China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
What factors condition how societies grapple with the Second World War’s legacy of collaboration? In China, post-war regimes strove to wrap themselves in the legacy of resistance by morally denouncing those who collaborated as hanjian. In doing so, the complex politics of occupation were obscured in favour of a résistancialist narrative that will be familiar to scholars of occupied Europe and elsewhere.
This paper turns a critical lens on the moral denunciation of collaboration by reconsidering Hao Pengju (1903-1947), a military official in the collaborationist Wang Jingwei regime. Previous accounts of Hao and other collaborators have typically been framed around moral character. This is part of a political formula in China that makes the denunciation of collaborators, however heartfelt, an act of patriotism, and offers minimal insight into the complexities of occupation. In contrast, this paper takes a trans-war perspective that views China’s post-war commemoration in light of its pre-war circumstances. For Hao Pengju, his career of factional switching was symptomatic of Republican China’s fragmentation.
Drawing on an unpublished account written by Hao’s son and rarely-referenced wartime publications, I analyze Hao’s post-war portrayal and commemoration in China. At one level, Hao’s career is a small part of the history of the Second World War and Chinese Civil War. As a matter of historical forgetting and wartime commemoration, however, Hao’s treatment illustrates how an over-emphasis on moral judgment can inhibit historical understanding and simplify the complex politics of occupation.