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Irreversible Verdict? Historical Assessments of Wang Jingwei in the People's Republic and Taiwan* By Wang Ke-wen Few major figures in modem Chinese history receive lower marks in the writings of Chinese historians than does Wang Jingwei. This young hero of the anti-Manchu revolution later became a leader of the Guomindang (GMD) inthe 1920s and head of the Nationalist Government in the 1930s, yet ended his career as a collaborator with the Japanese in the Resistance War of 1937-45. Today governments on both sides of the Taiwan Strait remember Wang as a "traitor" and a "Japanese puppet," an agreement in assessment that is rare considering the divergent views Beijing and Taipei hold on most other historical issues. Although one never stops hearing doubts about this official view in academic gatherings or private conversations among the Chinese, few are willing to "reverse the verdict" publicly. To appreciate the meaning of this "verdict" one has to understand the long tradition of rendering historical judgments (lishi pingjia) in Chinese historiography . Confucian historians, inspired by the SpringandAutumnAnnals (Chunqiu) and Historical Records (Shiji), have long regarded as their most important task "offering praises and condemnations, distinguishing the good from the bad" in their writings. Human history is full of moral lessons, in their view, and it is their duty to discover and highlight them. 1 This tradition of giving explicit, subjective opinions based on Confucian values is obviously quite different from the approaches of the "modern researcher," but still influential among Chinese historians . Another relevant tradition in Chinese historiography is the writing of"official histories" by the government. As dynastic histories became theĀ· standard form of history writing in ancient China, the government/dynasty in power assumed a dominant voice in making historical judgments on its predecessor. Politics and scholarship became indistinguishable in this practice. A major criterion *An early version of the article was presented at the international conference "Bridging 1949: Historical Continuity in 20th Century China," held in Fredericton, Canada, on October 20-21, 2000. The author wishes to thank Professor Timothy Brook for his comments on the paper at the conference. Twentieth-Century China, Vol.28,No.1 (November,2002): 57-81 58 Twentieth-Century China used by these "official histories" injudging historical figures, unsurprisingly, was the loyalty of these persons to the government/dynasty they served. "Traitors" (erchen) were vehemently condemned because they set terrible examples for the readers of history, whom the current government! dynasty tried to govern. These traditions are alive and well in the People's Republic and Taiwan, although more so in the People's Republic than in Taiwan. In writing China's modem history, both the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Guomindang have tried to impose an "official version" through education, propaganda, censorship and government history projects. The "verdict" on Wang was created in this context. While the joint condemnation of Wang by the CCP and the GMD reflects, to an extent, the vitality of Chinese nationalism-Wang's effort to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the invading Japanese is simply unacceptable to most Chinese today-it has also represented attempts by the two parties at shaping the historical memory of their people. An examination of the background and logic behind the cross-Strait consensus on Wang's "verdict," as well as the slow but telling changes in that "verdict " over the past five decades, therefore, seems worthwhile. Although unavoidably sketchy, the following review of "Wang studies" in Taiwan and the PRC provides a window through which one acquires an unusual glimpse at China's historiography of her recent past, the collective memory of the Resistance War among Chinese, and the interplay of politics and history writing in postwar China.2 THE PARTY LINES AND CROSS-STRAIT CONSENSUS China's victory in the Sino-Japanese War was followed, merely four years later, by the triumph of the Chinese Communists on the Mainland. An early advocate for armed resistance against the Japanese aggression, the CCP had owed much of its dramatic growth in strength, and its political success, to the war. It naturally wanted to celebrate the war as a proof of the Party's wisdom and of the power of the anti...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5065
Print ISSN
1521-5385
Pages
pp. 57-81
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-25
Open Access
No
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