Propaganda Activities in Northern China – Utilization of Atrocity Stories
“When the Marco Polo Bridge incident on 7 July 1937 set off full-scale war between China and Japan,” wrote a professor of Chinese literature, Leo Ou-fan Lee, in The Cambridge History of China, “it also unleashed a crescendo of literary activities.”
In China all factional intellectuals in the early thirties united at once and flocked to the banner of “K’ang-chan,” or “the war of resistance,” issuing spontaneous anti-Japanese manifestos.
Only a few days after the incident, for example, some sixteen dramatists in Shanghai created a three-act play called Pao-wei Lu-Kou-ch’iao, or Defend the Marco Polo Bridge.
In March 1938 in Hankow the All-China Resistance Association of Writers and Artists was founded, led by Lao She. Within a short time, branches sprang up in major cities all over China.
The member writers visited battlefronts, “fraternized” with the soldiers and filed “emotion-tinged” reportage in the form of journalistic or proto-journalistic literature, which gained enormous popularity. The Association also assigned young writers in rural areas to initiate literary activities in the region, provided specific themes, and corrected their reports and creative writings. In Shanghai area, more than three hundred reports of those kinds were seemingly organized “in a matter of days.”
According to Leo, the two reigning slogans in the field of literature were: “Literature must go to the countryside! Literature must join the army!” and “Propaganda first, art second!”
Besides the visiting teams and the literary reporters, the Association created five propaganda teams and ten dramatic troops. Soon the dramatic groups became extremely popular and in 1939 they included as many as 130,000 performers. 
Haldore Hanson, a freelance journalist and Associated Press correspondent in China, spent two weeks with the local “guerilla” group or the Self-Defense Government, in Central Hopei in March 1938. Traveling in the region, he saw some drama performances written for the local people and wrote:
The themes were all anti-Japanese and had been written especially for the Hopei people. A typical theme: a drunken Japanese soldier (the actor wearing a real Japanese uniform) enters a home and tries to rape the mother but is killed by the daughter who fetches the family meat cleaver.
The crowd cheered lustily when the little girl, after hesitating for several minutes, finally felled the enemy. Between the acts of this dramatic program the school children sang patriotic songs, led the crowd in cheers, and performed a sword dance. Mass meeting are popular among villagers. 
Hanson observed several mass meetings of over 20,000 peasants with speeches, dramas and patriotic songs. In his words, all speeches painted the Imperial Army of Japan as “the most depraved fiend on earth,” and “every atrocity committed by the Japanese soldiers – murder, rape, robbery, the burning of villages, the polluting of wells – was dwelt on in the blood-chilling orations delivered by these political agents.” 
Although Kuomintang’s official propaganda organization was established within the National Military Council in 1938, it was Communists and their sympathizers who were indeed in charge of the entire propaganda operations domestically.  The Kuomintang flag and the Communist emblem were always shown together at public meetings.
In Hanson’s view, the emphasis of all propaganda was to appeal to a “family-oriented peasantry,” rather than to educate peasants to create a socialist republic.
In his article, he described a cartoon in six scenes pasted on the walls of hundreds of villages, which made “tremendous appeal to a simple peasantry,” as follows:
The artist shows a Japanese officer welcomed into a Chinese home, then making love to the daughter at the dinner table, next trying to rape her that night, then the parents rushing to her assistance and being shot dead, finally the officer satisfying his lust and killing the daughter.
Through this cartoon, “they are taught to fight not for Communism,” wrote the journalist, “but against ‘wicked enemy’ who is said to be slaughtering the villagers and endangering the ancestral altars.” 
- Leo Ou-fan Lee, “Literary Trends: the Road to Revolution 1927-1949,” in The Cambridge History of China 13, ed. John K. Fairbank and Denis Twithchett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 466-470.
- Haldore Hanson, “The People Behind the Chinese Guerillas,” Pacific Affairs 11.3 (September 1938): 289.
- Leo, 467.
- Hanson, 290-291.
End of A Propaganda Organization – Jikyoku Iinkai in the United States
On June 1, 1942 in Federal District Court in Washington D.C., an American named Frederick Vincent Williams was convicted of conspiracy and nine violations of the Foreign Agents Act after a three-week trial.
Williams, who wrote in his 1938 Behind the News in China that “the Chiang Kai-shek people” talked the foreign missionaries into writing about “wild tales of alleged Japanese atrocities” in their “harrowing letters,”  indeed worked with a Japanese organization, Jikyoku Iinkai, to propagate the doctrine that Japan was not an enemy to the United States. 
Jikyoku Iinkai, which literally means the committee for current state of affairs in Japanese, was known as the Japanese Committee on Trade and Information. It was financed and controlled by the Japanese government, which spent some $195,000 for the purpose of spreading propaganda in the United States through radio speeches, a monthly magazine and pro-Japanese booklets.
Williams, along with his two American confederates, David Warren Ryder and Ralph Townsend, worked closely with five other Japanese agents to distribute their side of the stories on the Second Sino-Japanese War. All three Americans and the five Japanese were later indicted by a Federal Grand Jury.
Legally registered as an employee at a Japanese steamship line, Nippon Yusen, Frederick Vincent Williams, or “Wiggy,” operated as a correspondent of an English language newspaper published in Tokyo. Jikyoku Iinkai funds were deposited under Williams’ name in the Yokohama Specie Bank. The Japanese Consulate General in San Francisco was also frequently seen to have put money in his bank account.
On June 5, 1942, Williams was sentenced to 16 months to four years in prison, which included eight months to two years for conspiracy and an equal term for filing nine false registrations with the State Department.
Among the three American conspirators the most prolific writer was Ralph Townsend, a former college professor who brought back strong Japanese sympathies from his several years of service as a consular officer in China. “After he visited Japan in 1937,” wrote the Washington Post, “propaganda began to hum on the West Coast.”
Townsend wrote a number of pamphlets and books such as The High Cost of Hate, America Has No Enemies in Asia, and Seeking Foreign Trouble,  made numerous speeches and radio talks, and edited an anti-British magazine, Scribner’s Commentator.
Townsend admitted having concealed he was in the pay of the Japanese and pleaded guilty to the charge that he violated the Foreign Agents Act. Although the author of this online documentary could not find what sentence Townsend received, the most he could get was a $1,000 fine and eight to 24 months in prison.
A former newspaper man, David Warren Ryder, was given the same prison term as Williams. According to one witness, it was Ryder who developed the scheme for wholesaling “pro-Japanese publicity” in the United States and initiated the large-scale operations.
Of the five Japanese conspirators the only one who was arrested by Federal authorities was Obana Tsutomu, who pleaded guilty at the beginning of the trial and testified against Williams and Ryder. The other four, including K. Takahashi, the manager of the Nippon Yusen, had fled to Japan long before the prosecution cracked down.
Obana was sentenced to a rather light punishment, two to six months’ imprisonment. The Post quoted the presiding judge Goldsborough as saying, “It is to be said for Obana that he did not try to be crookedly smart, he was not disloyal to his country, he attempted no betrayal.” 
Go back to: Table of Contents
- Williams, 113-116.
- As to information on Jikyku Iinkai and the trial, the author went through a series of articles by Dillard Stokes appeared in the Washington Post on 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 19, 20, 26, 27 of May 1942 and 2, 5, 6 of June 1942 as well as the San Francisco Chronicle on 28 March and 11 May 1942, and San Francisco News on 27 March 1942.
- For detailed citations, see the holdings of the California State Library System under Ralph Townsend. The list could be also seen at http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist8/tokio2.html.
- Dillard Stokes, “Jap Agents Given Jail Terms, Lecture,” the Washington Post, 6 June 1942.
©2000 Masato Kajimoto. All Rights Reserved.