Wang Ching-wei, Pinyin Wang Jingwei, original name Wang Chao-ming, (Pinyin) Wang Rhaoming, literary name (hao) Ching-wei, (born May 4, 1883, Sanshui, Guangdong province, China—died November 10, 1944, Nagoya, Japan), associate of the revolutionary Nationalist leader Sun Yat-sen, rival of Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) for control of the Nationalist government in the late 1920s and early ’30s, and finally head of the regime established in 1940 to govern the Japanese-conquered territory in China.
Born in Sanshui, Guangdong, but of Zhejiang origin, Wang went to Japan as an international student sponsored by the Qing Dynasty government in 1903, and joined the Tongmenghui in 1905. As a young man, Wang came to blame the Qing dynasty for holding China back, and making it too weak to fight off exploitation by Western imperialist powers. He was among the Chinese nationalists in Japan who were influenced by Russian anarchism, and published a number of articles in journals edited by Zhang Renjie, Wu Zhihui, and the group of Chinese anarchists in Paris.
As a student of Western thought in Japan, Wang joined the newly formed revolutionary party of Sun Yat-sen, the United League (Tongmenghui), and soon became one of the group’s leading polemicists. In 1910, influenced by anarchist thought and desperate to revitalize the United League, Wang decided to assassinate the regent to the imperial throne. The plot was discovered, and Wang was captured. His courage in the face of execution so impressed the regent that Wang’s punishment was reduced to life imprisonment. After the Republican Revolution of 1911 overthrew the Qing dynasty, Wang was released from prison a hero.
In 1917 Wang, recently back from France, again joined Sun Yat-sen, who had become dissatisfied with the warlord regimes dominating China after 1911 and was trying to organize a new revolutionary party. For the next seven years, Wang served as Sun’s personal assistant and was one of the major officials in Sun’s new Nationalist Party (Kuomintang). Sun died in 1925 just as the Nationalist armies were ready to embark on their Northern Expedition to liquidate the warlords and unite China.
Wang became the new chairman of the national government, but as the Northern Expedition progressed successfully, Chiang Kai-shek, who controlled the Nationalist army, came to be favored by right-wing members of the party. These members finally formed their own regime in the South China city of Nanjing, while the left wing, in alliance with the communists, formed a regime headed by Wang in the central China city of Wuhan. Wang, however, found it increasingly difficult to cooperate with the communists, and in July 1927 he purged them. Most of the left wing of the Nationalist Party rejoined Chiang, who held the dominant military power. Wang continued to lead an opposition movement to Chiang until February 1932, when the two men were reconciled by a settlement in which Wang became president of the Nationalist Party while Chiang continued to head the military. War erupted with Japan in 1937.
Late in 1938 Wang flew to Hanoi (Vietnam) and there issued a public statement calling on the Chinese government to work out a peaceful settlement with the Japanese. In May 1939 he visited Japan for a negotiation and later signed a secret agreement with Japan in Shanghai. On March 30, 1940, in cooperation with Imperial Japan, he became the head of a new regime, which governed the Japanese-occupied areas of China centered in the former Nationalist capital of Nanjing. Although Wang had hoped to be granted virtual autonomy in his government, the Japanese continued to exercise strong military and economic dominance over the area. Wang went to Japan for medical treatment in March 1944 and died there later that year.
For his role in the Pacific War, Wang has been considered a traitor by most post-World War II Chinese historians in both Taiwan and mainland China. His name has become a byword for "traitor" or "treason" in mainland China and Taiwan, similarly to "Quisling" in Europe, "Benedict Arnold" in the United States, or "Mir Jafar" in India and Bangladesh. The mainland's communist government despised Wang not only for his collaboration with the Japanese, but also for his anti-communism, while the KMT downplayed his anti-communism and emphasized his collaboration and betrayal of Chiang Kai-shek. The communists also used his ties with the KMT to demonstrate what they saw as the duplicitous, treasonous nature of the KMT. Both sides downplayed his earlier association with Sun Yat-sen because of his eventual collaboration.
Despite the notoriety added to his name, academics continue to discuss whether or not he should be unequivocally condemned as a traitor because Wang also contributed greatly to the Xinhai Revolution and to the later mediation between the Communist Party and the Nationalist Party in post-imperial China. They argue that Wang collaborated with the Japanese because he believed that collaboration was the only hope for his desperate countrymen.