By Hsiao-ting Lin
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident of July 1937 marked the beginning of the second Sino-Japanese War that would last for the next eight years. For the four and half years before Pearl Harbor, Nationalist China under Chiang Kai-shek fought a lone and bitter war with the Japanese. Internally, the Generalissimo faced one crisis after another and strived to hold different political parties together under a united government against the external enemy. It was no easy job. In addition to the constantly recalcitrant Chinese Communists, Wang Jingwei, Chiang’s main political rival within the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) who had served as the vice chairman of the party since April 1938, created a situation that threatened the stability of Chiang’s leadership and weakened the KMT’s political legitimacy. In late 1938, disillusioned at KMT’s capability to resist, Wang and his faction decided to collaborate with the Japanese. He left Chongqing, China’s wartime capital, for Hanoi, French Indochina, where he announced his support for a negotiated settlement with the Japanese. Among his cohorts were Gao Zongwu, the Asian Bureau Chief in the Foreign Ministry, and Tao Xisheng, a former professor who served on several key committees within the government. A failed attempt to assassinate Wang in Hanoi by Chiang’s secret agents prompted an angry Wang to fly to Shanghai, where he was determined to enter negotiations with the Japanese. The war had given Wang the opportunity he had long sought to establish a new government outside of Chiang's control.
It turns out that Japanese demands on China would be harsh, and included economic and military dominance across all of China’s territory. Endeavors made by Wang to establish dominance over the occupied area, relatively free from Japanese control, ended with disappointment. As it became obvious that the new government to be set up under Wang was a mere puppet regime, with all the terms almost entirely one-sided favoring Tokyo, Gao Zongwu and Tao Xisheng decided to defect. In early January 1940, the two were spirited away from Shanghai by the Green Gang, a local secret society who had unusual ties with the KMT, and reappeared in Chongqing in a monumental propaganda coup for the Nationalist government. Gao and Tao announced in a statement in Hong Kong just how crushing Japan’s demands were and called on Wang to end negotiations and “restrain the horse from falling over the precipice.” Gao was given permission to emigrate to the United States, and Tao rejoined Chiang’s staff and became his ghostwriter and top propagandist.
The personal papers of Tao Hengsheng, a son of Tao Xisheng, that Hoover recently acquired include the latter’s personal account of this unique historical episode; his eyewitness about the final years of Nationalist rule in China; as well as family correspondence, photos and writings. They provide rich sources to advance our understanding of the complicated relationship between the Chinese and the Japanese, as well as among the Chinese Nationalists during the Sino-Japanese war--the repercussions of which continue to be felt today.