David D. BUCK

Wang Jingwei circa 1930, a Chinese politician and rival of Chiang Kai-shek. Wang collaborated with the Japanese during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945).

An early and fervent supporter of Sun Zhongshan’s Chinese Nationalist revolutionary cause, Wang Jingwei became a leading rival to the Nationalist Army commander Chiang Kai-shek after Sun’s death in 1925. Wang led the left wing of the Nationalist Party, but proved no match for Chiang. After war broke out with Japan in 1937 Wang lost all hope for Chiang’s government in Chongqing and agreed to lead a pro-Japanese government in Nanjing.

Wang Jingwei began his political career in 1905 associated with the Tongmenghui leader Sun Zhongshan and died in 1944 as a Japanese collaborator. In between he aligned with various Nationalist Party (Guomindang) factions on both the left and right in his unsuccessful pursuit of power. The main theme of his life after 1925 became his rivalry with Nationalist Army Commander Chiang Kai-shek, who regularly bested Wang Jingwei’s challenges.

Wang Jingwei was born into a poor but well-educated family in Guangdong Province. In his early twenties he studied in Japan on a Qing dynasty (1644–1912) government scholarship. In Japan he joined Sun Zhongshan’s fledging revolutionary movement, Tongmenghui (Revolutionary Alliance), aimed at ending the Qing dynasty. Wang became widely known through his writings and public speaking on behalf of the Tongmenghui. In 1910 he led a plot to assassinate the Qing dynasty’s Prince Regent Caifeng by means of a roadside bomb. Authorities discovered the plot; Wang was imprisoned but not executed.

The end of the Manchu-ruled Qing dynasty did not make Sun Zhongshan and his associates leaders of the new Chinese Republic. Rather, the former Qing dynasty general Yuan Shikai became president of the new Chinese Republic and suppressed Sun Zhongshan’s political supporters. In 1912 Wang Jingwei withdrew from Chinese domestic politics and married Chen Bijun, daughter of a wealthy Chinese merchant from Penang, the British-ruled island in the Malaya States. For the next few years Wang devoted himself primarily to Chinese literati pursuits.

In 1917 he rejoined Sun Zhongshan in Guangzhou (Canton), where Sun was raising forces to overthrow the northern warlords. Over the next seven years Wang became ever closer to Sun Zhongshan. Wang Jingwei followed Sun in moving toward stronger anti-imperialist views and practical cooperation with the Soviet Union. When Sun died of cancer in Beijing in 1925, Wang Jingwei was at his side.

After Sun’s death Wang Jingwei advocated continued radicalization of the Nationalist Party along Soviet lines. Chiang Kai-shek, head of the Nationalist military, became a powerful opponent for leadership of the Nationalist Party. By 1929 the two men had reached open confrontation. Chiang Kai-shek, who possessed a wide range of factional supporters, repeatedly bested Wang Jingwei, who relied primarily on his personal leadership strengths. After several of these contests Wang Jingwei withdrew temporarily to Europe, only to return to China with renewed but futile hopes of gaining power. Wang remained a prominent Nationalist Party figure but increasingly isolated and disgruntled.

By the 1930s three Chinese positions emerged for dealing with Japan. One position, most strongly associated with the rural revolutionary leader Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communists, called for armed resistance to Japan. Chiang Kai-shek argued for grudging appeasement of Japan until the Nationalist government became strong enough to thwart Japanese aggression. Wang Jingwei, in a major shift from his position in the 1920s, became spokesperson for a third position. He now accepted Japanese leadership and Japan’s dream of a new pan-Asian order from which Western capitalist colonialism would be excluded. This vision of an Asian-led anti-imperialist strategy fit with Wang’s views from the 1920s. It also had considerable appeal to many Asian nationalists until the realities of World War II made Japan’s own imperialist nature clear. Wang Jingwei’s pro-Japanese stance had raised fierce patriotic Chinese opposition even in the mid-1930s. In 1935 an assassin seriously wounded Wang, and in 1939 while he was in Hanoi, Vietnam, another attempt on his life was made.

In 1940 Wang Jingwei left Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government in Chongqing and accepted leadership of a Japanese-sponsored Chinese regime at Nanjing (Nanking) that claimed the Nationalist Party mantle. Wang’s government reached agreements with Japan that restored some of China’s compromised sovereignty, but his government clearly served as a Japanese puppet. Wang Jingwei’s health continued to decline from injuries suffered in the 1935 assassination attempt. When in November 1944 he went to Japan for treatment and died there, his reputation as a Japanese puppet and traitor to the Chinese nation already had been fixed.

Further Reading

Barrett, D. P., & Shyu, L. (Eds.). (2001). Chinese collaboration with the Japanese, 1932–1945. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Boorman, H. L. (Ed.). (1970). Biographical dictionary of Republican China (Vol. 3). New York: Columbia University Press.

Boyle, J. H. (1972). China and Japan at war: The politics of collaboration, 1937–1945. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Source: Buck, David D.. (2009). WANG Jingwei. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 2401–2402. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

WANG Jingwei (W?ng J?ngwèi ???)|W?ng J?ngwèi ??? (WANG Jingwei)

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