To those who are interested in modern Chinese history, the name Wang Jingwei may be familiar, and may provoke a strong reaction. A complex figure whose life and political career was played out through many chapters, Wang defies easy analysis, despite the many attempts to dismiss him as a traitor, reduce him to a caricature or write him out of history altogether.
Who was Wang Jingwei? What role did he play in the shaping of modern China?
At the age of 21 while studying in Japan, Wang Jingwei met Sun Yat-sen and joined the anti-Qing revolutionary Tongmenghui as one of the creators of the society’s charter. His superior writing and oratorial skills allowed him to spread word of the Revolution far and wide. Then, in a dramatic bid to topple the Qing administration, Wang organized a team to assassinate the Prince Regent Zaifeng. Even though the attempt failed and Wang was arrested, he was not sentenced to death. He was released after only a year’s imprisonment. Prince Suzhong Shanqi (1866 – 1922) was reportedly moved by Wang and his 〈被逮口占〉 “Impromptu verses upon my arrest,” which included the two lines: “Feeling excited before the decapitating knife in front of me, I know my young head will not be wasted.” This soon became one of the most recited poems in China at that time.
After his release, Wang became a national hero; and after Minguo (the Republic) was founded in 1912, he became Sun Yat-sen’s right-hand man, writing all the political programs and declarations. Years later, when Sun was dying from cancer, it was Wang who drafted his will. In 1925 after Sun’s death, Wang was elected the Chair of the Nationalist Government with great expectations, at the center of Guomindang party politics.
Fifteen years later, when Wang Jingwei established the Reorganized National Government (RNG) in Nanjing on March 30, 1940 as the President of the Executive Yuan and Chairman of the National Government, he stood opposed to Chiang Kai-shek’s National Government in Chongqing. In the Nanjing Government’s policy program, Wang stated that among the goals for establishing the Reorganized National Government was:
“To adopt a policy of good neighborliness and through peace-making diplomacy secures the independence and integrity of China’s Sovereignty and Administration to enable her to share the responsibility for the establishment of permanent peace and a new order in East Asia.” (Don Bate, Wang Ching Wei Puppet or Patriot, Chicago: R.F. Seymour, 1941, page 157)
In other words, the plan was to negotiate peace with Japan at a time when Japan had already invaded and occupied large sections of China.
Discussing peace in the middle of war was a bold move, which Wang Jingwei himself understood: “During wartime, no one wants to hear the word ‘peace’,” he said, predicting the ill will, disdain and even danger to his personal life that advancing the cause of peace would bring.
Wang’s resolute belief in the Peace Movement and the Reorganized Nanjing Government (RNG) became the evil abyss to Chiang Kai-shek’s “orthodox regime.” As a result, since the end of World War II, the name Wang Jingwei has yet to escape the fetters of the label hanjian (“traitor to the Han people”; also translated as “traitor to China.”)
Why would a young man who threw himself into the Revolution without consideration for his life choose the scorned Peace Movement a quarter century later? Why would a folk martyr willingly become a “sinner of the nation”? Answering these questions requires the modern reader to put aside simplistic labels and inflexible prejudices to better understand the “true” Wang Jingwei that historians have only begun to unravel.
Although demonized or completely omitted in the standard history books, there is still much talk about Wang Jingwei, and his position and evaluation in history remains a subject of debate. Writings and biographies are plentiful In academia and the public domain: especially on the Internet, which is filled with related new discoveries and theories nearly everyday.
Ten years before his death, Wang Jingwei wrote in “Autobiographical Sketch” (Oriental Magazine, January 1934):
“My speeches and writings are the truest form of my life story. There is no need for any other autobiography.”
Beginning at the age of 14, when Wang wrote his first poem 〈重九遊西石巖〉 “Visiting West Stone Cliff on the Double Ninth Festival” after visiting this fabled site in 1897, Wang Jingwei expressed his most profound thoughts and innermost self through poetry. From the passionate sentiments of a revolutionary, to the tender emotions expressed between husband and wife, to more intellectual concerns for the nation—all is revealed in his poetry collection《雙照樓詩詞藁》Shuangzhaolou shicigao.
Aside from writing poetry, Wang served as a representative member of the anti-Qing and revolutionary literary society Nanshe, and in that role wrote the literary critique Nanshe Shihua (Poetry of Nanshe) using the name Manzhao. In addition, his nearly 400 political writings (about 3,000 pages in total), along with recorded speeches and videos, are on this website. Other primary source material attributed to Wang can also be found in libraries and archives in China, Japan and Taiwan.
It is possible to reveal the “true” Wang Jingwei through his words and in between the lines. That is why this brief biography focuses on his writings and speeches. We also include a chronicle of world and domestic events juxtaposed with Wang Jingwei’s life events in this Timeline for your reference.
Please click on each of the following links for a chronology of events:
Wang Jingwei was born Wang Zhaoming (courtesy name Jixin) on May 4, 1883 in Sanshui, Guangdong. The Wangs were originally from Shanyin (Shaoxing today), Zhejiang. Wang Jingwei was born and grew up in an era when the Qing Empire was plagued by continued internal trouble and outside aggression; when much of the revolutionary sentiments were fomented. While studying in Japan, Wang adopted the pen name “Jingwei” after a legendary bird. According to ancient mythology, the bird was ancient Emperor Yan’s daughter who drowned and came back as a bird whose lifelong mission was to fill the sea with stones and twigs. Using this name, Wang Jingwei set out to overthrow the Qing court, which had ruled China since the middle of the 17th Century. Since then, he continued to use Jingwei and became known by this name.
Wang came from a family of considerable literary accomplishments, and was therefore acquainted with poetry since childhood. His grandfather Wang Yun was a juren, and taught at the Zhejiang Miaogao College. His uncle Wang Quan was a known literatus, one of the Yuedong Sanjia (3 Cantonese Literati). His older step-brother Zhaorong and first cousin were also juren, students of the great Lingnan Confucian Chen Feng. Zhaoquan also founded the Jiaozong School. Not surprisingly, when Wang Jingwei and his second older brother Zhaohong both took the prefectural examination in Panyu, Wang Jingwei came first and his brother second. Later on, when the examiners realized they were two brothers they switched their positions because Zhaohong was the older of the two. (Please see the Wang Family genealogy.)
Father Wang Shu was a 「幕客」 muke, a private non-officer assistant attending to legal, fiscal or secretarial duties in the local yamen, the administrative office and/or residence of a local bureaucrat or mandarin during the late Qing period, and served as a private advisor hired by officials to handle documents. Muke were usually well skilled in preparing written documents. Although they worked without official titles, they were willing to use their skills to help handle the affairs of others. Many skilled muke were known to come from Shanyin (Shaoxing today) and “Shaoxing shiye” (shiye is a common name for muke) enjoyed a wide reputation. When Wang Jingwei was nine years of age, his father retired from his work as a muke, So, everyday after his private school, his father continued to give him literature and history lessons, in addition to juren training lessons from Hu Jiaoru (Jiaqu). The young Wang also took calligraphy lessons from the husband of his fifth sister Yuan Shaobai (Kequn). His brother-in-law taught him suspended wrist calligraphy; initially studying the styles of Dong Qichang and, later on, Yan Zhenqing. Such training enabled Wang to build a strong foundation in literature. During this time, he also became familiar with his most cherished Wang Yangming philosophy and the poetry of Tao Yuanming and Lu Fangweng. In 1938, before the Reorganized Nanjing Government was established, Wang completed his translation of《陽明與禪》(Yangming and Zen) from Japanese, which he began more than thirty years before while studying in Japan. The book was published in 1942 by the Sino-Japanese Cultural Center. In the postscript, Wang mentioned Wang Yangming Chuanxilu as his favorite book since childhood, and the principles of being “open and clear, internal and external should be united, not acting is not knowing.” Clearly, the philosophy of Wang Yangming had left a deep impression on Wang Jingwei.
At age 12, Wang’s mother died from illness, and two years later his father died from cholera. As a result, Wang depended on his brother Zhaorong who was 22 years older. In Lechang in northern Guangdong, Wang Jingwei continued studying history and literature. At age 16 he studied with Zhaorong’s father-in-law Zhang Meixuan. When the Lechang training superior Yun Fengwei read Wang’s writings, he praised him, and thought that he would become an influential figure in the future.
When the Boxer Rebellion broke out in 1900 and the Yihetuan (Militia United in Righteousness) marched into Beijing, these events left a strong impression on the young Wang Jingwei. Wang, who often received the best essay prize from the monthly composition contests given by Yushan College, was hired by the Commander of the Navy in Guangdong Li Zhun at age 18 to serve as private tutor for his children. This was Wang’s first employment.
Wang Jingwei while he was an editor of Mingbao
In 1904, Wang Jingwei and like-minded friends from his village organized a study group aimed to researching practical learning and mutual encouragement. Some members of the group also studied in Japan later, and became revolutionary comrades. That same year, Wang received a government scholarship to study in Japan and soon earned a reputation as an outstanding debater. Later, in his “Autobiographical Sketch”, Wang mentioned that he acquired the concepts of constitutionalism and civil liberty during his study at the Hosei University in Japan, which confirmed the basis for his revolutionary aspirations:
“When I was studying literature and history in China, I was naturally filled with indignation over the invasion of China during the Liao, Jin and Yuan dynasties; same with the Qing. Yet, I was hampered by the ideology of monarchy. Since I studied law and politics in Japan, I learned about nationalism and sovereignty of the people from studying constitutionalism and cast the ideology of monarchy to the winds. My burgeoning ideas about nationalism flourished; this combined with the newly developed ideas, determined my inclination toward revolution.”
In 1905, when Sun Yat-sen went to Japan, Wang Jingwei, Zhu Zhixin met Sun, and became members of Tongmenghui. Wang, together with Huang Xing, Chen Tianhua and Ma Junwu, drafted the party constitution, and was also elected chairman of the party council and the chief writer of the party organ Minbao. In November, Wang published “Citizens of a Nation” advocating freedom, democracy and national consciousness using the name Jingwei, as the first essay for Minbao.
When it was first established, Tongmenghui focused its work on organization and propaganda, rather than active revolution. Most of the propaganda material was written by Wang Jingwei and soon caught the attention of officials of the Qing Court. Cen Chunxuan, the governor of Guangdong and Guangxi, threatened Wang’s brother Zhaorong (who served as Cen’s muke) to hand over his younger brother Jingwei. When he learned of this, Wang wrote a final letter to his family, informing them that he was breaking off all ties, and signed it as “the sinner of the family”. He also asked his elder brother to dissolve the marriage contract that had been made by the family with a woman who had the surname Liu. Upon graduation from the escalated course at Hosei University in law and politics, Wang ranked second in his class. By this time, he was able to translate Japanese books into Chinese and earned enough money to enroll in Hosei University as a regular student.
In 1907, Wang Jingwei accompanied Sun Yat-sen to Nanyang to advocate for the Revolution among overseas Chinese. They received enormous support and successfully established more than one hundred local party branches. Aside from raising funds, propaganda moved many overseas Chinese to return to their homeland and participate in revolutionary activities. Local schools and newspaper offices were mobilized to promote the Revolution, and the party membership grew even more.
The 1907 trip to Nanyang also enabled Wang to meet Chen Bijun in Penang. Although Wang Jingwei and Chen Bijun spoke for only an hour during that first meeting, they became fond of one another and maintained a correspondence. When Wang returned to Penang the following year, they spent more than 10 days together and became intimate friends. Their relationship developed rapidly after Chen Bijun joined Wang in Japan. And, true to Chinese tradition at the time, they soon referred to each other as “Fourth Brother” and “Seventh Sister.”
Naturally, Chen Bijun joined the plot to assassinate Prince Chun. After the decision to proceed with the assassination plot had been made, Wang Jingwei wrote a long letter to Zeng Xing and Fang Junying, the two women whom he regarded as his elder sisters, telling them about his relationship with Chen Bijun and their mutual determination to die for the Revolution. Describing his relationship with Chen, Wang wrote:
“The two of us always considered love as what is important in life. Two persons could become friends if they love each other; two persons could become husband and wife if they love each other and get married…Therefore love will not be increased or reduced by marriage contract. My love to the “Seventh Sister” [Chen Bijun] has remained the same throughout the years.”
Wang and Chen Bijun were not only friends and lovers, but also comrades with similar political ideals. Chen remained Wang’s most indispensable assistant in his political career. Frequently Wang Jingwei would consult Chen’s opinion on new ideas. Although Chen was strong-willed, she always had respect for Wang, as he did for her.
Between 1907 and 1910, internal struggles within Tongmenghui and a series of failed revolutionary attempts had distracted party members. Dissident voices against Sun Yat-sen were rising among a faction led by Zhang Taiyan, who wished to unseat Sun as party leader. As internal struggles continued, the Qing government thwarted the revolutionaries. Under pressure from the Qing Court, the Japanese government asked Sun Yat-sen to leave the country, and the French and British governments asked him to stay out of Annam (Vietnam) and Nanyang. The Minbao office in Tokyo was closed down by the Qing government’s request. Tongmenghui secret plans were uncovered by Qing operatives. All this led to disappointment within the party.
Wang Jingwei and other members of the assassination squad Fang Junying, Zeng Xing, Chen Bijun, Li Zhongshi and Huang Fusheng
To stimulate morale, Wang Jingwei and six close friends formed an assassination squad to plot against Qing high officials. Few people knew about these plans in advance; and the upper echelons of Tongmenghui, such as Sun Yat-sen, Huang Xing and Hu Hanmin, did not approve. Yet Wang was determined. He wrote Letter to Hu Hanmin and Farewell letter to Mr. Sun Yat-sen to underscore his determination. Yet after several failed attempts, Wang’s plans were discovered and he was arrested and sent to prison on April 16, 1910.
During his first interrogation by the police, Wang declared:
“I, Wang, wish to shake popular feeling in the foundation of the country: its capital.”
“These essays were first written with ink, now I want to write them in blood.”
“Trend of Revolution” explains that what China needed at the time was to carry out democratic revolution, and that changing the system to constitutional government would not ameliorate the suffering for the people. “Determination for Revolution” illustrates Wang’s revolutionary principles and describes how the revolutionaries’s intent stems from Mencius’s view of innate ethical disposition: compassion for the pain and suffering, death and insult imposed on his fellowmen. The insignificant self would spare no effort to shoulder the world’s burdens until death. Such tenacity is unafraid of death; it does not dissipate amid riches and glory; it remains unmoved by poverty and lowliness, unbent under force. Unafraid of trouble, untempted by fame and fortune, the revolutionaries are bent on sharing the fruits of the Revolution with their fellow countrymen. Wang Jingwei used Mencius’s 「惻隱之心」 concept of compassion and Wang Yangming’s idea of 「良知」 innate benevolence as guidance for his personal conduct throughout his life.
While in prison, Wang Jingwei recorded his thoughts and emotions in poetry. The four 〈被逮口占〉 (“Impromptu verses from prison”) clearly illustrates Wang’s decision to fill the sea while 〈見人析車輪為薪，為作此歌〉 (“A song inspired by seeing people hew old carriage wheels into firewood”) expresses his revolutionary fervor and ideals.
〈述懷〉 (“A recount of my vision and sentiments”), written in prison, describes his education and upbringing and the emotional journey of sacrificing his life for the Revolution. His “Autobiographical Sketch” is an expression of his viewpoints and arguments with a special mention of this poem. Similar to 〈革命之決心〉 “Determination for Revolution,” “A recount of my vision and sentiments” reveals Wang’s ideas and for the Revolution.
Wang also wrote 〈金縷曲〉 (“Jinluqu“) dedicated to Chen Bijun, a manifestation of the emotions of revolutionary sons and daughters.
Wang Jingwei photographed in Shanghai after being released from prison in Beijing. April, 1912
The poetry collection 《雙照樓詩詞藁》Shuangzhaolou shicigao compiled years later contain many poems that describe the joys of the couple traveling together and the sadness of being separated; showing the deep love between Wang and his wife Chen Bijun. “Shuangzhao” came from the Tang poet Du Fu’s 〈月夜〉 “Moonlit Night” about the poet’s missing his wife. Wang’s use of “Shuangzhao” to name his collection illustrates how much he cherished the love between himself and Chen.
On October 10, 1911 during the Wuchang Uprising, the Qings and Wuhan revolutionaries negotiated peace, with the release of Wang Jingwei as one of the conditions. That same year on November 6, after Wang was set free from prison, Wang founded Minyibao in his apartment in Tianjin, publishing essays advocating for democracy, trying to convince citizens and counsel the government to remove the threat of war and formulate a system of government in order to secure peace and safety. With the success of the Revolution and the formation of the Minguo (Republic), Wang Jingwei and Chen Bijun married.
Wedding photo of Wang Jingwei and Chen Bijun (annotated by Ho Mang Hang)
Having risked his life for the Revolution, Wang Jingwei found himself among a small group of intellectuals who were viewed as candidates for president of the newly established Republic of China. As Zhang Taiyan stated, “If we are to choose the president, Huang Xing is the one who contributed most to the Revolution, Song Jiaoren is the most talented, and Wang Jingwei is the one of the highest morality.” However, Wang Jingwei was determined not to hold government offices, saying:
“A big regret in my life is that I was not able to pursue my studies during the last decade, being on the go for the Revolution.”
As a result, Wang received Sun Yat-sen’s approval to forgo an early formal entry into politics and travelled to France with his new bride to continue his studies, focusing on Western democracy, politics, and political activities, with friends helping him pay for expenses. In Letter to Our Comrades in the Nanyang, he explained his wish to follow the footsteps of other scholars who studied in Europe.
Yet even though Wang was far from home, he continued to think about China. During his travels, he wrote two poems 〈印度洋舟中〉 (“On board ship across the Indian Ocean”) and 〈古寺觀臥佛〉 “Looking at the reclining Buddha in ancient temple,” revealing his inability to cast aside affairs of state.
Although Wang Jingwei did not want to hold governmental offices, he initiated and advocated for movements such as the Diligent Work-Frugal Study group and later, for the movement for education in Europe, sparing no effort towards education via study abroad and Sino-French exchange. In the early days of the Minguo (Republic), Wang and Cai Yunpei, Li Shizeng, Wu Zhihui, Zhang Ji and other Tongmenghui friends founded the Society to Promote Virtue, with the goal to change the corrupt societal atmosphere at that time. Wang founded “Frugal Study in France” with Wu Zhihui, Li Shizheng, Zhang Jingjiang, Zhang Ji, Chu Minyi. They also started a school in Beijing, with the goal to “be frugal with expenses, promote ways to study abroad, and employ diligence and frugality to nurture the spirit to study hard;” encouraging young people to study in Europe with frugal work and diligent study. In 1916, while in France, Wang Jingwei, Cai Yunpei, Li Shizeng, Wu Zhihui and others established the Sino-French Society, further advocating for Chinese students to study in France and for foster greater friendship between China and France.
Wang Jingwei's poem describes the deep affection between him and Chen Bijun
In 1917, while Sun Yat-sen was organizing the Guangzhou Militarist Government, he asked Wang Jingwei to return to China. During the long train journey across Siberia, Wang wrote the poem 〈西伯利亞道中寄冰如〉 “To Bingru, on my journey through Siberia” employing the imagery of drifting snow and plum flower to describe their deep affection.
After the War in Europe ended in 1919, China agreed to send representatives to the Paris Peace Conference and designated Wang Jingwei as a member of the delegation. But because he had never held an official post, he attended as a private individual. His essay “The Paris Peace Conference and the Sino-Japanese Problem,” published in Jianshe (Construction) magazine, detailed the proceedings of the conference and why China refused to sign the Treaty of Versailles.
From right: Wang Ying, Wang Xing, Wang Jingwei, Chan-Cheong-Choo. Chen Bijun. First from left in front: Chen Shunzhen
From the initial drafting of the charter for Tongmenghui, Wang Jingwei remained close to Sun Yat-sen, and after returning to China from France in 1919, Wang soon became Sun’s right-hand man, helping to manage party affairs. After the reorganization of the Guomindang in 1924, all the rules and declarations were written by Wang. And in the following year, when Sun suffered from liver cancer, Wang drafted two versions of Sun’s last will and testament: one political (see English version here) and one familial. Both were signed by Sun on March 11. After Sun’s death, Wang himself fell ill. In “Outline of Current International Affairs,” written during this period of illness, Wang explains the implications of China’s abandoning the Unequal Treaty, which is mentioned in Sun’s political will.
Photographed in October, 1925 during the Guangzhou Government period
On July 1, 1925, following the death of Sun Yat-sen, the National Government was established in Guangzhou. And Wang Jingwei, having long refused to assume high governmental office, yielded to his party comrades’ high hopes and agreed to serve as chairman of the new government. His election placed Wang at the center of Guomindang party politics, and soon put him at odds with Chiang Kai-shek.
After the deaths of Sun Yat-sen and Liao Zhongkai, and following Hu Hanmin’s departure overseas and Xu Chongzhi‘s arrest, Wang Jingwei and Chiang Kai-shek became the two most senior members of the Guomindang. Initial cooperation between the two was smooth, which resulted in the stable development of the Guangdong area as the Nationalist revolutionary base. However, differing attitudes between Wang and Chiang toward the policy of the United Front led to their separation. On March 20, 1926, Chiang, who heard from his aides that the communist party was ordering the captain of Zhongshan Warship to plot against him, subjected the ship to martial law. This incident led Wang Jingwei to realize the vast ideological differences between him and Chiang and that he and Chiang could not truly cooperate. This incident marked the beginning of a fissure between them and their continued conflict.
After the Incident, he wrote 〈病中讀陶詩〉 “In sickness I read Tao Yuanming’s poem” which reveals the impact of Sun’s death on Wang. Even though he had always yearned for Tao Yuanming “pastoral life”, he continued to worry, even in bucolic life.
After the National Revolutionary Army occupied Hankou, Hanyang and Wuchang, the National Government moved the capital to Wuhan on February 21, 1927. On April 18, Chiang Kai-shek established the Nanjing Government, in opposition to Wang’s National Government in Wuhan.
With the publication of the essay, “The Struggle between Two Forces,” on July 25, 1927, Wang Jingwei pointed out his unwavering opposition to corruption and militarist secession had not yet succeeded. Wang initially supported Sun Yat-sen’s United Front policy and signed the Wang-Chen Joint Declaration with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) representative Chen Duxiu. But when he heard about the Comintern’s “May Instruction” — Stalin’s May Telegram directing Russian advisors to take over the GMD — it became the turning point for Wang to take a more anti-communist position. By then, Wang had realized that he was caught between corruption and communism: fighting against the corrupted elements (referring to warlords, imperialists, and anyone who supported them) would open up an opportunity for the Communists to seize upon. Conversely, fighting the Communists would allow the corrupted elements to attack. In Wang’s view, the only option was to unite the talented revolutionaries within the party and clarify internal revolutionary theory. This could not be accomplished quickly and was the source of much conflict at the time. Therefore, even though the central party was revitalized, it was in vain. Wang considered this his failure.
Wang had evaluated his own suitability for politics in his writing. He considered the following as the three criteria for being a politician: 1) political ethics, 2) political knowledge, 3) political finesse. He considered himself not lacking in political ethics. As for political knowledge, no one could ever have enough because it is limitless; all he could do was to be vigilant and continue to study. When it came to political finesse, he thought this quality was very much lacking within himself.
That year, the Nanjing Government led by Chiang Kai-shek and the Wuhan Government headed up by Wang Jingwei stood in opposition to one another. Wang Jingwei felt that aside from their differences over the United Front, members of the Xishan conference faction were strongly against Wang-Chiang cooperation. Later on, the Wuhan government officially separated from the Communists, and reunited with Chiang’s Nanjing regime for the sake of the political situation. Yet, when the Guomindang embarked on a purge of Communists the party with military force, the CCP began to rise up in arms in many places. In December, 1927, big revolts erupted in Guangzhou. Taking political responsibility for this, Wang resigned to leave politics for France with Chen Bijun. After his departure, Chiang Kai-shek’s power within the party rose even further. While overseas, Wang continued to worry about the country’s political situation, especially Chiang’s increasing dictatorship and control over the internal party system.
Wang Jingwei with Chen Bijun, Wang Wenying and Wang Wenxing at Lake Lausanne before returning to China, September 1929
In “Letter to the Guomindang Headquarters in France,” published on April 7, 1928 and the essay One Fundamental Concept,” April-May 1928, Wang gave general reasons for the Wuhan split with communism and for his decision to leave the country. In “Some Thoughts on the Fourth Anniversary of Sun Yat-sen’s Death,” published on March 12, 1929, he argued that Sun’s aim and spirit for reorganization was being destroyed, and the National Revolution was in danger of being ruined and aborted. Compatriots should define their direction, Wang asserted, and work hard to break out of the siege of adversity. The September 20, 1929 commentary about current political situation made by the Third Central Executive Committee of the Guomindang listed Chiang Kai-shek’s ten most significant crimes and proposed five targets that opponents could focus on to oppose him. Soon thereafter, Wang returned to China from France and personally led the anti-Chiang campaign. On October 24, 1929 he released a telegram, rallying support from north and south.
In 1930, the returned Wang Jingwei, in coalition with the northern warlords, fought the Central Plains War against Chiang and convened the “Expanded Nationalist Party Conference.” In Tianjin, Wang announced his intention to resign, and at the end of May established the “Special Congress of the Central Executive Committee of the Guomindang” as the leading Nationalist organization. On May 28, the National Government was founded in Guangzhou.
During this period, Wang expressed his private feelings in the poem 〈飛花〉 “Floating petals” using verses as if they were petals, leading to the final line “There is no hesitation in dying for a good cause!”
On September 18, 1931, Japan attacked Northeast China in the Manchurian Incident with military force. Chiang Kai-shek, hoping to avoid the the conflict from evolving into a full-scale war, ordered Zhang Xueliang, the general in command of Manchuria, to hold his troops without resistance. The Japanese army soon invaded Mukden (Shenyang today). The opposing factions of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Government in Nanjing and Wang’s “Special Congress of the Central Executive Committee of the Guomindang” immediately exchanged telegrams and decided to set aside their differences for the sake of defending the nation during crisis.
Wang Jingwei and his daughters, ca. 1932
After several negotiations, Chiang decided to resign from the position as the chair of the Nationalist Government in Nanjing, and the Guangzhou Nationalist Government body was dissolved. Lin Sen became chair of the National Government, Chen Mingshu served as acting premier and the Military Affairs department assumed military command. On January 16, 1932, Wang Jingwei, who was ill at the time, met with Chiang Kai-shek in Hangzhou, where they came to the joint decision that without other more suitable candidates, Wang would take over political affairs and Chiang would be in charge of the military. The collaboration between Wang and Chiang resumed once again.
On January 28, 1932, Japanese troops stationed in Shanghai instigated war with the Chinese. That same day, an emergency meeting of the Central Political Committee approved the resolution to appoint Wang as the new premier to shoulder all political responsibility and to negotiate with Japan. This was the first time Wang expressed his attitude towards Japan over military and foreign policies.
In the speech Wang Jingwei gave in Xuzhou on February 15, 1932 he explained that China’s diplomatic policy toward Japan was 「一面抵抗 一面交涉」 negotiation in resistance: the bottom line for China’s tolerance was territorial integrity and sovereignty. But China should take a more reserved approach before Japan went beyond the limit. In other words, the resistance was to show China’s determination to not yield and the negotiation was China’s will to resolve the conflict peacefully. This new policy was different from the previous one of non-resistance. The policy of non-resistance was based on the belief that China was in no position to fight Japan; resistance would result in wasteful self-sacrifice. And non-negotiation would be tantamount to submitting to the will of heaven, to wait helplessly for death or whatever outcome that heaven had in store for China.
In the National Crisis Meeting held in Luoyang on April 10, 1932, Wang delivered a speech “On the Direction And Determination In Military Action and Foreign Diplomacy” again emphasizing that the Chinese government was determined to negotiate with Japan above the bottom line of tolerance. He was prepared to sign a treaty on those terms even if all the Chinese people condemned him for doing so. But if Japan went beyond the limit, the Chinese government would never yield. Advocating for “negotiation in resistance” would also to buy time for China until the international situation turned in a more favorable direction. After the beginning of hostilities on January 28, fighting continued for four months; after much efforts in foreign relations, with the help of other countries, China and Japan signed the Shanghai Ceasefire Agreement on May 5, 1932.
In times of crisis, Wang sought wisdom from known scholars and advice from public figures about affairs of the state. In a letter to Hu Shi on April 23, 1933, Wang Jingwei shared his opinion about the Sino-Japanese situation:
“Although we would have no regret if we die for losing a war, I am afraid that annexing Beijing and Tianjin to Japan, all north China would be lost. Once territory is lost, it is unknown when it could be recovered. It is not only a matter of the collapse of our Party, it would mean sacrificing Beijing, Tianjin and north China. If there is a way, I will do anything to save Beijing, Tianjin and north China, before reaching the bottom line. Otherwise, if I have to sign the treaty to acknowledge the annexation of Manchuria and Jehol and the puppet government, I do not need to remain alive after sacrificing our Party.”
This letter expresses Wang’s basic attitude, which he would express again in the years to come when discussing the Peace Movement and the formation of the Nanjing Reorganized National Government in 1940.
On October 27, 1933, Wang wrote the poem 〈重九集掃葉樓，分韻得有字〉 ”Assembled at Saoyelou on Double Ninth Festival, I was assigned you (to have) to rhyme.” In the poem, Wang expressed his thoughts about the Japanese invasion, his worries about the country and ongoing personal doubts and struggles by likening himself to the catkin willow tree as the first to wither off to sacrifice his life in order to guard against enemy atrocities.
On March 12, 1934 in a somber speech delivered on the ninth anniversary of the death of Sun Yat-Sen, Wang declared that China’s survival in the face of foreign invasion was at stake, and that every Chinese needed to be prepared to die for “peace,” “struggle” and to “save China.”
On July 24, 1934, in a speech commemorating the anniversary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wang urged the Chinese people to move beyond its past glories and assume a more progressive posture, in order to not be left behind.
In the October 10, 1934 essay “Self-strengthening and Sacrifice,” Wang spoke about preserving the nation’s sovereignty and suggested that a country’s inability to revive may be due to a lack of national pride.
On New Year’s Day, 1935, Wang published “The Guiding Principal of National Salvation,” where he indicated that the root cause for China’s distress was the lack of freedom and equality; and eliminating this liability was the goal of the Revolution. As long as there was hope, he wrote, every citizen must work towards saving the nation’s power, using every available opportunity, little by little, for the sake of future revival.
Recuperating from sickness in Laoshan, Qingdao. August, 1935
Japan’s diplomat (and later, Prime Minister) Kōki Hirota made a speech on January 23, 1935 to which Wang Jingwei responded in his February 20th “Report on the Guiding Principals of Sino-Japanese Foreign Diplomacy” that in principle, to further equal and mutual help and understanding, China was willing to enhance its friendship and peaceful relations with Japan, the same as any other country. In March, Chiang Kai-shek agreed with Wang’s February 20 speech, which was well received by other countries as well. But during the month of June, Wang suffered a setback; he was hospitalized in Shanghai for liver disease, after which he recuperated in Qingdao for more than a month before returning to his duties.
On November 1 1935, Wang Jingwei was shot three times by the radical anti-Japanese extremist Sun Fengming at the Sixth Plenum of the Fourth National Congress of Guomindang in Nanjing. Wang was seriously injured and had to leave China for medical care in Europe. Although two of the bullets were removed, the third bullet lodged near his spine was not removed because the procedure was considered too risky.
While traveling overseas to seek medical treatment, Wang wrote 〈印度洋舟中〉 ”On board ship across the Indian Ocean” in March 1936 relating the distress he felt over health issues amidst the incessant ongoing turbulence and unrest in China.
On October 19, 1936, while in Europe, Wang wrote the obituary for Deputy Chief Foreign Minister Tang Youren who was assassinated at the Shanghai train station for his role in negotiations with the Japanese on December 25, 1935. With somber words, the obituary stated the difficulties in managing foreign relations during the last few years.
Recuperating in Europe after attack, July 1936
In December, 1936, Wang returned to China and reunited with Chiang over the Xian Incident. But after the Incident, when the Guomindang’s policy turned from anti- to pro-communism, Wang was shocked and considered it a big mistake on Chiang’s part. This led him to despair for China’s situation, which further promoted his leaning towards the Peace Movement.
On January 18, 1937, Wang gave the speech “On Democracy” further explaining these concerns. The speech “Internal Pacification and External Resistance” delivered on February 1, further questioned China’s ability to achieve internal pacification to resist foreign aggression.
In an Interview on Current Political Situation on March 17, Wang advocated for citizens to unite to defend the country and to regain its lost territories, so that Japan would see that aggression was futile. Even if the Japanese insisted on fighting, Wang reasoned, there would be no option but for the Chinese to continue to fight for their national integrity.
Wang Jingwei and Chen Bijun in front of Nanjing home, 1937
On their 25th wedding anniversary in 1937, Wang wrote the poem to Chen 〈二十五年結婚紀念日賦示冰如〉 (“For Bingru on our 25th Wedding Anniversary”), expressing their mutual vows, life’s inevitable changes, and reaffirming their promise to each other to endure whatever joys and hardships future might bring.
Wang’s poem was highly personal but also prescient. Within months, the Marco Polo Bridge incident would take place and signal the beginning of the second Sino-Japanese War. Beijing was lost on July 28; and Tianjin occupied on the 30. In the broadcast “Everyone Needs to Speak Honestly, Everyone Needs to Take Responsibility” on August 4, Wang said that while all citizens loved peace, it was up to their ability to maintain peace, that a mere “love for peace” was not enough to make it so. As a weak country, China could not depend on other countries’ “love for peace;” the nation must rely on its own ability. Given China’s size and population, continuous struggle would increase China’s chance for survival. On November 12, Japan occupied Shanghai. On November 17, the Nationalist Government moved its capital to Wuhan, and four days later, officially moved to Chongqing. On December 13, the Japanese army invaded Nanjing, and soon began the “Nanjing Massacre.”
Wang Jingwei photographed by daughter Wenxing in Hankou, February 26, 1938
The cabinet of Fumimaro Konoe declared on January 16, 1938 that Japan would not consider Chiang Kai-shek’s government a negotiating partner, and hoped that China would form a new regime that would allow Japan to mend its relations with China. On November 3, Japan announced that if the Nationalist government agreed to abandon its former policies and change its personnel and organization, Japan would not refuse to negotiate with China.
At that time, Wang thought that China lacked strength, and international assistance was uncertain. He despaired for the country’s future. With his earlier proposal to Chiang to negotiate peace with the Japanese yielding no result, Wang felt that China’s survival was facing a critical juncture, and he could no longer consider his own success or failure or his personal reputation. While the Chinese Communist Party was taking advantage of war to strengthen itself, the Nationalist government’s army was being consumed by internal struggle and the fighting with Japan, while the fate of the nation remained unknown. Whether to continue to fight or to negotiate for peace was a question that affected the country’s survival, and in Wang’s view this issue should be clarified for the people of the nation. Serious consideration was needed, and a decision must be made.
As a chief decision maker, Wang Jingwei was hampered from making proposals that contradicted the government; also the situation at the time did not allow him to publicly declare his opinions. So, after much thought, he Wang decided to leave Chongqing and resign from his position, so that as a private citizen he would be able to make suggestions regarding the country’s future and clearly declare his proposal. A letter he wrote to his eldest son illustrates his sentiments at the time:
“I’ve made multiple private proposals no fewer than twenty times…Over the last few months the questions of “dying for the country” and “saving the country” had been on my mind. And over this, I have sighed ten thousand times. To die for my country for the public good is to give all of my heart, for the private self it is to share the trials and tribulations of all; this is easy to do. To save the country is to put a thousand disasters and ten thousand poisons into one body; this is most difficult. Still, in the end, it is unavoidable to decide on the road to salvation; honestly, we cannot allow the country to be ruined, because it would be difficult to revive from it…”
Under attack from party members due to his proposal for peace, Wang Jingwei decided to leave Chongqing in December, 1938 and travel to Hanoi, Vietnam. Before leaving, he gathered his followers and told them:
“In these extraordinary times, we cannot continue to live as we have in the past; if you have a better way out, we will do our best to pay for your severance.”
All of his followers responded that unless they were dismissed, they would stay with Wang and await their assignments. One of them was a secretary Wang Qi, who was his nephew. Wang Qi pleaded with his uncle to reconsider: “For the future of the country, this is inevitable, but for the sake of self, this will bring serious harm,” to which Wang responded by reminding Wang Qi of Fan Zhongyan’s “to use one family’s suffering in exchange for an entire people’s suffering.”
Before his departure, Wang Jingwei wrote a letter to Chiang Kai-shek asking for his understanding, including the sentence “From now on, you will do what’s easy while I do what’s difficult.” Upon arriving in Vietnam, he stayed temporarily in a house deep in the woods. Looking around, Wang could see only trees in the winter morning mist, while the rest remained unclear. He could not shed the feelings surrounding his having no choice but to leave his homeland during such difficult times, and composed 〈憶舊游賦落葉〉 “Yijiuyou Fallen leaves” quoting from the Nanshe poet Lin Shishuang, one of the 72 Huanghuagang martyrs, to express his sentiments at the time.
Wang Jingwei and Chen Bijun photographed in Hengyang, 1938. Standing, from the right: Chen Junhui, Cao Zhaoyan, Chen Changdao, Chen Chunpu; seventh from the right: Wang Mougong; First from the right, in front: Wang Wenxing.
On December 12, Japanese Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe announced a policy statement on the China war calling for friendly relations with China, assistance in China’s economic development, anti-communist collaboration, and the possibility of returning concessions and abandoning extraterritoriality. Wang Jingwei released “Letter to the Supreme Conference of National Defense under the Central Standing Committee, with his response to the Konoe statement and asked his good friend Zeng Xing to bring it to Hong Kong. The document was then given to Chen Gongbo, Zhou Fohai and Tao Xisheng and was published in Hong Kong by Lin Bosheng on December 29. This was the famous yandian (“The Telegram of the 29th.”), which clearly explains the principles and attitude behind Wang’s peace proposal while he waited in Hanoi for a response from the central government.
On January 1, 1939, the Guomindang Central Standing Committee held a provisional meeting and decided to permanently expel Wang from the party and to relieve him for all duties. On January 17th, Lin Bosheng, who published yandian in the South China Daily News, was attacked in the city in Hong Kong. His head was severely wounded, and he stayed in the hospital for more than a month. On January 30th, Wang Jingwei’s article “Question and Answer” was published in the South China Daily News. It explained that the reasons Wang supported a peaceful resolution was based on the premise that peace would protect the nation’s survival and independence. The principles laid out in yandian provided the foundation for further negotiation with Japan. Wang reasoned that if China could collaborate with Japan on the basis of friendship, anti-communism, and economic cooperation, the longstanding animosity between these two countries could be put aside. On February 4, Wang wrote to Konoe expressing these ideas.
In the middle of February 1939, Chiang Kai-shek sent Gu Zhengding, a member of the Central Committee, to visit Wang Jingwei with a passport and money, urging Wang to travel to Europe and give up negotiating peace with the Japanese. Wang told Gu that if his proposal for a peaceful resolution was accepted by the Party, he would be willing to go to Europe. If direct negotiations with Japan and international mediation proceeded at the same time, he would be willing to assist from the sidelines, in exile. But if the Party did not make a decision and the situation was allowed to drag on Wang would return to China immediately.
On March 20, the attempted assassination of Wang Jingwei took place (for details read Ho Mang Hang’s memoir). The target of this assassination was clearly Wang. But the assassin mistook the room of Zeng Zhongming and his wife for the room of Wang Jingwei and Chen Bijun. Zeng was shot and died from his wounds in the afternoon of March 21.
On March 27, the heartbroken Wang Jingwei published an essay, “One Example,” on the death of Zeng Zhongming. He stated that Zeng died for his views on the direction China should take. At this time, Wang wrote, it was all the more important to make every effort to put those ideas into practice, especially when these ideas were directly connected to the survival of the nation and its people. Wang stressed that a peaceful resolution with Japan was not his own assertion but a joint decision made by the Guomindang. For example, Chiang Kai-shek concluded, after discussing with the military commanders in the 54th general meeting of the Supreme National Defense Council, that China should not refuse mediation attempts by Germany. In addition, Wang stated that accepting mediation did not mean China would be destroyed; mediation would provide the foundation and parameters for negotiations. Wang asserted that his Peace Movement was not in conflict with the decision made at the Supreme National Defense Council meeting; and that war would destroy both Japan and China and only peace would ensure the existence of both.
After Zeng’s death, Wang wrote to Zeng’s widow Fang Junbi that “no matter how angry and heartbroken we may feel, let us not allow emotions to disturb the strategy to save the nation.” In “One Example” Wang considered the Peace Movement to be the only solution to save China and disregarded all consideration of the personal danger that his decision might bring. But Wang’s peace resolution was not accepted by the Guomindang. In fact, the suggestion of peace alone was rejected by Chiang and had led to Zeng’s death. Although not afraid of death, Wang realized from Zeng’s death that he needed to survive in order to carry on the peace mission. Sad but not despondent, Wang realized he needed to take a more aggressive approach to set up a new government. Only then, could he protect himself and be able to realize his proposal.
In “Response to an Overseas Chinese,” published on March 30, 1939, Wang reiterated that as long as peace was not a condition to ruin the country, it was necessary to make the decision for peace with courage. And as long as the proposal was accepted, Wang was prepared to assist from the sidelines, in exile.
On April 25, 1939, while leaving Hanoi on the difficult trip, Wang recorded his thoughts in the poem 〈舟夜〉 “Night time on board ship.”
After yandian was released, Wang Jingwei remained in Hanoi, and repeatedly rallied the central government to accept his proposal. But as matters progressed, he knew that the situation had become hopeless. To remain determined, Wang decided, he must increase his own strength. So he began to modify his original proposal. On April 9, 1939 he made An Important Announcement about reorganizing the government. When he arrived in Shanghai, he emphasized the idea in discussions with comrades living there.
On May 28, he proposed the Peace Movement to the Japanese government; he described how it would be developed and executed; and added that maintaining the moral-judicial legitimacy would be a change in China’s strategy, with the priority being to repair the current political situation.
Wang believed the army should be united under the flag of the new government as the main army. He also mentioned the precedence of two governments during the 1927 Ninghan Split in Nanjing and Hankou. The first thing to do was to announce Chongqing had been taken over by the Communists, losing its autonomy, and therefore what Chongqing published was no longer effective legally. At the same time, the Reformed Government of the Republic of China and Provisional Government of the Republic of China would abolish their governmental status, and the personnel of both would be merged with the new Reorganized Nationalist Government under Wang.
On June 15, 1939 Wang proposed “Wishing Japan to respect China’s sovereignty,” declaring his desire to not have a political consultant, asking Japan to validate China’s highest military power, to return confiscated factories, mines, and stores to China, to reevaluate public-private enterprises, joint businesses, and limit Japan’s investments to less than 49%, with the majority power belonging to China, etc.
On July 9, 1939 in “My Fundamental Attitude toward Sino-Japanese Relations and the Direction for Us to Take” indicates the need to inform Japan that a successful Chinese revolution would benefit Japan; and Japan must not jeopardize China’s sovereignty and rights and interests of third countries, and then the two countries could co-exist and prosper together.
In “Clarifying Two Types of Doubts” published on July 22, 1939 Wang said that some people questioned whether “final victory” would not be better. In reality, Wang asserted, Japan was much more powerful militarily than China, a country which depended on international assistance. As for the uncertainty whether Japan was sincere, it was best to reread Sun Yat-sen’s Pan-Asianism speech and reconfirm our belief that China and Japan could only be friends, not enemies. As friends, the two nations could shoulder the responsibility to build Asia, overcome its crisis. But as enemies, neither country would come to a good end. Quoting from the April 1938 Guomindang Provisional National Congress declaration that the Chinese believed in righteousness and true peacefulness; and that after making its goal clear to the Japanese, the Japanese would abandon their invasive ideology, leading to a halt the crisis in the Pacific region so that peace could be achieved.
“How to Achieve Peace?” was broadcast on August 9, 1939, in which Wang declared that should the army in Guangdong agree to peace and anti-communism, the Japanese army would immediately stop its advances, and return occupied territories, garrison its forces on Chinese soil, and return administration and economy respectively to the Chinese. Beginning in Guangdong, peace would be possible over the entire country, with approval from Chongqing.
On August 15, 1939 “An Answer to the Question (1)” was published in Shanghai to explain that the first step toward peace was to stop fighting; the second step was negotiation; and the third step was Japan’s military withdrawal. If overall peace could not be realized right away, then it could be accomplished partially, eventually reaching the entire country.
“An Answer to the Question (2),” published on August 21, 1939 reveals that initially Wang had thought Japan wanted to ruin China; that was the reason for fighting. Now, with a shared goal for mutual existence, Wang believed, peace was the solution.
When Wang’s nephew Shen Song was killed in Hong Kong on August 25, Wang Jingwei said in an interview in Shanghai about the event that he and his supporters had for a long time not been concerned about ruining his reputation or losing his life.
On August 28, 1939 Wang issued the declaration at the Sixth National Congress of the Guomindang about 「和平， 反共， 建國」(“Peace, Anti-Communism, National Construction.”)
Telegram to all Comrades in China and Around the World, released on September 1, 1939 reiterated the August 28 declaration and the will to collaborate with Japan towards world peace.
On September 5, 1939 Wang published “The War in Europe and the Future of China,” asserting that peace with Japan was the only solution to save China.
In the September 25, 1939 Letter to Duke Konoe, Wang said that although some people in China recognized their responsibility to work for peace in East Asia, shouldering any such responsibility would not be possible without returning China to complete independence and peace.
On October 30, 1939 Wang received the proposed bill to revise Sino-Japanese relations and discovered that the content differed substantially from Konoe’s declarations. On November 1, Wang sent a telegram to Kagesa Sadaaki expressing his regrets, but said that he was still willing to use the document as a basis for further negotiations. He sent Zhou Fohai, Mei Siping, Gao Zongwu, Tao Shisheng and Zhou Longxing as members of the negotiating team, with Zhou as Chief. Between November 1 and end of December, there were seven such meetings.
On December 18, 1939 Chen Gongbo was sent from Hong Kong to Shanghai to negotiate over Xiamen and Hainan Island and other unresolved issues between the two countries.
In a speech at the Central Military Officers Training Regiment delivered on December 25, 1939 Wang explained that the Declaration at the Sixth National Congress of the Guomindang did not conflict with the previous declaration from April 1938 Guomindang Provisional National Congress. During the time of the 1938 Guomindang Provisional National Congress, conditions for peace were not met; that was why the direction was to fight. But as soon as conditions for peace were met, then peace negotiations must be resumed. Now that conditions for peace had been met, it was time to act for peace.
Wang then published “After the Telegram of 29 December 1938 (yandian)” on December 29, restating that the yandian focuses on the necessity and naturalness of good relations between China and Japan, putting aside earlier difficulties, working together towards peace in East Asia and the Pacific, and to further the security of world peace. Since the Konoe declaration, public opinion in Japan and China was aligned; working with this ideal and belief for the Peace Movement, success would come for certain. “Final victory” was not attainable, the so-called “invasive and non-invasive lines of battle” had been demolished; who would win in the future was unpredictable. Even if the desired victor should win, there was no guarantee the victor would help China. The Paris Peace Conference and the Washington Conference disappointed China greatly. People sincerely concerned about the future of China would never rely on uncertain foreign aid to continue the war of resistance in pursuit of final victory. In China, how could we consider the amount of lost territory, scorched earth guerilla warfare, consumption of the people’s strength just within the year as the means to fight to the end? If hope exists to save the country, then we must first save the country. We only die if the country could be saved by our deaths, we do not die with the country. But whether or not we could achieve tangible conditions for peace, and how to realize them, must depend on the Peace Movement’s hard work. In summary, we could only move forward with the Peace Movement. If we succeed, it would be benefit the country. Otherwise, it would plant a seed for future peace. China and Japan had no other option but to take this road. Some people say that one who dies in war would become a national hero; to die for the Peace Movement, one would be condemned. Yet, with piles of millions of our fellowmen’s dead bodies, who could think for one’s self? At the end of the article, Wang mentioned “Determination for Revolution,” which he wrote during the Revolution to overthrow the Qing. He mentioned the sacrifices of Zeng Zhongming and Shen Song and pledged that he would use what remained of his self as a contribution to the Peace Movement.
On December 30, 1939 Wang signed the Revised Sino-Japanese Treaty, which included the following basic principles: (1) mutual friendship between the two countries, collaboration in anti-communism, economic support; (2) establishment of districts for close relationship with Japan for national defence and economy in North China and Inner Mongolia; (3) realization of Sino-Japanese economic cooperation in the lower reaches of the Yangzi River; and (4) establishment of islands along the coastal area of Southern China for the tangible realization of close military cooperation.。
The broadcast “Future of the Peace Movement” and the essay “[China and Japan] Advancing Together” released on January 1, 1940 pointed out that China should adopt the Japanese guidelines in diplomacy and national defense; and economically follow the principle of equal and mutual benefit. Only then could peace and security for East Asia and China be achieved.
On January 15, 1940 Wang wired Chiang Kai-shek reiterating his efforts to negotiate peace with the Japanese, pointing out that continued fighting with the Japanese in a war that China could not win would only prolong the suffering for its people, who wanted peace. Wang would cooperate with Chiang if Chongqing would withdraw its troops and accept the principles outlined in the Konoe proposal, China’s independence and freedom could be secured. It was within Chiang’s power to make this important decision for the country.
In Qingqdao, a conference was held on January 22-26 with Wang Kemin, Liang Hongzhi and others to discuss the central government’s leading principles, political platform and policies. The decision was made to set up the new government as the Reorganized National Government, and to return its capital to Nanjing. The decision was released in several press conferences.
On February 1, 1940 Japanese Prime Minister Mitsumasa Yonai announced the formation of the new Chinese government headed by Wang, to which Japan would lend its complete support and assistance.
At the anniversary of Sun Yat-sen’s death on March 12, Wang made the speech “Psychological Construction of ‘Peace, Struggle, and Saving China’” pointing out that the League of Nations founded in 1920 and the Nine Power Agreement in 1922 were followed by Sun’s proposal of Pan-Asianism in 1924. Without Japan, there would be no East Asia; without China, here would be no East Asia. Peaceful co-existence would benefit both countries, while war would bring suffering to both sides. And during war time, it was all the more important to realize this concept.
In “Peace Declaration,” published on March 13, 1940 Wang reiterated Sun Yat-sen’s idea that China and Japan should work together towards future development as the driving force behind the movement for Asian Nationalism. Regrettably, China and Japan were at war, and the relationship between the two nations had not been changed. The Peace Movement was conceived to eliminate the war between the two nations. The declaration at the Sixth National Congress of the Guomindang in August, 1939 about peace, anti-communism and national reconstruction was made in the hopes of setting up a constitutional government and the Central Political Conference, which would in turn establish a Central Government as quickly as possible. Under this Central Government, constitutional government would be recognized set, and policies and strategies would be established to meet the demands of the current situations. The goal was to resume peace and security, leading to rebuilding the nation with the technology and resources of other nations. Despite years of pleading with Chongqing, the proposal was not accepted, even though the Chinese people wanted peace. This was the principle for peace, to be publicized nationally and internationally, with the hope that the burden would be shared by all parties.
The Central Political Meeting was convened on March 20, 1940 giving Wang the power to revise China’s relations with Japan. The resolution to form a new government was passed, and the capital would return to Nanjing.
The speech “The Important Mission of the Nationalist Government’s Return to the Capital” was broadcast on March 23, 1940 saying that the Peace Movement’s goal was to realize peace and constitutional government.
In the speech delivered at the ceremony to return the capital on March 30, 1940 Wang declared that from that point on, this would be the only legitimate government, and hoped that Chongqing would reconsider past differences. The Reformed Government of the Republic of China and Provisional Government of the Republic of China would be united under the Reorganized National Government, temporarily retaining their current situations, to be managed later, until the ideal of peace, anti-communism and national construction was reached throughout the nation.
The National Government was headed by Lin Sen with Wang Jingwei as acting Chairman, as well as President of the Executive Yuan and the Chairman of the Military Affairs Committee.
After leaving Chongqing, Wang’s peace proposal not only did not receive acceptance by the Guomindang, he was expelled from the party, reprimanded, slandered, even threatened with murder. Wang had predicted this outcome and assumed that advocating for peace would meet with much difficulty. Even with Konoe’s declaration, due to Japan’s own internal political complications, the reality was that two countries continued to be mired by war, making things the situation even more difficult. Wang thought that once peace was proposed as the means to alleviate the people’s peril, Japan would stand behind the cause. But reality was not so ideal. Even though participants of the Peace Movement were mentally prepared, the Japanese became worried and began reaching out to Chongqing to test the waters, which delayed the progress of the original Peace Movement. On the international front, once Japan, Germany and Italy joined together, and Germany and Russia suddenly agreed to fight against Britain and the United States; Japan slowed down the newly formed Wang Government for the sake of preserving its relations with Russia. On the subject of the flag alone, it was only after many negotiations that the Japanese agreed to use the flag of the Chinese Republic, with the additional yellow pennant to distinguish them from against the Chongqing army on in the battlefield. Due to many delays, it took a year and three months to set up the new government since Wang’s departure from Chongqing.
On April 13, the broadcast “New Stage in the Movement of Peace, Anti-communism and Nation Building” indicated that the goal was not far, and that Guangdong should set a first example.
On April 17 Wang inspected Wuhan, and in the broadcast “Achieving Peace and Implementing Constitutional Government” spoke about his hopes for the citizens of Wuhan to work with the government to remove obstacles to peace-making, and to solidify the foundation of the constitution.
In the broadcast “The Spirit of Self Examination” on April 26 Wang said that while Japan was the invader, China should accept responsibility for not having a clear political system or a developed economy which contributed to its weakness and served as one reason for being invaded in the first place.
In “Some Thoughts and Expectations on the Third Anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident” Wang argues on July 7 that a ceasefire agreement and peace treaty were the only means to achieve peace. Wang’s view that Japan did not consider itself a victor in this war indicates the path people from all nations must follow: from an independent sovereign standpoint, each nation should rebuild friendly relationship with one another in order to shoulder the responsibility to revitalize East Asia. If China were to share this responsibility, Wang argued, it could not be a defeated country, which would only increase its burden and weaken its power, it would help to make China’s sovereignty as a nation complete and stimulate China’s development. Why should there be any hesitation?
“From Commemorating the Battle of Shanghai to Prospecting for Overall Peace” published on August 13, 1940 points out that whether or not peace could be achieved depended upon the conditions for peace, about which Chongqing remained skeptical. But Chongqing’s skepticism and fear came from not understanding the meaning of Sino-Japanese cooperation towards East Asia revitalization. Wang believed it was necessary for countries to work together on relationships regarding nature, such as geography and race and social relationships regarding morality and economic conditions.
Photographed in Nanjing, 1940
In an “Interview with American Journalist on the Outline of the Nationalist Government Policy,” published on August 25, Wang spoke about the importance of establishing friendly relations between China, Japan and the US. President Roosevelt’s Press Secretary Stephen Early’s statement about Europe, Asia and America being three territories needing to jointly address each of their territorial questions would be in accord with Sun Yat-sen’s Pan-Asianism ideology. Sun’s proposal was also accepted by knowledgeable Japanese, most notably by Konoe.
“The Importance of Remembering Confucius,” published on August 27 used the teachings of the philosopher to remind Peace Movement comrades that “if the people have no faith in their rulers, there is no standing for the state.”
The “Statement after the Closing Ceremony of the Conference for Basic Relations between China and Japan” delivered on August 31 provides for doubters of the Peace Movement proof that the foundation for new relations between the two nations had been confirmed.
On November 12, in “Nationalism and Pan-Asianism” Wang said that Sun Yat-sen overthrew the Qing and founded the Republic after China’s defeat in the Sino-Russian War. Without nationalism, it was impossible to rally the Chinese people’s self awareness. Pan-Asianism was necessary to unite the strength of East Asia to defend itself against outside aggressors, and to rally the self awareness of people of East Asia. China and Japan should work together for their mutual fate.
Wang Jingwei at age 60, in Nanjing
In “Expectations for 1941” published on January 1, 1941 Wang explains that, after 30 years, the Minguo’s (Republic’s) inability to reach its goal for construction could be attributed to its indecisive foreign policy. Because China and Japan did not see this clearly, it led to mutual animosity. Finally in the past year, with mutual understanding, we had revised diplomatic relations and treaties. This year we focus on the realization of the treaty. East Asia’s revitalization and China’s equality and freedom are one and the same, that is the reason for the movement towards East Asia allegiance. All year, we must work towards the four major expectations of political independence, military alliance, economic support, cultural exchange; while holding on to each of our independent standpoint, we work towards a common goal, until we succeed. As for actualizing these goals, first we must reach the lowest expectation of building the army. With military might, it would be possible to defend ourselves, secure peace, revitalize the villages, and the people could be fed.
In April, Wang wrote the poem 〈冰如手書陽明先生答聶文蔚書及余所作述懷詩合為長卷，繫之以辭，因題其後。時為中華民國三十年四月二十四日，距同讀傳習錄時已三十三年，距作述懷詩時已三十二年矣〉 for his wife, mentioning the fact that since his days as a young revolutionary, he had often used “cooking rice” as a metaphor for revolution, e.g., in his early poems 〈述懷〉 “A recount of my vision and sentiments”, 〈見人析車輪為薪，為作此歌〉 “Song inspired by seeing old carriage wheels turn into firewood” and the phrase “I am the firewood, you are the cauldron” he sent to Hu Hanmin before the assassination attempt on Zaifeng. This metaphor is also detailed in the last paragraph of “Determination for Revolution”:
“The courage to not fear death is achieved with strength, while the courage to not hide from trouble is achieved with single-minded virtue. Both kinds of courage are needed. To use cooking rice as a metaphor, firewood is needed to heat the cauldron that contains the rice. When the firewood starts to burn, it creates a roaring fire. In a blink of an eye, the firewood turns to ashes. Although physically gone, the expanded heat that the firewood creates is an essential element to cooking rice. The cauldron is also useful; it is not eroded by water and fire cannot melt it. With fire and water burning, the cauldron would not change when the rice is cooked, even though it suffers from the pain of heat. Revolutionaries! Are we prepared to be firewood or cauldron? That depends on each or our personalities, each of our best efforts. Using cooked rice as a metaphor for the outcome of the Revolution, those 400 million fellow Chinese who await for the Revolution to soothe their suffering are like hungry people who are waiting to be fed. Revolutionaries, whether you use your bodies as firewood or cauldron, when the rice is cooked, we can share it with the 400 million fellow Chinese!”
Wang Jingwei, ca. 1940-41
On July 1, 1941 the German and Italian governments decided to recognize Wang’s Reorganized National Government.
On August 4, 1941 Wang delivered a speech at a the East Asia Press Conference and on August 6, in a radio broadcast speech “How to Expand Peace,” he spoke about the importance of first focusing on security, and then peace can be guaranteed in one piece of land, then a second piece, then the province, and then the entire country.
On December 18, 1941 Wang spoke in a national radio broadcast on “the Significance of East Asian War and Our Mission” and pointed out that with Japan’s attack on the US, the four-year Sino-Japanese War had become East Asia’s War. The Konoe proposal to build the East Asia New Order, and Pan-Asianism which the Peace Movement followed and advocated for had moved from theory to realization. If the war was won, then the century-old invasive power would be wiped away, East Asia would be liberated and China would gain peace and equality. What China could do and must focus its efforts on were to: 1) secure safety, 2) strengthen military power, 3) increase production and cut back on expenses. We need to work hard on this.
On January 1, 1942 Wang released the “Outline of the New Citizen Movement” to expound on his idea that to protect East Asia on the eve of the war, the New Citizen Movement was needed to return to Sun Yat-sen’s basic founding Three People’s Principles.
On January 13, the new Japanese Ambassador Shigemitsu Mamoru met with the Wang government in Nanjing to discuss the Greater East Asia war and the situation in Chongqing. Wang thought that if Chongqing had negotiated peace with Japan at the outbreak of the European War, Japan could have considered the Sino-Japanese Basic Treaty to achieve peace. Unfortunately, Chongqing depended on Britain and the US, and missed this golden opportunity. Now that Chongqing had joined forces with Britain to fight in Burma, it would be even more hopeless to turn around. In the past, Japan criticized China for playing off one foreign power off against another, while China blamed Japan for invasion — both nations going around in never-ending circles. In January 1942, the Reorganized National Government (RNG) and Japanare were experiencing a similar situation. Japan thought that the RNG was weak, and it would not benefit Japan to recognize it. The RNG thought this that recognizing Japan would cause it to lose face for China. Both China and Japan needed to re-examine itself to improve the situation. Mamoru believed that if Chongqing would not change course, Japan must destroy it; but Japan would support the RNG until it became a real Chinese Central Government. As for splitting with Chongqing, more attention was needed. Wang did not agree with Japan’s idea that once the Burma Road was cut off, Chongqing would submit. At this time, with Chiang’s increasing reliance on Britain and the US, even if Japan were to win the initial stages of the war in Greater East Asia, in the long run, Britain and the US would win. Even if the Burma Road was severed, Chiang would hold fort in Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou. Wang also predicted that Japan would focus on the war in Nanyang and relax its advances in China. He also thought that Chiang would place hope on Russia. If Germany could instigate a major attack with the Russians in May or June, putting England in a difficult position, the European War would change greatly. Otherwise, the US would not easily stand aside and do nothing. By then, Japan must shoulder the burden of fighting the Americans, defending Nanyang and Australia; and in this event, war would drag on.
Although this was Wang’s conjecture on what Chiang would think, it also represented his own worries about the war situation. Yet Mamoru estimated that the Allied Forces were already set back and would not be able to recover soon. As soon as Japan managed to seize the resources in Nanyang, it would become undefeatable. As history indicates, Wang’s predictions were correct, while Mamoru was over confident and underestimated the Allied Forces.
On January 17, 1942, Chen Bijun, Lin Bosheng, Chen Yaozu and others were dispatched to Hong Kong to conduct relief efforts for Guomindang army and government and other personnel who were detained there. Some were repatriated to China for their service; Guangdong Provincial University educational and Nanjing medical work were initiated for this purpose. On January 18, in the Opening Speech at the Conference on Political Work, Wang Jingwei again emphasized his belief that “To save China is to save East Asia; to save East Asia is to save China…if East Asia falls, China cannot survive on its own.” On January 25, Ambassador Shigemitsu Mamoru visited China to discuss the restitution of the British concession in Tianjin and the British concession in Guangzhou Shamian.
On March 17, Chu Minyi, Chen Chunpu were sent respectively to Tianjin and Guangzhou for the restitution of the British concessions from the Japanese.
The paper by Lin Han-sheng “Wang Ching-wei’s Memorandum to the Japanese Government, 1942” provides a clear picture of the skillful techniques Wang employed to protect the citizens in the occupied areas. Wang had personally appealed to the highest office, sometimes using emotions, sometimes morals, reason and logic. The paper also indicates that Wang never helped the Japanese in the Pacific War, not deploying a single soldier to fight the Allied Forces. He also fought to regain power and resources from the Japanese army, while preserving the vigor and spirit of the Chinese people.
On January 9, 1943 the treaty between China and Japan was signed to restitute settlement areas established under unequal treaties from 1860, to abolish extraterritoriality, and return British and Japanese concessions to to China.
On February 2, 1943, Chairman Wang Jingwei ordered the removal of the triangle with the words “Heping, fangong, jianguo” (“Peace, Anti-Communism, National Construction”) that was added to the Chinese flag to distinguish itself from the Chongqing government.
On March 23, 1943 Wang gave a speech at the Zhongshan Mausoleum and planted a tree at the Mingsong School, which he had set up to commemorate the deaths of Zeng Zhongming and Shen Song. He also composed a poem in their honor.
Beijing, Tianjin, Hankou, Guangzhou and other concessions were restituted by Japan in May of 1943. The Shanghai concessions were relinquished in July by the French and in August by the British. Japan also ceded settlements in China’s treaty ports.
In the fall of 1943, Wang wrote his last poem 〈朝中措重九登北極閣〉 “Chaozhongcuo Climbing the Beiji Pavilion on Double Ninth Festival“ expressing his feelings of loss and pain.
On October 30, 1943 Wang signed a revised peace treaty with Japan, improving on the conditions laid out in the 1941 treaty which called for the loss of sovereignty.
At the end of the year, Wang fell ill. The doctors thought the illness resulted from the bullet that was still lodged in his back from the 1935 attack. On December 19, the bullet was removed.
After the New Year’s speech in 1944, Wang Jingwei suffered from a high fever and great pain from his wounds. He was unable leave his bed. On March 31, he entered Tohoku University Hospital in Japan and was operated on the next day. After an air raid by the US forces, Wang caught pneumonia and a fever that would not break. At 4pm on November 10, Wang’s tumultuous life came to an end.
Wang’s body was transported back to Nanjing, where it was buried on Plum Flower Hill near Sun Yat-sen’s Zhongshan Mausoleum.
Nine months later, the Japanese Emperor surrendered unconditionally on August 15, 1945. On August 16, the Nanjing Government disbanded. In September, Chen Bijun and 15 others were imprisoned in Guangzhou. In 1946, Chen Gongbo, Chu Minyi and Lin Bosheng and other close to Wang’s side were executed.
In January 1946, Wang’s tomb was bombed by the Guomindang, his remains were never recovered.
In February 1964, as the 20th anniversary of Wang’s death approached, the document “How I Feel in My Last Moment” was published in Hong Kong as Wang’s last will, attracting much attention in China and Japan. Although its authorship and authenticity have been hotly debated, the document is included here for its value as a historical resource.
As Wang Jingwei’s son-in-law Ho Mang Hang recalls, when Wang was in the hospital in 1944, Lin Bosheng came to visit and asked Wang, “Do you have any more instructions?” Wang was silent for a while and replied,
“My thoughts and ideas have been expressed in my writings and speeches, in keeping with the changing political situations for anyone to read. But what truly reflects my inner feelings is my poetry collection Shuangzhaolou shicigao.”
This statement was also made in his essay “Autobiographical Sketch” published in the Eastern Miscellany ten years before his death. Wang Jingwei’s thoughts and ideas are in his published writings and speeches, and his inner feelings can also be found between the lines of his poetry.
Wang Jingwei’s life and the changing political situations of modern China cannot be separated. The person who most deeply influenced Wang Jingwei’s political ideas was Sun Yat-sen. Sun’s Three People’s Principles and Pan-Asianism became the foundation of Wang’s political belief and the basis for his Peace Movement. Because of Sun Yat-sen, the young Wang who was studying in Japan became interested in politics and saving the country. In the aftermath of Sun’s death, Wang entered the political arena, a direction from which there was no turning back. He was a faithful follower of Sun’s Three People’s Principles. In a letter to the editor at the South China Daily News, Wang wrote:
“Although my learning is shallow and my writing is average, my proposals have always been based on the ideology of Mr. Sun’s Three People’s Principles, without waiver.” (May 30, 1930)
Yet, to Wang, the ideals of the Three People’s Principles must be based on a democratic foundation. Democracy was not only the basis for people’s rights, but also the fundamental premise of nationalism and people’s livelihood. The success of the national revolution depended on the ability to establish the power of democracy. His pursuit for democracy is also the chief reason for his stern opposition against communism and the autocratic Chiang Kai-shek.
Wang Jingwei’s formation of the Reorganized National Government and the Peace Movement in the later years became the focus of our attention. His ideas for Peace Movement were also influenced by Sun Yat-sen’s Pan-Asianism. Sun proposed Pan-Asianism in 1924 as a way to promote Oriental rule of Right against the Western rule of Might. Since Japan and China shared the same racial and cultural origins, they should co-exist peacefully and work together for the future of East Asia. Wang advocated for peace because he considered war was hopeless; in Wang’s view, peace was the only solution to China’s survival. Japan had come to recognize that China was not ready to yield under military force; this realization allowed the Peace Movement to begin. Over the years, even though there were opportunities to achieve peace, overall peace had not been accomplished. After five years, Japan began war with the US and Britain, which could not have been predicted. The Nanjing Reorganized National Government was not informed about the attack on Pearl Harbor in advance. When war broke out, Wang gathered his officials to discuss countermeasures.
Fully aware that achieving overall peace was even more hopeless at that point, Wang’s Government strived to strengthen itself, in order to fight for the rights of the citizens in the occupied territories. To this end, the first priority was equal standing with Japan, by becoming its ally in the Pacific War. For various reasons, the Reorganized National Government’s proposal to enter the war was delayed. From this point of view, had Wang’s wish to allow the nation to recuperate from the ravages of war in order to preserve its vigor not become reality? From a historical point of view, what benefits did setting up a Chinese-run government in occupied territories bring to the lives of those who lived there?
Chen Gongbo testified during the 1946 trial:
“The Pacific War broke out on December 8, 1941; the Nanjing Government entered the War on January 9, 1943. Why did Nanjing enter the War? Because since the War, Japan had amassed provisions from China for their army, with no end in sight. Not only could the Nanjing Government not question this, citizens could not complain about their suffering. In order to preserve the vitality of the country and its resources, Nanjing felt it had no choice but to enter the War. In the name of entering the War, it was possible to ask for repatriation of concessions and the abolishment of extraterritorial claims. Furthermore, it would become possible to ask for political and military independence, in order to free itself from Japan’s military restrictions and to buy time for a changing situation. After entering the War, Nanjing never deployed a single troop, it also refused to use a single soldier to fight against the Chongqing. This is the truth that cannot be erased and all people of the country could recognize.” (The Nanjing Municipal Archives, ed. Shenxun Wangwei hanjian bilu (The Trial Transcripts of the Collaborators of the Wang Jingwei Puppet Regime). Nanjing: Jiangsu guji chubanshe, 1992.)
Let us take a look at the Japanese occupied areas under the Nanjing Government such as Suzhou, Shanghai and Nanjing where Wang and his supporters worked to restore peace and order, and revive local economic situations with positive results. This can be contrasted with Chiang Kai-shek’s Chongqing. The trial “testimonies” and “confessions” of Chen Bijun, Chen Gongbo, Zhou Fohai and Chu Minyi offer specific insight in this regard. Putting aside the question of whether Wang Jingwei’s Nanjing Government was effective or not, it was Wang Jingwei who established a Chinese-run regime within the occupied territories, restricting the activities of the Japanese army. As a result, there was no more massacre, tens of thousands of lives, even millions of Chinese lives were saved. These contributions of Wang’s Nanjing Government and the Peace Movement should not be ignored.
In this biography, we also try to explore if Wang Jingwei truly lived up to the Mencius philosophy of compassion and Wang Yangming’s edict that knowledge and action should not be separated. In addition, our goal is to fulfill Wang’s wish to use his life’s speeches and writings as his biography, with the hopes to allow us to further assess the contributions made by Wang’s Peace Movement and the Nanjing Reorganized National Government from the points of view of foreign relations, economics, welfare of the people, and away from superficial and inflexible definitions.
*Selections and excerpts of Wang Jingwei’s poetry and other writings by Ho Mang Hang. 《雙照樓詩詞讀後記》Shuangzhaolou shici duhouji (Reflections After Reading Shuangzhaolou Poetry), 《汪精衛現代中國》Wang Jingwei xian dai Zhongguo (Wang Jingwei and Modern China)
Wang Jingwei with Zeng Zhongming. Draft of an Unfinished Autobiography, unpublished manuscript.
Ho Mang Hang. Wang Jingwei xian dai Zhongguo (Wang Jingwei and Modern China), unpublished manuscript.
Ho Mang Hang. Yunyan sanyi (Cloud, Smoke, Scattered Memories), unpublished manuscript.
Hu Shi laiwang shuxin xuan (The Correspondence of Hu Shi). Beijing: Shehui kexue wenxian chubanshe, 2013.
Jin Xiongbai. Wang Jingwei de kaichang yu shouchang (The Rise and Fall of the Wang Jingwei Regime), 5 Volumes. Hong Kong: Chunqiu chubanshe, 1959-1964.