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The term shanlin 山林 means literally "mountain and forest" in Chinese and was frequently used to describe bandits in Manchuria from the time of the Qingmarker dynasty, because they knew the local wooded and mountainous terrain very well. Most operated in a fairly small district and took pains to maintain the goodwill of local peasants. As a result, government troops had great difficulty in suppressing them. After the Republic of Chinamarker was founded, they often were recruited as soldiers to end their bandit career.

It was a term frequently used later for remnants of the Anti-Japanese Volunteer Armies that resisted the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in the Second Sino-Japanese War. Some did not flee after the defeat of the armies and fought on as small guerrilla units, called shanlin.

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