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3 TWENTIETH-CENTURY CHINA Twentieth-Century China, Vol. 30, No. 2 (April, 2005): 3-27. CHEERING THE TRAITOR: THE POST-WAR TRIAL OF CHEN BIJUN, APRIL 19461 CHARLES D. MUSGROVE, UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS, LITTLE ROCK INTRODUCTION Spectators occupied every open space in the Jiangsu Superior Court in Suzhou on the afternoon of 16 April 1946.2 One observer even waited in the chair reserved for the accused. At 2:25 p.m. the two judges and the prosecutor entered, shooing away interlopers, and then the presiding judge called for the defendant to enter. Members of the crowd rustled with anticipation, craning their necks to get the best view of the feature attraction, Chen Bijun (1891-1959). Chen was a former revolutionary heroine turned “number one female traitor” and the widow of the publicly reviled leader of the Japanese-sponsored Central China occupation government, Wang Jingwei (18831944 ). Escorted by the women’s bailiff and gendarme, Madame Wang made her way to her newly vacated seat. She had the kind of self-assured air that some would call dignity and others haughtiness. She looked out at the crowd from behind her goldrimmed glasses, and her round, healthy face revealed the slight edges of a smile as she waved her hand. To many observers, Chen Bijun had not come that day to be judged. She seemed to be preparing for a speech. The trial did not last long, but it was an eventful few hours nonetheless. Rather than beg for leniency, Chen Bijun defiantly defended herself and her husband. Denying that they were traitors, she claimed that the Nanjing government had helped save people in occupied areas from greater misery. According to Chen, she and Wang worked selflessly for the good of the country at a time when its cowardly leaders had fled to Chongqing. Pounding her fist on the table as she confronted her accusers, Chen claimed that they were the true traitors, selling out to American and British interests. In her “torrential and nonstop defense, she sometimes lashed out at the authorities, sometimes ridiculed the court itself,” exasperating the judges and visibly agitating the prosecutor.3 The most uncomfortable moment for these men probably came when the audience actually applauded her accusations of National Government corruption and ineptness. When the judge finally stopped the hearing at 1 An early version of this article was presented at the 2004 annual meeting of the Association of Asian Studies, San Diego. I would like to thank Professors Timothy Brook and Stephen MacKinnon for their comments on the paper at that time. I would also like to thank TCC editor Christopher A. Reed and the anonymous reviewers who took special care in offering very useful criticisms. 2 Shenbao, Shanghai, 17 April 1946, 1. Also see, Wei Bai, ed. Nanjing da shenpan jie mi (Secrets revealed of the Nanjing great trials) (Beijing: Guoji wenhua chubanshe, 1995), 149-153. 3 Cao Zhenwei, “Chen Bijun,” in Huang Meizhen, ed., Wangwei shi hanjian (Ten traitors of the Wang Jingwei puppet regime) (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 1986), 310. 2005 CHARLES MUSGROVE 4 4:35, Chen Bijun left the courthouse where “scores of spectators besieged Madame Wang for autographs which she readily gave.”4 The scene’s sensationalism and the sympathetic reaction that Chen’s defense elicited from the crowd jars us today because it does not fit into conventional understandings of post-war China. People in the immediate aftermath of the War of Resistance with Japan are not presumed to have responded to these high-level collaborators with sympathy. National histories from both sides of the Taiwan Straits tell us that China’s masses were united in their hatred of such traitors. In such accounts, the War of Resistance is painted as a black and white world. As one classic view of the wartime period puts it, “Under this stress [of occupation] two main political trends developed: resistance and collaboration.”5 There must have been something amiss, therefore, if a room full of Chinese observers burst into applause for an influential puppet figure at the very moment that they were supposed to have been crying for justice. It must not have been such a dichotomous world after all. Recently, historians...


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