China’s army deletes poem by ‘traitor’ Wang Jingwei

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has deleted from its official Weibo account a poem by Wang Jingwei, a revolutionary leader and politician who collaborated with the Japanese during World War II.

According to media reports, on March 28 the PLA published a poem by Wang Jingwei on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging platform.

Wang Jingwei, circa 1943 (photo by Katsumi Ikeda via Wikimedia Commons)

The poem was part of an article about PLA soldiers visiting Yuhuatai Memorial Park of Revolutionary Martyrs (雨花台烈士陵园), a park and tourist site in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province.

Chinese netizens were incensed at the use of a work by Wang, who in China’s historiography is considered a ‘traitor’ (汉奸),sharing the fate of other wartime collaborators like Philippe Petain in France and Vidkun Quisling in Norway.

Born in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, in 1883, Wang Jingwei studied law in Tokyo, Japan. He was an early supporter of Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) and the revolutionary movement aimed at overthrowing the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).

On April 2, 1910, Wang participated in a plot to assassinate the regent Prince Chun. When the conspiracy failed, Wang was arrested and imprisoned (Xiaobing Li, ed., China at War: An Encyclopedia, 2012, p. 476; George T. Yu, Party Politics in Republican China – The Kuomintang, 1912- 1924, 1966, p. 59).

After the fall of the Qing and the founding of the Republic of China (ROC) in 1912, Wang became one of the leading figures of Sun Yat-sen’s party, the Guomindang. He was believed to be poised to become Sun’s successor, before Chiang Kai-shek sidelined him (Li 2012, p. 477).

In 1932 Wang was appointed premier of the ROC. While Chiang Kai-shek waged a military campaign to eliminate the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Wang was given the difficult and controversial task of appeasing the Japanese, which made him the target of popular hatred and of assassination attempts. Wang resigned in 1935 and travelled abroad, but returned to China in 1937 when the Sino-Japanese War broke out. Pessimistic about the country’s military prospects against the mighty aggressor, Wang became the leader of the “peace movement” with the Japanese (Li 2012, p. 477).

In December 1938, Wang fled to Hanoi and announced a peace proposal with the Japanese. In reality, the peace was de facto a conditional surrender. On March 30, 1940, the ‘Reorganized Government of the Republic of China’ was proclaimed in Nanjing under Wang’s leadership. The new regime, which controlled only a portion of China, was a puppet state of the Japanese (Chinese Collaboration with Japan, 1932-1945: The Limits of Accomodation, ed. David P. Barrett and Larry N. Shyu, 2001, pp. 5, 21).

The poem quoted on Weibo by the PLA, however, dates back to the time when Wang Jingwei was a young revolutionary, languishing in a Qing prison after the failed attempt to assassinate Prince Chun.

Entitled ‘Tetrasyllabic Quatrain of a Prisoner’ (被逮口占四絕), the poem celebrated the revolutionary spirit of self-sacrifice:

“Valiantly singing in praise of the city of Yan, I calmly become a prisoner in the country of Chu. I will be decapitated, for my young head is worth something. Preserving my state of mind, my body brutally seized and turned into dust. The light of youth will not be extinguished, at night it will shine on Yan’s golden terrace.

慷慨歌燕市,從容作楚囚。引刀成一快,不負少年頭。留得心魂在,殘軀付劫灰。青磷光不滅,夜夜照燕台。”

The revolutionary theme of the poem was likely the reason why it was chosen for the PLA article. As soon as the ‘mistake’ became apparent, the post was removed from the Chinese army’s Weibo account. The PLA apologized for the error, blaming for the blunder an editor with “insufficient cultural education.”


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