A Unique Insight into the Photographic and Political Culture of the Wang Jingwei Regime: The Wang Jingwei and Lin Baisheng Photograph Collection at the East Asia Library, Stanford University

Jeremy E. Taylor (University of Nottingham)

In 2017, the East Asia Library at Stanford University received a collection of around 200 photographs that had once belonged to Lin Baisheng―a prominent newspaper editor in Republican China who had also served as the Minister of Publicity (宣傳部長) for the Wang Jingwei 'collaborationist' regime (or "RNG") in Japanese-occupied China, from 1940 to 1945, and who had been executed by the government of Chiang Kai-shek in 1946 after being convicted of treason. With its capital in Nanjing, the Wang Jingwei regime nominally ruled over large swathes of Japanese-occupied east, central, and south China from March 30, 1940 through until the Japanese surrender in 1945.

While including a relatively small number of images, this collection provides some unique insights into the regime that Lin Baisheng served during wartime. To be sure, there are a number of pre-war photographs included in the collection. The vast majority, however, covers the period between 1940 and 1943, with Wang Jingwei himself being prominent in most of the images. In terms of its size, this collection does not match Academia Historica's digitized collection of images dating from the Wang regime (now held in Taipei, but available for perusal to registered users online). Nonetheless, the Stanford collection includes many images which are not available in the public domain or in extant archival collections anywhere else.

A significant number of the photographs are marked with the chop of Chen Guoqi. Chen was a nephew of Chen Bijun, Wang Jingwei's wife, and served as a photographer in Wang's Central News Agency throughout the war. This is reflected in the contents of the collection. A good number of images, for example, were taken at 'newsworthy events,' such as the visit to Nanjing of Japanese and other foreign dignitaries, or the visit of Wang Jingwei himself to Japan. A number of such images replicate those already in the public domain. However, there are also a number of images in the collection which offer unique insights into the nature of such events. Staged photographs of Wang Jingwei alongside foreign diplomats abound, for example, but so too do more candid images which capture Wang looking decidedly unsure, anxious, and in some cases simply less formal, as he shares a joke with an ambassador or chats with a foreign leader. If Wang's rudimentary grasp of the Japanese language was ever in doubt, it is emphasized here by the sheer number of images which show Zhou Longxiang acting as Wang's interpreter at meetings with Japanese officials.

There are also a number of images within the collection which deserve special mention due to their uniqueness or rarity. These include images taken during Wang Jingwei's tour of the Rural Pacification areas from the end of 1941 through the first half of 1942, mainly in Jiangsu Province, but also in other parts of rural occupied China. The Rural Pacification campaigns were introduced in July 1941. They were designed as a means of ending armed resistance against the Japanese by the New Fourth Army in rural Zhejiang and Jiangsu. Under these campaigns, the Japanese military purged the countryside of armed resistance, while the Wang regime extended its political (and later military) influence beyond the cities, and promoted loyalty to Wang Jingwei in the countryside. A major proponent of these campaigns was Li Shiqun, Wang's head of intelligence. Li would later serve as Governor of Jiangsu Province. Wang Jingwei undertook widely publicized tours of the areas that were being 'pacified' in this period. A significant number of images in this collection date from these tours, as Wang met local officials or surveyed the progress of the campaigns in areas around Suzhou, Xuzhou, and Wuxi. Some of these images replicate those found in other collections (such as those published by the Number Two Historical Archives in Nanjing). Many others, however, are unique.

Equally intriguing are the significant number of images within the collection focused on military march pasts. To be sure, from the spring of 1941 onwards, military parades became an important element of the political culture of the Wang regime. This only increased over the course of 1942 with the introduction of the New Citizens Movement in January that year―a campaign which included the mobilization of Chinese youth and the formation of quasi-military youth groups―and from January 1943 onwards, when the Wang regime formally joined the Japanese war effort by declaring war on the Allies. While the Declaration of War was a largely symbolic act, it heralded a sweeping militarization of everyday life in occupied China. All of this is evident in this collection, as Chen Guoqi and unnamed Japanese military photographers captured images of Wang inspecting soldiers, naval officers, youth group members, and even girl guides as they paraded to celebrate various events in the busy calendar of dates celebrated in occupied Nanjing and Guangzhou. Similarly, Wang Jingwei's obsession with his navy―a symbolic force which engaged in very little actual combat during the war―is demonstrated through the number of images in this collection dedicated to Wang in his admiral's uniform, as he inspects naval maneuvers or naval personnel on the decks of vessels on the Yangtze River.

At the same time, there are a number of images within the collection which defy easy identification. Uncaptioned images of Japanese soldiers in action, presumably in China, remain impossible to identify both in terms of date or location.

This collection is sure to be of interest to scholars, students, and indeed anyone interested in the Wang Jingwei regime, the Japanese occupation of China, photography during wartime, or the political history of Republican China more generally. The collection sheds a unique light on a period of Chinese history which remains shrouded in controversy.