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Justo Cabo Chan and the Chinese in the Philippines during the Japanese Occupation

Introduction by Chien-Wen Kung, National University of Singapore.

This document features excerpts from a much longer essay written by Philippine-Chinese businessman Justo Cabo Chan (Zeng Tingquan) after World War II and published (in Chinese) in the second volume of the 1948 Philippine-Chinese Chronicle. Born in the Philippines, Cabo Chan was a leading figure in the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, or KMT) in the islands in the late 1930s, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, when he became the party’s head of propaganda and a staunch supporter of the anti-Japanese boycott movement. Despite the official united front between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), tensions persisted between the KMT and the Chinese left throughout this period and beyond.

During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines (1942-1945), the KMT and Chinese left organized multiple underground resistance organizations. Among their goals was targeting those Chinese who collaborated with the Japanese colonial regime, such as through the puppet Chinese Association (CA, or Huaqiao xiehui). Early on, Cabo Chan was part of a small anti-Japanese force based in a remote part of Luzon, but was forced out of hiding when the Japanese threatened his family. After Chinese guerrillas assassinated Go Co-Lay, the first president of the CA, the Japanese turned to Cabo Chan to head the association. According to a KMT intelligence report after the war, Cabo Chan was responsible for forming a special forces team to assassinate some of his erstwhile party comrades. Unlike his predecessor, however, he survived an attempt on his life in December 1944 at the hands of a Chinese communist assassin.

Following the liberation of the Philippines from Japanese rule, Cabo Chan was arrested by the US Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC), which was responsible for identifying and detaining collaborators. A Chinese communist organization also summoned him to appear before an “Anti-Collaboration Commission,” a kangaroo court, to be tried for his wartime behavior – which he did not. Eventually, the CIC lacked evidence to convict and deport him, and had to release him from custody. But Cabo Chan was not welcomed back into the KMT. Although the KMT was far more willing to overlook wartime collaboration than the Chinese left was, his conduct was nonetheless considered beyond the pale. Stripped of any influence within the KMT, Cabo Chan retreated from public life. In 1948, around the time that a large-scale, communist-led rural rebellion erupted in the Philippines (the Hukbalahap Rebellion), he penned this long essay in an attempt to clear his name.

Discussion questions:

How does Cabo Chan attempt to persuade and win over his readers in his essay? What arguments and rhetorical techniques does he employ to exonerate himself? Think about who he was writing for and when he was doing so.

Given his reasons for writing the essay, how credible are its insights into the Japanese occupation of the Philippines? What parts of it are relatively believable and which might not be?

What do you understand by “collaboration” with the Japanese? Why did persons collaborate, and how might Cabo Chan’s essay complicate our understanding of this phenomenon?

Source information:

Chen Hsiao-yu [Chen Xiaoyu] (ed.), Philippine Chinese Chronicle, vol. 2 (Manila: Philippine Chinese Chronicle Publisher, 1948), chu 1-9.


Chronicle of Overseas Chinese in the Philippines

My brief biography

Justo Cabo Chan [Zeng Tingquan] was born in the Philippines and is currently 56. Along with his father Zeng Wenbang and his Filipino mother Teresa Cabuntas, he grew up in his ancestral town of Nan’an county, Fujian province in China from a young age. At 9, he went to Xiamen to study at Tongwen Academy. In 1908, he returned to the Philippines with his mother. In 1910, he returned to China and lived in in Xiamen, becoming a revolutionary and joining the Tongmenghui during his travels with his classmates. Later, he was arrested by the Xiamen coast guard and subsequently jailed. Fortunately, his mother came to Xiamen and invited the US Embassy at Gulangyu to negotiate with the coast guard on his behalf. After his release, he and his mother returned to the Philippines, following the embassy’s orders. He lived in Manila and continued to engage in revolutionary work with his fellow comrades Tee Han Kee [Zheng Hanqi], Say Kok Chuan [Shi Guoquan], Dai Jinhua, and Chen Yisan. After the Xinhai Revolution, he was officially registered as a Kuomintang member and re-elected as an executive committee member of the Nueva Ecija province Cabanatuan branch. He also held the successive position on the executive committee of the headquarters of the Philippines branch, as well as the director of the publicity department. In 1935, to build better relations with the Philippine Chinese and improve diplomatic relations with China, he invited a number of Philippine Chinese elites, formed the China-Philippines National Association [Zhong Fei guomin xiehui] and was re-elected as the chairman of this organization. Even with the July 7 [Marco Polo Bridge] Incident, he was still committed to aiding the War of Resistance through propaganda. During the occupation, he endured many hardships and thus after liberation he was again slandered by the traitorous party. However, since it was all untrue, he was not convicted. He is now retired at his Qinyuan private residence, and has penned this veritable record to clear his intentions and speak the truth.

The organization of the guerrilla movement and the situation early on during the war

On December 30, 1941, Justo Cabo Chan, his four sons, and his brothers retreated to a village in the forests and mountains and joined forces with a group of Filipinos to form an anti-Japanese guerrilla organization…1,200 guerrillas were divided into two large units, which was more than enough manpower to handle training, food commission, and firearms. In April 1942, Bataan and Corregidor fell consecutively into the enemy’s hands. From April to May, the Japanese Army launched massive attacks against our guerillas as they continuously recruited new members and encircled us. However, our guerillas responded to the attacks accordingly and fought more than ten bloody battles against the Japanese invaders. These battles gradually strengthened the national consciousness of the Filipinos. We emerged stronger in the battles and overwhelmed the Japanese invaders. Our troops originally had around 1,200 soldiers and this number later increased to around 3,000. In July, Lieutenant-Colonel Bernard I. Anderson and other US military officers visited Atiz hill in person and generously awarded all the teams. He also planned to expand the resistance forces against the Japanese. Our guerillas’ unit leader would join the organization, so each unit would become a regular armed force from now on.

A brief intelligence report on our guerrilla organization in Manila

February 7, 1942

It is rumored that the Japanese invaders will continue arresting people, inciting fear and horror among our people, making everyone scared for their own safety. The Japanese have shut down Chinese shops and the situation is particularly grave. Various messages and signal codes have been duly received from the department.

May 30, 1942

Ever since the imperial Japanese navy and army started purchasing large amounts of scrap metal, many Philippine-Chinese businessmen have colluded with the other party [yidang, i.e. the Chinese communists] to jointly run their businesses, making enormous profits. The cunning of the traitorous businessmen has caused much pain and distress.

Currently, most of the Chinese community are drunkards without hope. Throughout the city, there are opium dens, heroin needles, casinos, brothels, ballrooms, and hotels – what good fortune! The number of Chinese suffering from these addictions increases by the day.

July 2, 1942

Recently, relations between Chinese and Filipinos have soured, and the situation has become dangerous after a Chinese spy came into conflict with a Filipino policeman last month. Both men opened fire and injured many, including some innocent Chinese who were beaten and humiliated. Some Chinese repeatedly used the power of the Taiwanese against the Filipinos. This made Filipinos unhappier and led to Chinese and Filipinos hating spies for the Japanese. As it became impossible for the Chinese Association [the Japanese puppet organization that Cabo Chan was President of] to mediate, it is increasingly difficult for our Chinese compatriots to feel safe.

November 7, 1942

In the name of resisting Japan, Mr. Wu, Mr. Huang, Mr. Cai, Mr. Guo, Mr. Li, et al. from the other party, along with a group of vagabonds, embezzled money from the Chinese community. Chinese businessmen who attempted to resist were all assassinated. Key members of the other party conspire with the Kempeitai to assassinate Kuomintang members.

December 27, 1942

Recently, the other party, using their lackeys and together with a handful of dishonest Kuomintang members, has called upon vagabonds belonging to different triad societies in the name of the War of Resistance. A total of around 200 people, through a Japanese military official, have joined the Kempeitai and Japanese army as spies. Among these men, around ten know Japanese.

October 5, 1943

Currently, many of the Chinese businessmen in the city have escaped, as the other party is wantonly extorting money in the name of resisting Japan. Each businessman’s family is being extorted for thousands to tens of thousands. If they resist, they face the threat of assassination. If there are no opportunities to assassinate these businessmen, the other party immediately informs spies and notifies the Kempeitai. It alleges that a certain Chinese has provided financial assistance to Justo Cabo Chan and Shih I-Sheng (Shi Yisheng)’s guerrilla movement. The Kempeitai believed this to be true and the ten Chinese who were arrested were killed.

Exposing the other party’s plot

Taking advantage of Japanese rule of the Philippine islands, the other party’s members certainly collaborated with the Japanese invaders. They spied for the Kempeitai, framed our Chinese compatriots and faked patriotism to squeeze an indeterminate amount of money from the Chinese community. It was a tragedy beyond compare. Moreover, they colluded with profiteers to purchase scrap metal and steel for the Japanese navy and army, making enormous profits. This is the absolute, factual truth.

Sacrificing himself to save his family

[Summary: As Justo Cabo Chan was wanted for two years, the Kempeitai arrested some of his family members to threaten him to surrender. At the insistence of the association, he decided to surrender. He tackled the situation by being a consultant on Filipino-Chinese relations for the Japanese.]

Trying to help the Chinese community after the assassination of Go Co-Lay

In September 1944, the president of the Chinese Association Go Co-Lay [Wu Goulai] and his staffers Tang Yunde and Liu Yuxian were assassinated, shocking the entire Chinese community. The Kempeitai was on edge, as if confronted by a formidable enemy. Many innocent Chinese were arrested; every evening, the Japanese barged into private homes and conducted searches and arrests. It was a terrifying world where everyone was in danger. Moreover, the Kempeitai told the Filipino police that they would round up all Chinese so that they could seize the opportunity to take revenge. In this rampantly violent environment, the circumstances for the Chinese community could not be more brutal.

…The leaders openly persuaded Justo Cabo Chan [to be the acting president] and he vowed to take responsibility for the consequences. He reluctantly accepted the temporary post as it concerned the safety and property of the Chinese community. He could only hope that Mr. Alfonso Sycip would come back soon, so that he could pass on the responsibility. For the safety of the entire overseas Chinese community in the Philippines, he first negotiated with the Philippine government, demanding equal treatment and that it not discriminate or make things difficult for the Chinese. He also demanded that the government stop the military police from harassing Chinese homes. Moreover, he contacted well-known figures in Philippine politics to explain to the Japanese, on behalf of the Chinese, that the overseas Chinese were experiencing hardships and eagerly looked forward to the Japanese retracting their orders that were targeted at the Chinese community. He poured his heart and soul into the above cases. The effects were immediate. In just a few days, from streets to alleyways, there were posters and slogans cursing the Japanese invaders and Chinese traitors. This attracted the attention of the Kempeitai once again, causing the suffering of innocent Chinese in the area.

Framed by the other party after liberation

After the Marco Polo Bridge Incident and before the occupation of the Philippine islands, the Kuomintang headquarters in the Philippines led all Chinese to devote themselves to the National Salvation Movement. To one’s surprise, members from the other party revealed the plans and disseminated reactionary propaganda, in an effort to sabotage the rescue mission. Justo Cabo Chan gave them a severe warning. This was the second reason for hatred towards him. When the central government settled the New Fourth Army Incident, the other party even publicly destroyed the central government’s reputation by hindering efforts to raise funds for the War of Resistance, culminating in serious conflicts between resistance organizations in various regions across the Philippines.

(Translated by Hei Kiu Au and edited by Chien-Wen Kung)

[Further Readings]

Kung, Chien Wen. Diasporic Cold Warriors: Nationalist China, Anticommunism, and the Philippine Chinese, 1930s–1970s. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2022. Chapter 2.

Steinberg, David Joel. Philippine Collaboration in World War II. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967. An old but excellent survey of Philippine collaboration with the Japanese and postwar attempts to bring these collaborators to justice.

Tan, Antonio S. The Chinese in the Philippines During the Japanese Occupation 1942-1945. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1981. The earlier of two histories of the Chinese anti-Japanese resistance movement in the Philippines.

Yung Li Yuk-wai. The Huaqiao Warriors: Chinese Resistance Movement in the Philippines, 1942-1945. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1996. The more recent and more updated history of the resistance movement.


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