Building Legitimacy From Manchuria to Nanjing: The Red Swastika Society’s Collaboration with Japan During the Second Sino-Japanese War and Transitional Justice

After it was forcibly opened to the rest of the world by Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1853, as the well-known story goes, Japan began its rapid path towards modernization and expansion, eventually leading to its invasion of the resource rich region of Manchuria in 1931, much to the consternation of the League of Nations and to the extreme detriment of the Chinese people as they endured the horrors of the brutal fourteen-year occupation.[1] In so doing, the Imperial Japanese government had a monumental task on their hands in terms of being able to resolve the “Manchurian crisis” that arose in the face of the “revolutionary diplomacy” that emerged out of China’s increasingly radical nationalism and what they viewed as Prime Minister radical elements like Ishiwara Kanji and Seishirō Itagaki saw as Prime Minister Sidehara’s inability to address the situation in an effective manner. In order to resolve this threat to their interests and defense, separating Manchuria from the rest of Mainland China was seen as a must in order to use the resource rich region for Japan’s own ends both internationally and domestically in order to combat the threat of other foreign powers, most specifically the USSR, as Tobe Ryoichi argues in the 2011 Japan-China Joint History Research Report.[2] After this contentious invasion, it was necessary for the Japanese invaders to bolster their legitimacy in the territory that they had claimed, leading them to turn to a variety of different methods in order to achieve this goal, with Redemptive Societies and print publications being a prominent ways in which they sought to achieve this goal in tandem with a variety of other sectarian groups and secret societies, as well as groups whose concerns were more purely local.[3] By examining this in closer detail, historians can attain a fuller understanding of the methods that the Japanese utilized in order to further bring Manchuria and other parts of China under the heel of its Empire, an aspect that has been under-studied, and reckon with this still contentious part of history that remains an ever present specter in Sino-Japanese relations today.

The first point that must be addressed with regards to the previously mentioned methods of control exercised by the Japanese Empire in Manchuria is why Redemptive Societies like the Red Swastika Society provided a convenient avenue for Japan to take in establishing its control over the region. As Duara pointedly shows in Sovereignty and Authenticity: Manchukuo and the East Asia Modern, these societies were at once both incredibly pervasive in Chinese society and highly persecuted by the Nationalist government. According to surveys conducted by the puppet government of Manchukuo, one society, the Fellowship of Goodness, commanded a following of 30 million in 1929, while the Red Swastika Society had a following of 7 to 10 million in 1937. While this has been debated by some scholars, such as Chan, who claims that the Red Swastika Society had a following of only 30,000 in 1932. He does concede, however, that the Fellowship of Goodness had over 1,000 branches in China proper and Manchuria at the time.[4] Secondly, along with many adherents, they also had a variety of mechanisms through which to spread their message, from print publications to philanthropic endeavors, they possessed the necessary infrastructure through which to spread their message over vast swaths of land, and their presentation of their ideas as a modern East Asian solution to the problems facing the world in the early part of the 20th century, which, to a small extent, aligned them with Japan’s vision of itself in the modern world; however, its universalist ideology soon placed it within Japanese sights as a potential collaborator as its elite members, rich people such as scholars merchants, and politicians, joined its ranks, shunning the “third worldism” that they saw as dominating Chinese society and filling the Red Swastika Society’s coffers.[5] They also suffered from a cycle of attacks and repression by the Chinese state, whether it was the Qing Dynasty or the KMT that was in power, making them more favorable towards receiving foreign support, and the Red Swastika Society’s 1924 trip to Tokyo to provide aid placed them in contact with the ideologically aligned Ōmotokyō religious society.[6] It was for these reason that it was aligned with Japan’s “civilizing” mission in Manchuria and in other parts of China.[7]

This ideology, of course, spread outside of Manchuria and collaboration occurred in other parts of China as well, with the most salient impact that the Red Swastika Society being its role in the Nanjing Massacre, illustrated in Jiang Sun’s 2014 article entitled “The Unbearable Heaviness of Memory” in which she tells the story of Tao Baojin, the president of the Nanjing chapter of the Red Swastika Society. [8] While Tao Baojin was president of the Nanjing Self-Rule Committee, and eight years after the Nanjing Massacre took place, he would be charged with “fraternizing with the enemy and conspiring against his own country”, caught up in the GMD’s search for and trials of traitors.[9] The experiences of members of the Red Swastika Society illustrate the problems faced both by collaborators at the time and for the historians analyzing these events:   Cooperate or resist? Save others or oneself? Cooperate to save others; resist to save oneself?[10] And, importantly, where should they sit in our collective memory? What should their commemoration in the different “terrains” of memory that Gluck describes look like, with the most important in this context being public debates about memory given the far-reaching diplomatic consequences of this period?[11] These are all questions that historians, politicians, and the general public are still trying to answer as this debate shifts over time. There will, perhaps, never be one, as figures like Tao Baojin operate in a grey area of history, perfectly illustrating the conflicts in the homogenization of collective memory and memory essentialism, ending in individual memories’ being suppressed by the collective.[12] In dealing with issues of collaboration and wartime atrocities, necessarily also entailing that issues of transitional justice be brought into the fray, it is of the utmost importance that individual stories be told and heard as part of this healing process as those responsible for these injustices and those responsible for facilitating them, are brought to account, although the mechanisms for doing so, both in the present and in the past, are deeply flawed, with many escaping justice and leaving behind only the “poison” of memory as the wounds of the 20th century remain open in the 21st.[13]

[1] Prasenjit Duara. 2003. Sovereignty and Authenticity : Manchukuo and the East Asian Modern. State and Society in East Asia Series. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.; Ferrell, Robert H. “The Mukden Incident: September 18-19, 1931.” The Journal of Modern History 27, no. 1 (1955): 66–72.; Federal Research Division, Judgment of the International Military Tribunal of the Far East Part B § (2014).

[2] Ryoichi, Tobe, Japan-China Joint History Resrarch Report § (2011).

[3] Duara, Ibid.

[4] Duara. Ibid.

[5] Duara, Ibid.; SUN, Jiang. “The Predicament of a Redemptive Religion: The Red Swastika Society under the Rule of Manchukuo.” Journal of Modern Chinese History 7, no. 1 (April 28, 2013): 108–26.

[6] Duara, Ibid.

[7] DuBois, Thomas David. “Piety in Print.” Chapter. In Empire and the Meaning of Religion in Northeast Asia: Manchuria 1900–1945, 85–107. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. doi:10.1017/9781316711026.005.

[8] Sun, Jiang. “The Unbearable Heaviness of Memory: Nanjing to Tao Baojin and His Descendents.” Chinese Studies in History, December 5, 2014, 53–70.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11]Kushner, Barak. Men to Devils, Devils to Men: Japanese War Crimes and Chinese Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2015.

[12] “What Is Transitional Justice?: ICTJ.” International Center for Transitional Justice, September 22, 2021.

[13] Sun, 2014, Ibid.; McGregor, Richard. Asia's Reckoning: China, Japan, and the Fate of U.S. Power in the Pacific Century. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2018.

From Anarchism to Socialism With Chinese Characteristics: Tracing the Development of a Century of Chinese Revolutionary Political Thought

“Both history and our present reality tell us that only socialism can save China—and only socialism with Chinese characteristics can develop China. This is the conclusion of history, the choice of our people.”- Xi Jinping, “Some Questions on Maintaining and Developing Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”, 2013

      It is impossible to understand contemporary Chinese politics without first looking at the developments of the early 20th century in China, nor is it possible, as Rana Mitter points out, to pick up a newspaper and read about China without heavy references to its history. China’s politicians of today are acutely aware of the past, constantly drawing lessons from it.[1] From the rise of linear historiography during the late Qing era and the May Fourth Movement at the beginning of the 20th century in response to the exigent threats that China was facing to its survival to Xi Jinping’s 2013 speech giving the first inklings of his ideological platform, history, and various politically influential groups’ interpretation of it, is an essential tool that has been utilized as a weapon over the years and provides an exceedingly important component of the answer to the question of “Whither China?” posed by historians and social scientists.[2] An understanding of early 20th century Chinese revolutionary thought, then, is essential, with anarchism playing a key role in its development.

     Witnessing the peak of its popularity between 1907-1930, anarchism reached into the various ideologies of other radical groups and became a key fixture of political discourse.[3] As tepid members of Sun Yat-Sen’s Revolutionary Alliance, a partnership born from a common struggle against the despotic Qing Dynasty in spite of distinct philosophical differences regarding their conceptions of social revolution, anarchism had an outsized impact on revolutionary discourse, with Sun remarking on one occasion that anarchism was “the ultimate goal of his Three Peopple’s Principles”, a sentiment shared by many Guomindang officials in the 1920’s.[4] It also had a distinct impact on the nascent communist movement that emerged between 1920-21. By 1920, anarchist literature available in Chinese was unmatched in both scope and comprehensiveness by any other social and political philosophy of European origin.[5] Far from being restricted to simply being of use to revolutionaries, however, conservatives also put its tenants to use in the late 1920’s, as seen in the example of the Guomindang. This contradiction is what inherently lies at the heart of the difficulties in explaining anarchism’s impact on Chinese revolutionary thought, and it is for precisely this reason Dirlik argues that anarchism’s contribution to Chinese social revolutionary thought should not be measured in terms of how consistently they were able to live up to their ideals in practice, nor in the “ideological[ly] schizophreni[c]” use of its ideas, but how consistently anarchists propagated their ideology from their bases in Paris and Tokyo.[6] The circulation of its ideas in journals such as Xin Shiji, and the opportunity that they provided for influential revolutionaries such as Liu Shifu during his time in prison, which strengthened his commitment to anarchism as a political ideology and ultimately carried him to his vision of a great human community based on the universalistic principles of science and rationalism.[7] In a similar vein, given the path that contemporary Chinese politics has taken on the Mainland, early 20th century Chinese anarchism’s impact can most saliently be observed in the legacy that it left behind on the Chinese Communist Party.

     In spite of the fact that Chinese anarchism fell into a steep and uninterrupted decline in favor of Leninist Marxism, its impact on the leaders of the Communist movement in China and Maoism was profound, which has lead Dirlik to argue not only for the importance of understanding the anarchist background of many of China’s early communist leaders, but also that Chinese Marxism has retained anarchist principles in a way that European revolutionary movements have not.[8] Clear links can be made between anarchism and the events of the Cultural Revolution, and, as such, it was heavily implicated in the crisis socialism faced in China after Mao’s death in 1976, at which point Mao’s Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution failed and was thoroughly repudiated.[9] The lessons that the bureaucratic clique, lead by Deng Xiaoping, took away from the horrors of this this time period was to crack down on those who followed “Lin Biao, Jiang Qing, and their ilk and rose to power through rebelling”, the anarchistic elements that had emerged during this ten year period who’d been “infected with a factional mentality”. To the leaders of China today, it is Deng’s Socialism with Chinese Characteristics developed in response to this that will guide China forward in the 21st century, not any of the other ideological frameworks that were prevalent in China at the beginning of the 20th century, and it is one that Xi expects the next generation to carry forward.[10]

[1] Mitter, Rana. “Preface.” Preface. In A Bitter Revolution: China’s Struggle with the Modern World, x-xii. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

[2]Luke S. K. Kwong. “The Rise of the Linear Perspective on History and Time in Late Qing China c. 1860-1911.” Past & Present, no. 173 (2001): 157–90.; Greer, Tanner. “Xi Jinping in Translation: China’s Guiding Ideology.” Palladium, May 31, 2019.; Walton, Keith. “WHITHER CHINA?” New Zealand International Review 25, no. 6 (2000): 19–22.

[3] Dirlik, Arif. Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.


[4] Dirlik. Ibid. 80.

[5] Dirlik, Ibid. 2; 82.

[6] Dirlik, Ibid. 80-81.

[7] Krebs, Edward S. “1. ‘Daring to Die’: A Life of Shifu.” Essay. In Shifu, Soul of Chinese Anarchism, 1–14. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1998.

[8] Dirlik, Ibid. 3.

[9] Dirlik, Ibid. 5.; Jisheng, Yang. “Preface: The Road, the Theory, and the System.” Essay. In World Turned Upside down: A History of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, xxi-xxxii. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2021.;  Mittler, Barbara. “POPULAR CULTURE AND CULTURAL REVOLUTION CULTURE: THEORY, PRACTICE, AND EXPERIENCE.” In A Continuous Revolution: Making Sense of Cultural Revolution Culture, 1st ed., 343:3–32. Harvard University Asia Center, 2012.

[10] Greer, ibid.

Qiu Jin, He-Yin Zhen, and the Birth of the Chinese Women’s Liberation Movement

     At the turn of the 20th century, China was in a state of turmoil. Between having its territories seized upon as “the colonization urge directed the eager attention” of Europe, America, and Japan towards carving up “the Chinese colossus” and the internal political strife that resulted from this, there was a desperate need for a reorientation of Chinese thought to confront this threat to its territorial sovereignty in order to prevent China from suffering a total collapse. In what many viewed as the inability of the ailing Qing state to effectively rise to this challenge, China’s intellectuals responded accordingly with a flowering of new ideas combining both traditional Chinese thought and the more recent influence of “Western” ideologies that would kick off almost a century of revolutionary ideals in the Middle Kingdom.(( Clubb, Edmund. “Collapse of the Confucian Order.” Chapter. In 20th Century China, 33–33. Columbia Univ. Press, 1978.; Spence, Jonathan D. The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and Their Revolution, 1895-1980. London: Penguin Books, 2012. )) As part of this movement, the feminists He-Yin Zhen and Qiu Jin emerged, advocating for an end the oppressive power structures that dominated the lives of Chinese women at the turn of the 20th century, including the autocratic Manchu government, and for their fellow women to cast off the “shackles” that men had placed on them.(( Ono, Kazuko and Fogel, Joshua A. “Four: Women in the 1911 Revolution.” Chapter. In Chinese Women in a Century of Revolution, 1850-1950, edited by Joshua A Fogel, 54–92. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989.; Liu, Lydia He, Rebecca E. Karl, and Dorothy Ko. “‘On the Question of Women’s Liberation’- He-Yin Zhen (1907).” Chapter. In The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory, 54–71. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2013. Both women’s writings would help to shape the course of Chinese intellectual history as their conceptions of women’s past and present states, as well as how what liberation would look like, have had a lasting impact on the Chinese sociopolitical landscape.
     To both women, disseminating a firm understanding of the oppressive structures that governed Chinese women’s lives both past and present was crucial. While little studied, it is worth noting that, in contrast to earlier histories written about the period, the lives of women were not as bleak as previously thought, according to Rankin, and there were some opportunities for women to receive an education; however, I, as well as both Qiu Jin and He Zhen, would take issue with this characterization since, while it is true that women were given more educational opportunities, the pre-existing societal norms regarding women’s roles in the domestic sphere, as well as the practice of arranged marriages and concubinage, made it exceedingly difficult for many women to receive the benefits that came from increased access to education. Even when they were in a position to be able to do so, this was largely restricted to the upper classes.((Wolf, Margery. Women In Chinese Society. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1975. EPUB.; Ono and Fogel, Ibid.)) In their writings, both women compare the treatment of women in their homelands to that of animals, with He-Yin Zhen placing the blame on China’s socioeconomic system and Confucian moral teachings for “sanctioning” men’s “indulgence in sexual gratification”, thereby encouraging them to view “women as nothing more than instruments to make and nurture human seed”.((Liu, Karl, and Ko, Ibid.)) While the two women may have agreed on the current state of affairs for Chinese women, however, they vastly differed in how the viewed the past. For Qiu Jin, the past, such as Hua Mulan could be looked upon as containing examples for the independent woman to follow, whereas He Zhen viewed it with disdain, decrying men as having been women’s “archenemy” for thousands of years and cataloguing Han sovereigns’ mistreatment of women.((Liu, Karl, and Ko. Ibid.)) To He Zhen, then, the solution was not to simply replace the Manchus with a Han ruler, but, rather, the complete and total abolition of any form of government in favor of a communal form of governance brought about with women’s liberation at the forefront of the movement. It was only then, she argued, that women would truly be liberated. Qiu Jin, however, was not willing to go as far, instead joining the Revolutionary Alliance, which advocated for Han republican rule in China and the establishment of equal rights.((Ono and Fogel, ibid.; Liu, Karl, and Ko, Ibid.))
     As time has gone on, both women’s ideas have had varying levels of impact on China’s political, intellectual, and social life. He Zhen’s anarcho-feminist ideals gained popularity during the May Fourth movement, especially among female communists, while Qiu Jin’s ideas became immortalized after her death, with her legacy having been abstracted into that of generalized patriotism as it was written and rewritten throughout the 20th century, indelibly intertwined with the shifts and changes in modern Chinese history.((Zarrow, Peter. “He Zhen and Anarcho-Feminism in China.” The Journal of Asian Studies 47, no. 4 (1988): 796–813. doi:10.2307/2057853.; Bibliography; Qian, Nanxiu. “Burying Autumn: Poetry, Friendship, and Loss: Chung-Kuo Wen Hsueh.” Chinese Literature, Essays, Articles, Reviews 39, (12, 2017): 195-201. After multiple burials and reburials, Hu concludes, the commemoration of Qiu Jin’s life, and who was able to lay claim to her revolutionary ideals, became a test of political power, with the Chinese Communist Party all too happy to do so in order to shore up its own legitimacy. Almost one hundred and ten years after Qiu Jin’s death, a very similar event took place. The killing of scholars, or shashi, remains a brutal yet effective way to silence dissident intellectuals, making it all the more important to preserve and understand the writings of people like Qiu Jin in order to advance both our historical understanding of feminism in China and the goal of the Chinese feminist movement in the 21st century.

Tokugawa Women’s Education in Contrast to the Meiji Era

In “Norms and Texts For Women’s Education in Tokugawa Japan”, Tocco explores how a Confucian education impacted women during the Tokugawa era.  Throughout the chapter, Tocco makes it clear that women like Tsuda Ume who could read and write in both the Japanese syllabary and Chinese characters,  were, in point of fact, quite common in Japan’s urban areas across classes and that their education shared many of the same characteristics as men’s at the time. Furthermore, this higher level of education that women would receive, albeit specialized and honed towards the domestic sphere, as evidenced in writings such as Kaibara’s Great Learning For Women. Furthermore, women were given an education to the extent that they would be able to continue it on their own even after the roles that were dictated to them prevented them from continuing their education.[1] It is particularly interesting, then, that the era considered to be more passé and stagnant among historians is, in point of fact,seemingly more progressive and fits more closely to ideas of modernity than the Meiji era, considered to be a time of innovation on several fronts, including education. According to De Bary, Gluck, and Tiedemann, while the Imperial Rescript On Education (Kyōiku chukugo) provided the infrastructure for further education of the populace, women were largely excluded from the benefits of this reform since they were barred from public secondary and higher educational institutions.[2] While both had a clear Confucian focus and maintained the idea that women were better suited to the domestic sphere, I’d argue that women were better off in the Tokugawa era than during the Meiji era for this reason.

[1]Tocco, Martha C. “Norms and Texts for Women’s Education in Tokugawa Era Japan.” Essay. In Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Japan, and Korea, 193–218. University of California Press, 2003.

[2]  Theodore, De Bary Wm, Carol Gluck, and Arthur E. Tiedemann. “Education of Women in Meiji Japan.” Essay. In Sources of Japanese Tradition 2, 2:81–115. Columbia University Press, 2006.