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"We Are Two Sisters": Korean and Taiwan Anti-Japanese Volunteers in China

Introduction by Shaun Lee Yi Xian (Supervised by Sayaka Chatani), National University of Singapore.

Despite not being a Japanese colony, China became a site of many Korean and Taiwanese nationalist efforts in the 1920s. This was so especially before the Kuomintang (KMT; Nationalists)–Chinese Communist Party (CCP) United Front ended and Japanese imperial aggression on China increased.[1] In 1937, China found itself at all-out war with Japan after the Marco Polo Bridge incident and sought assistance in its struggle against Japan. Korean and Taiwanese nationalists saw an opportunity to join the resistance against Japanese imperialism, which led to a resurgence of their activities in China.[2] Two prominent outfits among these groups were the Korean and Taiwan Volunteers.

The Korean Volunteers were formed as an offshoot of the Korean Revolutionary Party (朝鲜民族革命党) in October 1938, after the Party called on all Koreans to fight the Japanese with China. While their aims as stated in 1938 were largely focused on the immediate war effort (to gain military advantage via intelligence activity and propaganda targeting both Japanese forces and Koreans in Japanese-occupied territory), by 1940 the Volunteers had expanded their goals to include:

1. To work to unify the overseas Korean revolutionary movement

2. To build a closer connection to revolutionary movements in Korea

3. To conduct propaganda and intelligence-gathering activity among Koreans who were living in Japanese-occupied territory in China

4. To create military units to resist the Japanese [3]

The Korean Volunteers worked on the frontlines to shout propaganda at Japanese soldiers to make them homesick and trained Chinese troops to shout propaganda slogans in Japanese.[4] They were thus attached to almost all KMT units to help with translation work and propaganda efforts.[5] The Korean Volunteers also sought to mobilize Korean residents in Japanese-occupied areas to join anti-Japanese activities and reportedly were involved in guerilla missions behind enemy lines.[6] In Chinese-ruled areas, they sought to spread the message of Korean nationalism to the Chinese public and other Korean residents.[7]

Operating alongside the Korean Volunteers were the Taiwan Volunteers. The idea of forming a Taiwanese Volunteer Force originated from the Taiwanese Independence Revolutionary Party (台湾独立革命党) in 1938, which had aimed to attract people from Taiwan to travel to China to fight the Japanese. Around that time, the Chinese government was forcefully using the Taiwanese in Fujian for agricultural labor as enemy Japanese citizens. Learning this situation, a prominent Taiwanese nationalist, Li Youbang, decided to staff the Taiwan Volunteers by these Taiwanese already in China. The Taiwanese in Fujian thus became the foundation for the Taiwan Volunteers.[8]

The Taiwan Volunteers were established with the goal to unite the Taiwanese people, defeat Japanese imperialism, and defend Sun Yat-Sen’s Three People’s Principles. They had a policy of “70% politics, 30% military,” which reveals their heavy emphasis on their political campaigns. The most unique to the Taiwan Volunteers was their medical services. It is recorded that no less than two thirds of the Volunteers had some kind of medical background, because the Japanese colonial government in Taiwan had limited the courses of study that the Taiwanese were eligible for, including medicine.[9] Doctors from the Chinese Volunteers treated injured soldiers on the battlefield, in rural villages, and in a series of Taiwan Hospitals created to treat poor civilians and injured soldiers. The Volunteers also produced camphor, a medicinal substance commonly available in Taiwan, which China lacked both supplies of and expertise in manufacturing, and conducted public engagement to promote hygiene and vaccination.[10] Although the Taiwan Hospitals lacked equipment and funding, they still promoted the political goals of the Taiwan Volunteers: medical staff took advantage the captive audience of patients, both civilian and military, to educate locals about the oppression that the Taiwanese had suffered under Japanese rule.[11]

A second key feature of the Taiwan Volunteers was its Children’s Corps. Members of the Children’s Corps were aged between 8–16 years old and tended to be the children of Taiwan Volunteers. Organized according to the ideals of communal living and self-study, they studied Three People’s Principles, history, the history of Taiwanese revolution, and perhaps most importantly, the skills needed for propaganda: the Chinese and Japanese languages, and techniques of propaganda. Beyond studying, the Children’s Corps often put their propaganda skills in practice: they were involved in encouraging soldiers on the frontline to fight and gave speeches and performances throughout China to encourage support for the anti-Japanese cause and Taiwanese independence.[12]

The most prominent activity that the Taiwan Volunteers undertook, however, was political and propaganda activity. The Taiwan Volunteers were often sent to various military units in small groups of two to three each, and shouted propaganda across the battlefield to drain the resolve of the Japanese soldiers, and training Chinese soldiers in anti-Japanese propaganda.[13] They were also used in various intelligence-gathering and espionage activity on the frontlines—they translated Japanese documents and communications, interrogated Japanese prisoners of war, and surveyed the political and economic situation of Japanese-occupied areas.[14] The volunteers’ writings suggest that, as externally attached Volunteers, they were uniquely able to eat and chat with Chinese soldiers of all ranks, from soldiers and orderlies to the regimental and division commanders. Consequently, this anti-Japanese propaganda work allowed them to spread the message of Taiwan independence to an especially wide audience.[15]

The Taiwan and Korean Volunteers can thus be seen as similar organizations. Apart from the Taiwan Volunteers’ medical expertise, they undertook similar attempts to wage predominantly psychological warfare against the Japanese, directly involving themselves in the battle against their colonial oppressor. In so doing, they also took the opportunity to spread propaganda about their own particular anti-Japanese struggles.

In fact, the links between the Taiwan and Korean Volunteers run deeper than just similarities. The Korean Volunteers enabled the official establishment of the Taiwan Volunteers by connecting Li Youbang with the KMT upper brass, cooperated with the Taiwan Volunteers even before their official inauguration, and allowed their funding to be shifted to help the nascent Taiwan Volunteers.[16] Connections between the two groups continued after the Taiwan Volunteers’ establishment, from Li Youbang’s attendance at the Korean Volunteers’ 1940 commemoration of the anniversary of the March First Movement to exchanges between rank-and-file Volunteers and their respective Children’s Corps. The propaganda magazines of each organization also frequently reported on each other’s activities and emphasized the shared link between the two Volunteers. [17]

One such editorial is the source translated below: “We are Two Sisters”. The article appeared in Taiwan Xianfeng, the Taiwan Volunteers’ main news outlet, in August 1940, soon after the official establishment of the Taiwan Volunteers. The essay highlights that the Taiwanese and Koreans both shared suffering under the Japanese, and their unique position as a source of propaganda towards, and knowledge about, the enemy. It was written by Li Da, a prominent member of the Taiwan Volunteers who had also been part of the Korean Volunteers, and who had previously published “A Letter,” an editorial directed to the Taiwanese Volunteers, in the Korean Volunteers’ Bulletin.[18] “We Are Two Sisters” has been cited by multiple scholars as evidence of the close link between the Taiwan Volunteers and the Korean Volunteers.[19]

The close links between the Taiwan Volunteers and Korean Volunteers should not obscure the differences between the two outfits, however. The two forces had different attitudes towards their future with China: while the Taiwan Volunteers wanted to return to China, the Korean Volunteers wanted independence.[20] More interestingly, while the Korean Volunteers were trusted by the KMT due to the high number of their leadership who were intellectuals who had graduated from KMT-affiliated institutions like the Whampoa Military Academy, Nanjing Central Military Academy, and Zhongshan University, the Taiwanese were mistrusted both as Japanese spies and as Communists (with Li Youbang having previously been arrested for alleged Communist activity, and many Volunteers being known Communists who attempted to spread Communism within the Taiwan Volunteers).[21]

The result of this mistrust was an inconsistent relationship between the KMT and the Taiwan Volunteers. The KMT’s initial support for the Taiwan Volunteers chilled after the New Fourth Army Incident in January 1941 (when KMT and CCP forces fought each other).[22] This left the Taiwan Volunteers dependent on donations from friends of Li Youbang, frequently lacking food and clothing. Such struggles for funding appear to have been much more pertinent for the Taiwan Volunteers compared to the Korean Volunteers. Some historians have suggested that while the Korean Volunteers were involved in some military activity, this attitude towards the Taiwan Volunteers likely also meant that the KMT never allowed the Taiwan Volunteers to militarize, and that they would have lacked the capacity to do so themselves, contradicting accounts that credit the Taiwan Volunteers with guerilla activity in occupied Xiamen. [23]

[1] See Xin Liu 刘鑫, "Quanmian kangzhanshiqi Zhongguo Taiwan yu Hanguo kang-Ri liliangde xingcheng uu bijiao: Yi Taiwan yiyongdui he Chaoxian yiyongdui wei zhongxin 全面抗战时期中国台湾 与韩国抗日力量的形成与比较: 以台湾义勇队和朝鲜义勇队为中心" [The Formation and Comparison of Anti-Japanese Forces between Taiwan and Korea in the Period of Total Resistance against Japanese Aggression: Centering on Taiwan Anti-Japanese Militia and Korean Volunteer Militia], 现代台湾研究, no. 4 (2021): 64; Wang Zhengwen 王政文, Taiwan yiyongdui: Taiwan kangrituanti zaidalude huodong, 1937-45 台灣義勇隊 : 台灣抗日團體在大陸的活動, 1937-1945 [Taiwan Volunteers: Taiwan Anti-Japanese Resistance Groups Activity in Mainland China, 1937-45] (Taipei: 台湾书房出版有限公司, 2011), 24. [2] Wang, Taiwan yiyongdui, 133-34. [3] Mu Tao 沐濤 and Sun Kezhi 孫科志, Dahan minguo linshi zhengfu zai Zhongguo 大韓民國臨時政府在中國 [Republic of Korea Provisional Government in China] (Shanghai: 上海人民出版社, 1992), 119-25. [4] Mun and Sun, Dahan minguo, 121-23; Ren Jidong 任吉东, “Chaoxian yiyongdui Huabei kang-Ri shuping” 朝鲜义勇队华北抗日述评 [Review of the Korean Volunteers Anti-Japanese Resistance in Huabei], Journal of Northeast Asian Studies, no. 3 (2013): 57. [5] Mu and Sun, "Dahanminguo," 122. [6] Zheng Longfa 郑龙发, “Chaoxian yiyongdui kang-Ri xuanchuan ji qixingshi shulun” 朝鲜义勇队抗日宣传及其 形式述论 [Korean Volunteers Anti-Japanese Propaganda and Other Activity]’, Journal of Anhui Institute of Education 25, no. 9 (2007): 19; Mu and Sun, "Dahanminguo," 126 [7] Jing and Zhang, ‘“Kangzhanshiqi Chaoxianyiyongdui Zai Guilindengdi Xinwenxuanchuanhuodong Shentan” 抗战时期朝鲜义勇队在桂林等地新闻宣传活动初探 [The Korean Volunteers’ News and Propaganda Activity in Guilin and Similar Areas during the War of Resistance], 17–18. [8] Wang, Taiwan yiyongdui, 38–45. [9] J. Bruce Jacobs, ‘Taiwanese and the Chinese Nationalists, 1937-1945: The Origins of Taiwan’s “Half-Mountain People” (Banshan Ren)’, Modern China 16, no. 1 (1990): 94. [10] Wang, Taiwan yiyongdui, 77-80; Huang Ying 黄颖, ‘“Kangzhan shiqi Taiwan yiyongdui Zaidalude Yiliaohuodong” 抗战时期台湾义勇队在大陆的医疗活动 [The Medical Activity of the Taiwan Volunteers during the War of Resistance]’, 医学与哲学(人文社会医学版) 31, no. 8 (2010): 74. [11] Wang, Taiwan yiyongdui, 79; Jacobs, "Taiwanese and the Chinese Nationalists," 95. [12] Wang, Taiwan yiyongdui, 63, 84–85. [13] Jacobs, "Taiwanese and the Chinese Nationalists," 94. [14] Wang, Taiwan yiyongdui, 81. [15] Jacobs, "Taiwanese and the Chinese Nationalists," 93–94. [16] Gan Lu 甘露, ‘“Chaoxian yiyongdui yu Taiwan yiyongdui zhi guanxi yanjiu” 朝鲜义勇队与台湾义勇队之关系研究 [The Relationship between the Korean Volunteers and Taiwan Volunteers], 当代韩国, no. 1 (2011), 79; Wang, Taiwan yiyongdui, 45. [17] Gan, "Chaoxian yiyongdui," 77-78. [18] Gan, “Chaoxian yiyongdui," 78. [19] See, for example, Gan, ‘“Chaoxian yiyongdui," 78; Liu, “Quanmian Kangzhan shiqi," 66. [20] Liu, “Quanmian Kangzhan shiqi," 70. [21] Zheng, ‘“Chaoxian yiyongdui,” 19; Wang, Taiwan yiyongdui, 35, 67–68, 117–121. [22] Wang, Taiwan yiyongdui, 140-41. [23] Liu, “Quanmian Kangzhan shiqi," 70.

Discussion Questions:

1. What does this essay reveal about the relationship between the Taiwan and Korean Volunteers in 1940 and as well as the presence of China?

2. Why might the Taiwan and Korean Volunteers want to present themselves as “sisters”?

3. What does this essay suggest about the work of anti-colonial resistance?

Source Information:

Li Da 李達, "Women shi liang jiemei: Chaoxian yiyongdui he Taiwan yiyongdui 我們是兩姐妹: 朝鮮義勇隊和臺灣義勇隊." Taiwan Xianfeng 台湾先锋 (August 1940): 88.


"We Are Two Sisters:

Korean Volunteers and Taiwan Volunteers"

Everybody says we are two sisters. Indeed, here in China, we have hoisted the flag of justice, one after another.

Taiwan and Korea have not just both suffered the oppression and exploitation of Japanese imperialism, but are at a similar stage of revolution. Therefore in terms of our situation, we are brothers suffering together; in the broad avenue of national revolution, we are the most reliable and loyal comrades. In China’s War of Resistance, what we can provide and contribute are also identical.

These similarities have determined that Taiwan and Korea’s cooperation is possible and necessary.

Now, the early tangible form of the alliance of two revolutionary forces is the connection of the two Volunteers. The connection of the two Volunteers heralds the grand alliance of oppressed Eastern nations, so such a connection can guarantee our eventual victory.

Since we two Volunteers participated in the Sino-Japanese War of Resistance, in every battlefield and guerilla area in China, we have achieved many glorious results in battle and ignited the torch of revolution in the weak and small nations that shines brightly in every oppressed heart.

Our frontline responsibility is propaganda to the enemy. This propaganda to the enemy is the hardest work, but not only do we not complain of hardship, we accept it with pleasure because our comrades (both Taiwanese and Koreans) originally learned some of the skills desperately needed for the War of Resistance from the slave education given to us by Japanese imperialism – we can speak and read Japanese and have a relatively good understanding of the enemy country’s situation and enemy military’s psychology. “If you know yourself and know your enemy, you will win a hundred out of hundred battles”. Our work policy targets the weakness of the enemy, using the enemy mentality as a reference to formulate policy and research propaganda techniques. By adding our common hatred of the enemy and heroic and decisive action, we can create a new style of propaganda and achieve the most efficiency from our work. The Taiwan Volunteers’ work is not limited to this; beyond propaganda, they also work in manufacturing and medical treatment. “Many of our volunteers have defence manufacturing skills. Not only can they manufacture the camphor and camphor oil that is necessary for the military and medical worlds that is a staple product of Taiwan, they also can manufacture urgently needed medicines.” This is a direct quote. We can thus see the Taiwan Volunteers comrades’ hard work for the rear-area manufacturing work, and that the medicines they manufacture are all urgently needed on the battlefield. On the medical side, they have also long been recognized as doctors. Now apart from some of their comrades who have been sent to various organizations to do medical work, they have also founded the Taiwan Hospital in Jinhua that specially treats wounded or sick soldiers and poor members of the public, being trusted and recognized as doctors by all. They are always hard at work; despite many obstacles and an economic situation where they are almost out of food, they always persevere.

Our two Volunteers may be limited in numbers, but have many significant uses in the War of Resistance and have significantly helped in the war. First, we undertake political work towards the enemy and make the enemy soldiers aware, thus helping us disintegrate the enemy. Second, we have given the soldiers and public in many battlefields great encouragement. Third, we can call on 5 million Taiwanese and 30 million Koreans to enthusiastically support China’s war of resistance. Fourth, we can appeal to righteous people around the world to resist the violent and cruel enemy’s Japanese imperialist war of aggression against China. These are just two or three surface examples of our utility, and our previous and current responsibilities in China’s War of Resistance are not limited to this.

In conclusion, our two Volunteers are not just international vanguards, we are also hardworking political workers in China’s War of Resistance. We use our lives of war to practice the work of war. At the frontline and behind enemy lines, we create positive effects for the Chinese military and people, and strike a heavy blow on the enemy puppets. Our blood will always boil over for China’s war of resistance and our own liberation. Our might will always strengthen for China’s war of resistance and our motherland’s independence. Our work and spirit unceasingly continues to develop and expand with extensive effect. We help China’s war of resistance with determined confidence and heroic action, and drive out the common enemy of the Chinese, Koreans and Taiwanese – Japanese bandits, achieving the true liberation of the small and weak East Asian nations.

Our two Volunteers are ultimately the vanguards of our nations, and are two sisters who suffer and struggle together.

(Translated by Shaun Lee Yi Xian)

[Original Chinese Transcription]

我們是兩姐妹 – 朝鮮義勇隊和臺灣義勇隊 (李達)


台灣和朝鮮不僅是一樣受日本帝國主義的壓迫與剝削,而且在革命性質上—至少是在現階段 – 亦是相同的。所以我們在處境上,是對共患難弟兄,在【民族革命】大道上,則是最可靠最忠實的同盟者。同時對於中國抗戰,所仰給的,所能顯出的,也是完全一樣。








[Further Readings:]

Jacobs, J. Bruce. ‘Taiwanese and the Chinese Nationalists, 1937-1945: The Origins of Taiwan’s “Half-Mountain People” (Banshan Ren)’. Modern China 16, no. 1 (1990): 84–118.

Wang, Zhengwen 王政文. Taiwan yiyongdui: Taiwan kang-Ri tuanti zai dalude huodong, 1937-45’ 台灣義勇隊 : 台灣抗日團體在大陸的活動, 1937–1945 [Taiwan Volunteers: Taiwan Anti-Japanese Resistance Groups Activity in Mainland China, 1937-45]. Taipei: 台湾书房出版有限公司, 2011.

Gan, Lu 甘露. ‘“Chaoxian yiyongdui yu Taiwan yiyongdui zhi guanxi yanjiu 朝鲜义勇队与台湾义勇队之关系研究" [The Relationship between the Korean Volunteers and Taiwan Volunteers]’. 当代韩国, no. 1 (2011): 75–82.


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