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Research Project

Chinese War Crimes Trials 1946-1948
Anja Bihler (M.A.)

After eight years of war Japan surrendered it 1945, leaving behind not only physical destruction, but also the painful memory of countless atrocities that had been committed. In an attempt to address the horrors of that period, the Chinese government decided to conduct a series of war crimes trials in ten cities on the mainland and Taiwan. Current literature offers only little detailed information on the circumstances and results of these trials. This PhD research project fills the existing gap and offers a comprehensive account of the war crime trials that were conducted under the Chinese Nationalist government between 1946 and 1948. Two of the main questions the project answers are what policy the Nationalist government adopted towards Japanese war criminals, and how the actual war crimes trials managed to implement this policy.
In order to understand, how the Chinese war crimes trials policy was initially developed, and how it changed over time, a variety of factors were taken into consideration. External factors include the policy adopted by other Allied Nations, especially the US, diplomatic relations between China and its neighbouring countries, as well as the onset of the early stages of the cold war. As internal factors the power struggle between the Chinese nationalist and the communist party play an important role, as does public sentiment and the close and personal relationships that existed between Chinese and Japanese military elites. In addition, the project analyses the position China adopted on the question of war crimes vis-à-vis the international community. This includes China’s role in the United Nations War Crimes Commission and the Far Eastern Commission, as well as China’s participation in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East.  
Another concern was to understand how the Chinese war crimes trials policy was implemented. This consisted of a study of the newly promulgated Chinese legislation and an analysis of a selection of judgments and trials papers of several military tribunals. These materials provide insight into the procedural working of the courts, as well as Chinese interpretation and application of important legal concepts. In addition, it was possible to account for regional differences and political interference with the trials.