Frederick W. Mote
In the following, the noted historian F.W. Mote describes his arrival in Nanjing as a U.S. Army interpreter shortly following the Japanese surrender; popular attitudes towards Japan and the puppet administration of Wang Jingwei in the immediate aftermath of the occupation; and, his experiences as a history student at the University of Nanking in 1947-1948.
— William Sima, Associate Guest Editor
From War to Uncertain Peace
No one I knew expected that end co come so suddenly. The first atomic bomb chat dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 and the second on Nagasaki on 9 August (locally 7 and 10 August) changed our lives in China. For our team, it ended the war just five days before our planned operation on the Guangdong coast. Theater headquarters in Chongqing (Chungking) declared an indefinite postponement of all combat operations. We said reluctant farewells to our Chinese comrades, promised to remain in contact as we exchanged addresses, and boarded the little narrow-gauge train that ran from the Vietnam border back to Kunming. We got there just as riotously happy celebrations were underway, in the midst of which a three-day war broke out between the government forces and those of the warlord governor of Yunnan, Long Yun (1884-1962). Old Long was taken off to military confinement, something no one in Yunnan had thought possible. It seemed to confirm our expectations that with the end of the war, China would now be different.
China had triumphed. Everyone talked of returning to their homes in the eastern provinces, to regain the half of China that the Japanese occupied, to reunite long-separated families, to go back to finish college, and all the other long-delayed hopes and yearnings. I expected to be returned to the United States and mustered out of the service, and could have done so at that moment. The OSS (Office of Strategic Services), however, had new tasks to perform, especially the immediate ones of tidying up the investigations of Japanese and German affairs in wartime China, gathering evidence on atrocities for the forthcoming Tokyo War Crimes Trials, and making contact with American citizens who had been left behind in the Japanese-occupied regions. My commanding officer asked me whether I wanted to return home or remain for a few more months to be assigned to some new office that would be opened in the Japanese-occupied areas. Special Operations was being disbanded, but I could be transferred to some other section of the OSS that would need interpreters. I did not ponder that choice for more than ten minutes. I chose to stay, to see the great cities, to visit the heartland of Chinese civilization, and at last to hear people on the street speaking the kind of Mandarin that I had studied at Harvard. And, unexpectedly, it carried a promotion to corporal, a major milepost in my brilliant military career!
My first assignment, in early September of 1945, was to be the personal interpreter for Robert E. Coulson, an army captain who had been brought into the OSS as the war was ending to work with its X-2 Division, which became the principal remaining arm of the OSS in its brief postwar history.[See Figure 1.] X-2. was the designation of its counterintelligence branch. Captain Coulson was a young man who had been a judge in Illinois in civilian life. His X-2. assignment was to interview officials in the Nanjing (Nanking) puppet regime that was set up in 1940 under Japanese direction, claiming to be the legitimate successor to the Nationalist (or KMT) regime of Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi), which had been forced to retreat to West China in 1937-1938. All the non-Axis nations of the world of course had acknowledged Chiang’s KMT regime to be the legitimate government of the Chinese nation. The American intelligence interest in the puppet regime in Nanjing and in its counterpart, that for North China, in Beijing (Peking, or Beiping, as Beijing was then called) was most immediately the preparation for the war crimes trials that would be held in Tokyo. This good-natured young judge was the best possible person to work for; he had infinite patience with my exasperating interpreting. Interpreting in the military situations in which I worked before the sudden end of the war had required only simple and direct exchanges. In these new circumstances, with the quite different objective of drawing out information that might be reluctantly offered, I found it difficult not to do more than just directly render questions and responses. In Nanjing, from the first week of September into early October, interrogating important officials of the newly defunct regime, we encountered many persons who seemed to us to be honest in their defense of the actions of chief puppet, Wang Jingwei, and his associates. Those puppet leaders were regarded by many as patriots who had worked to shield the population from direct Japanese military rule. Some of the puppet regime’s officials even claimed to have been working all along for the Nationalist government in Chongqing throughout the war, supplying intelligence on Japanese intentions and military operations. Some of those claims were self-serving, and probably not true. Yet, in the population of Nanjing, we found so many people with no apparent axe to grind who praised the puppet regime (while singling out certain of its officials who were hated) that determination of the truth, within the limited scope of our assigned responsibilities, was virtually impossible.
In that situation of ambiguity, I became quite interested in the puppet regime and its leading figures. I frequently exasperated the good captain by making long conversational digressions that interrupted his planned interrogations. He would ask a simple question such as: ‘Is it true that you, the chief of the Nanjing Police, were transferred into that post from command of a military unit in 1941?’ I would translate that, and then the reply would raise questions that I would turn into a long discussion of my own with the police chief. Five or ten minutes later I would turn to Captain Coulson and render a one-word answer, yes. It was then on to the next question, with similar results. Anyone else would have asked for a new interpreter. To compensate, I formed the habit of writing up the substance of my conversations later the same day and turning those brief written summaries over to the captain, who generously accepted that as a substitute for more efficient interpreting.
Our small OSS Nanjing detachment of nine or ten men was housed in three adjacent residences of high puppet-regime officials at what was then the west end of Beiping Road, just around the corner from Wang Jingwei’s presidential palace. Soon after the end of the war, the palace was purchased by the American government to serve as its embassy in Nanjing (from late in 1945 until the embassy was withdrawn in March 1950, following the Communist takeover in 1949). Those three houses had belonged, respectively, to Mei Siping, the strongly disliked Minister of Education; Li Shengwu, a much-respected and highly learned legal scholar who headed the Ministry of Justice and later headed the puppet Judicial Yuan (Judicial Branch); and Chen Gongbo, who had served in the regime as head of its Executive Yuan (Executive Branch) before succeeding Wang Jingwei as president in 1944 (after Wang left Nanjing in March to go to Japan for medical treatments, where he died later that summer). The rear garden of Chen’s residence adjoined that of Chu Minyi, the minister of foreign affairs and relative of Wang’s wife, Madame Chen Bijun. Other residences of high officials were located in that immediate vicinity. Household servants were retained to serve us, and occasionally some of the relatives of the jailed former owners came around to retrieve some small personal items and were introduced to me by the servants. That led to many conversations, and I became a shade too sympathetic to some of them. At the same time, my many conversations with them were richly informative, giving me a sense of wartime history that I would not otherwise have been able to acquire. With the exception of Captain Coulson, my OSS colleagues (one was a lieutenant colonel who seemed interested mainly in carousing) had no interest in those matters of recent history and made no attempt to secure archives or preserve personal records that might have been of value for later research. I pointed out that in Li Shengwu’s garage were carefully stored complete wartime files of several leading newspapers of Nanjing and Shanghai, but that did not save them from being sold as scrap paper. Understandably, the end of the war had induced a general relaxation. The focus on immediate objectives was weakened for a time, but not for long.
The interest I developed in the wartime regimes in Japanese-occupied areas came close to turning me toward the study of contemporary China. Other developments during the following year led, instead, to the beginnings of serious study of the imperial dynastic-millennia. My interest in learning more about the earlier history was strong, but the mix of determining factors in that decision also included the deepening awareness that it would be impossible to attain objectivity about the immediate past because of my growing sense of involvement. That feeling became particularly acute when, throughout the fall and winter of 1945, before leaving to return home in April 1946, I came into close contact with the Chinese Communists in the North and learned from them still another entirely different view of wartime China and their plans (as they then described those) for the postwar years. Reeling from those complexities, the study of earlier China became a neutral refuge from conflicting feelings about the present. But, that is to get ahead of my story.
The Legacy of Japanese Occupation
The place of the Japanese in the consciousness of postwar Chinese people is a more complex story. MacArthur’s headquarters in Tokyo repeatedly sent messages to the China Command insisting that evidence of Chinese revenge attacks against the Japanese must be gathered and dispatched to Tokyo immediately to match the quantities of such material being sent from Korea, French Indochina, and the Philippines. In fact, none of our offices in what had been the Japanese-occupied regions could find significant evidence for acts of revenge. Earlier, while still in Nanjing in September, Captain Coulson forwarded to our China headquarters a report I prepared for him about the lack of revenge sentiment in Nanjing at that time. I do not know whether it was ever sent on to Tokyo. In it, I recounted an experience that summed up my sense of the general feeling among the Chinese ordinary people I had spoken with in Nanjing.
I had asked a craftsman who was making a wooden chest for me how he had lost his left leg. Somewhat reluctantly he related a story dating from December 1937, the height of the ‘Nanjing Massacre’ in which recent studies show that three hundred thousand Chinese lives were lost in the major atrocity of the Sino-Japanese war. He told me that on that December day, a group of Japanese soldiers, shouting and pointing rifles at them, ordered all the shopkeepers and residents in buildings facing the Shanxi Road roundabout and all other Chinese who could be rounded up to stand in the small grassy park enclosed by the circle road. They did not know what to expect, when suddenly the Japanese opened fire on them with their rifles and small arms. The man said: ‘I was lucky. I was among the first to be struck by a bullet and fell to the ground. As the firing continued, many others were struck, and bodies fell on top of me.’ He said that after a time the Japanese then rushed into the mass of fallen victims to bayonet any who still showed signs of life. More than a hundred were killed. ‘Bur;’ the man continued, ‘the soldiers all started to drink, to shout, and to sing, and after an hour or more, they left the scene.’ He explained that he was at the bottom of the pile with a non-life-threatening wound, so when Chinese rescue workers surreptitiously crept into the circle well after nightfall to give help, he was found and pulled to safety. His leg had to be amputated, but he regained his health. His story was told simply and directly, without emotion.
I looked out from his open shop door to the small grassy circle, trying to imagine the event, when a small, elderly Japanese lady in a drab kimono with a furoshiki in which she carried the few items of groceries she had purchased walked past his door. I said: ‘Aren’t you angry at these Japanese people still walking the streets of Nanjing. See those Japanese soldiers over there? They are now being disarmed, but they still walk freely on the streets. Wouldn’t you like at least to throw a rock at them?’ He hesitated to reply to my disturbing question. But eventually, slowly and calmly, pointing to the little old grandmother, he said he had no reason to blame her for the violence in 1937. As for the soldiers, he said they were not the ones who eight years ago had killed so many people. Those had all been sent on to other war fronts in the years that followed, and probably most of them were dead by now. In short, he had no cause for revenge against these soldiers now on the scene. Perhaps his attitudes were unusual, but I found virtually no one who sought revenge despite deep feelings of resentment that many shared.
Chiang Kai-shek, as president of the Nationalist government, in a speech in Beijing in December 1945, asked that all people in North China inform the government about sufferings under the Japanese and, in particular, to report illegal acts committed by the Japanese against them during the years of occupation. He had previously ordered investigations of Japanese atrocities in Nanjing and throughout South China. But I never heard about any responses to his call. As the peace arrangements were being worked out, Chiang demanded the return of some valuable antiquities and works of art plundered from museums, or presented to the Japanese by leaders of the three puppet governments (in Manchuria, in Beijing, and in Nanjing), but he announced that the attitude of the Chinese government toward the defeated Japanese would be to ‘recompense injury with kindness.’ His stance troubled some Chinese, and mystified many others. His motives were no doubt very complex.
At the end of the war there were ninety-two thousand Japanese military personnel in Nanjing alone; the work of disarming them there was completed only in late September. The Chinese were still slower in getting their military personnel into many places to receive the surrender and to disarm Japanese troops in other parts of China. On 24 September 1945 General Wedemeyer announced that the major remaining task of the American forces would be to repatriate the four million Japanese military personnel and civilians still in China. That was not completed until mid-1946. Many business and financial institutions had been controlled by Japanese, though many were registered in the names of Chinese co-owners. In short, the Japanese presence in China was very large and widely dispersed through the former puppet-controlled provinces of east and central China and in the Northeast (Manchuria). It was difficult to untangle those Japanese strands from the fabric of Chinese society. But it was done quietly, seldom making newspaper headlines.
Anti-Japanese sentiment had been fostered initially by the call to boycott Japanese businesses and Japanese-made goods during the May Fourth Movement in 1919 and the years thereafter. It remained strong through the war years, as millions of Chinese lost family members and property, and wartime hardships were experienced through all the strata of Chinese society. The surprising thing is that when the war ended, the widely felt resentment toward Japan generated few demands for revenge and very little violent behavior. If anything, the behavior of Soviet troops that invaded Manchuria when Stalin declared war on Japan on 8 August 1945, a day after the bombing of Hiroshima, aroused more widespread resentment. A Soviet army of one million invaded Manchuria the next day. Victory in the ‘eleven days war’ was declared on 20 August, with the major cities of the Northeast—Shenyang (Mukden), Harbin, Changchun and Jilin (Kirin)—all in Russian hands. Throughout China, however, the papers were filled with stories about Chinese women there cutting their hair and dressing as men to evade rape and about Russian soldiers wearing ten or twenty plundered wristwatches on their arms and throwing them away when they stopped running because they did not know how to wind them. Accessory to the Soviet army’s invasion, there was widespread looting and destruction, plus the official plundering of Manchuria’s industrial establishments, whose machines and equipment were loaded onto trains and transported back into Siberia. Such lurid stories tended to make memories of Japanese violence seem remote. Nevertheless, the years of suffering under Japanese invasion and occupation were not forgotten.
My liaison work with Japanese military officers extended in several directions, in all of which Takashi proved to be a useful guide. Yet I felt I came to no clear picture of the legacy of Japanese occupation or the mark that it left on Chinese with whom I came into contact. Takashi took it upon himself to lead me into an appreciation of the better side of the story and of the strengths of Japanese civilization. He gave me, for my own information, a number of hand-written documents about the history of the Japanese presence in Manchuria and North China, including a lengthy manuscript about the creation of the ‘Black Dragon Society’ (which MacArthur had recently outlawed in Japan) and other souvenirs, which I still possess. The Japanese were hopeful that the Americans would understand them as something beyond the ruthless invaders that they in fact had been, something difficult to achieve despite the efforts of congenial individuals like himself. Wanting me to see the depth of Japanese appreciation for the high culture of earlier China, he invited me to a dinner hosted by Japanese officers noted for their appreciation of calligraphy and Tang-dynasty poetry. This event, in late February or March of 1946, shortly before he was to be repatriated to Japan, was a disaster.
The dinner was held at a private officers’ club. Located in the Japanese quarter of Tianjin, the place had the appearance of a very fancy geisha-restaurant, I thought, though I use the word ‘geisha’ in a very loose sense, reflecting my ignorance of Japanese culture. The party was held in a large Japanese-style room with tatami floor, on which was set out a large dinner on low tables, one for each of the stocking-footed male guests kneeling on the floor. The dining area was surrounded by folding screens on which examples of Sino-Japanese calligraphy by members of the gathering were mounted. Takashi and I soon were surrounded by about ten high-ranking officers and perhaps twice as many geisha ladies. Beside each of us, sharing our small individual low tables, was an elaborately kimonoed younger lady, and behind each of the male guests was an older lady, less colorfully dressed, whose function was not immediately clear to me. The younger lady at my side tried to help me to be comfortable, despite the need for me to assume the kneeling position. My knees resisted fiercely, but she poured cup after cup of tea, later shifting to Japanese rice wine. We all responded to the loud toasts of the host and others, who also were being attended in the same manner by the attractive young ladies at their sides. The eating and drinking phase of the evening lasted perhaps an hour or more. After that, the small tables were cleared, the young geishas peeled tangerines and winter pears to cool us after all the wine and allowed me at least to stretch my legs out. That required some support from the elderly lady behind me. She gently pounded my back and let me lean against her shoulder. I noticed that several of the officers had drunk enough that they, too, required the services of these elderly geishas who loosened their coats, fanned them, and kept them from falling asleep over their tables.
Our host, a senior officer, called for paper and writing materials and began to chant a poem as he wrote it out in large characters. At the end, he grunted his satisfaction, waved his large writing brush in the air. The younger of the two geishas attending him held the finished calligraphy up for all to see, amidst loud cheers of approval. Then she fastened it on one of the screens. Others also were brought writing materials and produced their best, receiving noisy approval amidst calls for more wine. Soon the party got out of hand, some of the guests beginning to behave badly. Others were shouting, quarreling, or, I thought, perhaps trying to drown out the squabbles in loud singing. I had drunk very little, as had Takashi, sitting opposite me near our host. Watching him, I realized that he was not a participant that evening, as he normally might have been, for he, too, was quite a good calligrapher. But on this evening, he was watching, as if with my eyes, to judge my reactions. He looked very embarrassed by the crude misbehavior, which increasingly required intervention of the elderly geisha ladies and evasive actions on the part of the younger ones. Our host, the elderly officer and leading calligrapher, appeared to be dozing off midst all the noise. Others were stumbling to their feet and leaving the room for various reasons. I felt awkward observing the unruly scene.
Takashi got up and spoke to the elderly geisha serving the sleeping general; he then came to my side of the circle of tables and signaled for me to stand up. We bowed, thanked the group, and left. I had left a car on the street nearby. Takashi waved me into it, shook his head ‘no’ when I offered him a ride, and waved me off. It was several days before I heard from him again.
Within a week or so he came to say his farewells before reporting to the repatriation base, from which he would be shipped back to Japan. He had brought me some samples of his calligraphy, some souvenir items, a gift for me to take to my parents, and a statement that he had found someone to translate into English, written out in pencil on rough paper, a number of words written in Chinese characters left untranslated. The first part of the statement is reflections on our personal relationship; the second part is advice to me (obviously intended for transmittal to my superiors), explaining how Japan should be judged and the need that it be fitted into the future of East Asia. Following is the second part, the English somewhat edited for clarity but the content unchanged:
Whatever one may say, in the Orient the Japanese are the most civilized people. The position of leadership must be given to the Japanese, disregarding their victory or defeat in war. It is dangerous if China or the Soviets should not consider Japan as they discuss the Oriental problems.
China is a country of puzzles and of impossibilities. I think they will make a great mistake if the foreigners come to China and say that they understand China. Of course, I do not understand China for my stay here has been only thirteen years. The Japanese who have stayed here for thirty years also do not understand China. They utter one after another the impossible questions, which gush forth like a fountain. No, even the Chinese do not know their country well. I do not understand China, so there is nothing for me to write about, but there are a few things from my experience that perhaps might be of help.
Chinese are fond of opium and gambling, yet those also are the things they hate most. If any leaders of China permit people to do these two things, the people will surely turn them out, making their positions untenable. So the leaders always adopt the policy of rejecting these two. Whoever works in China must give great attention and deep observation to opium and gambling. There are many false reports in China. Nine out of ten are false—
the whole itself, or one part, is false. You cannot do intelligence work in China not knowing that the reports are false. Gold and iron are selected out from gold mines and iron mines. To find the truth and separate it from the false, likewise, is the big task for the people who work in intelligence.
There are many reasons for there being so many false reports. There are persons who make up the reports and function as intelligence brokers. In large cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, and Tianjin, there are intelligence brokers who have been working for many years. The persons who act as spies and have connections with many secret organizations must hold hands with them or else be unable to continue their work. And as well, they also will report in suitable and appropriate time on problems to the secret organizations, as they may wish. Without going through any of the difficulties, spies can just spend some money and buy the reports. The no-good drifters are the intelligence brokers in the agricultural districts. It is very difficult, because even though there are numerous spies in the Nationalist areas, they cannot go directly into the Eighth Route (Chinese Communist) areas and make reports. They go instead into the countryside to talk and buy from them the reports.
The Han race [the Chinese] is a fearsome race—a race that grows even though it is defeated many times. Many a time Japan has gained the mastery of some part of China, and this time half of China was occupied by the Japanese army, but just before the surrender, the Japanese army was completely rotten. Many times China was conquered by other races, but when they got to Beijing, without their knowing it, [their control] was eroded by the magic power of the Han race.
The Japanese army in China celebrated victory with continuous kampai [the drinking toast ‘bottoms up’; in Chinese, ‘ganbei’] and then went on to the point of defeat. Truly the word ‘kampai’ is a dreadful word. How many heroes have lost their powers since olden times because of this word.
If a war breaks out between America and the Soviets, it is best for America to withdraw from North China to the coastline in such places as Qingdao, Shanghai, Tanggu, and Qinhuangdao. There are two reasons for this. One is that North China itself has no strategic value, and another is that it is necessary to have the [Chongqing, i.e., the Nationalist] armies take the front against the Communist armies. The Chinese are like the British in that they are always wanting to make use of others’ abilities. Other countries know well of their tricks yet are always being caught.
North China is like a swamp: if you once put your feet into it you cannot get out. It is necessary to think about the five hundred thousand men of the Japanese army; they knew they were facing the danger of defeat but still could not do anything about it.
At the time, I found this analysis of Japanese failure in China and of the faults of Chinese character depressingly shallow. Rereading this today, I find that Takashi’s (and his Japanese military associates’) view of realities is curiously myopic. Other than their technical military intelligence, did the Japanese intelligence services have a sound understanding of China? Of course, at that time they were trying to cope with the defeat of their homeland and forcible expulsion from China and Korea and from all the subsequent conquests made during the Second World War. I can understand how difficult it was for them to explain their failures and how easy it was to fall back on the excuse that the inscrutable, fiendishly unreliable Chinese had gotten the best of them. The group at this dinner party were enthusiasts for aspects of the old Chinese culture, particularly calligraphy and early poetry, to which by reason of the shared elements in the Chinese and Japanese writing systems, they had direct access without really having to learn Chinese. The dinner party was to be the last gathering of that group of enthusiasts, who probably considered themselves to be the ones who best understood China. In addition to the frustration of seeing that connection broken, a number of them who had been there many years had acquired properties and small businesses that they would leave behind with no hope of taking any of their value back to Japan. That they were expressing a degree of demoralization can be understood. But I do not think they truly realized how wide of the mark they were in explaining their failures or the then-current state of conditions. At the drunken dinner party their shouts of ‘kampai, kampai’ had drowned out all other conversation; perhaps Takashi, in writing his analysis of Japanese failure for me a few days later, wanted me to remember that dinner party as corroboration of his argument. My own observations were somewhat different.
Nevertheless, I found these contacts with Japanese military personnel in China instructive and useful. And Takashi, simply as a person, remains a warmly memorable individual in my recollections of the Japanese from that time.
The University Environment in Nanjing, 1947-1948
When I arrived at the University of Nanjing late in the fall semester 1946, I discussed with history department professors whose courses I would be electing in the coming spring semester how best to prepare by reading over the long winter holiday. (See figure 2 for a group photograph of the History Department of the University of Nanjing—faculty and students and close-ups of the author and his future Princeton colleague Chen Ta-tuan.) They suggested that it would be useful to come to an understanding of the state of the history field as it had developed since the end of the nineteenth century. And, to improve my general knowledge of history they also suggested that I should start to become familiar with two or three textbook histories of China published shortly before World War II, to compare the way these quite different works treated the same periods and events. On their advice, I acquired copies of Qian Mu’s (1895-1990) Guoshi dagang (Outlines of Our National History, 1940) and Zhou Gucheng’s (1898-1996) Zhongguo tongshi (Comprehensive History of China, 1939). (See figures 3a-b, respectively, for a photograph of Qian Mu and the author’s copy of Qian’s work.) The former is the work of a critical-minded and highly original traditionalist; the latter was written by a broadly informed, non-doctrinaire socialist intellectual.
The thirty-some page ‘Introductory Essay’ (Daolun) in Zhou’s book is a sophisticated discussion of basic issues in defining the meaning of history, defining the differences between ‘history’ as the sum total of events in the past, which he calls ‘history itself,’ and particular writings about those events, or works of ‘historiography.’ (See figure 4 for a photograph of the author’s copy of Zhou Gucheng’s work.) He explains: ‘History itself is something that exists objectively and independently; it does not come into existence only when we adopt our particular viewpoints, go on to perform our research, and then produce our writings.’ He introduces ideas from Hegel, the socialist philosopher Joseph Dietzgen (1828-1880, whose name was then unknown to me), the English logical positivist Bertrand Russell, and others. His purpose is to defend his concept of the integrity, or the ‘wholeness’ of history itself, existing entirely apart from our acquired knowledge of it, which can only be partial and subjective. Most of his introduction, however, is devoted to a critical review of the traditional and more recent genres of historical writing in China. He emphasizes the importance of Chinese historical research, affirming that it can meet the highest standards when undertaken with modern knowledge and in a critical spirit.
Qian Mu’s Outlines of Our National History also opens with a long ‘Yinlun’ (Introductory Discussion) in fifteen sections dated January 1939, followed by a ‘Shucheng ziji’ (Personal Note on Completing the Book) dated June 1939, both written at his wartime residence in Yunnan. In the four pages of the latter, he describes his approach to teaching comprehensive Chinese-history courses, starting in 1933 at Peking University; he gives the student-reader a good idea of what writing such a book entails. In the long ‘Introductory Discussion’ he discusses the forms and objectives of traditional Chinese historiography but starts out by imploring students to approach the subject with a sympathetic and respectful attitude, stating that the nation can be strong only if its citizens identify with its incomparably long past and are knowledgeable about its enduring achievements. Qian deplores then current trends in Chinese historical research because, in his view, they were dominated by Westernizers who, having only a shallow knowledge of China’s past, yet invoke foreign models of social and political development to disparage the two-thousand-year history of imperial China as unchanging, benighted, and without value for present-day Chinese. He alludes to numerous comparisons of Western and Chinese history, pointing out that one must not seek for the particular features of Western civilizations’ achievements when reading the history of China, because China’s long course of development took other directions and created different but equally worthwhile provision for the needs of its people. His comparisons are to be sure insubstantial but are set forth in the mode of quoting the shallow reasoning of the Chinese Westernizers; Qian’s purpose is to demonstrate their ignorance of history, Chinese and Western. Especially troubling to Qian are those young agitators who mindlessly thrash about seeking imported ideas, having ignorantly developed doubts about the validity of their own cultural tradition. Seeking remedies in drastic change, they add to the illness, for it is a sickness that can be cured only by deeper self-realization, not by aping others. His arguments on each of the issues so raised frequently conclude with disparaging comments such as (to paraphrase): to make such comparisons is to reveal ignorance of the true nature of Chinese history and maliciously to foment destruction while blithely seeking revolutionary change; that can only lead to the worst consequences. Throughout, he passionately reaffirms the values of Chinese tradition, developed in circumstances uniquely native to the Chinese environment. Above all, he stresses the relevance of the Chinese past to the national issues that faced young students, his obligation to serve their needs, and the student generation’s need to learn. In short, he takes his vocation very seriously.
… At this point in first becoming aware of [Qian Mu], I was struck by his insights explaining the dilemmas then facing China. In this ‘Introductory Discussion’ he regrets the ills that have afflicted China from late Qing times to the present, saying that, above all, it is the ‘shi dafu’ or scholar-officialdom that has been the most seriously afflicted, their illness stemming from their inability to recognize the nature of China’s problems. But, he confidently proclaims, this illness is of short recent history, while the underlying strengths of ‘our Chinese people’s’ cultural achievements are of several thousand years’ standing. The latent strengths of that tradition surely have the capacity to flower anew. Historians in the past, his favorite example being Sima Guang (1019-1086) of the Song dynasty, turned to the study of history in times of national troubles to produce works that could provide guidance in government. Though Qian Mu does not wish to compare himself with that admired worthy of the past, he believes that the young Chinese of his time, when made aware of the urgent need to better understand their own history, will accept his book with all its shortcomings as an honest contribution to their shared sense of purpose.
As the foregoing brief remarks drawn from their prefaces indicate, these two standard textbooks represent two quite different mentalities. Zhou Gucheng stresses the objective validity of ‘history itself’ and rejects the subjective approach to history that seeks moral values or political guidance in interpreting the past, while Qian Mu finds his highest ideal in Sima Guang’s Zizhi tongjian (Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government) which does precisely that. Yet both are committed to the importance of history as an indispensable component of education. Although I did not get very far beyond their introductory discussions at that time, their very stimulating ways of arguing oriented me to the academic scene. And eventually I found that their different mindsets reflected two significant positions in the range of ideas then evident at the core of academic history teaching, with echoes throughout the society at large. I developed the habit of turning to those two books for succinct background reading on any historical subject that came up in lectures or in conversations. Course readings soon took me beyond these two general histories, yet sixty years later I still have them on my shelf and turn to them from time to time, along with similar items from those early college days.
When I entered that Chinese university environment for the first time, in that winter of 1946-1947, it quickly became clear to me that history had great prestige among the major fields of university studies and also as a subject of broader interest.[See figures 5a-d for the author’s Nanjing University identification card.] It drew many of the best students to compete for acceptance by history departments, even though at that time the policy of the Ministry of Education was to deny scholarship aid to students in the humanities in favor of science, engineering, and certain fields of agriculture and forestry. Yet history books and journals sold well, and major newspapers carried weekly supplements (fukan) devoted to articles by leading scholars who offered a range of views on history, or history and literature, and sometimes also on related fields of philosophy or psychology, religion, and archaeology. The element of assertive nationalism so prevalent in China today was at that time still relatively subdued, although it emerged more strongly in articles about very recent history, especially when the subject was the just-ended period of Japanese aggression in China, the preceding warlord period (1912-1928), or the nineteenth-century wars and unequal treaties. The China-history field at that time, however, derived its greatest excitement from new considerations of China’s distant past, generated by the movement called ‘doubting antiquity’ (yigu) and startling recent archaeological finds. At that time, speculation about China’s earliest beginnings drew more attention from professional historians, as well as from the wider reading public, than any other aspect of history. It is a subject that will be turned to at a number of points in succeeding chapters.
My fellow students, who came from many provinces and from diverse backgrounds, all were adjusting to the end of the war and the resumption of their college educations; most students had been delayed by forced relocation and the need to take up studies wherever they might find themselves during the war years. As they pieced together the elements of a college education, many were being especially accommodated, like myself, as transferees from wartime studies in other institutions, and many were three or four years older than the norm. Those special circumstances allowed me to fit in as one more student whose college years had been interrupted by the dislocations of wartime, and for whom special adjustments were warranted, even though I was the only non-Chinese registered in the university.
Where I was most obviously different, of course, was in my lower level of language competence. Most of my fellow students in the College of Arcs brought acceptable levels of skill in reading and writing classical Chinese and sound acquaintance with model literary texts. Eminent professors could expect their classes to follow the discussions of problems ranging across more than two thousand years of China’s recorded history and of legends about the still earlier millennia for which documentation is less complete. In their teaching, history professors could effectively recount the particulars of an event, cite a range of documents and conflicting interpretations, and then pose their own critical analyses. They might complain that before the interruptions brought on by the Japanese war, students had better command of classical Chinese or wider knowledge of traditional writings, but in my years in China my classmates’ level of preparation seemed very high. In my observation, that level seemed to be superior to what it became only a few years later, in China and in the universities of Taiwan; needless to say, despite individual exceptions, the general level in the 1940s was far higher than what one expects to find in Chinese colleges today.
One example reveals the steady decline, from the 1930s to the 1950s, in young Chinese students’ command of their heritage. Professor Xiao Gongquan (K. C. Hsiao), with whom I later studied in the United States, taught his famous year-long course on the history of Chinese political thought at Tsinghua University in Peking through the 1930s, until the evacuation of the universities to unoccupied West China in 1937-1938. (See figure 6 for a photograph of Professor Hsiao.) His elaborate syllabus, typical of such courses at that time, was printed by the university in ten large thread-bound volumes of extensive readings from the sources, each of the sections headed by his brief introduction. His students were expected to know that source material and to follow his lectures, so as to pursue original research projects on their own as their principal requirement in the course. In Sichuan, where he went in 1938 with the fleeing Peking universities, he started to write up his lectures for publication in book form. By the time that book, his Zhongguo zhengzhi sixiang shi (History of Chinese Political Thought) was first published in Shanghai in 1948, and republished in Taiwan in 1954, to be used by the next generation of college students, it was no longer readily accessible to a majority of students. Justly famous for elegance of language and lucidity of argument, it could no longer be read with adequate understanding by most undergraduates; both its subject matter and Professor Hsiao’s classical literary allusions were rapidly becoming arcane. The well-known scholar Xu Daolin, professor of social science at Donghai University, in a review published in Taiwan in 1960, wrote: The book is written entirely in wenyan [literary Chinese] with numerous quotations from the classics in their original form. This makes it, for our college students—as they have often told me—as difficult to read as foreign textbooks. In Taiwan, and far more so in Mainland China after 1950, a decline both in language mastery and in cultural knowledge had taken place. In order to comprehend the milieu in which the study of history had so recently flourished, we must imagine the higher cultural standard that had prevailed in the universities throughout the earlier decades of the twentieth century. There were then far more Chinese who possessed the ability to be participants at sophisticated levels of historical knowledge, as potential research scholars or as ordinary readers, than we have seen in the second half of the century.
Offsetting the importance of what traditionally had been a smaller but more-advanced elite of learning, by midcentury the base from which college students were drawn had broadened. Thanks to social changes that were in some ways abetted by the shocks and dislocations of the war years, many very able students were attracted to higher learning for new kinds of reasons, some of those socially radical reasons. Many were drawn to the new scholarly methods. While some of them intended to become the modern-day equals of the great public figures of the recent past, others were set on radically new kinds of careers. If their undergraduate skills in traditional studies, narrowly defined, were not on a level with students of their parents’ generation, the students of midcentury could look to many new kinds of postgraduate venues, whether available in China or by going abroad. Campus conversations constantly turned to the choices to be made among professional or advanced-degree possibilities, choices such as whether the study of history was in itself the goal or was a likely path toward new types of careers. Should it be preprofessional preparation for a future as college teachers, or were they studying it as an intellectually vital subject of broad relevance to contemporary life, possibly leading to graduate studies in other fields?
My own competence for study as I began my student life in Nanjing was more like that of a higher-level grade-school or middle-school student. Strictly speaking, I did not belong there. Despite the faculty’s special consideration in admitting me, I had to struggle to keep up. The fact that I was an army veteran who had served in China was at least partially responsible for their special attention; knowing that only made it necessary for me to work harder. Although a minority of courses in the College of Arts was taught in English by the few Western professors (one each in history, sociology, and foreign languages), I was advised to take no more than one such course per semester, and even those required some course readings in Chinese. My other four or five required and optional courses each semester all were taught in Chinese by excellent Chinese professors who spoke the full gamut of regionally colored variations on Mandarin. By the time I graduated, I was perhaps approaching a high-school graduate’s level of competence in reading and in understanding lectures, whether reading, listening, or responding in discussions and examinations. I was several notches farther back in the speed with which I could write examination answers.
I was an outsider representing an entirely different background, yet I found innumerable points of shared interest with my fellow students and could join in their discussions about the study of China’s history. I benefited from what in fact had become less-rigid standards in higher education generally, and I felt pressed to do even that. While I could babble with ease in most situations and my reading speed was becoming adequate, that did not mask the shallowness of my knowledge. The help and the atmosphere of encouragement given generously by the Chinese family with whom I lived, and by my fellow students, managed to make my entry into the field of Chinese historical studies possible.
As for understanding how a Chinese university functioned, or what student life would entail, I knew virtually nothing when I arrived at the University of Nanjing late in 1946. Once in that environment, however, living as an invited guest (from whom no payment was accepted) in the home of a university professor-turned-administrator and sharing the lives and activities of that family’s four sons and their many friends of high-school and college age while listening to an array of college course lectures, I quite readily took on their student attitudes and absorbed their sense of the university life. (See figure 7 for a photograph of the author with the Sie family.) Talking with other students about their studies, I became aware of issues that drew history students’ particular interest and were much argued about. Prominent among those were the pros and cons of “scientific history;’ the implications for the origins of Chinese civilization of recent archaeological finds, Western methods versus traditional Chinese approaches, academic factionalism, iconoclasm versus reverence for the past, the questionable worth of Western degrees in China studies, and the like. Those were discussed against a background of complex sensibilities that would have remained beyond my ken had I not been living in a household whose members all were insiders to that way of life.
I also came to recognize a wider range of issues that seemed to belong to the entire society of urban Nanjing, and presumably to Chinese society at large, in those postwar years. I now can see that the varying degrees of commitment to radical changes can be traced back to the 1890s, when widely shared basic assumptions about social norms and the foundations of the political order were openly challenged. What surprised me most, as I came to know better the occupants of my college campus, was the depth of feelings about the recollected involvement in the May Fourth student movement of 1919 on the part of the generation of my classmates’ parents, even though they mostly had been no more than high-school students in 1919. Some indeed proudly recollected that their parents or grandparents had cut their queues in 1911 to show their adherence to the revolution. But most of all, that generation of parents remembered their own youthful involvement in the stirring events of 1919, when the young women had cut their hair to the short bobbed ‘modern’ style and with considerable excitement had marched hand-in-hand with fellow students of both sexes(!) in demonstrations in Nanjing and other cities, quickly joining in the nationwide wave of support for the protests initiated by Beijing students. People I then knew who belonged to the generation of parents vividly remembered forming ranks of marchers and defying the police in order to demand boycotts against Japanese goods. A sense of that stirring time was still made real to their children of my generation a quarter of a century later. At the same time, I became aware that some of those same May Fourth marchers, and not a few others, by a turbulent quarter-century later had come to regret the destruction of older social values in the iconoclasm of May Fourth. While some recollected that earlier time as the most exciting moment in their lives, others blamed China’s current problems in the turmoil of post-World War II disorders on the destabilizing loss of the old values.
Among those layers of unfinished business going back to the 1920s and 1930s, the new nationalistic sentiments carried over from the just-ended War of Resistance seemed always to lie just below the surface. It was politically unfocussed, not left or right, but might emerge unexpectedly into conversations when foreign fads or imported ideas were brought up. On quite another plane, in the intellectual ferment and social stresses of that time, the dissatisfactions and embarrassments with the conduct of government brought many students, and also some of their parents’ generation as well, close to disaffection, even latent disloyalty, toward many public figures and policies. Yet left/right political identities, while a constant undercurrent of everyone’s consciousness, were not labels worn by most of the people I came to know then and seldom intruded into the patterns of ordinary life. That is, there was as yet no division into a political we/they, or red/white, or traditionalist/modernizer, etc., to seriously affect feelings and relationships.
Most university staff and students had made their way back to Nanjing from wartime ‘Free China’ only during the year 1946 in time for the September reopening of the campus, though some were still straggling in when I arrived late in the fall semester. I was immediately aware that a large block of them, including the four children of the family with whom I lived, could and often did speak a dialect quite different from the down-to-earth genuine Nanjing Southern Mandarin that alternated with proper National Language (Guoyu) in Nanjing. Their parents, among themselves and in university contexts, always spoke the standard language like that heard on the radio and in the movies, seldom slipping into the local Nanjing colloquial. But the four boys in the family, like their schoolmates, usually spoke a third dialect of Mandarin, quite distinctive in pronunciation, and to some extent also in vocabulary, from the other two. Like most students who had gone to Sichuan and Yunnan as young children, they came back eight or nine years later proudly speaking the local Sichuanese variant of Mandarin, made fashionable by association with resistance and victory. As fashion, it quickly spread to other students who had not spent the war years there. The Sichuan dialects, presenting few difficulties of understanding to other speakers of Mandarin, have a pleasant, good-humored sound that still rings in my ears as ‘campus Chinese.’ It was strictly a generational thing; none of the parents known to me acquired it. My wife, for example, though a native of Yangzhou who, on coming to school age had resided in Nanjing, was taken to Sichuan at the age of seven and so grew up with Sichuanese virtually becoming her native dialect. Yet since leaving China in 1950 I have noticed her speaking it only with others who share her wartime experience in Sichuan. Those years still have a special place in their lives. And, the war years were indeed a time of adventure amidst perils of air raids and evacuations and of wide ranging friendships formed amidst hardships and uncertainties. Throughout China in the immediate postwar years, there was a wave of romanticized nostalgia for that wartime period when dislocation, deprivation, and real peril also brought adventure. It provided the content of novels, movies, and popular songs through the late 1940s.
I did not attempt to speak the Sichuanese which dominated student life on the campus, nor did I make many attempts to adopt the Nanjing colloquial, which filled the air in the city’s streets and shops. I did, however, adjust to speaking a standard Mandarin like that heard on the radio, meaning that I had to make the effort to remove all traces of Beijing colloquial pronunciation from the spoken Chinese I had learned at Harvard, to keep from being laughed at as someone putting on airs. During those years in China I was constantly struck by the facility of ordinary people in speaking more than one form of their language and in at least understanding still other variants in standard speech. The ability to learn new forms of the spoken languages so as to shift with ease among variant dialects and languages characterized the population at large. The corollary to that facility is attitudinal: the Chinese people are willing to listen to and, thereby, to comprehend a wide range of spoken Chinese and to broaden that range as the need to do so arose. I believe that kind of polylingualism existed so widely throughout the Chinese population because the written language transcends regional or local pronunciation differences. I, too, soon got into the habit of writing the character with the tip of a finger, in the air or on the palm of the hand, to clarify the distinction between sounds of, for example, the words for ‘four’ (si) and ‘ten’ (shi), to cite one of the most commonly encountered confusions. Awareness of the single written language shared by all Chinese, I think, probably moderates whatever ‘we/ they’ feelings might otherwise arise. In any event, an outsider learning to get along in various levels of the language was greatly helped by that open-mindedness. He would not be laughed at, at least to his face, though at the same time they circulated a large repertory of ‘missionary jokes’ about Westerners whose faulty pronunciation created absurdities or worse and about Chiang Kai-shek and fellow politicians from northern Zhejiang whose defective Mandarin also created hilarious jokes.
One of the social realities that bore on daily life in postwar Nanjing was that both the returnees and those who had not left the Japanese-occupied provinces struggled to regain a sense of normalcy despite unanticipated stringencies. The Chinese government poorly managed the transition, called ‘taking over’ (jieshou) from the Japanese and the puppet governments; there was much talk of injustices toward those who had remained behind and of official malpractice in confiscating properties and assets. Between those who had ‘suffered deprivation’ by fleeing with the government to Free China after the invasion in 1937 and those who had ‘endured perils’ by remaining under the Japanese occupation, recriminations and hostilities sometimes erupted. Corruption in the government was a constant subject of conversation. Yet on the whole, the atmosphere around the university was open and accommodating. Students were mostly nonpolitical in their attitudes and in their associations with others. Student morale was high, drawing on the sense of triumph after bitter struggles to survive the long years of disruption. Optimism about the immediate future had not yet begun to crumble, though it soon would as the fear of civil war drew closer.
Such were the immediate circumstances as I began the formal study of Chinese history in Nanjing. Many of the issues mentioned here, I now can see, can be traced to their roots in the tumultuous half-century that had preceded my time in China. As my teachers advised me, this field of study, like much of the Chinese people’s awareness of their cultural tradition, had been transformed by the events of the past fifty years. In order to comprehend the depth of that transformation, one must attempt to understand it in historical perspective. I shall turn in the following chapter to the proper subject of this essay—the formal study of Chinese history—to examine first its development through the early twentieth century. It will be necessary to sketch in briefest manner some aspects of what in 1945 was still the recent historical background, endeavoring to focus on the way the formal study of Chinese history took its place in the life of the new nation that succeeded to the more than two-thousand-year-old imperial monarchy in 1911.
Frederick W. Mote, China and the Vocation of History in the Twentieth Century, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2010. The sections under the headings ‘From War to Uncertain Peace’ and ‘The Legacy of Japanese Occupation’ are drawn from Chapter 1, ‘Getting There’, pp.10-13, 39-47 respectively; and, Chapter 2, ‘The University Environment in Nanking’, pp.55-66, is reproduced in its entirety.
 Long Yun, after being held by the KMT for some weeks, was granted an honorary post with an advisory agency of the KMT central government and was officially removed from the governorship of Yunnan only in early October, but was held for some years thereafter in what amounted to house arrest in Nanking.
 This is a vague reference to Analects 14:36 where, in Legge’s translation, Confucius said one must ‘recompense injury with justice,’ a different idea. See James Legge, The Four Books (1872; Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press, 1960), p.288. But in any event, Chiang was taking the Confucian moral high ground with regard to the Japanese, by this time recognizing their impotence and being much more concerned about the Chinese Communists. His soft treatment of the Japanese was, however, the subject of discussion and some criticism among Chinese at the time.
 For these two sources, see Qian Mu, Guoshi dagang (Outlines of Our National History) (1940; Shanghai: Guoli bianyiguan and Shangwu yinshuguan, 1947); and Zhou Gucheng, Zhongguo tongshi (Comprehensive History of China) (1939; Shanghai: Kaiming shudian, 1946).
 Zhou Gucheng, ‘Daolun’ (Introductory Essay), Zhongguo tongshi (Comprehensive History of China), p.3.
 Loosely adapted from Qian Mu, ‘Yinlun’ (Introductory Discussion), Guoshi dagang (Outlines of Our National History), pp.26-29.
 Xu Daolin’s review written in English with an abstract in Chinese was published in Donghai xuebao (Tunghai Journal of Humanities) 2.1 (June 1960), pp.267-283. A shorted Chinese version was published in the Taiwan newspaper Zhongyang ribao [Central Daily News; alternately titled Zhongyang ribao xingqi zazhi (Central Daily Weekly Magazine)], 10 and 17 November 1959.