Chen Bijun

Name in Chinese
Name in Wade-Giles
Ch'en Pi-chun
Related People

Biography in English

Ch'en Pi-chun 陳璧君 Ch'en Pi-chun (5 November 1891 - 17 June 1959), the wife of Wang Ching-wei (q.v.), held together Wang's Japanese-sponsored regime after his death in 1944. In 1946 she was convicted of treason and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Little is known of Ch'en Pi-chun's childhood. She was a native of Hsinhui (Sunwui), Kwangtung, and was born in Penang, Malaya, into a family which had interests in the rubber business. The extent of the family's wealth has never been ascertained, but it was clearly a family of substantial means. One of Ch'en's elder brothers and a cousin were English-trained barristers. In 1908 Sun Yat-sen and a group of his close associates, including Hu Han-min (q.v.) and Wang Ching-wei, visited Malaya to promote the anti-Manchu revolutionary cause and to expand the organization of the T'ung-meng-hui, which had been founded two years before in Japan. The young Ch'en Pi-chun, then still in her teens, was attracted both by Sun Yat-sen's cause and by the good looks and personal magnetism of Wang Ching-wei. When Wang returned to Japan, she took some funds, left her family, and accompanied him. Ch'en Pi-chun's father had no active connection with the revolutionaries, and his daughter apparently left for Japan without his permission. Her mother, however, continued to support Ch'en. Sun Yat-sen approved Ch'en Pi-chün's participation in the activities of the T'ung-meng-hui and specifically requested that she be assigned quarters in Tokyo. Ch'en provided what financial support she could to the organization, and this assistance was welcome at a time when funds were low and prospects dim. Ch'en Pi-chun, Ho Hsiang-ning (q.v.), and Ch'iu Chin (ECCP, I, 169-71) were the three leading female members of the T'ung-meng-hui. In Japan, Ch'en and Wang Ching-wei became closer in their friendship. In 1910 she accompanied Wang and others to Peking on a secret mission to assassinate the Manchu prince regent. That initial attempt was frustrated by the discovery of the dynamite which the conspirators had hidden. Ch'en Pichün then left China and returned to Malaya to raise funds, while Wang Ching-wei and an associate remained in Peking. In March 1910 Wang and his associate carried out another attempt to assassinate the prince regent by placing a bomb under a bridge over which the prince was scheduled to pass. An error on the part of the conspirators upset the plot and aroused the police, who combed Peking and apprehended Wang in April.

When news of Wang Ching-wei's failure was reported, both Ch'en Pi-chun and Hu Han-min were in Malaya. They assumed that Wang would be executed. When it was later reported that Wang had been given a life sentence, the two met with other T'ung-meng-hui comrades at Ch'en Pi-chün's home in Penang to discuss possible ways of rescuing their friend. Ch'en Pi-chün's mother contributed her private savings to the undertaking. Early in 1911 Ch'en Pichün and Hu Han-min went to Hong Kong, where they continued their fruitless efforts to save Wang. In April 1911, when the Huanghua-kang uprising was staged at Canton (see Huang Hsing), Ch'en Pi-chun accompanied Hu Han-min and others to participate in that action. When they arrived at Canton, however, they discovered that the insurrection had already been defeated. The party immediately returned to Hong Kong, where Hu and others took refuge in Ch'en Pi-chün's house in Kowloon. Wang Ching-wei was released by the Peking authorities on 27 October 1911, some two weeks after the Wuchang revolt. Wang then went south to Shanghai, where he met Sun Yat-sen on Sun's arrival from Europe and Hong Kong on 25 December.

Wang and Ch'en Pi-chün were married in 1912, on the eve of the republic, and Ho Hsiang-ning was matron of honor. It was reported that the wedding was solemnized on 1 January 1912. The couple then left on a wedding trip to Europe. They spent the years of the First World War in France, relatively uninvolved with political maneuverings at home. Returning to China later in 1917, they joined Sun Yat-sen, who was then at Canton leading an organized opposition regime and attempting to rally independent military strength. During the next seven years Wang Ching-wei was a member of Sun's personal entourage, but his wife did not occupy a prominent public role. In 1923 Sun Yat-sen sent Ch'en Pi-chün and her younger brother Ch'en Ch'ang-tsu, an air force officer, to the United States to solicit donations from Chinese residents for the school established at Canton to commemorate the revolutionary martyr Chu Chih-hsin, who had been killed in 1920. In 1924, after the founding of the Whampoa Military Academy, Ch'en Pi-chim reportedly sold her jewelry to contribute to its funds. In November 1924 she was a member of the party which accompanied Sun Yat-sen on his final trip to the north and was present in Peking when Wang Ching-wei drafted Sun's final political testament shortly before Sun's death in March 1925.

After Sun's death, Wang Ching-wei continued to be a political figure of national importance. He later served as president of the Executive Yuan at Nanking from 1932 to 1935. During that period Ch'en Pi-chün was a member of the Central Supervisory Committee of the Kuomintang. When the Japanese invasion of China began in 1937-38, however, Chiang Kai-shek moved to consolidate his position as leader of the Kuomintang and national leader of China, and Wang Ching-wei's personal power in the National Government became more nominal than real.

The motivations underlying Wang Chingwei's decision to desert the National Government and to form a separate regime under Japanese sponsorship remain a subject for conjecture. Whatever the reasons, Wang's move to Nanking introduced a new stage in Ch'en Pi-chün's life. During the period of the collaboration, particularly after 1940, Ch'en Pi-chün divided her time between Nanking and Canton. She held an appointment from the Japanese-sponsored regime as political director of Kwangtung province, and in that capacity was the supreme Chinese authority in the area, with power over the provincial governor. This situation produced little friction within the Wang regime, since the successive governors of Kwangtung were all related by blood or marriage to Ch'en Pi-chun. They were Ch'en Yao-tsu, her brother Ch'en Chun-pu, a nephew; and, for the last few months before the Japanese surrender in 1945, Ch'u Min-i (q.v.), her brother-in-law. Ch'en Pi-chun's presence at Canton probably made it easier for the Chinese to deal with the Japanese military authorities, who had to give formal deference to her position as the wife of Wang Ching-wei. After the outbreak of the War in the Pacific, Ch'en Pi-chun helped Hu Han-min's widow and daughter and some doctors to leave Hong Kong for the mainland. Wang Ching-wei, in ailing health from bullet wounds received several years before, was forced to go to Japan for medical treatment in March 1944. He died there on 10 November 1944, with Ch'en Pi-chün and their younger son at his deathbed. By then, the outcome of the war was no longer in doubt, and close personal friends advised Ch'en Pi-chün to retire from politics. Ch'en Chun-pu refused to continue as governor of Kwangtung. Ch'en Pi-chün, however, argued that if the Chinese leaders of the Japanese-sponsored government abandoned their posts, the Japanese, when eventually defeated, on their departure would vent their wrath on the Chinese people living in the occupied areas. She therefore induced Ch'u Min-i to take over the governorship of Kwangtung and returned to Canton herself to take charge. She was in Canton when Japan surrendered in August 1945. Toward the end of August, she and Ch'u Min-i were taken into custody. In November 1945 she was sent to Nanking. Early in 1946 she was transferred to Soochow, where many leading figures of the Japanese-sponsored governments were held.

On 16 April Ch'en Pi-chün was arraigned and tried for treason. The trial attracted great attention in China. In her testimony, Ch'en Pi-chün stressed Wang Ching-wei's sincerity and patriotism in believing that a peaceful accommodation with Japan was the only realistic method of preserving Chinese national interests. She refused to admit that Wang had made mistakes or that he was a national traitor, and she argued that Wang's government had no more given up Chinese interests than had the government of Chiang Kai-shek at Chungking. Although her statement aroused sympathy, the authorities were more concerned with retribution than with understanding. On 23 April 1946 she was convicted, sentenced to life imprisonment, and confined at Soochow to serve her sentence.

Three years later, on the eve of the crossing of the Yangtze by the Chinese Communist armies in the spring of 1949, the National Government made a crisis decision which was unusual. All imprisoned Japanese collaborators serving less than life terms were released ; those serving life sentences were transferred to the Ward Road Jail at Shanghai. Ch'en Pi-chün was transferred to the Shanghai prison and thus came under Communist jurisdiction in 1949. After the consolidation of control by the new authorities, two of the most prominent women in China attempted to intercede on her behalf. These were Madame Sun Yat-sen (Sung Ch'ing-ling, q.v.) and Madame Liao Chung-k'ai (Ho Hsiang-ning, q.v.). The Communists allegedly demanded a public statement of repentance from Ch'en Pi-chün as the price of release. She rejected the terms and remained in prison. She later became ill and in March 1959 was moved to the prison hospital. There she died in June 1959, nearly 15 years after Wang Ching-wei's death and 14 years after her own arrest and confinement in 1945. Since Ch'en Pi-chün had no family in China, her body was cremated, and the remains were shipped from Shanghai to Canton. Early in 1960, with the permission of the Communist authorities, the ashes were taken to Hong Kong. A memorial service was held there, and the ashes were then cast into the sea.

An impetuous, brusque, and determined woman, Ch'en Pi-chün exerted great influence on her husband during their long married life. Her independent financial resources also played a significant role in the family. She and Wang Ching-wei were survived by five children, two sons and three daughters, one ofwhom became a Catholic nun. All went to live outside China.

Biography in Chinese

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