Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

On the Death of Zhang Xueliang
TADOKORO Takehiko / Trustee of Toho Gakuen

November 2, 2001
Mr. Zhang Xueliang died on October 14 in Hawaii where he had been staying. He was a hundred years old.

Newspaper articles and obituary columns reported his death by highlighting the leading role he played in the Sian Incident of 1936. It is true that this incident - in which Zhang detained Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek), supreme leader of the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) and demanded the formation of an anti-Japanese Nationalist-Communist United Front - marked the turning point in modern Chinese history, and I have no objections concerning the significance of his role. However, Zhang - who was not a Communist - had his reasons for taking such action. His father Zhang Zuolin had been blasted to death by the Japanese army, and he was forced to flee his homeland and ruling territory in Dongbei after the Manchurian Incident, also known as the September 18 Incident. His actions were borne of a deep enmity against Japan.

Incidentally, on the night of September 18, 1931, the day the Manchurian Incident occurred, Zhang Xueliang was not in his stronghold of Shen-Yang. He was in Beijing, in a theater, watching a Beijing Opera. In 'The Night of September 18,' a chapter of his book "Ten Tales From Beijing," writer Murakami Tomoyuki offers a vivid description of the scene.

The young Murakami was living in Beijing at the time, and on that night had also been at the Zhong He Xi Yuan Theater in Qian Men Wai. The program was "Yu zhou feng" featuring Mei Lan Fang. On that particular evening, Murakami found a group of Chinese soldiers about the size of a platoon posted at the entrance of the theater. He entered, wondering why they should find it necessary to guard Mei Lan Fang, and saw that the only vacant seat in the packed house was the special boxed seats on the second floor and the space immediately behind it. There was a piece of white cloth hanging from the balustrade in front of the boxed seat. Some time into the performance, Zhang Xueliang and his wife at the time Yu Fengzhi appeared and took those seats. Zhang, who at 30 was the effective ruler of Manchuria and Northern China, was attired in a shirt and dress coat, and spent the evening irritably puffing at his cigarette and looking around at the audience. His behavior was in stark contrast with that of his wife, who kept her eyes intently on the stage. Murakami observed in Zhang that night 'that peculiar sullenness displayed by the clown that is the husband at the end of a quarrel between a married couple.'

At around eleven, an attendant rushed to his side and whispered something into his ears, and with that Zhang led the entourage out of the theater. It was the very moment that Zhang Xueliang learned of the Manchurian Incident. Murakami even records the fiery crimson color of the lining inside the cloak the attendant threw over him.

In those days, Zhang Xueliang was a pleasure-seeker who took to smoking opium. But following the Sian Incident, that same man was to spend half a century under house arrest on Jiang Jieshi's orders. He finally regained his freedom in the mid 1980s and began making media appearances, which included an interview with the NHK in 1990. Despite his age of 90, he spoke in a steady manner, making comments such as "my entire life was ruined by Japan" and "I don't want the young people of Japan to ever commit the same mistake. In the final analysis, military force solves nothing."

The handsome "Young General" who was transformed by the September 18 Incident went on to lead China towards unity in the Sian Incident. And though he was forced into a life of prolonged captivity, his integrity remained intact. Japan's lawless deeds and invasion in the past was what made him rise to the occasion. The Japanese should remain diligent in their efforts to see the past as it is, just like people in all the other countries of the world.

The author is a Trustee of Toho Gakuen and former Beijing Bureau Chief of the Asahi Shimbun.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

田所 竹彦 / 桐朋学園理事

2001年 11月 2日







一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟