese incursions tended to widen divisions within the Guomindang. The more recruits the Communists were able to find among impoverished and disillusioned peasants, the more tempted some Nationalists were to compromise with the Japanese. The further Chiang retreated to the west – and he did not stop until he reached Chongqing in the province of Sichuan, 800 miles from his starting point, Nanking – the greater the incentive for those left behind to make their peace with the Japanese.

Already by 1937 the Japanese had established three puppet regimes, in Chinese territory: the ‘Empire of Manchukuo’, the supposedly autonomous Mongolian regime of Prine Te [sic; = Prince Te(h), De Wang, Demchugdongrub/Dam-chukdangrub) and the East Hebei Autonomous Anti-Communist Council. By the middle of the following year, two more had been added: the Provisional Government of the Republic of China set up in Peiping by the North China Area Army, and the Reorganized Government of the Republic of China established in Nanking by the Central China Area Army. In March 1940 the Japanese pulled off a major diplomatic coup when they succeeded in persuading the former Nationalist leader Wang Jingwei to become the figurehead in charge of the latter. After renewed attempts to negotiate some kind of peace with Chiang had foundered, Wang’s regime was officially recognized as the legitimate government of China. Wang himself had been duped; he had been led to expect concessions like a definite date for Japanese troop withdrawals and a unification of the various puppet regimes under his authority. He ended up having to recognize the independence of Manchukuo, to allow the indefinite stationing of Japanese troops in China and to accept joint control of the maritime customs and other tax agencies. This meant that by 1940 the Japanese and their puppets controlled virtually the entire Chinese coast and a large proportion of the country’s eastern provinces. These were by far China’s most prosperous regions. Wang alone was nominally in charge of half a million square miles of territory and around 200 million people. Many Chinese agreed with the economist T’ao His-sheng [sic; = T’ao Hsi-sheng, Tao Xisheng], a leading collaborator in Wang’s regime: ‘China is a weak nation. In adopting a policy of being “friendly to distant countries and hostile to neighbours” [she] will inevitably bring about a situation which is summed up in the proverb: “Water from afar cannot extinguish a fire nearby.”’ Collaborationist slogans such as Tong Sheng Ghong Si [sic] (‘Live or Die Together’) were not wholly empty of meaning.

*The fighting strength of the Chinese army was around 2.9 million, divided into 146 divisions and 44 independent brigades. However, each division had just 324 machine-guns between nine and a half thousand men. In all, the Chinese army had little more than one million rifles and just 800 pieces of artillery.

Ferguson’s handling of Chinese names and terms seems very sloppy. If the slogan he mentioned is 同生共死 (lit. ‘same live both die’), a closer rendering might be Tong sheng gong si ‘Live together, die together’.

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Filed under China, economics, Japan, nationalism, war

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