Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army

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The Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army (Chinese: 東北抗日聯軍 Korean: 동북항일연군/동북항일련군) was the main anti-Japanese guerrilla army in the northeast part (Manchuria) of China after the occupation of Manchuria by Japan in 1931. It was organized by the Manchuria branches of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). However, it lost direct contact with the CCP headquarters in Yan’an, and was supported by the Comintern. Several Korean communists and anti-Japanese activists defected to Manchuria to join the NAJUA.


After Japanese occupation of Manchuria in 1931, the Chinese Communist Party organized anti-Japanese guerrilla units, and formed the Northeastern People's Revolutionary Army. Despite party disapproval, some party members joined or rendered assistance to various Anti-Japanese Volunteer Armies fighting the Japanese and the forces of Manchukuo.

In 1934, after the defeat of the Volunteer Armies, all these Communist Party units were reorganized into the single Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army, with Zhao Shangzhi as its Commander-in-Chief. This force continued the struggle against the Japanese pacification of Manchukuo. In 1935, the party officially changed policy, and began creating a united front, absorbing most of the remaining anti-Japanese forces in Manchuria and Korean resistance fighters including Kim Il-sung. The army was organized into Yang Jingyu's 1st Route Army, Zhou Baozhong's 2nd Route Army, and Li Zhaolin's 3rd Route Army. They claimed to have 45,000 members.

Despite years of fighting, the army was gradually worn down by the pacification campaign of the Japanese. Yang Jingyu died on February 23, 1940, and Zhao Shangzhi was killed in 1942, during a Japanese encirclement campaign. Remnants of the Army retreated into the USSR and were incorporated into the Soviet Red Army. In 1945, they returned to Manchuria as part of the Red Army's invasion of Manchuria, with Zhou Baozhong as commander. Some army units of Manchukuo declared uprising to join the army.

After World War II, most of its army was combined into the People's Liberation Army of China for the subsequent civil war.


Officially, this army was led by the Chinese Communist Party. In reality, they did not directly to report to the CCP center in Yan'an due to geographical separation. Their only contacts with the CCP in Yan’an were through the CCP representatives in the Communist International, Kang Sheng and Wang Ming.

Japanese created a strip of “No Man Land” to prevent the CCP-led Eighth Route Army from infiltrating Manchuria.

They were supported and instructed by the USSR, which supported this army to tie up the forces of its potential Japanese enemy. Their uniforms were copies of the uniform of the Soviet Red Cross.


The army was a mixture of various sources, with the same objective – expelling Japanese out of Manchuria. They were communists, students and peasants, former troops of the warlord Zhang Xueliang, and even bandits. The former bandits played an important role in the guerrilla war by using their skills in the mountains. Most of the high and middle rank officers had Communist Party membership, including former bandit leaders.

Koreans in the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army[edit]

The army contained a large number of ethnic Koreans, both the Koreans from Manchuria, and Koreans from the Korean Peninsula. By 1918, there were virtually no organized armed revolts against Japanese colonisation on the Korean Peninsula and many Koreans chose Manchuria as a place to resist Japanese Imperialism. Two of the legendary “Eight Girls Jumping Into the River” were Korean Chinese. This was a squad of girl guerrillas, aged from 13 to 23; after a long firefight with overwhelming Japanese forces who mistook them for a much larger unit, finally they all jumped into the river, drowning themselves.

Kim Il-Sung, later to become leader of North Korea, was a high-rank officer in this army, and attained a distinction that he invaded China-Korea border and attacked Japanese police station in Bochonbo 1939. It was widely reported by Korean presses such as Donga Ilbo and he became famous in Korea as the most prominent leader of the anti-Japanese movement. After the war, some of the Korean nationals in this army became the first generation of the leaders of North Korea. Besides Kim Il-Sung, An Gil, Kim Chaek, Choi Yong-Geon and Kang Geon were also Korean high-rank officers of NAJUA, later assumed high positions in North Korea.

Retreat to USSR[edit]

At the peak of their activities, NAJUA had a force of 10,000 troops. They launched the guerrilla warfare in the rear of Japanese army, who was invading the main land China. Japanese army realized that NAJUA was the main threat to their operation in the mainland China. So Japanese army, together with Manchukuo army, began the operations to sweep NAJUA in mid-1930. Like NAJUA, Manchkuo army included many Korean officers who pledged their loyalty to Japan. Such Korean officers were Park Chung-Hee, Baek Seon Yeop, and Jeong Il-Gwon, who later became the full generals in South Korean Army and (after 5.16 coup) high rank officials in South Korean government. And Manchkuo army had a special troop, Jiandao Teshedui ((Chinese)間島特設隊, (Korean) 간도특설대), which consisted mainly of Koreans. They assumed the most difficult tasks to attack NAJUA.

As the offensive of Japanese army got fierce, NAJUA suffered heavy casualty. Many of their soldiers were dead or taken prisoner. Moreover, Japanese military intelligence allured or tortured NAJUA prisoners to convert to Japanese side. The converted one assisted Japanese to attack their ex-comrades. In his autobiography, Segiwa Deobuleo (세기와 더불어), Kim Il-Sung recalled that such conversions of ex-comrades were more painful than Japanese fierce offensive or tough climate in Manchuria. By these reasons, NAJUA could not make activities in Manchuria any more. By the order of CPC, NAJUA escaped to the USSR. There, they were formally incorporated to the Red Army, as the 88th International Brigade. But they kept the organization of NAJUA. The troops remaining in Manchuria were totally annihilated by Japanese. The escaped troops stayed in USSR until the war ended. After Japan surrendered, Koreans and Chinese went back to their own countries and began the revolutionary activities there.

Contemporary Attitudes in the PRC and ROC[edit]

The Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army remains highly regarded in mainland China. In mainland China, this army is generally viewed as a CCP-led anti-Japanese outfit.

A Chinese Communist leader, Peng Zhen, compared the extreme hardship suffered by the army with the Long March.

Besides legendary commanders Yang Jingyu and Zhao Shangzhi, a female officer called Zhao Yiman (1905–1936) was also revered by many Chinese as a symbol of the national salvation.

See also[edit]