Second Sino-Japanese War : The Soldiers

Figure 1.--The young men that aJpan sent into battle, both into China and subsequently the Pacific War were highly politicized. Japan as mart of the Meiji Restoration not only began to inndustrialize and build a modern army, but also founded a European-style educational system. Few if any of these young men had any doubts about military service or their governments foreign policy. This young soldier is having is portrait taken as he us being inducted into the Imperial Army. We hope that Japanese readers might be able to translate the Japanese characters in the banners.

The Chinese and Japanese soldiers were very different. Japan was the only industrial power in Asia. The Japanese with its industrial base were able to equip their soldiers for modern war. The Chinese were not. But equipment was not the only difference. Japan was not only an ibdustrial power, but had fonded an Ruropean-style educationl system. This included openinf shools in the country side. This meant that Japanese soldiers were not only literate, but politicized. Chinese students were highly patriotic, but this meant mostly the middle-class in the cities. Chuna had a much larger population than Japan, but was still a largely agraian peasant society. Mny peasabts were not literate and there were few schools in the coiuntry side. Thus the Chinese peasant soldier was not nearly as politicized as the Japanese soldier. The Chinese peasantry saw the Japanesw as invaders, but often the Nationalist army was as much as a danger as the Jsosnese, seizing both food and forcibly drafting the young men for military service. And the pressire on the peasantry from both sides only increased as the War dragged on and the Japanese seized more amore agricultural land. Chinese soldiers were often not capable of combat bcause they were so pporly fed. Many actually starbed to death in the last years pf the War. There was another difference. The Chinese soldiers were not, like the Japanese, taught or prepared to fight to the death. The Japanese, however, murdered every Chinese soldier who surrenbdered or was captured.

Chinese Soldiers

Chinese students became increasingly anti-Japanese after Japan launched the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95)and joined the Europeans in demanding treaty ports and extraterritorial rights. This only increased during World War I when Japan issued the 21 Demands and seized the Austrian held Treaty Port of Tsingtao (Qingdao). Chinese students were furious. They staged demonstrations and boycotts of Japanese goods. This animosity increased after world war I as Japan continued to pursue an expanionist policy at the same time the new Nationalist Government gained control of most of the Treaty Ports. At the same time, China without the industrial base of Japan did not have the capability of aequately equipping its soldiers. The highly nationalistic Chinese students were, however, not sufficient to create the massive army needed to resist Japanese aggression and the well-equipped Imperial Japanese Army. China was a largely agricultural country with a pasant population. The Chinese peasantry was not as highly politicized as the students who were largely urban population. Many peasants were illiterate and with little or no eduction. They were thus not as strongly motivated as the students or th Japanese soldiers they faced. They were also not as well armed or supplied as the the Japannese soldiers. TheNationalists to sustain the War had to both seize food from the peasantry as well as forcibly draft the young men for the Army. Increasing force had to be used as the War progressed, especially as the Japanese seized more and more of China's agricultural land. Not only was the peasantry left with little food, but the Natioinalists had increasing difficulty feeding the men and boys they had forcd into the military. Japan faced two Chinese armies after it uinvased (1937). Most of the resistance to Japan was conducted by the Nationalist forces, athough this was not thevpropaganda issued by the Communists. The Communists also had a smaller army inthe northwest as well as guerilla forces in other areas of China. There was another difference. The Chinese soldiers were not, like the Japanese, taught or prepared to fight to the death. The Japanese, however, murdered every Chinese soldier who surrenbdered or was captured.

Japanese Soldiers

There seems to be no indication that the Japanese soldiers in Chuina were not commited to the task of securing China for the Japanese Empire. If any had reservations, there is little or no evidence of it. That is not too surprising and not all that unusual at the time. What us unusual is the behavior of the Japanese soldiers in China. Japanese savagery in China defies understanding. Many first hand accounts exist as to what occurred in Nanking to both POWs and civilians. But Nanking was only one city. This barabaric behavior ocurred throughout China during the Second Sino-pJapanese War (1937-45). It is difficult to know to what extent this was ordered by the High Command or was the action of the individual soldiers. Surely both was involved. But it is undeniable that part of the policy of the Japanese military was to intimdate the Chinese to destroy Chinese morale. And Japanese soldiers were no well supplied. They were exopected to largely live off the land. This expalins seizures of food. It does not, however, explain their barbaric vbehavior. There appear to be virtually no limits placed on Japanese soldiers. Rape, torture, mutalation, murder, and canabalism were all permitted. The Japanese Army did not take Chinese POWS. They were all simplly killed shortly after surrendeing, and often in brutal ways such as being used in bayonet practice, beheaded, burried alive, or in myriad other ways. Given the extensive nature of the attrocities perpetrated in China, it appears to have been something both ordered by the High Command and in the nature of the individual Japanese soldier. The Japanese did not have industrial gas chambers like the Germans, but the actual body count is probably higher. Yet there are images showing Japanese soldiers exhibiting a degree of affection toward Japanese boys. (We are guessing that Chinese parens did not allow theur girls any where near Japanese soldiers if they could prevent it.) Here we are not talking about propaganda photography, but what looks like snap shots taken by the soldiers. We do not know how to explain this given the behavior if the Japanese in China. Perhaps these children were from families cooperating with the Japanese. One reader tells the image here looks staged. Hopefully other readers will also have some insights to offer.


Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to Main Japanese invasion of China page]
[Return to Main World War II Chinese-Japanese War page]
[Return to Main military style page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology] [Totalitarian powers]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]

Created: 8:59 AM 10/4/2014
Last updated: 8:59 AM 10/4/2014