Slogans, Symbols, and Legitimacy:
The Case of Wang Jingwei's Nanjing Regime

Andrew Cheung
Indiana University


Wang Jingwei (1883-1944) is a complex figure whose political career had many phases. All too frequently, however, scholars in China and Taiwan have contented themselves with reducing him to a caricature--an immoral traitor whose deeds and life should either be condemned or written out of the historical record altogether.(1) Not surprisingly, therefore, the efforts he and his supporters exerted to defend the establishment of their Nanjing regime of 1940-45 have seldom received serious consideration.(2) Wang had previously established a reputation as a savvy politician and a revolutionary patriot. He and his chief followers actually risked their lives to leave the wartime capital of Chongqing to cooperate with the invading Japanese. How did they rationalize their decision to side with Japan? How did they try to establish themselves politically when the wartime Chongqing government under Jiang Jieshi (1887-1975) was widely recognized as the only legitimate political order in China? Was the whole matter as black and white as it typically is presented in later historical works, especially those written by Chinese scholars? In this paper, I will investigate the rhetoric and inner logic of Wang and his followers' efforts to legitimize their rule over areas occupied by Japanese forces.

Wang Jingwei was born in Guangdong province in 1883. At the age of twenty-one, he went to study in Japan as a government scholarship student. There he met Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925). While in Japan, Wang supported Sun and gained popularity as a founder of the famous revolutionary body Zhongguo tongmenghui (Chinese revolutionary alliance) and as a major writer in Minbao, the official newspaper of the tongmenghui. In 1910, Wang was imprisoned after a failed attempt to assassinate the Manchu Regent in Beijing.(3) He was released one month after the Wuchang uprising broke out in October 1911. Wang did not take an active role in politics until he joined Sun's Guangdong military government in 1920. As one of Sun's trusted protégés, Wang accompanied him to Beijing in 1924. When Sun was dying in March 1925, Wang was at his deathbed and was regarded as his favorite successor. On 1 July of the same year, Wang was elected Chairman of the Nationalist Government in Guangzhou. Without dependable military support, however, he eventually lost the leadership to Jiang Jieshi, then head of the Whampoa Military Academy.

With the fall of Nanjing to the Japanese in December 1937, Wang moved inland with the Nationalist government. Secret contacts between Wang and the Japanese began the next year, and in December he left Chongqing for Hanoi, where he issued the famous 29 December telegram (yandian) supporting Japan's proposal for an immediate armistice. On New Year's Day, 1939, Wang was expelled from the Chongqing government and sharply condemned.(4) After numerous secret and open meetings with Japan and various "puppet" regimes set up by Japan in northern and central China, Wang's own Nationalist Government was formally established in Nanjing on 30 March 1940. In 1943, Wang's health started to deteriorate. He was sent to Japan the next year to receive better medical treatment. On 10 November 1944--less than one year before the conclusion of the Pacific War--Wang died in Nagoya, Japan.

Almost all Chinese publications since the conclusion of the Second World War have portrayed Wang Jingwei in the same negative light. One of the few things that historians in mainland China and Taiwan agree about is that Wang is a hanjian who, when China was in the midst of a life or death crisis, shamelessly offered his services to the Japanese invaders.(5) In light of the eventual defeat of Japan in 1945 and the resulting collapse of the Nanjing regime, almost all Chinese writers portray Wang's defection as foolish as well as morally reprehensible.(6)

Five Key Terms

The propagandists who defended Wang Jingwei's regime tended to stress five terms. Three of these were brought together in a slogan: "Heping, fangong, jianguo" (peace, anti-communism, rebuilding the country).(7) The other two were Guofu (the father of the country, that is, Sun Yat-sen)(8) and Zhongguo geming (the Chinese Revolution). If the five terms are chronologically rearranged, we can see that jianguo/jiuguo (saving the country) and geming (revolution) are the oldest in the list. These terms can be traced back to the late Qing period, when Wang himself made his political debut in the attempted assassination of the Manchu Regent. Next we have Sun Yat-sen, whose death in 1925 was followed by deliberate propaganda efforts by the Nationalist Party (Guomindang, GMD) and the 1928 Nanjing government to deify him as the founding father of the modern Chinese nation (Guofu). These hagiographic efforts transformed Sun into a powerful symbol; to identify one's political cause with Sun (as the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] also tried to do via Song Qingling, Sun's widow) was a strategy many groups and individuals used in their pursuit of political legitimacy in Republican China.(9) This phenomenon helps to explain why both Wang and Jiang Jieshi fought to be seen as Sun's only true political heir. Every question and concern about political legitimacy would be answered if one managed to establish oneself as the true political heir of the Guofu.

Fangong comes after Guofu in our list. In fact, anti-communist terms like taochi (red suppression) and fanchi (anti-red) had been used in newspapers and other publications in the late 1920s both inside and outside China by those who did not approve of the development of communism.(10) Wang's adoption of fangong can be seen as a continuation of this tradition. Heping falls at the end of the chronological order because it was not used until the full-scale Japanese invasion started in the summer of 1937.

Viewing Wang Jingwei's efforts at self-legitimation from another angle, we can divide the five keywords in question into two categories. One group contains flexible and floating words and ideas, such as heping and fangong, which came into use as responses to specific political needs and which were used, at that time, by Wang alone. Because the Chongqing government was fighting against Japanese forces under the second united front with the CCP, it is understandable that they did not adopt these two terms in their propaganda. The other group contains words and ideas that are much firmer and older in the sense that they can be traced back to long-standing historical traditions in modern China. Guofu, geming, and jianguo/jiuguo fall into this category. Unlike words in the first group, these terms were not used in propaganda by Wang alone, nor did they come into being by reflecting any specific political issues of the late 1930s. They belonged to an older politico-ideological tradition in modern Chinese history and were used by both Wang's Nanjing regime and the Chongqing government under Jiang Jieshi.

Linking Wang Jingwei to the Guofu

Wang Jingwei's relationship with Sun Yat-sen began quite early. This relationship was something Wang's followers emphasized in their attempts to legitimize his leadership of the Nationalist Party and of the country. In fact, upon the death of Sun in March 1925, Jiang Jieshi did not enjoy any advantage over Wang in the succession of Sun, despite what later publications by Nationalist scholars have suggested. Jiang was neither included in Sun's entourage that went north nor appointed to take charge of things in the Guangzhou government, whereas Wang was among a trusted few that were selected to accompany Sun to Beijing.(11) Wang was at Sun's deathbed; he was the scribe who copied the famous final document that Sun dictated, which later became known as Sun's will or Zongli's Testament.(12) Wang was elected Chairman of the Nationalist government on 1 July 1925 and, two days later, Chairman of the Military Committee. In theory, at least, he was in control of the Guangzhou Nationalist government. The political developments that followed, however, favored Jiang. With the military support of the Whampoa Military Academy, which he presided over, Jiang soon outmatched the charismatic but "unarmed" Wang. Even if, as Gerald Bunker claims, Wang was "undoubtedly the finest orator of his generation" as well as someone who caught people's eyes as "a handsome, youthful, and impressive-looking man who dressed with consummate elegance and taste,"(13) by the time massive Japanese invasions began in 1937, it was Jiang who had emerged as the leader of Sun's party and the Chinese nation.(14)

When the opportunity for Wang to reestablish himself in Nanjing finally came in the late 1930s, he and his followers wasted no time in challenging the supreme position of Jiang Jieshi. They reminded people of the past relationship between Sun and Wang, which in fact predated that between Sun and Jiang. In Republican China, solid links with the Guofu were a dependable source of political capital for politicians, and Wang did not miss this point. One sign of just how aware of it he was came on 28 August 1939 when, after obtaining clear approval from Japan on the issue of establishing a Nationalist regime in Nanjing under his leadership, Wang summoned the so-called "Sixth Guomindang Representative Congress" formally to bestow on him the power to organize a government. Matters related to Sun played a central role in the opening ceremony of the congress, as Inukai Ken (1896-1960)--the Japanese official who met with Gao Zongwu (b. 1906) in the series of secret meetings in Hong Kong and Shanghai that eventually led to the establishment of Wang's regime and who served in it as an economic advisor--demonstrates in the following description:

In the front of the conference hall was a large portrait of Mr. Sun Wen [Sun Yat-sen] which was flanked by the "blue-sky white-sun red-earth" [qingtian bairi mandihong] national flag and the "blue-sky white-sun" [qingtian bairi] Nationalist Party flag. Under the portrait, many items collected in the summer were exhibited. In addition, various kinds of flowers were displayed. More beautiful flowers were put in bowls and arranged in the shape of Mr. Sun Wen's appearance. The conference started at 10 o'clock in the morning. The hall was filled by low male voices singing Sun's national anthem.(15)

Obviously, a strong link was suggested between Sun Yat-sen and Wang Jingwei's new regime. But paying homage to Sun's portrait and national anthem was by no means the end of Wang's efforts to draw political authority from Sun. On 19 March 1940, just one day before Wang summoned the "Central Political Conference" to finalize the long preparation process of his government and eleven days before he was inaugurated, Wang and Zhou Fohai (1897-1948; a close collaborator of Wang's and a central figure in the regime) visited Sun's tomb in Nanjing's Purple Mountain. The occasion was recorded in Zhou's diary as a very sentimental one:

On that day it was cold, windy, and rainy. On 20 November 1937, before we [Zhou and Wang] left Nanjing, we also came to visit this tomb. Now looking back on the intervening events, all seemed like a dream. Wang read Sun Yat-sen's will and cried, tears running down. I wept too. After we visited the tomb, the sun came out. This looked to me like a good sign for a bright future.(16)

Ever since the 1929 relocation of Sun's coffin from Beijing's Biyun Temple to Nanjing, a visit to the most sacred shrine in Republican China became routine for politicians asserting their legitimacy.(17) The timing of Wang's visit--arranged to take place the day before the "Central Political Conference"-- was hardly a coincidence. Rather, it was designed to function as a suitable curtain-raiser for the coming Nanjing regime.

Wang's attempts to draw political legitimacy from his relationship with Sun continued after his government had been inaugurated. In a formal party meeting held in December 1940 to review the first nine months of his rule, for example, Wang highlighted such political ideas of Sun's as Sanmin zhuyi (three principles of the people) and xianzheng (constitutionalism) in a way that suggested his government was the only one interested in putting the Guofu's political ideals into practice. In the meeting, shixian heping (realizing peace) and shishi xianzheng (implementing constitutionalism) were emphasized--two phrases that were later standardized in Nanjing's official speeches. According to Wang, constitutionalism and peace could only be achieved through realizing Sun Yat-sen's Sanmin zhuyi:

Based on Minzu zhuyi [nationalism] and Da Yazhou zhuyi [pan-Asianism], we should cooperate with other friendly states of East Asia [Japan and regions occupied by Japan]. Based on Minquan zhuyi [democracy], we should adopt constitutionalism. Based on Minsheng zhuyi [the people's livelihood], we should solve minsheng [economic and social] problems of the people and revive the national economy.(18)

But was this Sanmin zhuyi the Sanmin zhuyi of Sun Yat-sen? Apparently, significant modifications, such as pan-Asianism, had been added by Wang Jingwei to suit his own political agenda. What we see here, as in many other cases, is Wang reinterpreting Sun's ideas rather freely, then applying them to contemporary socio-political conditions. The qingxiang (purging the countryside of communism) program of 1941 is one of the best examples of how this was done.(19) In a speech given on 1 September 1940, Wang explained to his audience that the ultimate goal of the qingxiang program was to "build a model of constructing Sanmin zhuyi."(20) In early 1942, the Japanese convinced the Nanjing regime to make its main rallying cry "supporting Japan to win the holy Great East Asia war," but before that time references to carry out Sanmin zhuyi were used by the regime's propagandists to justify all of Wang's political actions.

Sun Yat-sen died in 1925 without being able to see a constitutional China. When Wang Jingwei reestablished himself in Nanjing, the realization of constitutionalism became, at least in theory, one of the most important goals of the new regime.(21) Besides aiming at drawing legitimacy from Sun, the emphasis on constitutionalism served a secondary purpose as an indirect attack on Jiang Jieshi's wartime government at Chongqing. Even before he escaped from Chongqing, Wang had been regarded as a major critic of Jiang's efforts to concentrate all power in himself. It is hardly surprising that, once outside Jiang's dominance, Wang tried to contrast his "constitutional" government to Jiang's "dictatorship" in Chongqing. His intention was to differentiate between the two regimes as sharply as possible, so that the people were left with the image of a Nanjing government striving for peace and constitutionalism and a Chongqing autocracy stubbornly refusing to end a devastating war against Japan.

The following quotation, from a biography published in Nanjing by Wang Jingwei's supporters not long after his death, summarizes the kind of relationship between Wang and the Guofu the Nanjing regime tried to construct:

Chairman Wang was the only man in China who followed and realized Sun Yat-sen's will. Wang, who was loyal to Sanmin zhuyi, devoted his whole life to [the Chinese] revolution. He enjoyed a long relationship with Sun and contributed very much to political construction [zhengzhi jianshe] in China. Internally, Wang stuck to the Guofu's will and tried his best to materialize Sanmin zhuyi. Externally, Wang secured China's independence and freedom by keeping his promises to Japan. Chairman Wang was the only leader of the Chinese revolution who succeeded the Guofu.(22)

One indication of just how important the author considered Wang's relationship with Sun Yat-sen is that birth and death dates are recorded in a very special way in this biography. Unlike the usual practice of using two four-digit Common Era dates or the two-digit era name (Minguo), the biography calculates the birth and death of Wang by taking those of Sun's as a basis: "The Chairman [Wang Jingwei] was born seventeen years after the Guofu was born. He died nineteen years after the Guofu passed away."(23) The message to the audience cannot be made clearer: Wang should be perceived through his links with Sun Yat-sen.

The Nanjing regime also attempted to associate major Chinese institutions under its control with Sun Yat-sen. Thus the decision to have Nanjing's Zhongyang yinhang (Central Bank) serve as the central bank for the regime was confirmed on 7 October 1940, after a series of meetings between Nanjing and Tokyo. The actual opening day, however, was postponed by Zhou Fohai, the Finance Minister, until 12 November of the same year, so that it would coincide with the birthday of Sun Yat-sen.(24) This re-scheduling shows how much leaders of the Nanjing regime wanted to link events related to Wang and his regime to the Guofu.

Such efforts to legitimize the Nanjing regime outlasted Chairman Wang himself. On 10 November 1944, Wang died in a hospital in Nagoya, Japan. Even in his last will, he did not forget to associate himself with Sun Yat-sen and his political cause. In that document, dictated by Wang and copied by his wife, Chen Bijun (1891-1959), one month before his death, Wang summarized his own life as one devoted to following the Guofu and working for his political cause, the Chinese revolution.(25) On 13 November, Wang's coffin, draped with the "blue-sky white-sun" flag, was returned to Nanjing. Ten days later (23 November), the body was buried on a small hill located to the right of Sun Yat-sen's shrine, a burial spot believed to have been chosen by Wang personally to show his wish to follow the Guofu and complete the revolution even after he departed from this world. At the funeral, Wang's widow Chen insisted on having her husband treated exactly as Sun Yat-sen had been in his burial. For instance, arrangements were made to have sixty-four laborers carry Wang's coffin--the exact number used in Sun's funeral.(26) The whole ritual was designed to identify the deceased Chairman Wang with the already deified Guofu.

Peace through National Salvation

Sun Yat-sen died during a jiuguo attempt carried out in Beijing during which he was trying to create a better political environment for his compatriots by negotiating with some Northern warlords. It may seem ironic in light of his later collaboration with Japan, but before his escape from Chongqing, Wang Jingwei was a major advocate of the idea of saving the nation from foreign (especially Japanese) armed encroachments. On 16 March 1937, Wang gave the following speech in a military dress parade in Inner Mongolia:

Now both our troops and people have shed their blood in the war of resistance [kangzhan]. Their lives have already been dedicated to our country and nation. Their spirits, however, will eternally live in the hearts of all of us who have devoted ourselves to fight the enemies since the war of resistance has started. Their spirits will live in the hearts of all Chinese people. Since their pure blood has been shed on our bright land, the enemies would not dare to step on even one inch of it. If everyone in our country is ready to shed their blood on our land, not only will the unlost lands of ours always remain intact, but even the lost lands will be recovered, piece by piece, when our blood is shed on them.(27)

Nevertheless, when Wang was ready to ally himself with the Japanese in the late 1930s, the idea of jiuguo underwent a complete reinterpretation to suit the new political atmosphere.

Since Wang Jingwei's supporters presented him as a second Sun Yat-sen, jiuguo naturally became a keyword in the Nanjing regime's propaganda. Like those of geming (revolution), the connotations of the term jiuguo have changed considerably over the course of the last century. Also like geming, the term jiuguo often has been redefined by different twentieth-century political leaders to suit different political goals. According to Joseph T. Chen, modern Chinese nationalism was basically anti-foreign in nature because it was closely associated with the powerful political myth of wangguo (the extinction of the Chinese nation).(28) In 1919, for instance, both ideas of wangguo and jiuguo were popular among the people when the province of Shandong was about to be lost to Japan. By the time Wang escaped from Chongqing, he emphasized the idea of jiuguo to justify his alliance with the invading Japanese. According to Wang, there was little hope that China could win the war against Japan. Therefore, instead of waiting for the moment of wangguo, he suggested an immediate armistice with Japan which would save the country from extinction:

In the twenty-seventh year of the Minguo [1938], the European situation was developing at a very fast pace. Japan, meanwhile, was dominating the Far East. No country was willing to help us but the Soviet Union, from which we received some obsolete airplanes. The main reasons [for their assistance], I ascertain, were to make us fight [against the Japanese] to the very end so they would be relieved from Japanese [military] pressure. Moreover, our country would be greatly weakened once we were involved in a war [against Japan]. To the Soviets, this was a wonderful plan. Should we Chinese, however, make a sacrifice alone and think nothing about our own survival? . . . Since the Japanese were willing to recognize our government, which was set up inside occupied areas, as an alliance and a partner in the process of reviving East Asia, they had to take our social and economic needs [minsheng xuyao] and our governmental structure [zhengfu tizhi] into consideration. As a result, there was still a chance for our democracy. What I did [siding with the Japanese], therefore, was the only thing I could do at a time of serious national disasters [guonan]. I realized it was a bad strategy that involved my personal sacrifice for the nation's benefits. This was what I often told my trusted comrades.(29)

When war was formally declared against the Allied Powers in January 1943, Wang further stressed the absolute necessity to become allied with Japan in order to fight against Western powers and to avoid the extinction of East Asian culture in general and the Chinese nation in particular. This emphasis explains why, when the centennial of the signing of the Treaty of Nanjing was approaching in August 1942, Wang ordered all newspapers and magazines in occupied areas to publish articles to "strengthen people's anti­Anglo-American sentiment, so that they [would] be warm and sincere in their efforts to defend East Asia."(30)

Throughout Wang's alliance with Japan, therefore, jiuguo and heping (peace) went hand-in-hand. The merging of these two ideas formed the core of Wang's propaganda efforts to justify his pro-Japanese political moves in those years--peace alone could save the country, and this stance meant abandoning Jiang Jieshi's destructive policies toward Japan. The following open letter published in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post in April 1939 revealed how Wang, replying to an anonymous overseas Chinese reader in Southeast Asia, blended the two key terms of jiuguo and heping to form a theoretical argument for his political actions:

To reach peace with Japan is by no means my private wish. Rather, it is a common mentality shared by all those who love the Minguo [Republic of China]. I love the Republic which was founded by the Guofu, so I stood out to work for peace. If the war between China and Japan is allowed to continue, both countries will be fatally wounded. If they reach a truce, both countries can live peacefully together. Peace, therefore, is the only solution to the warring situation laid in front of us. That exactly is the reason why I chose not to stay in tranquility and convenience in Chongqing but rather to risk my own life to save the country. That is just what I am doing now!(31)

Wang's aim here is to show that Jiang Jieshi's Chongqing government, by rejecting his peace plans, was gambling with the country's fate. According to the letter, Wang was "rescuing the dangerous situation [faced by China] and pacifying [the country's] disorders,"(32) whereas Jiang was leading the nation toward destruction and allowing internal chaos to go unchecked. Apparently enough, the method of building one's validity through discrediting that of others--a method that has often been used by state authorities to build national identity--was adopted by Wang.(33) After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the phrase jiu dong Ya (saving East Asia) or sometimes even jiu Yazhou (saving Asia) began to overshadow jiuguo in Nanjing's propaganda. In Wang Jingwei xiansheng xingshi lu (A factual account of Mr. Wang Jingwei), an officially approved biography of Wang published in 1943 in Nanjing, Wang's post­Pearl Harbor political operations were "praised" as efforts "to liberate Asian peoples [from European and American imperialism]."(34) This new propaganda move of Nanjing, needless to say, was designed to echo the latest Japanese military adventures against the Allied Powers.

Fangong as a Key Term

In comparison to the four key terms of Guofu, geming, jiuguo, and heping, the fifth term--fangong (anti-communism)--occupied a somewhat peripheral position in Nanjing's propaganda and ideology. I do not mean to suggest that anti-communism was unimportant to Nanjing's propaganda strategy. Rather, I want to stress that the term fangong was used less to legitimize Wang Jingwei's position in power than to provide ideological justification for the qingxiang project that was enforced by Nanjing's military units in occupied areas. According to the Nanjing regime, fangong was the theory supporting the qingxiang projects, and these in turn were necessary for completing the geming of the Guofu. It was only after the countryside was cleared of communism, according to Wang, that Sun Yat-sen's Sanmin zhuyi could be realized.(35) In a public speech given in January 1942, shortly after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Wang highlighted the idea that to "purge communism and Anglo-American imperialism from China was something necessary for the country if the process of rebuilding [chongjian] was to be accomplished."(36) Included as one of the three key terms printed on a small yellow triangular pennant attached to the "blue-sky white-sun" national flag, the term fangong never fell out of regular use in Nanjing's propaganda projects. In fact, it received particular emphasis when the qingxiang project became a priority item in the political agenda of the Nanjing regime in early 1941. Unlike the Sun Yat-sen imagery and references to geming, however, which operated on a deeper ideological level as attempts to legitimize the regime and which lacked direct and concrete references, the term fangong, like heping, carried pragmatic implications. Fangong and heping, in short, reminded Nanjing's audience that not all propaganda items adopted by the regime were abstractions; some were directly tied to current political events.

Beyond Slogans

In addition to using written and oral texts to legitimize the Nanjing regime, Wang Jingwei and his followers also turned to visual symbols such as the "blue-sky white-sun" flag. In contrast to the wartime Chongqing government, which was accepted by many as a normal continuation of the 1928 Nanjing Nationalist government, Wang's regime had to start from scratch in establishing its legitimacy. In terms of Weberian theory, which treats tradition as one of the three major sources of efficacy, Wang's regime was thus at a clear disadvantage.(37) This gave special urgency to Wang's attempts to lay claim to the famous flag identified with both Sun Yat-sen himself and the previous Nationalist Party regime.

The most effective way for Wang to validate his new regime was to undermine the legitimacy of the rival political order based in Chongqing. As theorist Melvin Richter puts it, "disestablishing the claim of its rivals" is often the most important step a regime can take to strengthen its own position; thus, "negating its opponents" goes hand in hand with establishing its own right to rule.(38) An opposite target has to be set up and then effectively destroyed or discredited for a political figure, his circles, and his institutions to establish themselves. An analysis of the Nanjing regime's propaganda shows that Wang understood this kind of logic very well. The combat between Nanjing and Chongqing for the "blue-sky white-sun" national flag illustrates this point.

Wang needed the exact national flag of the Nationalist government of China; anything less than that would harm his legitimation purposes. In modern Chinese political ideology, the "blue-sky white-sun" flag (or, in full, the "blue-sky white-sun red-earth" flag) is always associated with the person of Sun Yat-sen, who attempted but failed to persuade the provisional parliament of 1912 to use it rather than the "five-bar" flag as the main emblem of the new Republic. When, in 1928, the GMD regime was set up in Nanjing under Jiang Jieshi's leadership, the "blue-sky white-sun" flag was formally adopted as the national flag of the Republic of China. In its short, five-year existence, the Nanjing regime never missed a chance to bring out Sun's portrait to suggest that Wang was simply following in the footsteps of the Guofu. On 1 August 1943, for example, in the ceremony celebrating the rendition of the Shanghai Concessions--boasted by the Nanjing regime as a significant diplomatic victory--a larger-than-life-size portrait of Sun served as the background for the main stage.(39) Just as Sun's portrait was exploited, so the "blue-sky white-sun" flag was used to suggest that Wang was merely bringing the Nationalist government back to its old capital (huandu) instead of setting up a new regime. Under the huandu propaganda, Wang was left with no other choice but to use the original national flag.

Wang was not trying to build a regime of just any kind; he wanted a publicly recognized one. And if he wanted to build a government that would hold efficacy with the people, Wang realized, the national flag was not an issue on which concessions should be made. He made this clear to the Japanese in the early stages of his preparation to set up the Nanjing government. In June 1939, Wang visited Tokyo and informed Japanese leaders that his future Nationalist government in Nanjing would be the only legitimate government in China. Wang stressed that his government "must be a Kuomintang government in legal continuity with Sun Yat-sen's party and government."(40) The emphasis on the idea of "legal continuity" indicated that Wang was clearly aware of the benefit of linking his drive for legitimacy to a political tradition that already existed.

Later developments in Wang's preparatory meetings with the Japanese showed that he was much more sensitive than his major followers to symbols of political authority. Wang was said to have been infuriated when Zhou Fohai and Mei Siping (1896-1946), two of his most trusted collaborators, reported to him that they had reached an agreement with the Japanese in which both the "blue-sky white-sun" and "five-bar" flags would be used in occupied areas after the Nanjing government was established. Wang insisted that the agreement be abolished and asserted that the "blue-sky white-sun" flag alone would be flown.(41) To Wang, it was illogical to proclaim publicly that he had managed to bring the Nationalist government back to its old capital and simultaneously change the national flag. Indeed, it may well have been precisely because he did not want to be labeled an illegitimate ruler--or, much worse, a hanjian--that Wang was so concerned about not being forced to abandon or change the original national flag.(42)

In the end, both Wang and the Japanese modified their positions vis-à-vis the flag. First, the Japanese offered to allow the Nanjing regime to use the original "blue-sky white-sun" rather than the "five-bar" flag, provided that a triangular yellow pennant with the slogan "Heping, fangong, jianguo" was attached to the flag. This compromise was not acceptable to Wang, since he felt that the attached pennant would change the form and, more importantly, distort the meaning of the flag of Sun Yat-sen. There was good reason for him to be concerned. Before the inauguration of the new regime, the Italian ambassador in Nanjing told Wang's representatives that "the pennant would discredit Wang's claim to be continuing the old Kuomintang government and make Italian government recognition difficult."(43) Due to the diplomatic troubles he had already encountered and the ideological ones that he could foresee, Wang decided to pursue the national flag issue further, and it caused a deadlock in the preparatory talks between him and the Japanese. The problem was solved only when a new compromise was reached--Wang was granted permission to use the exact "blue-sky white-sun" flag without the yellow pennant inside major indoor governmental offices but had to allow pennants to be attached to flags flown outdoors.(44) In 1941, nine countries--including Germany, Italy, Spain, and Hungary--recognized Wang's Nanjing regime.(45)

Wang Jingwei and the Center

One way to make sense of Wang's efforts at self-legitimation is to view them as attempts to capture what Clifford Geertz refers to as society's symbolic "center." According to Geertz,

[a]t the political center of any complex organized society, there is both a government elite and a set of symbolic forms expressing the fact that it is in truth governing. No matter how democratically the members of the elite are chosen or how deeply divided among themselves they may be, they justify their existence and order their actions in terms of a collection of stories, ceremonies, insignia, formalities, and appurtenances that they have either inherited or, in more revolutionary situations, invented. It is these--crowns and coronations, limousines and conferences--that mark the center as center and give what goes on there its aura of being not merely important but in some odd fashion connected with the way the world is built.(46)

Wang clearly knew that the composition of the relevant center was Guofu, geming, and jiuguo. One sign of how important these three things were is that the CCP also stressed them (Guofu via Song Qingling, etc.), as did Jiang Jieshi. These were the only three things the three groups agreed about. Wang paid homage to Sun's tomb on important occasions, displayed Sun's portrait at important gatherings, fought the Japanese over the issue of the national flag, and made public speeches defending his collaboration with Japan as an attempt to save China and complete the revolution.

Centers of society, however, do not fossilize; they are dynamic and always changing. Unfortunately for Wang, especially after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident of 1937, anti-Japanese (fan Ri) sentiment was something that those seeking to capture the center had to harness. Jiang Jieshi, according to a contemporary memoir written by Zhou Fohai, did exactly that to legitimize his rule and suppress political competitors:

The general atmosphere in China at that time [shortly after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident] was really distressing. People everywhere, both inside and outside the government, sang tones that were high enough to get into the clouds [on the issue of fighting Japan]. However, except for those who were dumb or simple-minded, people knew clearly that if the war was allowed to continue, there was no chance at all for China to emerge victorious at the end. These ideas were acknowledged by the communists, the militarists in the Gui clique, and those who disliked the central government. Mr. Jiang [Jieshi] knew all these more clearly than anybody in those three groups. Everybody realized that the war should not be expanded and continued, but people all sang the high tone of a long-lasting war. This sorrowful contradiction will never be fully comprehended by future historians. It was well understood by the communists, the Gui-clique militarists, and the politically disappointed that kang Ri [resisting Japan] was the only way to unseat Jiang. It was exactly out of their desire to overthrow Jiang's rule that those people shouted for a long-lasting war [against Japan]. Mr. Jiang was an extremely clever man and of course he was not deceived by such a trick. Therefore, whenever those who opposed him sang a lofty tone, he sang one that was even higher. According to him, his higher tone could serve two purposes. First, it would suppress all those who were unhappy with him [politically] and deprive them of the reasons for opposition. Second, it could show the Japanese his determination [to fight the war] and let them know that threats alone would not conquer China. He hoped the Japanese would re-examine their position and try to end the matter [war] as soon as possible.(47)

Clearly enough, both fan Ri and kang Ri were used by Jiang as counter-propaganda against those who tried to overthrow him. Wang was, without a doubt, aware of the growing centrality of fan Ri symbolism, but his political stance and alliances prevented him from being able to make use of this new component of the center. Instead, he had to spend much effort to argue why he chose to go against this new component. No matter how skillful his propagandists were in playing on other key themes, Wang's pro-Japanese position made it impossible for him to appear to the Chinese people as a legitimate savior of the nation.(48)


Analyzing Wang Jingwei's speeches and other political actions he took from the time of his decision to collaborate with the Japanese, we discover that he was very sensitive about whether his Nanjing regime appeared legitimate both inside and outside occupied areas. Heping and jiuguo constituted the core of his self-legitimation efforts. These two ideas could best explain and justify why he decided to side with the Japanese when they were invading his country. In addition to these two terms, he selected Guofu and Zhongguo geming to consolidate further his claim of political legitimacy. Guofu and geming were two interdependent and closely associated political notions. In the China of Wang's time, to take over the mantle of Sun Yat-sen automatically implied the accomplishment of his political goal--the Chinese revolution. In manipulating the figure of Sun for political purposes, Wang had an advantage over most contemporary competitors and he knew it. In comparison to Jiang Jieshi, for instance, Wang was much closer to Sun when Sun died; in addition, his relationship with Sun had started much earlier than Jiang's. Throughout his Nanjing regime, Wang used Sun to strengthen his claim to political legitimacy. This phenomenon can clearly be seen in materials published under the Nanjing regime as well as in Wang's funeral after his death in Japan in 1944.

Fangong was another important keyword that was stressed constantly by Wang and his supporters (including his patrons, the Japanese). But this idea functioned in a different way from the other four. Basically, fangong, when used by the Nanjing regime, did not help to construct the regime's political legitimacy. Rather, it explained and justified why some political operations were carried out under the Nanjing regime. The term was strongly emphasized in Wang's speeches when the qingxiang project was initiated by his regime in 1941.

Wang Jingwei was brilliant in his search for political legitimacy in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Guofu, Zhongguo geming, and jiuguo--the central elements of political legitimacy of the time--were all claimed by Wang. The single important element that he failed to grasp--because he could not, not because he would not--was fan Ri. His alliance with Japan removed all possibility of harnessing the fan Ri element that had become so significant since Japan's seizure of Shandong province in 1919. When he finally decided to defect from the wartime Chongqing government late in 1938, Wang must have had confidence that he could convince his audience to support him, his regime, and his method of concluding the war by emphasizing heping, jiuguo, Guofu, and Zhongguo geming instead of the more popular anti-Japanese sentiments.

1. Official yearbooks published by the Republic of China (Taiwan), for instance, simply pretend that there was no person named Wang Jingwei in modern Chinese history. He is not mentioned at all in the "History" section of The Republic of China Yearbook 1993 (Taipei: Government Information Office, 1993). In a monograph on Wang published in Taiwan in 1988, he is described in these words: "There are many treacherous and evil figures throughout Chinese history. However, a hanjian [traitor] as shameless as Wang--who regarded the enemy as kith and kin and who served the aggressors when they invaded [China] when the country was at her crucial moment of life and death--is totally unprecedented." Wang Meizhen, Wang Jingwei zhuan [A biography of Wang Jingwei] (Taipei: Guoji wenhua shiye youxian gongsi, 1988), inside front cover. In textbooks on modern Chinese history published in mainland China, Wang's government is often referred to as a puppet regime (e.g., Wang wei zhengquan or kuilei zhengfu). See, for example, Zhongguo jindaishi, compiled by Beijing shifan daxue lishixi and Zhongguo xiandaishi jiaoyanshi (Beijing: Beijing shifan daxue chubanshe, 1983), vol. 2, pp. 89-97, and another book of the same title compiled by five leading universities in China: Zhongguo jindaishi (Kaifeng: Henan renmin chubanshe, 1984), vol. 2, pp. 68-72.

2. This situation is especially common in China and Taiwan. Credit should be given, however, to some Western scholars, such as Gerald E. Bunker, for their work on this subject. In this paper, I will analyze speeches, private diaries, and contemporary published materials. In addition to materials published before the fall of the Nanjing regime in 1945, I will use later published materials if they carry original speeches or writings produced by Wang and his supporters.

3. The assassination was planned to take place in early April 1910. However, Wang's plan was discovered by the Qing authorities; he and his collaborators were arrested on 16 April and imprisoned on 1 May of the same year.

4. Zhu Huisen et al., eds., Zhonghua minguo shishi jiyao [A summary of historical events of the Republic of China] (Taipei: Zhongyang wenwu gongyingshe, 1989), January-June 1939 volume, pp. 3-7.

5. The term "hanjian" is generally used by Chinese writers to refer to Chinese people who seek refuge with foreigners (especially those that invade China), who cooperate with them, and who, in so doing, betray the interests of the Chinese nation. According to a Qing dynasty (1644-1912) book, the term was first used in the Former Han dynasty (206BCE-24CE), when interactions between the Han court and northern nomadic peoples were frequent. See Luo Zhufeng, et al., eds., Hanyu da cidian [An expanded dictionary of the Chinese language] (Shanghai: Hanyu da cidian chubanshe, 1990), vol. 6, p. 49.

6. Unless specified, "Nanjing regime" in this paper always refers to the Nationalist government established in Nanjing from 1940 to 1945 (headed by Wang Jingwei until November 1944, then by Chen Gongbo [1892-1946]). It does not refer to Nationalist governments from 1928 through 1937 and from 1945 through 1949, which also had their capitals at Nanjing.

7. From published versions of speeches made by Wang and other leading figures of the Nanjing regime, we see that heping and fangong were the two terms that Nanjing's propaganda agencies transplanted directly from the slogan into daily publications. The third term, jianguo, was seldom used outside the slogan. Rather, the official term that was directly related to the modern political conception of state was jiuguo (saving the country), a term that had its own tradition in China since first direct contacts with the West occurred in the mid-nineteenth century.

8. The title Guofu was used to refer to Sun Yat-sen as soon as the Republic of China was established in 1912. On 1 April 1940, it was officially approved by the Chongqing Nationalist government.

9. Mary C. Wright, in the last chapter of her The Last Stand of Chinese Conservatism, discusses how the apotheosis of Sun Yat-sen was utilized by both the GMD and CCP in the 1920s, but with very different perspectives and purposes: "The Communist view of the alternatives before the Kuomintang late in 1926 was illustrated in a poster hung at the Peasants' Association in a small town near Nanchang. On one side was a Confucian temple, on the other the 'world park,' featuring Marx, Lenin, and a vacant third position. In the center a man in Chinese Nationalist uniform was carrying the portrait of Sun Yat-sen toward the Confucian temple. The legend read: 'Sun ought to be in the world park but Tai [Chi-t'ao] wants him in the Confucian temple'." Mary C. Wright, The Last Stand of Chinese Conservatism: The T'ung-Chih Restoration, 1862-1874 (New York: Atheneum, 1966), p. 304.

10. Jeffrey Wasserstrom, "The First Chinese Red Scare? 'Fanchi' Propaganda and 'Pro-red' Responses during the Northern Expedition," Republican China 11.1 (1985), pp. 32-34.

11. Wang Jingwei zhuan, p. 38.

12. For the full text of Sun's will, see Jia Yijun, Zhonghua Minguoshi [A History of the Republic of China] (Beiping [Beijing]: Wenhua xueshe, 1930), pp. 130-31.

13. Gerald E. Bunker, The Peace Conspiracy: Wang Ching-wei and the China War, 1937-1941 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972), p. 9.

14. Wang resigned from his public posts in December 1935 after being seriously hurt in an assassination attempt that took place in Nanjing on 1 November of the same year. On 29 February 1936, Wang left China for Europe and did not return until he heard about the Xi'an Incident of December 1936. One of the three bullets that remained in Wang's body turned out to be a major factor leading to his death in 1944.

15. Inukai Ken, Yosuko wa ima mo nagarete iru [The Yangtze River is still flowing now] (Tokyo: Bungei shunjo shinsha, 1960), pp. 261-62. According to Inukai's preface, he used memoranda from 1939-40, when he served in the Nanjing regime, to compose the draft of this book, p. 1.

16. Zhou Fohai, Zhou Fohai riji [A diary of Zhou Fohai] (Hong Kong: Chuangken chubanshe, 1955), pp. 52-53.

17. Frederic Wakeman, Jr. details the relocation of Sun Yat-sen's tomb and its use by Nationalist leaders in an article titled "Mao's Remains" in Death Ritual in Late Imperial and Modern China, ed. James L. Watson and Evelyn S. Rawski (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), pp. 251-89. In Wakeman's words, Sun's shrine in Nanjing was "a new sacred center for the Republican state: a sign of revolutionary authority that had to be acknowledged by all succeeding rulers [in China]" (p. 258).

18. Cai Dejin and Li Huixian, eds., Wang Jingwei wei Guomin zhengfu jishi [A factual account of Wang Jingwei's puppet Nationalist government] (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexueyuan, 1982), pp. 91-92.

19. In order to strengthen its control over occupied areas, Japan, in early 1941, proposed the qingxiang program, which would be started from regions in the lower course of the Yangtze River. In response to this proposal, the Nanjing regime set up the Qingxiang weiyuanhui (Committee on the qingxiang program), which was chaired by Wang Jingwei himself. Both Zhou Fohai and Chen Gongbo entered the committee as vice-chairmen, and Li Shiqun (1905-43), head of the Nanjing regime's secret service (tewu), joined as the secretary. The program was started in July 1941, and Wang claimed that purged areas would become "heping fangong jianguo mofanqu" (model areas of peace, anti-communism, and rebuilding the country). See Chen Xulu and Li Huaxing, eds., Zhongguo Minguoshi cidian [A dictionary of the history of the Republic of China] (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 1991), pp. 445-46.

20. Wang Jingwei wei Guomin zhengfu jishi, p. 128.

21. For first-hand materials on xianzheng, see Lin Bosheng's Wang xiansheng shengping fendou shi [A biography of Mr. Wang: A history of struggles] (Nanjing, n.d.). This is a photoreproduction of a hand-copy book with no publication information. The book is currently located in the Indiana University Library, Bloomington, Indiana.

22. Wang xiansheng shengping fendou shi, pp. 1, 2, 5, 58.

23. Wang xiansheng shengping fendou shi, pp. 5-6.

24. Zhou Fohai riji, p. 162.

25. See Appendix "Wang Jingwei shishi qian dui guoshi yishu" [Wang Jingwei's will on national affairs before his death], in Wang Jingwei zhuan, pp. 181-89.

26. Zhu Zijia, Wang zhengquan de kaichang yu shouchang [The opening and closing of the Wang regime] (Hong Kong: Chunqiu chubanshe, 1959), vol. 2, pp. 182-90. Wang's tomb was destroyed as soon as the Chongqing government returned to Nanjing after the Japanese surrender in August 1945.

27. Wang Jingwei, "Suiyuan kangzhan de yiyi" [The meaning of the war of resistance in Suiyuan], in Wang, Wang Jingwei xiansheng zuijin zhi yanlun [Recent speeches by Mr. Wang Jingwei] (Shanghai: Zhonghua ribaoguan, 1937), p. 55.

28. Joseph T. Chen, The May Fourth Movement in Shanghai: The Making of a Social Movement in Modern China (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1971), pp. 28-31.

29. Wang Jingwei zhuan, pp. 181, 186.

30. In Wang's words, "China's independence and liberty will never be guaranteed unless Anglo-American imperialism is overthrown. Now that the Da dong Ya [great East Asia] war has been started by our ally [Japan], this is a golden chance for us to free ourselves from Anglo-American aggressive forces." Quoted in Shi Yuanhua, "Wang wei shiqi de 'dong Ya lianmeng yundong'" [The East Asian Alliance Movement under Wang's puppet regime], in Fudan daxue lishixi Zhongguo jindaishi yanjiushi, ed., Wang Jingwei hanjian zhengquan de xingwang--Wang wei zhengquanshi yanjiu lunji [The rise and fall of Wang Jingwei's traitor regime] (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe, 1987), p. 286.

31. Wang Jingwei, Wang Jingwei xiansheng zhongyao shengming: Fu fu huaqiao moujun shu [An important announcement by Mr. Wang Jingwei: With a letter of reply to a certain Overseas Chinese] (Shanghai: Shanghai zhonghua ribaoguan, 1939), pp. 1-3 and 15. These materials were reprinted from the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), 8 and 9 April 1939. Before its founder Lin Bosheng (1901-46) was attacked by secret agents from the Chongqing government not long after Wang's escape from the wartime capital, the South China Morning Post was a strongly pro-Wang newspaper published daily in Hong Kong. From 1940 to 1945, Lin occupied important positions in the Nanjing regime.

32. Zhang Jiangcai, Wang Jingwei xiansheng xingshi lu [A factual account of Mr. Wang Jingwei] (Nanjing: Zhonghua Minguo shiliao biankanhui, 1943), p. 7. This work, composed by Zhang and issued by Nanjing's Shiliao biankanhui (Editorial and Publishing Committee of Historical Materials), was published just one year before the death of Wang Jingwei. Since it was prefaced by Zhou Fohai and distributed by a governmental organ, the book can be seen as an "official" biography of Wang. In this book, Wang is portrayed as an undisputed political sage who, like Sun Yat-sen, had a life-long devotion to the cause of the Chinese revolution.

33. In a recent book titled Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994), Thongchai Winichakul discusses how other nations ("otherness," in Thongchai's own words) often "serve as a token of negative identification regardless of what that nation is or does" (p. 166). In Thongchai's argument, peoples in other nations (especially those surrounding one's own nation) are often portrayed in negative terms so that a positive image or identity of one's own country can be established.

34. Wang Jingwei xiansheng xingshi lu, p. 7.

35. Wang Jingwei wei Guomin zhengfu jishi, p. 128.

36. Wang Jingwei wei Guomin zhengfu jishi, p. 145.

37. For Max Weber's theories on political legitimacy, see Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization (New York: The Free Press, 1968). A main theme of the book is Weber's discussion of the relationship between power, legitimacy, and authority.

38. Melvin Richter, "Toward a Concept of Political Illegitimacy: Bonapartist Dictatorship and Democratic Legitimacy," Political Theory 10.2 (1982), p. 189.

39. See the picture in Bunker, The Peace Conspiracy, p. 276.

40. The Peace Conspiracy, p. 156.

41. Zhou Fohai riji, pp. 22-24.

42. At various times in modern Chinese history, raising the "wrong" flag could be interpreted as having an "incorrect" political stance. As early as 1893 in Shanghai, a person was condemned and referred to as a hanjian simply because he had used a Western flag during a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the city's opening to foreign trade. See The Jubilee of Shanghai, 1843-1893: Shanghai: Past and Present, and a Full Account of the Proceedings on the 17th and 18th November, 1893 (Shanghai: Revised and reprinted from the North-China Daily News, 1893), p. 45.

43. The Peace Conspiracy, p. 217.

44. Wang was certainly not the only person in twentieth-century Chinese history to fight for correct symbols to establish political legitimacy. In October 1933, when Aixinjueluo Puyi, the last Manchu emperor and the Regent of Manzhouguo, was officially informed by the Japanese that he would soon be enthroned, the very first thought to strike his mind, according to his memoirs, was the imperial dragon robe of his ancestors. Ordered to ascend the throne in Western-style military uniform in March 1934, Puyi, like Wang on the national flag issue some six years later, exhausted all resources to argue against the Japanese decision. Again, Japan compromised--Puyi was allowed to worship the heavens (part of the ceremony) in his dragon robe. See Puyi, Wo de qianbansheng [The first half of my life] (Hong Kong: Hong Kong wentung shudian, 1964), pp. 320-25.

45. Wang Jingwei zhuan, p. 159.

46. Clifford Geertz, "Centers, Kings, and Charisma: Reflections on the Symbolics of Power," in Rites of Power: Symbolism, Ritual, and Politics since the Middle Ages, ed. Sean Wilentz (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), p. 15.

47. Zhou Fohai, Zhou Fohai huiyi lu [A memoir of Zhou Fohai] (Taipei: Longmen chubanshe, 1993), p. 99.

48. According to a Japanese report (December 1941) conducted in Northern China, for instance, 20% of the Chinese people interviewed supported Wang's alliance with Japan, 40% showed indifference to the issue, and 40% showed disapproval. See Liu Qikui, "Wang wei hanjian wenhua gaishu" [A general survey of the culture of Wang's traitor regime], in Wang Jingwei hanjian zhengquan de xingwang, p. 222.

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