Wang Jingwei (Wang Ching-wei)

Wang Jingwei (Wang Ching-wei)
Wang Jingwei (Wang Ching-wei)

Wang Jingwei's given name was Zhaoming (Chaoming), but he was better known by his revolutionary name, Jingwei. The son of a poor government official, he was educated in traditional schools in China and then studied law in Japan, where he met Chinese revolutionary leader Dr. Sun Yat-sen and joined his cause to overthrow the Manchu Qing (Ch'ing) dynasty.

Wang was sentenced to death for a failed assassination attempt on the prince regent in Beijing (Peking) in 1910, which was commuted to a life sentence, but he was freed at the outbreak of the revolution in 1911.

Wang initially opposed Sun's United Front with the Soviet Union but nevertheless joined the United Front government in Canton in 1923. In the power struggle after Sun's death in 1925, Wang and the left-wing Kuomintang (KMT) won leadership of the government.

They collaborated with Soviet adviser Michael Borodin and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and ousted the right-wing KMT leaders led by Hu Hanmin (Hu Han-min) from Canton. Centrist KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek focused on training a modern army. In 1926 Chiang was appointed commander in chief of the National Revolutionary Army in the Northern Expedition against the warlords to unify China.

In the wake of Chiang's victories, Wang moved the KMT government from Canton to Wuhan in the lower Yangzi (Yangtze) River valley. Early in 1927 Chiang allied with the right-wing KMT, purged the CCP in areas under his control, and expelled the Soviet advisers.

Wang continued collaborating with the Soviets and the CCP until it became clear that the Soviets intended to eliminate his government and install the CCP in power. Thus, he was forced to dissolve the Wuhan government and go into exile.

Wang returned to China in 1930. He subsequently switched sides several times in a quest for power. He first joined a coalition of warlords (called the Reorganizationists) against the Chiang-led government in 1930; it quickly collapsed.

Japan's invasion of Manchuria in 1931 forced the factions of the KMT to cooperate, and Wang headed the civilian government as president of the executive yuan (premier) and foreign minister between 1932 and 1935.

However, he became the junior partner to Chiang, who led the military and had more support among KMT leaders. Wang became unpopular because he espoused appeasing Japan. A disgruntled army officer wounded him for his pro-Japanese stance in 1935, and while he convalesced abroad, Japan attacked China in 1937.

Chiang's popularity soared as he led China to war as director-general of the KMT and commander in chief of the armed forces. Wang was dissatisfied with being number two man in the party and was defeatist over China's chances in the war.

In 1938 he secretly left China's wartime capital, Chongqing (Chungking), surfaced in Hanoi in French Indochina claiming to lead a "peace movement," and then headed for Tokyo, where he gained Japanese support for his leading a puppet government.

Although Japan installed him in 1940 as puppet leader in Nanjing (Nanking) for occupied southern China, it also established other puppets in areas it controlled in northern China and Inner Mongolia. Few Chinese of renown in or outside the KMT joined his quisling regime.

Wang's physical and mental health deteriorated as Japan's war fortunes sank. He went to Japan for medical treatment in March 1944 and died there in October. His demoralized regime collapsed with Japan's defeat. His politically active widow and other supporters were tried and convicted of treason after the war.