Nanjing (Nanking), China March 30, 1940

By 1940 Japan had close to a decade’s worth of expe­ri­ence in admin­is­tering con­quered Chi­nese terri­tory, having installed a pup­pet govern­ment in 1932 in Man­churia, which the Japa­nese called Man­chu­kuo. On this date in 1940 in Nan­jing (Nan­king), China, the Japa­nese installed Wang Jingwei (Ching-wei) as head of state of the Japa­nese collab­o­ra­tionist govern­ment of the Republic of China. Wang had once headed a faction within the Chinese Nation­alist Party, which the leaders in Tokyo hoped would prevail and accept peace terms that were advan­ta­geous to Japan (for instance, recog­nizing Man­chu­kuo and accepting proposed demil­i­tarized zones in dispute in Northern China) and bring the Sino-Japanese con­flict to a nego­ti­ated end. When Wang lost his poli­tical struggle with Nation­alist leader Chiang Kai-shek, Japan’s prime minister Fumi­maro Konoe publicly declared his govern­ment’s inten­tion to treat Chiang’s regime as illegitimate and annihilate it.

Nanjing had formerly been the capital of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nation­alist govern­ment, which had moved the nation’s capi­tal from Bei­jing (Peking). But following the Battle of Shang­hai (August 13 to Novem­ber 28, 1937), during which the Nation­alist (Kuomin­tang) army unsuc­cess­fully tried pushing Japa­nese sol­diers out of China’s second largest city, Japan’s mili­tary leaders fixed their sights on revenge for the costly four-month-long battle in which roughly 320,000 com­bat­ants on both sides died. Plunder, destruc­tion, sadism, rape, and mur­der were the names of the undis­ciplined Japa­nese foot soldiers who advanced on Nan­jing. For six weeks following the city’s capit­u­la­tion on Decem­ber 13, 1937, thou­sands of civil­ians and dis­armed sol­diers were mur­dered and 20,000–80,000 men, women, and chil­dren were raped in what became known as the “Rape of Nanking.”

Wang headed a pro-Japanese regime that was strongly anti-Com­mu­nist. In Novem­ber 1941 he joined with the leaders of Japan, Italy, and Nazi Ger­many in the Anti-Comin­tern Pact, a thirteen-nation alli­ance against the Soviet Union. Wang’s regime also stood in direct oppo­si­tion to the Amer­i­can-supported govern­ment of Chiang Kai-shek, whose agents tried to assas­si­nate Wang two years ear­lier. (Chiang moved his govern­ment from Nan­jing to Wuhan and later to Chong­qing, or Chung­king.) Wang’s govern­ment only held autho­rity over Chi­nese terri­tories under Japa­nese mili­tary occu­pa­tion. It was deeply unpop­u­lar with the Chi­nese pop­u­lace, and it was con­stantly under­mined by resis­tance and sabo­tage from within and from Nationalist and Communist Chinese from without.

The 61-year-old Wang died in Japan, less than a year before that coun­try’s sur­ren­der to the Allies in Septem­ber 1945, thus avoiding a trial for trea­son and war crimes. Many of Wang’s fol­lowers who lived to see the end of the war were exe­cuted by his Nationalist and Communist opponents.

China and Wang Jingwei, Head of the Japanese Puppet Regime at Nanjing (Nanking)

Japanese-held territory in China, 1940

Above: Rose-colored shading marks the extent of Japanese-held China in 1940.

Chiang Kai-shek, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, November 25, 1943Wang Jingwei and German ambassador to Nanjing, Heinrich Georg Stahmer, 1941 or 1942

Left: Wang Jingwei’s adversaries: Nationalist Chinese leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, U.S. President Franklin D. Roose­velt, and British Prime Minister Winston Chur­chill at the Cairo (Egypt) Conference, November 25, 1943.

Right: Wang Jingwei (1883–1944) toasts the German am­bas­sador to Nan­jing, Hein­rich Georg Stah­mer, 1941 or 1942. Wang’s regime flew the same flag as Chiang Kai-shek’s Nation­alist Chi­nese. In 1943 Stah­mer moved to Tokyo to head the German embassy there. When Germany capit­u­lated to the Allies in May 1945, the Japa­nese interned Stah­mer. When Japan capit­u­lated in Septem­ber 1945, Stah­mer was interned by the Amer­i­cans, who released him in Germany in 1948. At the end of the Sino-Chi­nese war, Chiang Kai-shek moved his Nation­alist capi­tal back to Nanjing, destroyed Wang’s grave, and burned Wang’s body.

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