Was Wang Jingwei Truly Universally Condemned?

wjwchinanewsAbout the books, From the Editor

When Wang Jingwei returned to China from overseas in January, 1937, he was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd. (Wang Jingwei: His Life, Ideas and Beliefs, pp. 118-123) Photo from Shibao Bimonthly

Clearly, Wang Jingwei was a controversial figure subject to much debate. For years, we have heard about attacks on his activities and character.

In our last issue, new archival material recently made public reveals drastic attempts by those who opposed Wang to shut down his ideas, writings and speeches during his lifetime. But was Wang Jingwei universally condemned at the time? The information we share in this essay shows the answer is: no.

Digital resources such as the Chinese Historical Documents database support the information found in our books which are based on the writings of Wang Jingwei himself and his close associates, indicating that the situation as reported at the time was not one-sided: When many openly condemned Wang, supporters from various sectors as the news reported also abounded. In spite of Wang’s repeated attempts to step down from office, it was the pleadings of others that restored Wang to political leadership. The following are just a few examples:

  • With the failed 1910 attempted assassination of the Prince Regent, Wang Jingwei had become a national hero upon his release from prison. After the Republic of China was established in 1912, Wang left for France. Determined to further his studies, he continued to turn down offers to high governmental posts. Repeated requests from China, including those from Sun Yatsen, summoned Wang’s return.  (See Wang Jingwei: His Life, Ideas and Beliefs, p. 37.) As June 12, 1912 Dagong Bao report reveals, the warlord and Premier of the Republic Duan Qirui had asked the Ambassador in France Hu Weide to persuade Wang to return to China to help with the nation’s affairs. 
  • On July 1, 1925 the Nationalist Government was established and Wang Jingwei was unanimously elected chairman of Nationalist Government’s standing and military committees. Wang Jingwei yielded to his party comrades’ high hopes and agreed to serve. After the March 1926 Zhongshan Warship Incident, Wang split with Chiang Kai-shek. At this time, he was also diagnosed with diabetes. To prevent party split with the Xishan Conference Faction, he left for the countryside to recuperate, and in May, set off to France for medical treatment. (See Wang Jingwei: His Life, Ideas and Beliefs, p. 303.) While he was overseas, party members continued to plead for Wang’s return. According to an October 17, 1926 Chenbao report, Chiang Kai-shek sent Wang a telegram asking him to resume his duties. On October 24, Chenbao reports a Guangzhou Geomindang decision to welcome Wang’s return, appointing party members He Xiangning and Peng Zemin and others to receive Wang in Singapore on his trip back to Guangzhou, causing a welcoming fervor there.
  • After Wang Jingwei sustained serious injuries resulting from being shot three times at the Sixth Plenum of the Fourth National Congress of Guomindang in Nanjing on November 1, 1935, he resigned from his post on December 1. On February 19, 1936, he left China and spent the rest of the year in Europe, seeking medical care, and returned in January 1937, because of the Xian Incident. (See Wang Jingwei: His Life, Ideas and Beliefs, pp. 121-122.) According to a January 10, 1937 Jing Bao report, Wang’s return was met with great enthusiasm from Yan Xishan and Chiang Kai-shek, who requested a meeting with Wang the day he arrived.
  • According to numerous news reports, after the publication of the December 29 telegram known as Yandian, Wang’s “Peace Movement” received strong encouragement, gratitude and praise in the news, from various trade and educational educational organizations, local associations, overseas Chinese and military leaders. For example, the leader of the Association of Overseas Chinese from Taiwan, Rong Jianlin, led a delegation to visit Wang in Nanjing to personally express their support, according to a Dongya Chenbao report on April 22, 1940.

Although the above is hardly ever mentioned today, thanks to the newly accessible archival databases, we can now see that Wang Jingwei enjoyed much support throughout his political career. The situation was far more complicated that one-sided labels can explain.

Many similar discoveries can be found by analyzing the original manuscripts and materials in all the books in the Wang Jingwei & Modern China series.