2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 274

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Suspect Loyalties: Negotiating Community and Nation in Wartime China

Organizer: R. Keith Schoppa, Loyola University, Maryland, USA

Chair: Jia-Chen Fu, Emory University, USA

Discussant: Janet Y. Chen, Princeton University, USA

In both imperial and modern times, a central concern in the Chinese polity was the uneasy relationship between the state and local community. Some dared to believe that local community ties could become the building blocks for national identity. Yet, during war, the line between state control and community independence became trickier and more difficult to delineate. Some communities took cover under the mantle of native place (tongxiang), even as the national state tried to assert its prerogatives and power. The papers on this panel ask the question: How did communities and their leaders negotiate the demands of national loyalty and community interests in the cauldron of modern war? They ask the crucial question: how did war impact state-making and national/community identity? This is an essential issue in understanding the development of the modern Chinese state. These three papers analyze and elucidate different aspects of the relationship between state and community and the roles of loyalty to each in a shifting array of wartime contexts. Landdeck’s essay offers a view of the often-troubled roles of village leaders involved in the draft in Sichuan province. Jessup’s paper studies the role of a Buddhist collaborator, working with the Japanese authorities, to protect the Buddhist community in Shanghai. Schoppa’s study looks at two magistracies in Zhejiang, whose county seats were occupied by the Japanese army; loyal friends, they tried to maintain a Guomindang toehold in their counties, through elites in various communities, some of which were occupied, and others, not.

Chicken-Footed Gods or Village Protectors? Wartime Conscription and Community in Sichuan's Villages
Kevin P. Landdeck, Sarah Lawrence College, USA

Mobilizing men to serve in the army was the fundamental task of the Nationalist government during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45). The prism of the war effort affords a view of state-making and loyalty to the Nationalist state on the most local level. In the interior provinces, which supplied the majority of China’s 14 million conscripts, the draft rested on village and township administrators. In Sichuan, these men were part of prewar reorganization efforts, particularly the revived baojia system. (The baojia was a traditional system of group mutual surveillance in which groups of families were made responsible for the actions of others in their group.) This paper examines the relationship of wartime conscription to rural administration and, specifically, the divided loyalties of village leaders. These men were in a difficult position: the state demanded full quotas of bodies for the front, but neighbors and residents attempted to leverage bureaucratic discipline by filing an avalanche of accusations and petitions with higher ups. Looking at these cases from counties around Chongqing reveals patterns and tensions within the draft that contradict the stereotypical picture of the baojia. I argue that right alongside the predatory practices of extortion and press-gang conscription, baojia leaders also engaged in actions that can only be seen as protective of their neighbors and communities. The wartime baojia heads carried out a delicate balancing act between their own self-interests, their (administrative) loyalty to the Nationalist state, and the interests of their communities. These intricate webs of interest nudged the rural draft into patterns of predation and protection.

A Bodhisattva Descends to Hell: The Buddhist Collaboration of Wen Lanting in Wartime Shanghai, 1937-1945
James B. Jessup, Freie Universitat, USA

This paper seeks to open up the largely overlooked religious dimension of state-society relations during the second Sino-Japanese War by focusing on Shanghai¹s most prominent Buddhist collaborator, Wen Lanting (1870-1948). Buddhism was not only a longstanding channel of cultural interaction, but also an important component of Japan’s Pan-Asianist imperial ideology. For the Japanese occupiers and their client regimes, the religion therefore became a natural arena for disseminating propaganda and fostering collaboration among the occupied populace. In Shanghai, a burgeoning urban lay Buddhist community was led by the very type of Chinese economic and cultural elites among whom the occupation regime struggled to build support. Wen Lanting was one such elite. A leading textile magnate and social celebrity, Wen accepted the chairmanship of the Greater East Asian Buddhist Association, the Commerce Control Commission, and other high-level organizations for promoting Sino-Japanese cooperation. Although he was predictably sentenced as a traitor after the Japanese defeat, I argue that this was no simple case of betrayed loyalties. Wen used his contacts and positions within the occupation regime to ensure the survival of Shanghai¹s Buddhist organizations and their ability to broadly provide vital social welfare even as the foundations of urban society crumbled under the pressures of war. Moreover, Wen projected a public image of himself as a self-sacrificing bodhisattva whose dealings with the enemy were motivated by a pious compassion to save others, not to enrich himself. His case therefore illustrates both the important social roles played by religious actors and organizations under occupation, and the complex deployment of Buddhist tropes to justify collaboration.

Playing Hide-and-Seek with the Enemy: Two Magistrates and Their County Governments as Refugees
R. Keith Schoppa, Loyola University, Maryland, USA

In spring 1941, the Japanese invaded the Zhejiang counties of former Shaoxing and Ningbo prefectures; they seized some whole counties, but in the majority, mainly the northern sections of counties, leaving the southern sectors “free.” However, they continued to make forays into the counties’ unoccupied sectors, keeping towns and villages in those areas under siege. For county magistrates, this wartime reality posed huge problems. How did one serve as the “father-mother official” for his county’s people when many were, on-again, off-again, in Japanese-occupied areas? How did a county government function when Japanese military pressures forced its evacuation repeatedly, perhaps to a town in the county, but often to towns in other counties? The stories of Cai Zhuping and Zhang Ju from April 1941 to April 1942 provide insights into the particular realities and difficulties faced by county bureaucrats under Japanese threat and occupation. The Guomindang government in Chongqing and in unoccupied areas of Zhejiang province wanted to keep a toehold in each occupied county. Zhang who had served as magistrate for several years was well known to his constituents; he was courageous, making many dangerous forays into Cixi County to keep the Guomindang alive for the people. Cai, who had served only months in Yuyao Country before the war began, was more fearful of doing this bold Guomindang bidding. Zhang actively kept the idea of nation alive in his community while Cai maneuvered, often hidden, in neighboring counties. As close friends, they were loyal to each other. Each, however, chose a different way to bring nation and community together.