With the Second United Front agreement reasonably secure, Dai Li's men turned their attention to the Japanese and their collaborators. By 1938, the Military Statistics Bureau, or Juntong, had been formally separated from the civilian secret police and placed under Dai Li's direction. One of its primary missions was to prevent any of Chiang Kai-shek's rivals from opening peace talks with the Japanese and forming a plausible puppet government. The key to this effort was Shanghai, where Nationalist agents could use the safe haven of the concessions to mount terrorist operations against hanjian.
The Shanghai station of Juntong was quickly disabled after the Japanese took over the Chinese sectors of the city. However, Dai Li managed to maintain two special operations units through the period of "island Shanghai" (November 1937 to December 1941). Because of Chiang Kai-shek's fury over the "treacherous activities" of collaborators in the city, these two covert action units under Zhao Lijun and
It is important to recognize the special place accorded to assassins in ancient Chinese history, as well as in the rise of revolutionary nationalism during the twentieth century. In the second-century Wu family shrine, celebrated as a quintessential expression of the Confucian culture of Eastern Han, there are engraved thirty-three picture stories exemplifying the virtues of filial sons, wise ministers, eminent wives, virtuous rulers, and so forth, of the past. Six of those thirty-three wall carvings are "stories" of loyal assassin-retainers: Cao Mei seizing Duke Huan of Qi, Zhuan Zhu assassinating King Liao of Wu, Jing Ke's attempt to assassinate the king of Qin, Yao Li's assassination of Prince Qing Ji of Wu, Yu Rang's attempt to kill Xiang Zi of Zhao, and Nie Zheng's assassination of the uncle of the king of Han. Each of these commoners was regarded as a hero because he sacrificed his own life without hesitation to kill his master's enemy out of a divine anger animated by loyalty rather than personal rancor. As Liu Xiang put it in the Shuo yuan (A garden of talks), "When Zhuan Zhu assassinated King Liao, [his movement] was like a comet attacking the moon and like a falling star shining in bright daylight. When Yao Li assassinated Prince Qing Ji [his movement] was like a dark eagle striking a tower terrace. When Nie Zheng assassinated the uncle of the king of Han [his movement] was like a white rainbow crossing the sun. These three people were all commoners[,]…but when they were still nursing their anger, their power could even terrorize great kings."
The first Chinese revolutionary to attempt political assassination was Shi Jianru, who tried, as a "man of determination" (zhishi), to kill the Manchu governor of Guangdong in October 1900. Although Shi had no developed rationale of his own for this suicidal effort, his attempt marked a transition from the personal loyalty of feudal assassins to the political commitment of revolutionary nationalists, mediated by a certain purity of motive dedicated to a just cause. Other Chinese radicals influenced by Japanese anarchism and Russian nihilism began to enunciate a doctrine of sacrificial terrorism beginning in 1902. Yang Dusheng, a Chinese student at Waseda, learned of Russian revolutionary assassination efforts through the work of Kemuyama Sentaro, whose Modern Anarchism (Kinsei musei-fushugi) was translated into Chinese under the title Freedom's Blood (Ziyou xue); and Yang subsequently helped Huang Xing, the Hunanese student leader, to found the first of several assassination corps that culminated in the formation of the Northern Assassination Corps (beifang wansha tuan) in 1905.
The Northern Assassination Corps was best known for its member Wu Yue, who tried to annihilate a delegation of five government political reform commissioners at the Beijing Railroad Station in September 1905. Wu Yue blew himself up instead, but he left behind a tract called Heaven's Vengeance (Tian tao) that was published in April 1907 in the Revolutionary Alliance organ, Min bao. The tract called for "assassinationism," quoting the reform movement martyr Tan Sitong; and it cited with admiration the conscripts' revolt led by Chen She against the tyrant of Qin as an example of the inspirational righteousness of the romantic xia, or medieval knight.
Early on, then, the figure of the revolutionary assassin was cast with molds that originated in both the new world of international revolutionaries and the traditional realm of self-sacrificing knights-errant and loyal retainers pledged to avenge their masters' lives and honor. Although particular motivations varied from case to case, the assassinations of Enling, governor of Zhejiang, in 1907 by Xu Xiling; of Fuqi and Fenshan in Guangdong in 1911; and of Liang Bi by Peng Jiazhen in January 1912 partook of these two traditions that converged most dramatically on the eve of the Xinhai Revolution in the famed effort by Wang Jingwei to blow up the Manchu regent Zaifeng (Prince Chun).
Political assassination did not cease once the Qing dynasty was overthrown, but—as in the infamous conspiracy of Yuan Shikai to murder Song Jiaoren in 1913—revolutionary pretexts were often absent. Moreover, during this period of political fragmentation, when boundless ambitions flourished, adventurers in the haohan (tough guy) tradition were not slow to present themselves as the leaders of armed men, mercenaries to some and loyal followers to others, willing and ready to serve as the "claws and teeth" of competing claimants to power. Dai Li was just such a leader himself, and he was by no means unique.
Personal heroism aside, the special operations of Dai Li's Juntong were facilitated by a large population of veterans and former members of the various citizens' volunteers corps and Special Services Corps that had sprung up during the first few months after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. We have observed how Sun Yaxing recruited followers and served in the Special Services Corps during the Battle of Shanghai. As a section leader with formal military training and as former head of the Chinese Youth National Salvation Association, he was a leading "warrior" (zhanshi) in the urban strife against collaborators after the city fell to the Japanese.