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Few Chinese phrases carry the emotional weight of the term hanjian (汉奸), mean- ing Chinese who were traitors giving aid and comfort to the enemy. In this important new study, Yun Xia examines the concept primarily in regard to Japanese aggression during the War of Resistance and its aftermath following Japan’s surrender. The book goes far beyond the usual focus on well-known collaborators such as Wang Jingwei and Wang Kemin or the war crimes trials—though these are covered. Yun Xia’s expansive study examines popular attitudes toward collaborators, the political and economic aspects of holding individuals accountable, and the uses of the term hanjian.
She begins with an examination of the complex history of the term. Funda- mentally there is a contradiction within the phrase itself. Although hanjian is often translated as “traitor to China,” it actually means traitor to the Han, the major Chinese ethnic group. In other words, one violates loyalty to one’s ethnic group rather than a political state. Few challenged the use of this term. Xia cites alone publication in the 1930s whose authors suggested the use of Huajian 华奸 (traitor to China) because the Republic of China was supposed to be a nation-state of five ethnicities—Han, Manchu, Mongols, Muslims, and Tibetans. How could a Tibetan, for instance, be patriotic when that meant loyalty to another ethnicity? But the use of Huajian gained no traction. Hanjian continued to be used, leaving the impression that minority groups had to fully assimilate to be patriotic. This debate raged from Sun Yat-sen’s earliest notions of a republic until today’s China, where Uyghurs are locked up in “re-education camps” to convert them into behaving as cultural Han.
Conversely, one could be a traitor to the Han if one were Han but not necessarily a citizen of the Chinese nation. After the war Taiwanese were widely considered hanjian (even when not charged with the crime) because of wartime actions at a time when they were actually subjects of the Empire of Japan. Yun Xia also explores the case of ethnic Chinese living in Vietnam who might be considered French subjects. Yet Guomindang authorities considered many guilty of treasonous offenses because they were ethnically Han.