Presentation at ¡§Miracle in Fushun¡¨ Workshop, WPF ARC

 June 25, 2006, UBC, Vancouver


The Historical and Political Background of China¡¦s War Crime Policy


Shinichi ARAI


Year 2005 was the 60th anniversary of the victory of the anti-Japan war and many commemorative events took place in various parts of China. The main feature of the commemoration was an emphasis on two facts: namely, the victory of the anti-Japan war was brought by both the Communist Party and the Kuomintang Party supported by the concerted efforts of Chinese people, including overseas residents. The victory was also part of a worldwide anti-fascism campaign. Keeping these two aspects in mind I would like to briefly examine the historical and political background of China¡¦s war crime policy.


The War Crime Policy of the Nationalist Chinese Government


The policy of the Allies toward Japan was publicly announced for the first time in the Cairo Declaration of November 26, 1943. It was a joint declaration of three countries, the US, UK and China, and stated, "the Three Great Allies are fighting this war to restrain and punish the aggression of Japan."  This shows that one of the Allies¡¦ war aims was to punish Japan as an aggressor. The draft of a declaration which was prepared by the Chinese government at that time specifically stated ¡§the punishment of Japanese war criminals.¡¨ The policy stated in the Cairo Declaration was followed up by the Potsdam Declaration (July 26, 1945) as it declared: ¡§¡Kstern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals.¡¨ In this way China¡¦s postwar measures toward the punishment of war criminals became an important part of a policy common among the Allied nations.


Over a year after Japan¡¦s defeat, in October 1946, the Chinese nationalist government proclaimed an Act regarding the war crime tribunal to deal with the trials of Japanese war criminals in China. There were a few noteworthy features in the process of establishing legal procedures:  Firstly it was stated that the following circumstances are not a sufficient ground for immunity:

an act following the order of a superior official,

an act resulting from the execution of prescribed official duties,

the execution of the national policy by the government, and

even if an act is political, it is not a sufficient reason for immunity. It is also stated that the leader who did not prevent or restrain a criminal act of his subordinates is considered to an accessory to the crime.

Secondly, the Chinese army, navy and air force martial criminal law was exempted from the application. This criminal law was extremely strict. For example, it stipulated that "the person who gives soldiers a free hand resulting in a plague among people¡¨ shall be given capital punishment. If this criminal law had been applied to Japanese war criminals, hundreds of thousands of them could have received capital punishment. Even though the reason why the martial criminal law was exempted from application was not clear, Song Zhi-yong suggests that a highly political consideration was given by Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese government, ¡§¡Kas they had adopted a generous policy toward Japan based on a principle: ¡¥reciprocating grudges with virtue¡¦, and also considered the particular nature of an international war.¡¨ (Song Zhi-yong, "Trials of Japanese War Criminals in Postwar China¡¨, in: War Responsibility Research Quarterly," No.30, winter, 2000.) 


Chiang Kai-shek's generous policy was reflected in the actual treatment of war criminals. Bai Chon-xi, the Minister of Defense, announced this direction at a conference of the Nationalist Government¡¦s War Crimes Committee on October 25, 1946. He stated: ¡§We want to achieve the goal of generous treatment for Japanese war criminals without leaving them in a state of impunity. At the same time we want to see justice, truth and nation¡¦s friendship promoted.¡¨ Taking his direction into account, the Committee formulated a policy: major war criminals such as those who were responsible for serious atrocities like the Nanjing Massacre, will be strictly dealt with, but the rest of the war criminals will be ¡§handled with generosity and expediency,¡¨ and ¡§unless there is a proof of serious crimes, they will be discharged and sent back to Japan.¡¨ The actual trials were carried out on the basis of these guidelines and the above mentioned Act regarding the War Crime Trials.


As expressed in such terms as ¡§generosity¡¨ and ¡§expediency¡¨, they decided to see an early conclusion of trials. As a background of their way of handling war criminals, we may have to consider the outbreak of the civil war in July of that year. At the last stage of the civil war, in January 1949, the nationalist government discharged Okamura Yasuji and allowed him to repatriate. This Army General had been the Commander-in-Chief of the China Expeditionary Army. The treatment of General Okamura by the nationalist government has become as a reason for the negative evaluation of its war crime policy. On the other hand, it may be unfair to argue that Chang Kai-shek¡¦s policy of generosity is deceptive by emphasizing the severe nature of his policy as 149 death sentences were handed down by the nationalist government in the BC class trials. It is true that in contrast, no capital punishments were given to any of the war criminals who were charged by the People¡¦s Republic of China and were tried at the Special Military Tribunals held in Sheng Yan and Tai Yuan in 1956. This leniency was a remarkable and rare case in the history of war crime trials. Let us look at the numbers of death sentences given at the BC Class trials conducted by other major Allied powers: 143 by Americans, 223 by British, 153 by Australians and 236 by Dutch. Considering the prolonged period of the anti-Japanese war starting from the Manchurian Incident of 1931, and   the tremendous damages caused by the war, the number of death sentences passed by the nationalist government (149) may be regarded as a proof of generosity rather than severity.

Transfer of War Criminals by Soviet Union


In the ¡§Act Dealing with War Criminals¡¨ prepared in February 1946 by Nationalist China, there was a provision stipulating that ¡§as for the war criminals relating to the Japanese government and those in Manchuria, we request the Allied Supreme Commander and the Soviet Union respectively for their arrest and transfer. There was also a provision for war criminals in the Peace Treaty of February 1947 between the Allies and Italy: It stated that the Italian government agreed to arrest and transfer them to the Allies for trials of those who had committed, ordered or instigated war crimes, crimes against peace and humanity.


After the People¡¦s Republic of China was established in 1949, 969 prisoners of war who had been arrested after the war in China and Korea, then detained in Soviet Union, were transferred to China and incarcerated at the Fushun War Criminal Camp (Prison) in July 1950. The details of the transfer have recently been revealed. (Arai Toshio Documents Preservation Association, The Testimony of Staff Workers at the Fushun War Criminal Prison in China. Nashinoki Sha, 2003. Arai Toshio and Fujiwara Akira, The Testimony of Aggression. Iwanami Shoten, 1999.)


On February 5, 1950, Vyshinsky, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union, visited Chairman Mao Zedong, who at the time stayed in Moscow, and informed him about a plan brought by Stalin for transferring prisoners. What is noticeable in the Soviet Union¡¦s suggestion, which was recorded in a document of the Chinese Department of Foreign Affairs, is that they clearly mentioned that it was the transfer of war criminals, suggesting ¡§how about dealing with 1000 selected people in total who committed serious crimes in China and the prisoners of ¡¥Manchukuo¡¦ out of about 2500 Japanese prisoners remaining in Siberia?¡¨ Until then we did not know how 969 people were chosen out of the Japanese prisoners in Siberia. Previously, some argued that they had been ¡§chosen randomly¡¨ or ¡§for unknown reasons.¡¨  This suggestion clearly indicates that the transfer from the Soviet Union was explicitly the transfer of war criminals. It was a measure which corresponded to the above mentioned Allies¡¦ policy of the transfer of war criminals.


Two Sides of the Policy of Generosity


In August 1956 a round table discussion was held in Tokyo with Mr. Wang Yung-sheng, president of ¡§the Takun Pao". In 1932 Mr. Wang started publishing a series of articles called "China and Japan for the last 60 years" in ¡§the Takun Pao". It was a year after the Manchurian Incident had occurred.  His writing had been highly recognized in Japan as a work depicting a detailed history of the Japanese invasion of China starting from the beginning of the Meiji Era. However, at the beginning of the discussion session, Mr. Wang expressed an unexpected opinion that "I wrote the series because I was influenced by a serious event, the 9.18 incident [of 1931], and I dealt with only 40 years of history. The series of my writing is already out of print, and I have no intention of continuing to write the series. Copies currently existing should be discarded together with ones in Japanese translation. This will help both of us forget about such an unpleasant past event".


I kept my notes that include more details of his speech: "Japanese friends, including former soldiers have recently started visiting China. Such friends range from pacifists to officers of the former Imperial Army. It is said that one of them, a general staff officer from the Imperial Army killed Chinese and ate their guts when he was attached to the Central China Expeditionary Army. This story is widely diffused among the Chinese public and many of them believe the story to be true. Therefore, the Chinese government is worried about how the Chinese people would react to a person of that nature coming to China. Consequently, the government has been desperately trying to convince victims of the Japanese invasion and those who still vividly remember their suffering, to forget about the past.  They have to remind the Chinese people that what most important right now is to promote positive, friendly relations between Japan and China."


In July 1956, shortly before Mr. Wang¡¦s visit to Japan, the Chinese Special Military Tribunals had handed down judgments to 45 charged war criminals and with this the trials were concluded. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment sentences were handed down, instead the maximum sentence announced was 20 years of confinement. 1016 people who were exempt from prosecution were immediately released and returned home on three separate occasions within the same year. These measures were in compliance with the War Criminal Treatment Policy that was announced by the Standing Committee of National People's Congress (NPC) on April 25th, 1956.  The NPC articulated the Generous Treatment Policy by stating that the "generous treatment and exemption from prosecutions can be granted to minor Japanese war criminals, and those who are explicitly repentant.¡¨ They pointed out the reason for these measures by mentioning the change in the situation after 10 years of Japan¡¦s surrender, the current circumstances, the progress of friendly relations between peoples of both nations, and the fact that although with varying degrees, war criminals have shown their repentance.


From the conversation with Mr. Wang Yung-sheng, we are able to see that people within China strongly resisted the policy of generosity and there are numerous examples. The Chinese government continuously advised the Chinese people to forget about the past, but they had seriously suffered from atrocities inflicted by Japanese military and were unwilling to accept such a notion. Memories of Japanese Devils¡¦ brutality are deeply ingrained in the mind of the Chinese people. The biggest challenge for the government was how to deal with this wide-spread national sentiment of resentment, which was a legacy of Japan¡¦s "invasion", and whether or not it would be possible to persuade people who had an ¡§extreme aversion and strong animosity" towards Japanese to accept the policy of generosity. According to a reminiscent talk given by Mr. Zhou Enlai, a theory that distinguishes "some militarists" from the Japanese general public including soldiers, was a result of the "frantic and serious thinking¡¨ by the Chinese government as a means to persuade the people. Even with this theory and the mobilization and concerted efforts of party and government officials and military leaders, it was difficult to convince and convey this idea to people. Mr. Zhou Enlai mentioned: " to begin with, many people were very much hesitant to accept the idea. Nevertheless, our ideas had slowly permeated among the public through persistent and firm persuasion". (Saionji Kazuteru, ¡§Memorable Talks by Prime Minister Zhou Enlai,¡¨ in: Ishii Akira eds., Normalization of Diplomatic Relations between Japan and China, Negotiation for the China-Japan Peace and Friendship Treaty. Iwanami Shoten, 2003.)


Mr. Wang Yung-sheng¡¦s slogan: "Let's forget about the past" was a message directed above all to the Chinese people. Although it was another side of the same policy of generosity, there remained a large gap between the government's policy of ¡§let¡¦s forget¡¨ and the citizens¡¦ perception. "Let's forget about the past" policy then bumped into a stone wall when Mr. Kishi Shinsuke, a former suspected war criminal, came into the picture when he became the Prime Minister of Japan with his pro-American, anti-Chinese platform [in 1957]. In the mid-1960¡¦s the policy¡¦s limitation became apparent, as concerns had been widely expressed over the "revival of Japanese militarism." I would not go into this question, as I have already discussed it elsewhere. (Arai Shinichi, Is Historical Reconciliation Possible? - A Quest for a Dialogue in East Asia. Iwanami Shoten, 2006.)


Notes: All quoted sources are written in Japanese.