Repositioning the Present into History: Jean Paul Satre and the Japanese Occupation of China

313 views

Published on

According to Jean Paul Satre, collaborators in conquered states practice the intellectual gymnastics of “historicism” in order to justify their decision to work with their conquerors. They accept their conquest as a fait accompli, and equate their submission to their conqueror with a moral decision based on a “vague belief in progress.” Seen through the lens of the Hegelian dialectic, Satre’s argument suggests that collaborators view their collaborationist regime as a synthesis of the prewar regime and the foreign conquerors. Their logic goes as follows: history is fundamentally progressive, and the defeat of the nation is the latest chapter of history; ergo, the defeat of the nation serves a progressive aim. Such a view allows the collaborators to define themselves as “progressives” and their resistors as obstructionists or terrorists, allowing the end of historical progress to justify the means of harsh and violent repression. The collaborators therefore assume the direction and end state of progress and define their decision to collaborate as part of a necessary chain of events leading to that end state. By connecting their decisions to with an imagined continuity of progress, Satre views collaborators as guilty of “historicism” or burying the short- and medium-term consequences of their actions under the presumed long-term promise of progress by redefining present actions as future history.
While Satre’s assessment forms an especially poignant intellectual criticism of the decisions of select French figures, such as Maréchal Pétain, Pierre Lava, and Robert Brasillach, to collaborate with the German occupiers, this paper seeks to utilize Satre’s theoretical framework to examine the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and China. Due to the differences in the Japanese occupation of these two regions, this paper will deal these two distinct experiences of collaboration separately. Did these collaborators perform Satre’s intellectual gymnastics of historicism like their French counterparts? Did they consider their decision a moral one? Did they justify their actions according to a progressive view of history? Did they imagine their present collaboration as a future past?

0 Comments
0 Likes
Statistics
Notes
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Views
Total views
313
On SlideShare
0
From Embeds
0
Number of Embeds
1
Actions
Shares
0
Downloads
1
Comments
0
Likes
0
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Repositioning the Present into History: Jean Paul Satre and the Japanese Occupation of China

  1. 1. GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY REPOSITIONING THE PRESENT INTO HISTORY: JEAN PAUL SATRE AND THE JAPANESE OCCUPATION OF CHINA HIST 606: COLLABORATION IN WWII DR. AVIEL ROSHWALD BY SEAN P. MCBRIDE WASHINGTON, DC 14 APRIL 2010 AD MAIOREM DEI GLORIAM
  2. 2. McBride, 1 According to Jean Paul Satre, collaborators in conquered states practice the intellectual gymnastics of “historicism” in order to justify their decision to work with their conquerors. They accept their conquest as a fait accompli, and equate their submission to their conqueror with a moral decision based on a “vague belief in progress.” Seen through the lens of the Hegelian dialectic, Satre’s argument suggests that collaborators view their collaborationist regime as a synthesis of the prewar regime and the foreign conquerors. Their logic goes as follows: history is fundamentally progressive, and the defeat of the nation is the latest chapter of history; ergo, the defeat of the nation serves a progressive aim. Such a view allows the collaborators to define themselves as “progressives” and their resistors as obstructionists or terrorists, allowing the end of historical progress to justify the means of harsh and violent repression. The collaborators therefore assume the direction and end state of progress and define their decision to collaborate as part of a necessary chain of events leading to that end state. By connecting their decisions to with an imagined continuity of progress, Satre views collaborators as guilty of “historicism” or burying the short- and medium-term consequences of their actions under the presumed long-term promise of progress by redefining present actions as future history. While Satre’s assessment forms an especially poignant intellectual criticism of the decisions of select French figures, such as Maréchal Pétain, Pierre Lava, and Robert Brasillach, to collaborate with the German occupiers, this paper seeks to utilize Satre’s theoretical framework to examine the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and China. Due to the differences in the Japanese occupation of these two regions, this paper will deal these two distinct experiences of collaboration separately. Did these collaborators perform Satre’s intellectual gymnastics of historicism like their French counterparts? Did they consider their decision a moral one? Did they justify their actions according to a progressive view of history? Did they imagine their present collaboration as a future past? The Japanese colonial enterprise in Manchuria bears certain resemblances to the German occupation of France. The actual military act of conquest was quite comparatively brief in both
  3. 3. McBride, 2 circumstances. Afterwards, both conquered areas formed new regimes more closely aligned with the conqueror: Vichy France and Manchukuo. The political legitimacy of both of these regimes also hinged on the “collaboration” of certain high-level local elites (Maréchal Pétain in France and Pu Yi in Manchuria) willing to step forward to facilitate this shift in power and authority. Despite these superficial similarities, the role of collaboration in Manchukuo and Vichy France was fundamentally different. Because Manchuria “defies the usual spatial classifications of historical regions” due to a multifaceted history as borderland, province, and “reservoir” for the conquest of China,1 the Chinese Nationalist Movement was a new development that only began to affect Manchuria in the 1920s.2 Not only did Manchuria lack the sort of sacrosanct sense of nationalism á la France, but one can argue that Japanese imperialism actually predates contemporary Chinese nationalism in Manchuria. Absent an analogous sense of nationalism, it is impossible to satisfactorily apply Satre’s ideas on collaboration to Manchuria either before or after the Manchurian Incident. Did Zhang Zuolin or Zhang Xueliang imagine their collaboration with the Japanese as a new progressive chapter in history? This is doubtful given their status as anti-nationalist and traditionalist warlords. Considering the Manchu legacy of acting as a potential “reservoir” for conquering China, the Zhangs likely viewed Japanese interventionism as temporary means to strengthen their hand vis-à-vis their strategic competitors and expand their influence into China. In fact, why would these warlords even feel the need to perform the intellectual gymnastics of “historicism”? As pre-nationalist actors, the Zhangs viewed nationalist tempers are something “to be cooled” or a tool to use to extract demands from the Japanese.3 Considering that the Japanese assassinated Zhang Zuolin, it is unlikely that Zhang Xueliang honestly entertained romantic ideas of Asian co-prosperity under Japanese hegemony.4 Such an comparison with France is even more difficult following the Manchurian 1 Prasenjit Duara, Sovereignty and Authenticity, 43 2 Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire, 37 3 Young, 37. 4 Young, 38.
  4. 4. McBride, 3 Incident, as the nominally-sovereign Manchurian Emperor, Pu Yi, was “powerless” and “the political structure was carefully controlled by the Guandong Army.”5 In comparison to Maréchal Pétain, Pierre Lava, and Robert Brasillach, Pu Yi never meaningfully exercised power, making it highly- questionable to assess the morality of decisions he never had the agency to make. As these cases demonstrate, Satre’s criticism of collaborators does not translate well to the circumstances of Japanese influence and occupation in Manchuria. Japanese occupation policies in wartime China were fundamentally different than in the fictionally-sovereign Empire of Manchukuo, let alone in Vichy France. Because of this difference, Timothy Brook argues that collaboration in China occurred “not… at the top as it had in France… [but] at the bottom, in the county towns… at the local level.”6 Because collaboration occurred “at the bottom” following a wake of extreme violence by the Japanese Army, the object of collaboration was “mundane,” dealing with “supplying food, organizing transportation, arranging security – the sorts of matters that local elites have to solve under any political dispensations to ensure social reproduction and to maintain themselves in power.”7 This “mundane” collaboration does not however seem compatible with Satre’s comments about historicism. How can these local Chinese elites put themselves “in a far away future” when they are most concerned with the “mundane” tasks of protecting life and property, preventing rape, and putting food on the table? This sort of “mundane” collaboration surely worked on a day-to-day basis, not as part of some long term vision of Asian co- prosperity. And why would these collaborators by morally troubled by their “mundane collaboration? Unlike the willful collaboration of certain Vichy officials in the Holocaust, the majority of Chinese “collaborators” appear to simply have cooperated to ensure survival. The clearest exception to this assessment is Su Xiwen, leader of the Great Way Government in occupied Shanghai. Unlike the “mundane” collaborators in occupied China, he perhaps imagined 5 Duara, 65. 6 Timothy Brook, Collaboration, 2. 7 Brook, 7.
  5. 5. McBride, 4 his actions as connecting to a future “Great Way” China under his leadership, but so what if he practiced historicism? Surely all factions within the Chinese Civil War did the same. Furthermore, Satre’s accusation that collaborators “confuse the necessity to submit to the factual… with a certain inclination to morally approve of it” can apply equally to those that collaborated with the Japanese, the Nationalists, the Communists, or the local war lords. In the context of the Civil War, it is impossible to speak of either a single Chinese nationalism or a single “other.” The multiplicity of nationalisms makes it especially difficult to argue that Chaing Kaishek or Mao Zedong represented a Chinese nationalism any more sacrosanct than Sun Xiwen, especially considering the Great Way Government’s manifesto to “remedy the sickness that the Nationalists had inflicted on China… as Chinese curing Chinese.”8 Absent Chinese collaborationists along of the lines of Robert Brasillach, who were the true believers of Asian brotherhood and co-prosperity? The answer seems to be certain Japanese elites and pacification agents, who, given the rational disconnect between their ideology and the oppressive Japanese measures in China, ironically most closely approximate Satre’s “historicism.” Viewing the reality of Japanese military administration as a “Chinese liberation movement” required precisely the sort of mental gymnastics Satre described. One could only make this connection if one was convinced of a progressive view of history that could justify the means of Japanese brutality, which perhaps is why the romantic narrative of Manchurian liberation uses Marxist elements such as a portrayal of Zhang Xueliang’s regime as a “queer alliance between the bourgeoisie and semifeudal tyranny.”9 Yet what does this mean if Satre’s comments about collaborators best apply to Japanese occupiers? Although that answer is beyond the scope of this paper, this ironic twist emphasizes the inability of Satre’s comments to meaningfully analyze the actual practice of Chinese collaboration. 8 Brook, 163. 9 Young, 284.
  6. 6. McBride, 5 As this paper has demonstrated, the use of Satre’s theoretical framework of collaboration to examine the Japanese occupation regimes in Manchuria and China are fraught with difficulty. Ultimately, this relates to the close relationship between the concepts of collaboration and nationalism. Simply put, the expression and centrality of nationalist thought differed substantially between an “ancient” French nation-state with a legacy of overseas colonialism and the even-more- “ancient” multiethnic land-based Chinese Empire. This paper does not argue against the utility of recontextualizing Satre’s observations in a different region, as such an act could isolate theoretical commonalities to construct a more universal and comparative theory of collaboration. Rather, this paper demonstrates that China, which approximates the geographic and demographic scale and diversity of the entire European continent, is particularly unsuitable ground for the transplant of Satre’s ideas on French collaboration. In the context of a civil war between nationalists, communists, traditionalists, and war lords, it is difficult to speak of a universal sense of Chinese nationalism or moral virtues that transcended power of raw force. For this reason, Satre’s criticism that collaborators “confer to power some obscure moral virtue” appears downright foolish in the context of China and Manchuria. In order to fairly relate Satre’s characterization to an Asian context, other locations are perhaps more analogous to the French experience of collaboration. Due to its smaller size and longer collaborative relationship with Japan, perhaps Korea would be useful in this regard. Because of the theoretical dependence of collaboration on the concept of nationalism, scholars must ensure that comparative examinations of collaboration are based around analogous experiences of nationalism.

×