In February 1938, Zhou Enlai became Deputy Minister of the Political Department of the Military Commission of the KMT Government. He quickly set about establishing the Third Department of the Political Department, responsible for organizing the artists in Wuhan for the war effort. He hoped that Guo Moruo, who was back from Japan, would become the director of the Third Department.
Before long, Guo Moruo was courting the film actress Yu Liqun. A year and a half later, they married in Chongqing.
On April the 1st, 1938, the Third Department of the Political Department of the Military Commission of the KMT Government was established in Wuhan, with Guo Moruo as the director. The Third Department had three divisions, numbers 5, 6 and 7. Tian Han was appointed a major general in charge of Division No. 6, which was itself divided into three sections. Hong Shen was in charge of the First Section, responsible for drama and music; Zheng Yongzhi ran the Second Section, responsible for films; Xu Beihong managed the Third Section, responsible for painting and wood carving.
That month, The Third Department organized a “performance week” in support of the War effort. April the 11th was chosen as Drama Day, when 12 theaters staged 5 plays and 10 operas. In addition, some 30 theater troupes took to the streets to put on performances. Issue No. 135 of Good Companions magazine carried large photographs of these Anti-Japanese activities in Wuhan. By this time, more than half of the 13 traveling performance troupes established in Shanghai had arrived in Wuhan. On August the 1st, 1938, they were regrouped into 10 performing troupes, 4 special troupes and one children’s troupe. At the same time, Jin Shan and Wang Ying were co-starring in the play Put Down Your Whip.
In the summer of 1938, Jin Shan and Wang Ying finished their performances in Wuhan. Then, on Zhou Enlai’s orders, they took part of the No. 2 Performance Troupe to the town of Songbu in Huangpi County, Hubei. There, at the headquarters of the Fifth War Zone, they met Li Zongren.
Several months earlier, the Japanese had launched an attack on Xuzhou.
Taierzhuang, the gateway to Xuzhou, bore the brunt of the assault. Li Zongren as commander of the Chinese defences, defeated the main force of the 5th and 10th divisions of the Japanese army, killing more than 10,000 enemy soldiers. The Battle of Taierzhuang was the first significant Chinese victory since the full scale War of Resistance Against Japan began.
Jin Shan suggested that a play be produced about the Battle of Taierzhuang. Li Zongren was delighted with the idea. With his support, the No. 2 Performance Troupe was free to perform in the Fifth War Zone. Subsequently, Jin Shan and Wang Ying would move on to Guilin, to perform The Battle of Taierzhuang there.
In October 1938, Guangzhou and Wuhan fell in quick succession. The ten performance teams were scattered across 12 provinces. But they still continued their propaganda efforts by performing plays. Meanwhile, the military and political institutions of the KMT Government moved from Wuhan to Chongqing, the temporary wartime capital.
By this time, the Japanese had occupied the major coastal cities and one third of Chinese territory. They controlled 40% of agriculture and 92% of industry. International trade was suspended, and inflation was soaring. People engaged in education, culture and the arts, who had led a relatively easy life before the War, also began to suffer as the War of Resistance Against Japan expanded.
In April 1939, Jin Shan and Wang Ying led their traveling troupe on a performance tour of Southeast Asia. There they hoped to raise money for the War effort.
Their first destination was Hong Kong. But after the very first performance of The Battle of Taierzhuang, they were threatened by Japanese agents. They escaped to Vietnam, but came under similar harassment there.
Eventually, they made their way to Singapore. There, they received help from a Chinese resident, Tan Kah Kee. The troupe changed its name to the New China Theater, and performed, ostensibly to raise money for the woman and children of bombed-out London. They staged more than 20 plays, including Put Down Your Whip, Evening Liasion and Border Landscape. Lugou Bridge was performed under a different tile, Beside the Yongding River. It proved particularly effective in rousing the anti-Japanese sentiments of the local Chinese. Issue 159 of Good Companions magazine printed many photographs of the performers, including a large one of Wang Ying.
The accompanying report read: “Three years after the Lugou Bridge Incident, the play Lugou Bridge is a great success in Singapore. The actors and actresses are excellent, and they have raised a great deal of money.”
In just over a month in Singapore, they raised 13 million Singapore dollars. Xu Beihong, who was holding a fine arts exhibition there at the time, was delighted to hear that the Chinese Save the Nation Theater was raising so much money for the war effort.
The Chinese Save the Nation Troupe spent two years touring Hong Kong, Sai Kung, Singapore and Malaysia. They performed in hundreds of towns, and traveled over 10 thousand kilometers. They raised not only a huge amount of money, but also military and medical supplies. This was a considerable support for the resistance on the mainland. Eventually, however, the British Colonial Government in Singapore guessed that Jin Shan might be a Communist Party Member and deported the Troupe. They then headed for Hong Kong where they met Xia Yan and several other people. Together, they set up the Association of Dramatists and Drama Performers in Hong Kong and continued performing until the fall of Hong Kong on December the 25th 1941.
Since its birth, Chinese drama has always been closely associated with politics and current affairs. The outbreak of the War of Resistance Against Japan gave Chinese drama a new role – advocating the war effort. As a result, the plays from that period reached a new peak in their development.