Questioning The Diaries of Chen Kai-wen: 1937-1952 by Cindy Ho & Liang Jiyong

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Chen Kewen Diaries handwritten manuscripts.
Chen Kewen “Diaries” handwritten manuscripts

Wang Jingwei & Modern China Chief Editor Cindy Ho and philologist Dr. Liang Jiyong called into question the veracity of The Diaries of Chen Kai-wen: 1937-1952 (here referred to as “Diaries”) in two articles published in March and August, 2019 in the Hong Kong periodical Mingpao Monthly. Ho is a granddaughter of Wang Jingwei (1883-1944) and Chen Bijun (1896-1959) .

“Diaries,” edited by Dr. Chen Fong-Ching, the son of Chen Kai-wen (1898-1986) , was first published in 2012 by the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica (Taipei); and in 2014 by Social Sciences Academic Press (Beijing) under the title Chen Kewen riji: 1937-1952. The books have attracted much attention in the scholarly community as a reliable resource.

But when Ho read the “diary entries” involving her family members, she noticed numerous factual errors. After consulting with other published material, archival reports and eye-witness accounts, Ho solicited the expertise of philologist Dr. Liang Jiyong to examine what she discovered. Their findings are published in the two Mingpao Monthly articles.

I think that the possibility of “Diaries” being taken as fiction – not diary – as we understand the meaning of the word to be, should be taken into serious consideration.Cindy Ho
According to “Diaries,” Wang Wenying (1913-2011), the son of Wang Jingwei and Chen Bijun, and their daughter Wang Wenxing (1914-1915) and son-in-law Ho Mang Hang (1916-1916) met with the author and told him that Chen Bijun had become a “drug addict, or a crazy, irresponsible woman who knew no shame” in prison. This is false. Here are the facts:
    Wang Wenying could not have visited “Diaries” author on the morning of June 21, 1948 because he was not released from prison until ten days later. (Shenbao news report, August 1, 1948).
    Wang Wenxing and Ho Mang Hang did not visit “Diaries” author in September 1948 as he claimed, because they were in Hong Kong, having seen Chen Bijun for the last time after Ho’s release from prison in February of that year, according to their immigration application documents and Cloud, Smoke, Scattered Memories, the Memoir of Ho Mang Hang.
    Aside from “Diaries” no other mention of Chen Bijun’s alleged drug addiction can be found in any official reports or independent accounts of her condition while in prison. This uncorroborated allegation came from a single source — “Diaries” author — who claimed to have heard it from meetings that did not take place.
    Jin Xiongbai (1904-1985), author of《汪政權的開場與收場》The Rise and Fall of the Wang Jingwei Regime wrote a searing critique in 《汪精衛集團》Wang Jingwei Jituan of three works by “Diaries” author published in 《掌故》 Tales magazine in 1972 which elaborated on the drug addiction allegation. Jin’s article 〈關於陳璧君獄居生活及其他〉“About Chen Bijun’s Life in Prison and More” emphatically asserts that the events described in the three articles, which later appeared in “Diaries,” and the allegation about Chen’s drug habits in prison as “neither factual nor logical…lacking common sense…a fallacy” and “contrary to what I saw and heard.”
    When Jin asked Wang’s children and their spouses about the alleged drug use, they said it was false, and adamantly denied having spoken to Chen about it.
    While in prison, around the time of her alleged addled state, Chen Bijun copied several books of Wang Jingwei’s Shuangzhaolou poetry by hand. She also collaborated with fellow prisoner Long Yusheng, the renowned scholar, to create poetry compilations. Long attributed his own 《倚聲學》“Discourse on Tuning” to her, which he later published. During this time, Chen Bijun also wrote poetry, which Liang Jiyong described as showing “clarity of thought,” not the work of a “crazy woman nearing collapse.” These works are published in Prison Writings by Members of the Wang Jingwei Regime.
In serious scholarship, when studying historical material, the first concern is authenticity, which should be checked against multiple sources.…The only defense [the editor] offered for the errors, misrepresentations and discrepancies found in “Diaries” are “may-not-be-impossible” propositions that are not backed by corroborating evidence.Liang Jiyong
Wang family members were inserted in “Diaries” to bolster Chen’s claim of intimacy and give his falsehoods and distortions the appearance of veracity.
    “Diaries” author taught at a school within walking distance from where Ho and her family lived in Hong Kong. Yet Ho has never heard of him, even though she is quite familiar with Wang Jingwei’s other associates, including those she never met, such as maids, drivers, body guards, etc.
    In September, 1948 “Diaries” says that Wang Wenxing traveled to stop her younger sister Wang Wenxun from moving in with a married man. Not only was Wang Wenxing in Hong Kong at the time, anyone “close” to the Wang family would know that she would never have traveled great distances in order to change her 26 year-old sister’s mind about her private life. Such a trip was not only difficult and costly, it was dangerous. On the eve of China’s political transformation, the prospect of Wang Jingwei’s eldest daughter visiting the Mainland alone would have been foolhardy. And Wang Wenxun did not move in with a married man.
    “Diaries” author said that Chen Bijun shamelessly pressed her chldren for money to feed her drug habit, which required “injections of narcotics up to 20-30 times a day, costing over several hundreds of million yuan a day in fabi,” or legal tender. And it was her children who supplied her with the money. But in fact, the Wang children had no money. They could only send modest sums of money to Chen Bijun, much of which she did not spend, as evidenced by the fact that $200 HK remained in her account upon her death, according to her last letter. $200 HK was equivalent to more than 2 months’ rent for the Ho family in Hong Kong.
    Unlike Chen, people close to the family are aware that Chen Bijun had long suffered from neurological convulsions in her legs, chronic muscular and joint pains, requiring frequent massages. These attacks became more intense in prison, and doctors treated her with injections. In other words, Chen Bijun was a medical patient, not a drug addict.
    “Diaries” author did not know where the Wangs called home and repeatedly called the Nanjing residence at 34 Yihe Lu the “Wang Mansion“ as early as January, 1937. In fact, the house belonged to the Chu Minyi (1884-1946) and his wife, Chen Bijun’s younger sister. According to their children, the Wang family did not live there in 1937.
    On January 19, 1947 “Diaries” author claimed to have met Wang Jingwei at the 4, Chibi Lu house many times, where Wang and his wife had lived. The fact is, they never lived there. The house belonged to Cao Zongying, Wang’s secretary. Wang Jingwei had already died when members of his family — those who were not imprisoned, and those who were later released from prison — lived there before moving to Hong Kong. On March 13, 1946 Shenbao also stated the house was “rented, temporarily.”
    In an August 25, 1948 entry, “Diaries” author claimed that Wang Wenying had asked him to help sell “his house at 4, Chibi Lu.” How could Wang sell a house that belonged to someone else? Besides, a June 21, 1947 news report in Shenbao announced that all Wang’s property had been confiscated.
    On December 21, 1938 “Diaries” author wrote that he met with Wang Qi (1904-1959) (Wang Jingwei’s nephew) who confided in him that Wang Jingwei and others had left Chongqing for Hanoi for reasons Wang did not understand. Yet, Ho Mang Hang recounted in his memoirs a detailed conversation some days earlier between Wang Jingwei and Wang Qi about his reasons for leaving Chongqing. The meeting with Chen did not take place.
    Jin Xiongbai, who worked in the Wang regime and knew “Diaries” author, also questioned his motives and claim of intimacy with Wang Jingwei and the Wang family.
Should “Diaries” be treated as fact? Or fiction? Or a combination of fact, fiction, rumor and innuendo?
    When Cindy Ho asked to review the original “Diaries” she had expected to see typical diaries. Instead, what she saw were Chinese style blue-covered thread-bound books with continuous entries written on manuscript paper, in a neat, even handwriting. The pages were smooth, the corners were sharp, not bent or dog-eared. The characters are uniformly written, with no hesitations or changes in style and few changes in the types of pen used. This further confirms her belief that the publication of “Diaries” is a later draft or version of some previous work, not a contemporaneous diary, in the manner that most would assume.
    The use of parentheses (seen in the above photo of the manuscript) in “Diaries” to clarify who Fang Junbi (1898-1896) was is peculiar. Fang had been one of Wang Jingwei’s closest associates and friends. Did the author need to remind himself who she was when writing a contemporaneous account in his personal diary? Or did he add the clarification in a re-written version of “Diaries,” drafted years later (perhaps decades later) to ensure that readers would know Fang Jungbi’s identity?
    These books later published as “Diaries” were reportedly discovered after the author’s death inside a locked desk drawer. Perhaps what Dr. Chen found were not actual diaries, but his father’s manuscripts for some other type of work, such as a novel written in diary form, which was very popular at the time. This might explain the errors that could not likely have been made if these were contemporaneous diary entries.
    “Diaries” editor Dr. Chen Fong-Ching acknowledges in an Appendix that the text we see today is a product of “considerable editing, deletions and abstractions…” But to what degree?
    Jin Xiongbai’s article questions Chen’s motivation and concludes that, aside from the issue of deletions and abstractions, once additions are made to a diary at a later date, these entries can no longer be considered genuine diaries and are no longer “valuable for historians, nor do they have any research value to those interested in war tales.”
    When the Tales articles were published in 1972 and 1973, members of the Wang family and close associates confronted “Diaries” author about the false allegations, but he gave no “proper response,” Jin Xiongbai said in his critique. Perhaps this is why Chen published no more on the subject and kept the thread-bound books locked away until his death.
I am not questioning the veracity of the entire book.…But if the work contains so many fundamental factual errors related to my family members, shouldn't readers also question the reliability of the rest of the book? I leave this decision to serious historians.Cindy Ho