Reconciling Split Universities, 1946

From Last Boat Out of Shanghai, by Helen Zia (Ballantine, 2019), Kindle pp. 170-173:

At war’s end, two parallel Jiao Tong universities emerged: the returned students from the makeshift Jiao Da in Free China and Ho’s campus in Shanghai.

Over the weeks and months after the surrender, the split grew wider on every campus. Instead of having a joyful reunion, the students who had lived under enemy occupation were now stung by accusations. Ho and the other “fake” students were being called out as puppets and collaborators. Some accusers were embittered returnees seeking targets to blame for their years of misery, while others saw an opportunity to get revenge or to climb over the disgraced.

Ho’s discomfort turned to alarm and dismay as his own academic record was challenged. Living under the Japanese occupation hadn’t been easy. His family, too, had suffered the privations of war. Now, after all his hard work and his family’s sacrifice, everything he had accomplished was diminished, and his loyalty to China was in question. To make matters worse, the students who stayed in Shanghai were academically much stronger than the students from the interior, who had lacked essential tools for a solid education—and it showed.

In 1946, the returned Nationalist authorities imposed a “reconversion” training program on the teachers and students who had remained in Shanghai. They declared that “fake students” like Ho were “corrupted,” just like the collaborators and traitors. They even called Ho and his cohorts “puppet students” who lacked the political understanding of the “real” Jiao Da students. The new Ministry of Education questioned the validity of the academic records of graduates from colleges and middle schools in occupied Shanghai. It created a special program in Nationalist ideology, requiring all such students to take the course. Students and graduates who failed the exam would be considered corrupted, their reputations tarnished and their diplomas and academic credits rendered worthless. Teachers were also to be tested for their loyalty to and knowledge of Nationalist principles.

Ho was horrified—and indignant. Why should he be stigmatized solely because his family hadn’t joined the difficult exodus to the interior? He had been only thirteen in 1937. Neither his elderly grandmother nor his sick brother could have endured the journey. Everyone had personal reasons for the choices they had to make during the long war. How could all of the thousands of students in Shanghai during the eight years of enemy occupation be corrupt puppets? With such accusations of ideological inferiority, Ho worried that his dream was slipping away, falling like a stone into the filthy Huangpu River.

Just as Ho was beginning to lose hope, he saw that some of his fellow students were fighting against the gross unfairness. Campus activists stood on the steps of buildings, arguing that they should not be treated as though they had supported the Japanese enemy. Ho stopped to listen. They hadn’t joined the Wang Jingwei puppets in Nanjing or aided Pan Da’s puppet police at 76, the students asserted. Didn’t the accusers know that many students and teachers in Shanghai had been arrested and executed for their anti-Japanese resistance? Or that students across Shanghai had refused to study the Japanese language?

The protests against the Nationalist sanctions spread like wildfire. Shanghai’s workers, too, called for relief from the years of hardship and repression. The students and workers combined forces in massive citywide demonstrations that seemed to explode with greater ferocity each day as the postwar unrest spread.

Ho found himself pulled into the groundswell. He agreed with the protest organizers. After all, they had been children during the war. It was unfair and outrageous to condemn them as traitors and ruin their lives. It made sense to Ho that he should stand up for his own future and not depend on others to do that for him. When students in his dormitory asked if he would support them, Ho surprised himself by joining the protests in spite of rumors that some of the students were secret Communists. Ho didn’t care. He had to show everyone that he was a student, not a traitor.

A massive mobilization called on all students to gather at the Shanghai North railway station, the major rail terminus in the former International Settlement. Ho fell in step with throngs of Jiao Tong schoolmates as they marched the five-mile distance. He, too, shouted, “Fair treatment for all students and teachers!” and “Punish the real traitors, not the ordinary people!” Along the way, the ranks swelled with men and women from other campuses: Shanghai University, Tongji, St. John’s, Fudan, Aurora, and the many other schools that were an important part of Shanghai’s intellectual life.

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Filed under China, democracy, education, Japan, migration, war

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