*** war and social upheaval: World War II Asia-Pacific Theater -- China

World War II: Asia-Pacific Theater--China (1931-45)

World War II China
Figure 1.--The Japanese Army before and during World War II was primarily deployed in China. The superior Japanese arms eable the Japanese to seize the coastal cities and push deep into China. The Chinese with small amounts of Western arms were able to hild out deep in China's interior. This Japanese soldier is seen being welcomed home from the fighting in China by his family after the first year of fishing in China proper. Hope for victory was still high. His wife and mother wear kimonos. His little boy wears a military-style cap worn by students, although he looks to young for school. His little girl wears a sailor style school uniform. I am not sure what the sign says that his mother is holding.

Japan in the late 19th century as it began to develop a modern military, followed the precedent set by Western nations and forced China to sign economical and political treaties. The First Sino-Japnese War (1895) resulted in Japan's seizure of Taiwan. Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) strengthened Japan's influence in Manchuria. China would be the first victim of the World War II aggressors. The Japanese Kwantung Army occupied Manchuria, a Chinese province, using as a pretext a faked incident on the main railroad (1931). Japan then declared ‘Manchukuo’ an independent state, setting up Pu YI, the last Manchu Emperor of China as puppet Emperor (1932). Anti-Japanese disturbances broke out in Shanghai. The Japanese bombed the unprotected city to quell the disturbances. There was no effort to hit military targets. This was the first of many Japanese terror bombings of civilian populations. Japan withdrew from the League of Nations as a resulted of the criticism of her military operations in Manchuria and China (1933). Japan invaded China proper in July 1937, launching the Second Sino-Japanese War. The Japanese Kwantung Army turned a small incident into a full scale war. The well equipped Japanese forces rapidly occupied almost the entire Chinese coast of China and ten moved up rivers and railroad lines into the interior. The Japanese in the process committed atrocities on an unprecedented level against the Chinese civilian population. The most savage of these explosions of barbarity was the Rape of Nanking, after the fall of the Chinese capital. Here European diplomats and missionaries witnessed the brutality of the Japanese. It should be noted that these atrocities were not inherent in the Japanese character. The Japanese conduct and treatment of both prisoners and civilians during the Russo-Japanese War and World War I had been correct and in accordance with accepted international standards. The Japanese military invading China behaved very differently. Despite the savage Japanese onslaught, the Chinese government never surrendered. America even before entering the war against Japan funneled supplies to the Chinese through Burma. A covert operation set up the Flying Tigers to provide the Chinese a creditable air capability. The Chinese achieved no real military victories, but as the Chinese withdrew into the interior the Japanese were never able to defeat them. The Chinese moved further inland, setting up a new capital Kumintang. The War continued on a lower scale, but evolving the continued deployment of the bulk of the Japanese Army. The United States demanded that Japan withdraw from China. Japan refused to do so and instead decided to go to war with America, beginning at Pearl Harbor. Unlike China the United States had the industrial capacity to wage war on an unprecedented scale. Japan could not begin to match America’s industrial war production. Not only could they not compete with American industry, but they had to fight the Pacific War with most of their army bogged down in China unable to effectively resist the relentless American drive across the Pacific to the Home Islands.

Japanese Military

One of thge reasons for the Meiji Restoration wa the need to modernize so that Japab could resist European intervention as was occuring in China. And one of the major efforts persued by the new imperial government was to build a modern army and navy and an industrial base to support the military. These were steps the Chinese iperial regime refused to take. Japan by the late-19th century had begun to develop a modern military. And following the precedents set by Western nations,began to demand that China sign advantageous economical and political treaties. When China resisted, the two countries fought the First Sino-Japnese War (1895). China had not understood the speed to which Japan was modernizing and the implications of the modernization effort. The Japanese astounded the Japanese with the strength of their new military. This War resulted in Japan's seizure of Taiwan and concessions in Korea. It was not only the Chinese who were surprised by Japan's growing power. Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) strengthened Japan's influence in Manchuria and permitted them to proceed with the colonization of Korea.


Japan seized Formosa (Taiwan) as a result of the First Sino-Japanese War (1895). The Japanese set out on a comprehensive program of imposing their language and culture. They also established a modern system of education, all Japanese language schools. The Japanese launched a major infrastructure construction program. The Japanese brutally supressed any resistance, but as a result of their coloniam administration, Taiwan by the time of the Pacific War has a more modern infrastructure and a better educated populace than mainland China.


The Russo-Japanese War gave the Japanese possession of the the Russian naval base at Port Arthur aswell as the Russian railroads in southern Manchuria. This enable the Japanese to proceed with the exploitation of Korea withoutvibterference and in addition gabe them access to needed resources in Manchuria which was Xhinesecterritiry. Japan's government-general in Seoul was primarily concerned with the economic exploitation of Korea. Authorities incouraged Japanese migration to Korea as colonizers. Landless Japanese farmers and fishermen were offered Korean land free or at low cost. The Japanese exported large quantities of rice to Japan causing a serious food shortage in Korea itself. The Korean standard of living devlined sharply. Desperate Korean farmers were forced to move to Manchuria or Japan, only to find conditions there also very difficult.

China Station

China for several centurues after the first European ships arrived (16th century) restricted foreign trders desiring to do business in China. One major concern was that the Europeans had little the Chinese wanted. This ended with the British Opium Wars (mid-19th century), forcing the Chinese to permit imports of opium. The British and other Europeans forced the Chinese to open their ports. The Europeans also forced territorial concessions and extra territoriality. The Chinese who had for centuries been the dominant power in Asia, suddenly found that their armies and navy were impotent against European forces with modern weapons. The Chinese lost the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) with the rapidly modernizing Japanese. The United States had an interest in trade as well as after the Spanish American War (1898-99) possession of the Philippines also maintained a squadron in China. The traditionalists, in cintrast, dominated China. The Boxer Rebellion was a reflection of Chinese frustration (1900), but only depened the decline of Chinese power. The Europeans controlled Hong Kong, Wei Hai Wei, and Tsingtau, or had concessions in ports like Canton and Shanghai. The United States promoted the Open Door Policy, but was concerned with its interests. The European powers to protect their commercial interests and citizens in China maintained naval forces in various places in the Far East, including China. This became known as China Station. Of particular concern was Shanghai, China's principal port, located at the mouth of the Yangtze River which led into the inteior. To ensure that the river was kept open, a new clas of vessel with shallow drafts were developed--China gunboats. The purpose was to 'show the flag', fight pirates, and protect foreign-owned vessels plying the river.

The Chinese Republic (1912)

China declared a new reoublic, ending millenia of imperial rule (1912). Sun Yat-sen’s Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) deposed Pu-Yi, the last Manchu emperor. Sun Yat Sen found his dreams of a modern republic introducing enlightened rule his country frustrated on many fronts. China's most modern, prosperous port cities had since the Opium Wars been converted in to Treaty Ports, essentially foreign colonies. China's most omportant port and city, Shanghai, has an International Quarter which was in many ways a European city where foreign law held sway and guarded by foreign soldiers (American, British, French and German). Even worse, most of the interior was beyond the control of the new Republic. Most of the poulation lived in feudal conditions, ruled by warlords that risen with the decline of Imperial power. Many had acquired modern weapons and imposing order and cenbtral governmet was a daunting challenge. Sun Yat-senhad only the remnants of the former Imperial Army which was barely capable of defending Peking from the war lords. He was forced to form alliances with various warlords and as a result lost control of the new republican government.

World War I

World War I was primarily fought in Europe, but there was a land engagements in China -- Tientsin (Tianjin). An naval engagements in the Pacific. China's role was minimal, primrily a prefunctory declaration of War to win a seat at the peace table. Japan's role was more important, not only in the Pacific, but even sending adstroyer squandeon into the Mediterranean. And ominously for the future, they made clear with the Tewnty-One Demands what their intentions were in China.


China was not a factor in World War I. but the war affected the country. China was far away from both the Eastern and Western Fronts and at the time saw itself victimized by all of the major beligerant countries. Some early fighting, however, occurred in China. Japan which had a naval treaty with Britain declared war on Germany. The British wanted to use the Japanese rather than weaken the Grand Fleet to dispatch vessels to the Pacific. Japan spmewhat to Britain's surprise, eagerly joined the war, seeing the possibility of acquiring Germany’s Pacific colonies and take over its Chinese concessions. The Japanese dispatched a naval squadron to intercept the German Pacific Squadron commanded by Admiral von Spee seeking refugee in Tsingtao Harbour. The Japanese blockaded Tsingtao and minor naval skirmishes occurred. The Japanese landed troops on the Shantung Peninsula and moved south toward Kiaochow (September 2, 1914). Kiaochow had a garrison of 5,500 German and Austro-Hungarian troops. The Japanese drive was reinforced by a British expiditionary regiment made up of Indian (Sikh) and Welsh troops (September 24). After some intense fighting the Germans and Austro-Hungarians surrendered (November 7). This was the only significant fighting taking place in China. Britain like the other major beligerant countries were running short of men because of the terrible casulties. The British suffered dreadful casulties on the Somme (1916). One effort to address this problem was to recruit workers throughout the Empire. As Britain had Chinese treaty ports, this meant China was one of the countries where workers were recruited. Most came from Shan Tung (Shandong), but there were also recruits from Honan (Hunan). The British also recruited missionry and sinologue officers. About 100,000 Chinese were recruited. The Chinese labor units under British military descipline debarked from Weihaiwei (Weihai) which was a British treaty port until 1930. The Chinese were used to dig trenches and build other fortifications. They were not used in the actual fighting, but about 2,000 died from mines, illness (such as the Inflenza Epidemic after the War), and other causes. A few were shot as a result of a mutiny at Boulogne. [Summerskill] China declared war on Germany (1917). There was no real Chinese concern about Germany as the British and Japanese has seized Germany's concessions in China. China sa, however, diplomatic problems since Japan had joined the Allies and the Royal Navy commanded the seas. Despite the declaration of war, I do not know of any significant Chinese contribution to the Allied war effort. China after the War benefited from American insistence at Versailles that the Open Door Policy be accedpted by the major powers. This was a major issue at the Washington Naval Conference (1921-22).

Japan (1914-18)

Japan much to Britain's suprise joined the Allies when war broke out in Europe. Britain and Japan had a naval alliance, but the British had not expected the Japanese to be so eager to join the War. The Japanese helped seize the German/Austrian treaty port in China as well as reduce the German Pacific squadron. This assisted the British in concentrating their naval forces in Europe. Japan benefitted from the War. Japan at the Versailles Peace Conference (1919), obtained the former German concessions in China. This Chinese territory was awarded to Japan despite the fact that China had joined the Allies as well. Here Japan's anti-Bolshevick actions were a factor. Japan provided the largest contigent to join the Allied intervention in Siberia. After the War, the Japanese were very reluctant to withdraw their forces from Siberia. The Germans also held important Pacific island colonies. Many of these (Caroline Islands and Marshall Islands) were turned over to Japan as mandates. The Japanese turned these into important naval bases which played roles in the Pacific War.

The Kuomintang (KMT)

Sun Yat-sen's Republic was not embraced by the European powers who had their colonial possessions to defend as well as the concessions and Treaty Ports in China. Sun Yat-sen did find a potential ally in the new Soviet Union which faced a hostile Europe. Lenin embraced Sun Yat-sen. The Soviet Union renounced Tsarist-era territorial concessions and actually returned Chinese territory. The Soviets supplied weapons and advisers to the Chinese Republic. The Soviets helped establish a military academy under General Vasili Bluecher (Galen) and political commissar Mikhail Borodin. Soldiers that showed special promise received advanced training in Moscow. With Soviet backing, the Kuomintang was able to establish a secure base of operations in Canton. Chiang after Sun's death emerged as the dominant force in the Kuomintang. Chiang's first major action was the Northern Expedition. He suceeded in overcoming all warlords south of the Yangtze river (1927).

The Kuomintang and the Communists Break (1927)

The Communist Party (CPC) had been an important part of the Kuomintang (KMT). They began to compete with the Kuomintang and with their increasing following of workers in major cities began ti be seen as a threat by right-wing KMT elements. Chiang whose father was a wealthy landlord increasingly became associated with the right wing. Mao Tse-tung emerged as the primary Communist leader. He wrote about Protracted War and tactics against the Japanese. As the Communists grew in power, Chiang after dealing with the war lords, decided to destroy the Communists (1927). Chiang was strongly influenced by a German mercenary Gen. von Falkenhausen who he appointed his army's chief of staff. Chiang in a surprise action banned the Communist Party and condemned everyone with ties to the Party with death. Chiang launched a horendous campaign using tactics on his own people not unlike methods the Japanese would use. KMT operations in Sghanghai were called the Shaanghhai Maacre (April 12). Historianns estimate that Chiang's forces killed an estimasted 1 million men, women, and children. Chiang forces persued horendous operations. Suspected Comminunists were subjected to terrible tortures. Whole families and even villages were wiped out if suspected of Communist sympathies. Chiang's brutality in the anti-Comminist campaign would later impair Chiang's ability to unite China to fight the Japanese. Chiang brutal suppression campaign and nearly succeeded in destroying Communist forces. Communist leader Chen Duxiu and Soviet advisors had conseled cooperation with the KMT. They were totally discredited. The CPC launched worker uprisings in major cities: Changsha, Shantou, Nanchang and Guangzhou. This was the beginning of the Civil War. The CPC in Nanchang launched a major uprising (August 1927). The CPC soldiers under Zhu De were defeated. Some were able to escaped the KMT forces by retreating to the mountains of western Jiangxi. Mao Zedong led the Autumn Harvest Uprising in Hunan province (September 1927). His small, poorly armed peasant army was defeated. He also retreated to Jiangxi. There he began building what would eventually become the People's Liberation Army. The CPC Central Committee was eventually forced to flee Shanghai (1933). Mao set up peasant-based soviets in Jiangxi and Hunan provinces. This essentially completed the CPC from an urban workers movement to a pesantt movement in the countryside.

KMT Military Offensive against the Communists (1930-31)

Chiang Kai-shek continue to see the Communists a a serious threat. He wanted to defeat the Communists and then confront the Japanese with a united country. After defeating disloyal warlords, Chiang felt able to engage the Communists. He was aware that the Communists were successfully convining many Chinese in the south of the need for social revolution. He thus decided to attack the Communist strongholds. Chiang ordered an attack with about 100,000 troops to attack the Communists in the Kiangsi border areas as part of the first KMT offensive (1930-31). The Red Army at the time consisted of about 40,000 soldiers. The KMT attacked with a larger force and was better armed. The Red army used guerrilla tactics. Mao Tse-tung and Chu Teh were able to isolated KMT units and defeat them in detail. The Red Army was able to capture an important quantity of KMT equipment. This significantly changed the militaery balance. The Communists formally established the Chinese Soviet Republic in Juichin (1931). Chiang ordered additional attacks. The second KMT offensive focused on the Juichin base, but the offensive failed. Chiang personall took command of a third offensive and committed . Although more KMT troops were sent, the attempt also ended in failure. Later, a third campaign was organized and Chiang personally took command. He was prepared to committed some of the best KMT units. It was at this time that the Japanese invaded Manchuria. Chiang canceled the offensive against the Communists. He hesitated, however, to attack the Communists.

Kwantung Army

The Japanrse organized the Kwantung Army after World War I (1919). The initial purpose was to garrison concessions in the Kwantung Peninsula and Manchuria that Japan had acquired after defeatingthe Russians in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). It gradually developed as a law into itself beyond civilian control. The growing influence of the military inJapan itself meant that the Japanese Government was aunable to restrain the highly nationalistic Kwantung Army command. The Kwantung Army engineering the Manchuria Incident (1931). This was the pretext for the subsequent invasion and annexation of Manchuria. Officers of Kwantung Army (Kanji Ishihara and Seishiro Itagaki) instigated what has become known as the Manchria Incident. They blew up a section of railroad track and blamed it on Chinese. Ishihara's idea was that Japan had to control the resources of Manchuria to prepare for a future war. The Incident was staged without informing the Tokyo government or even Imperal Army headquarters in Tokyo. Foreign minister Shidehara ordered Kantogun to refrain from further military action. Ishihara ignored the order. Chiang refused to commit KMT troops. The Jaaoabese quickly occupied all of Manchuria. This Japanese occupation os commonly seen as the first agression of World War II. It also demonstrated how the Japanese civilan Government could not control the country's military. The Kwantung Army administered Manchuria essentially as a military fiefdom. The goal was to urn Manchuria into a second Japanese homeland, the problem was to convince Japanese colonists to emigrate to Manchuria.

Japanese Invasion of Manchuria (1931)

After the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), the Japanese seized control of Korea. The Russians still had interests in Manchuria. Japan wanted the entire territory. The Japanese Kwantung Army invaded and occupied Manchuria, a Chinese province, using as a pretext a faked incident on the main railroad--the Mukden Incident (1931). Japan then decalared 'Manchukuo' an independent state, setting up Pu Yi, the last Manchu Emperor of China as a puppet Emperor (1932). Pu Yi after being deposed and expelled from China began courunh war l;ords nf the Japanese. The Jaoanese latched on to him to give Japanese control of Manchiria a Chinese facade. Anti-Japanese disturbances broke out in Shanghai. The Japanese bombed the unprotected city to quell the disturbances. There was no real effort to hit military targets. This was the first of many Japanese terror bombings of civilian populations. The League condemed the Japanese invasdion. Japan withdrew from the League as a resulted of the criticism of her military operations (1933). The Japanese popultion rapidly increased. Many were Japnese civil servnts and their fasmilies. The Japanese encouraged Japanese 'colonizers' to emmigrate to Manchukuo offerung them rhe best land. Relatively few responded to the propaganda films depicting an Asian paradise. For the Chinese in Manchukuo, life became increasingly difficult as second-class citizens.

Shanghai Incident (1932)

While the Chinese Nationalist KMT Army did not intervene in Manchuria, the Chinese people were outraged at the Japanese. The Japanese were increasingly resented in China and the seizure of Manchuria was only confirmation of what the Chinese already widely suspected. There were demonstrations and protests throughout China. Anti-Japanese disturbances broke out in Shanghai. And there were attacks on Japanese citizens. The Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) used these attacks and other instances of resistance to justify a military action in Shanghai which was the financial center of China and because of its location at the mouth of the Yangtze River dominated a huge area of central China. The Japanese attacked Shanghai in what they called the Shanghai Incident (January 1932). the Japanese air force bombed Shanghai to quell the disturbances. They claimed that Japanese residents were endangered. The city had no air defense or bomb shelters. There was no effort to hit military targets. This was the first of many Japanese terror bombings of civilian populations. The Japanese when they attacked Shanghai, avoided hitting the International Settlement. Chinese fleeing the fighting attempted to get into the International sector. It had to closed off as supplies did not exist to provide for the refugees. Groups in America provided some relief aid. Press reports and wire photos of the devastated city and civilians appeared in newspapers around the world. This profoundly affected the Japanese image both in Europe and more importantly the United States. The International Settlement in the 1930s found itself in the middle of the bloody battle between the Nationalists and the Japanese. The Nationalists were out gunned by the Japanese who were supported by Japanese naval vessels in the harbor. They put up a fight for the city. Only the SIS remained untouched. Eventually a ceasefire was negotiated. This resulted in the demilitarization of Shanghai. The Chinese KMT were prohibited from deploying troops in the city, but could have a police force. The Japanese were allowed a small force of Marines.

Chinese Domestic Politics (1928-37)

The period between the KMT attack of the Communists and the Japanese invasion is often referred to as the Nanjing Decade--after the KMT capital (1928-37). The KMT nominally controled all of China. And Chiang significantly expanded the strength and authority of the centeral givernment. Even so, large areas of China were beyond his conrol. Local warlords or warlord coalitions while nominally recognizing the KMT Governent were in effective control of large areas. Especially importabnt were Feng Yuxiang and Yan Xishan. The Japanese Kwantung Army was a major force in Manchuria and finally seized control (1931). The Communists also resisted repeated KMT attacks finally withdrawing toremote north-western China beyound the reachbof KNT armies. The KMT's control was strongest in the eastern regions of China around Nanjing. The Central Plains War (1930) and the Japanese seizure of Manchuria (1931) helped to strengthen Chiang's authority. Chiang did not respnd to the Japanese seizure of Manchuria. He recognized that his forces involved with fighting the Communists, did not have the capability of fighting the well-equipped Japanese. Rather he continued his series of pacification drives. Chiang insisted, 'pacification first, resistance later'. Popular opinion in China, however, became stridently anti-Japanese. Not only had the Japanese seized Manchuria, but military operations in Shanghai (1932), and the seizure of Jehol (1933). Boycott drives affected sales of Japanese goods, undercutting Japanese economic policy. Many Chinese asked why Chiang was fightingthe Communists rather than the Japanese. iang's generals were also unhappy with him. The Communists in late-1936 helped convince Kuomintang generals to take him hostage (late-1936). Eventually an anti-Japanese alliance was negotiated. Zhou Enlai played an important role. Despite these difficulties, Chiang and the KMT consolidated their power and reported a number of achievemnents during Nanjing Decade. The KMT through negotiation managed to reduce the foreign concessions and privileges. A major achievement was the right to set tariffs (1930). Until then the major foreign powers had set Chinese tariffs. The KMT government pursued reforms and economic initiatives in many areas This included the legal and penal systems. Major highway and raiklway projcts were begun. An important step was legislation against the drug trade. Public health facilities were estanlished. Economic measures included price stabilization, amortizing foreign debts, and banking and currency reforms. The Govenment also promoted industrial and agricultural production. A key measure was the fiat currency (fapi) reform (November 3, 1935). This helped to stabilizing prices and also raisie government revenues. Major steps were taken in public education. Another measure was taken to unify Chinese society. The Government promoted Standard Mandarin language and reduce the influence of local spoken Chinese variats. Newspapers, magazines, and book publishing flourished as never before. Communications facilities began to tie China tigether as never before. The expanding railways helped to facilitate travel in China. This opened up countless villages to the outside world. The KMT pursued the Rural Reconstruction Movement. The KMT as part of its efforts to destoy the Communists restricted political freedom, The KMT pursued a policy of 'political tutelage' and reacted to anti-government protests with extrene violence.

Military Cooperation with Germany (1933-37)

Germany after World War was anxious to break out of the Versaiiles limitations. This led to various initives with the siviet Union, rgentina, nd other countries. One of these countries was China with its policiues aimed at ending European interference and treaty ports. Here Britain was a major target. Contacts in the 1920s were economic. Hitler began to change this. Hitler was impressed with the KMT's campaign against the Communists. The highly respected Generaloberst Hans von Seeckt was sent to China. He arrived in Shanghai (May 1933) and was immeditely offered the post of senior adviser to oversee German economic and military development in China. He quickly prepared the Denkschrift für Marschal Chiang Kai-shek memorandum, outlining a program of industrializing and China and building an effective military. This effort had an important impact on modernizing the the KMT militry and some impact on industrial development. China at the time had just defeated and reduced foreign treary ports and was locked in a civil war with the Communists as well as increasing conflicts with the Japanese who had just seized Manchuria. The Chinese desperately needed to modernize its large, but porly trained and equipped militry as well as to rapidly build industry. The Germans for their part needed to break out of its diplomatic isolation as well as secure raw materials. Most of the effirt was oj the military. Intense relations did not last long. Even before the Japanese invasion (1937), Hitler had begun to turn more toward the Japanese. The German mission had an important impact. The strong showing in the first months of the Japanese invsion came motly from the German-trained units. Ironically the first German casualty of World War II was a German adviser with the Nationalist Army when the Japanese invaded. Lieutenant von Schmeling was killed in combat with the Japanese while commanding an infantry Battalion of the 88th Division of Shanghai (late summer 1937). Hitler quickly severed relations with the KMT as the Japanese military strenggth became apparent. The choice of Japn brought no real benfit to Germany. As an Axis partner, Japan refused to join the Barbarossa invsion of the Soviet Union. And it was Japan that brought America into the War.

The Long March (1934-35)

Chiang continued to be reluctant to confront the Japanese. He was determined to first destroy the Communists. He launched the fourth KMT offensive (1933). He committed more than 0.5 million KMT troops. The Japanesestruck again, this time in Jehol in North China. Chiang drew back from his offensive againsrt the Communists, but still decided not to confront the Japanese. Insted, Chiang planed a fifth KMT offensive against the Communisdts. His German military advisers developed new tactics. Chiang committed a million man army to the operation. They surrounded Communist-controlled areas, building fortified blockhouses and instituting an economic blockade. They managed to seal off the Communists. Communication and trade were cut. The CPC found that their guerilla tactics were not effective. They were unable to stage unexpected attacks and quickly retreat. The KMT blockade, resulted in food shortagew. Obtaing salt became a serious problem. Disease outbreaks occurred. CPC members and soldiers were becoming physically weak. The KMT squeezed the CPC into a small part of theor original territory. Finally the CPC decided to abandon their bases in Kiangsi and attempt a breakout. Mao and Zhou with a part of the CPC force managed to break out. They executed an epic year-long, 6,000-mile fighting retreat--the Long March (1934-35). They mannaged to reach remote areas of northwestern China where they set up secure bases. Here they were able to fight off Kuomintang offenses.

Japanese Invasion (1937)

The Japanese launched an invasion of China proper, launching the Second Sino-Japanese War. (July 1937). The Japanese Kwantung Army turned a small incident into a full-scale war. Chinese forces were unable to effectively resist the Japanese. The Japanese military was not only better armed and organized, they were also incredibly brutal. The rape of Nanking was ome of the most terrible attrocities of World War II. The Japanese methodically moved south, seizing control of most of eastern China and all of the major ports by the time war broke out in Europe. (1939). The Kuomintang Army was battered, but the Japanese were unable to destroy it. Chiang used the samed tactics that Mao and the Communists had used, withdraw into the rugged, easily defensible interior. The Japanese moved up rivers and railroad lines into the interior of China. Much of the Japanese Army was committed to the war in China. It did not prove as draining for Japan, however, as the Soviet campaign did for Germany. This was in pat because of the ineffectiveness of the Kuomintang Army. Resistance to the Japanese fell primarily on the Kuomintang because the Communists were in the remote areas of northwestern China. Also neither Chiang or Mao wanted to weaken their forced by fighting pitched battles with the Japanese.

Foreign Reaction

The foreign reaction to the Japanese invasion varied. Most countries assuming that the Japanese would prevail, despite the naked agression, did not want to complicate their relations with the Japanese. The Allies (Britain and France) had their hands full contending with the increasingly belicose NAZIS. The Soviets concerned about Japanese expansion were at first the most supportive. Gradually America became China's major backer. Public opinion was very sympthetic to the Chinese. The American missionasries in China played a major role in developing public support for China. The powerful American isolationist movement was much more focused on Europe than Asia. The foreign reaction is often seen as a minor detaiol in the history of World War II. It was not. American journalists had a powerful impact on American public opinion. And it would be America's constant and increasing support of China that would cause the Jaspanese to finally decided not to strike north and support their Axis ally in the invasion of the Soviet Union, but rather to strike south and bring the United States and its massive industrial power into the War.

Japanese Propaganda

The Axis countries had a great deal of difficulty in making war propaganda. All three of the countries werre hyper-nationalistic , desiring to seize territory and resources from other countries and with national creeds that dengrayed foreigbn racial groups. In the case of Germany a mjor goal was genocide to reduce non-Aryan populations. In the case of Japan, genocide was not such a clearly though out policy, but as a result of seizures of food and other policies, the result was much the same. With such war efforts, the ability to convince occupied people to support Japan were limited. And in China the behavior of Japanese troops was so barbaric, that any kind of effective policy was virtually impossible other than brute force. The Three All campaign showed that majing propagabda in China was a waste of time and effort. There was propaganda after the invasion of Manchuria, but uit was primarily aimed at the Japanese rather than the Chinese or Manchurian people. The Japanese people were not told about the purposes of overseas expansion. Nor were they told about the barbarities being committed abroad by their soldiers. Rather they were told that their soldiers were behaving correctly and that attrocity stories were lies. They were told that Japan was bringing peace and progress to China and ending Chinesec banditrty. This is why the invasion was termed the 'China Incident'. The militarists controlling Japan assumed that seizing China would yoeld boutiful returns. Instead it locked Jaoan into a costly, intractable war. Thus they had to begin asking the Japanese prople for sacirifices even before launching the Pacific War. Japanese propaganda changed some what with the outbreak of the Pacific War. Outside of China, the territories that Japan invaded in the Southern Resoure Zone were European colonies where there was considerable resentment toward Europeans. (The Philippines was different. It was an American commonwealth, but the United States was in the process of granting independence.) The Japanese had some success in the European colonies, especially in the Dutch East Indies. The Greater East Asia Co-Propersuty Sphere had a notable exception--China. Japan policies, however, hardly resulted in properit. Instead, Japanese rule resultd in terrible famine. This obviously limited the impact of propaganda efforts. Again, the majoe importance of Japanese propaganda was on their own people, convincing them of the need to make great sacrifices and ultimately for even civilians, including children, to fight to the death.

Japanese Occupation

The Japanese militarists became obsessed with the idea of controlling Chin. It was een as vital to th Japanese economy. How to seuze and administer such a large country, however, was nevr fully worked out. attempted to set up Quizling governments before the term had become had become nortorious. Japan after the initial 1937-38 campaign refused to recognize Chiang as the attempt to create splits in the KMT. The Japanese political strategy in China was to undermine the KMT by setting up a number of regional puppet goverments. This was the approach taken in Manchuko where the former Emperor, PuYi was installed. The Japanese planned that by controlling these regional satrapies that they could control and exploit China. The Japanese id uceed in exploiting Manchuko as they did Korea, but China proved different, in part because the Imperial Japanese army proved incapable of fighting the war to a conclusion and defeating the Nationalists. And the occupation instead of producing benefits to the Japanese economy proved very costly and a drain on the economy. The Japanese could defeat Nationalist armies, but were unable to effectively occupy the areas won. Even in occupied areas, the countryside was not secure. And the Japanse found themselves in a Catch-22. They did not have a large enough forces to occupy the areas they conquered, let along the whole country. They could strengthen a garrison to improve security, but the benefits gained were negated by the added costs of supporting the expanded garison. The Japanese formed collaborationist units, but they to had to be paid, equipped, and fed. Food proved a major problem. The Japanese had the military firce toeize food from the peasantry and they did so. More Chinese wouk die from starvation and diseases related to malnutrition than as a result of military action. But this in returned increase anti-Japanese feeling and the will to resist the invaders. The Japanese exoloitation of China provd so unpriftable that the military turned to drug traficking. In the end the Japanese policy for controlling China was brutality, best exmplified by the Three Alls. And as part of this policy the Japanese resorted to Weapons of Mass Destruction, both chemical and biological weapons.

Ethnicity and Religion

China is a large diverse country, both ethnically and religiously. The Japanese attempted to take asvantage of this. After occupying Manchuria, the created the puppet state of Manchukuo, based on the Manchu dynasty. The last Manchu Emperor, Puyi was installed as head of state. It was all a fiction of course, but the Japanese hoped to capitalize on Manchi nationalisr sentiment. The Japanese did the same to the southeast whjen they seized the province of Chahar and Suiyuan. They created Mengjiang--the Mongol border lands. Here their interest was to capitalize on Mongol national sentiment with the goal of moving into Soviet occupied Mongolia. As far as we can tell that neither Manchu or Mongolian natialnalist senbtiment proved to be a factor of any importance. And Japanese brutality so embitered the occupied peoople that the Japanese were able to gain little significant support beyond those who thoufgt that the Japoabese were going to win the War and this number declined sharply after the Japanese launched he Pacific War. Anither group of imprtance were Chinese Muslims. There were several different groups which were basically two groups. First were the Chinese Muslims, people who lived in Han areas, spoke Chinese, and were largely assimilated. Second were the groups like the s, Kazaks, abd Turkic grouos in westrern China. The Japanese attempted to coopt Muslims with a range of efforts, including a Haj trip (1938). The Japanese were no onlu looking for allies, but saw Muslim Chinese as potentially useful before the Pacufic War in opning up trade relations in the Middle East. Ot was not only the Japanese trying to win over Muslims, but also the Nationalists, Chinese Communists, amd Soviets. An academic assessment argues that competition between the Chinese Nationalists and the Japanese Imperial authorities for the loyalty of Sino-Muslims during the War was an importamt factor in the creation of the ethnoreligious identity of Muslims in modern China. Their War palyed an important role in formaing the Sino-Muslims’ religious identities within the Islamikc world and their incorporation into the Chinese Communist state. The conditions of that incorporation remain unstable and contested to this day as the brutality toward the Uyghurs has come to light. [Hammond]

Soviet-Japanese Clashes: Manchuruan Border War (1939)

The Soviets like the Western powers objected to the Japanese seizure of Manchuria. The Soviet premier On January 31, 1935 demanded Japan leave Manchuria. The Japanese refused. Large scale clashes occurred between Japanese and Sovier forces occurred along the border of Manchuria in 1939. The Japanese released photographs of captured Soviet soldiers (July 1939). The conflict was little reported in the West. An offensive planned and executed by Marshall Zukov convinced the Japanese to seek an armistace (September 1939). The clash was, however, of imense strategic significance. It was undoubtedly a factor encouraging Stalin to respond favorably to NAZI initiatives for a Non-Aggression Pact (August 1939) to ensure that the Soviet Union would not face a two-front war. Hitler ignored the Soviet performance and instread saw the inept Red Army offensive in Finland as ecidence that the Soviets couls be easily defeated. The Japanese Army concluded that further attacks on the Soviets were unwise. This was an important facyor in attacking south in 1941 at America rather than north at the Soviet Union. It was also a major factor in refusing entrities from Hitler in 1942 to attack the Soviet Union.

War Crimes and Attrocities

The Japanese in the process of invading China committed war atrocities on an unpresidented level against the Chinese civilian population. The most savage of these explosions of barbarity was the Rape of Nanking, after the fall of the capital Nanking. Here European diplomats and missionaries witnessed the brutality of the Japanese. It should be noted that these attrocities were not inherent in the Japanese caharacter. The Japanese conduct and treatment of both prisionors and civilians during the Russo-Japanese War and World War I had been correct and in accordance with accepted international standards. The Japanese military invading China behaved very differently.

Nationalist and Communist Armies

The war in China was never a two part war between the Japanese and Chinese. It was a three part war with the Chinese divided into Nationalist and Communist factions. We do not yet have details about the orgnization, recruitment, and training programs of the two Chinese armies. One basic difference was that the Natiinalist Army was compodsed of war lords who were prone to change sides. Chaing's were aimed at keeping the war lords on his side and this often conflicted with building and training strong units. The Communist Army while smaller seems to have had a stronger more cogerent organization. Both Chiang and Mao saw each other as their primary adeversary. Thus they were never willing to full the full force of their armies against the Japanese. Especiaally after the United States entered the War, they realized thast the Japanese would be defeated and the real struggle would followe after the War. This frustrated the Americans which wanted more aggressive tactics against the Japanese. I have noted suggestions that the Nationalists were the most aggressive force while others have suggested it was the Communists. Here one has to be careful as some authors allow their political leanings color there assessment. Also Americans had little contact with the Communisxts and thus were mostly aware of Nationalist operations. We in fact do not know which was more aggrssive toward the Japanese or if there was an appreciable difference. Perhaps a HBC reader will have some insights here.

Combat Operations (1938-41)

Nationalist Military Opertions

Despite the Japnese onslaught, the Chinese government never surrendered. The Chinese achieved few real military victories, but the Japanese were never able to defeat them. The Nationalists and Communists moved further inland, setting up new capitals at Kumintang Yenang. The War continued on a lower scale, but envolving the continued deployment of the bulk of the Japanese Army. After the fall of Hankow (October 1938), Nationlist tactics changed. The Nationalists after withdrawing west into the internior were on more defensible ground. The Japanese advantaged diminished as they moved away from the coast and supply lines became streached. The Nationists adopted what they described as "magnetic warfare". They attempted some major engagements if they were able to gain advantageous deployments against over streached Japanese units. The most successful Chinese operation was the repeated defense of Changsha.

Communist Military Oprations: Resistance

The war in China was from the beginning a three part war. The major engagements were largely between the Japanese and the Nationalists. This was largely because the Nationalists (KMT) conrolled the most valuable areas of China that the Japanese coveted. The Communists (CCP) controled Shaanxi in the northwest. This was an area of little interest to the Japanese. Thus large-scale military engagements between the Japanese were limited. The Communists did have forces and supporters in areas under nominal Japanese control. In these areas there were actions of various scale with both the Japanese and Nationalists (KMT). The KMT and CCP agreed to form a united front to fight the Japanese, but this never really worked and within a short period the KMT and CCP forces were fighting each other. The CCP forces ininiated an offensive against the Japanese (1940), but for the most part avoided major actions against the better equipped Japanese forces.

American Support

Chiang received little outside help at first. There was, however, considerable sympathy for China in America. Here Madame Chiang, a Chinese Christian and Wellesley graduate, played an important role. American support was a first diplomatic. This shifted to financial and eventually material support. Japan escalated its operations after the fall of France (1940) by seizing the French colony of Indo-China. The United States escalted its protests. The Pacific fleet was moved to Pear Harbor. American diplomatic protests escalated to embargoes of strategic materials. The United States implemented serious embargoes on oil and scrap metal. The oil enbargo was especially important and meant thast Japan would either have to withdraw from China or find another source of oil. This meant that Japan would have to declare war. The United States also began funelled supplies to the Chinese through Burma. In addition, the United States launched a secret effort to provided China a modern air defense--the American Volunteer Group (Flying Tigers). Its main task was to protect the Burma Road. President Roosevelt signed an executive order 1940 which permitted U.S. military personnel to resign so that they could participate in a covert operation to support China (May 1940). The All Volunteer Group formed became known as Chennault's Flying Tigers. This covert operation provide the Chinese a creditable air capability for the first time. The Flying Tigers did not, however, go into action until after Pearl Harbor. Their operations were legendary, but could not precent the Japanese from seixing Burma from the British. This cut off China from Allied assistance. The only exception was supplies which could be flown in over The Hump (The Himilayas) from India. This consisted primarily of supplies to support American air operations in China. American entry into the war, however, meant that Japan could no longer focus its military operations on China.

Victory of the Japanese Strike South Faction

While the Strike North Faction was initially the preminent Arny faction, a series of shocking events after Japan's invasion of China led to the victory of thec Strike South Faction within the Imperial Army. The Japanese were shicked at the very vocal American reaction to their war in China. This was of some consequence, not because of the moral outrage, but the fact that Japan was very dependant on America for raw materials, espoecially oil. The American Moral Embargo (July 1938) was thus a very real threat. Next came the NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact (August 1939). NAZI Germany was Japan's principal ally against the Soviet Union which the Strike North Faction wanted to attack. NAZI diplomats had not consulted with the Japanese before signing the pact. This led to the Japanese questiining the value of the Anti-Comintern Pact and their German ally. Perhaps the most important development was an undeclared and poorly reported border war with the Sovirt Union (August 1939). The Red Army routed the Japanese along the Khalka River. This seems to have significantly reduced the Imperial Army's enthusism for invading the Soviet Union. The result was the Strike South Faction emerging as the dominant group in the Imperial Army. br>

Pearl Harbor (December 1941)

The American embargos finally caused Japan to go to war with the United States. A Japanese carrier taskforce composed of six carriers on December 7, 1941, executed a surprise attack on the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. It was a brilliant tactical victory for Japan, but perhaps the greatest mistake in modern military history as it brought a suddenly united America with its vast industrial capacity into the War. The Japanese launched 360 aircraft which in 2 hours struck Peal Harbor just as the American sailors were waking up on a sleepy Sunday morning. The strike sunk or heavily damaged six of the eight American battleships, thrre cruisrs, three destroyers, and most of the Army Air Corps planes on the island. America was at war. With the attack on Pearl Harbor the focus of the war shifted to the Pacific and provided China a powerful ally.

Chinese Cities

The Nationalists once gaining control of China after World War I ended the Treaty Port system. Two Western outpots remained, the Internatiional Settlements (SIS) at Shanghi and the Hong Kong Crown Colony. Shanghai was the commercial and business center of China, rather like a Chinese New York. The struggle for Shanghai began with the Japabese invasioin of Marchuria (1931). Anti-Japanese protests in Sghanhai resuilted in Japanese intervention nd the first bombing of a major city in the prelude to World War II. Japan invaded China proper launching the Second Sino-Japanse War (1937). The Japanese nvsion began just north of Beijing. Tianjing in norther China was one of the first Chinese cities occupied by invading Japanese troops. The Nationalists put up a serious fight for Shanghai, but after that one Chinese city after another fell to the Japanese. After Bejing fell, the Natioinalists moved the capital to Nanking further south. The Japanese rape of Nanking was one of the greatest atrocities in world histoty. It is at this time the Japanese attacked and sank the American gunboat USS Panay near Nanking. The Japnese seized port cities, largely cutting China off from foreign assistance. The SIS and British Hong Kong for the time remained untouched. The Nationalists retired to the interior, setting up a war-time capital at Chungking (Chongqing). There the Japanese Army because of the ruigged territoiry and primitive infrastructure was unable to reach them, but began to bomb the city. The city had no effective air defense until the Ameriucan Flying Tigers arrived (1941). The British withdrew their garrison from the International Settlement (August 1940). The U.S. Marine contingent as a result of Magic intercepts was evacuated (November 1941). As part of their offensive begun at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese seized the SIS (December 8, 1941). The cruiser Izumo began hostilities by capturing the American gunboat USS Wake and the British gunboat HMS Petrel. USS Wake (PR-3) was berthed at the port. The crew attempted to scuttle the boat, but failed. The captain was forced to surrender to the Japanese. Wake was the only United States Navy ship to surrender during the War.> Japanese soldiers stormed into the SIS. There was no resistance. Only the small separate French sector was respected. The French Vichy Government at the time was occupied by the Germans, an Axis Ally, and thus not targeted by the Japanese. The British and Dutch were already at war with Germany. Pearl Harbor brought America into the War. The civilians of the Allied nations (primarily British) were not allowed to continue working or to frequent places of entertainment like movie theaters. They had to wear a numbered red arm-band with a letter code indicating their nationality so they could be easily identified. A Chinese tailor was contracted to supply the British with clothing, which was a corduroy lumber jacket and trousers in two shades! So the British soon were all dressed alike. The Chinese underground actively shot Japanese soldiers so Japanese set up street barricades all over the city. [Shaw] There was no naval defense of Hong Kong. The British Royal Navy did not have strength to defend Singapore, its primsry bastion. Thus the Imperial Navy dominated the sea lanes. The Imperail Army had substantial forces in Canton faced thge British Crown Colony. Thec Japanese bombed Hong Kong (December 8). The few aircraft were quickly destroyed. The British battalions on Hong Kong Island reiforced by the Canadians were strong enough to prevent the Japanese from just marching in as they did in Shanghai. The British surrendered Hong Kong after an 18-day struggle (December 25). The Europeans in Sanghai were not immediately interned. The Europeans in Hong Kong were. U.S. submarines manage to prevent the Japanese from using Hong Kong as a staging area for assaults further into East Asia.

Fighting in China (1940-44)

Fighting continued in China after Pearl Harbor, but at a low level. The Nationalist Kuomintang Army and the Communist Chinese Army both resisted the Japanese, to a point. Chiang and Mao agreed to a truce, but never really united to fight the Japanese or coordinte operations. Armed encounters between the Nationalists and Communists in fact continued throughout the War. The last major offensive against the Japanese was launched by the Comminists in 1940, the Hundred Regiments Campaign (Summer-Fall 1940). They suffered heavy losses. The New Fourth Army Incident ended any possibility of real cooperation between the Nationalists and Communists (January 1941). The Nationalists did not launch any major offensives. The Japanese were basically restrained by the requirement of garisoning conquered territory and the logistics of moving deeper into the interior. Perodic Rice Offensives were launched. The Japanese attempted to use their air force to bomb the Nationalists into submission. Here they could strike deep into the interior. This was complicated, however, by the American Flying Tigers and later the regular Ameican Army Air Force. Even after the Japanese cloesed the Burma Road, the Allies flew supplies in over The Hump. Most of these supplies went to the air effort. The United States assigned General "Vinegar" Joe Stwillwell to advise Chang. The two clashed, but Stillwell's replacement did little better. Basically a major reform of the Nationalist military was needed. Chang refused to commit his forces to battle or reform them. President Roosevelt and the China Lobby in America had hoped that Chiang's huge army would play an important role in the War. It did not. It simply did not engage the Japanese Army. China's vastness, however, proved a huge commitmet for the Japanese. Once at war with America, which was suposed to make victory in China possible, Japan could no longer expand operations in China The Japanese did mange one finl offensive in China--Ichi-Go. Anbd this only bcause the Amerixasere going to bomb Japan from Chinese airfields. As the Pacific War went against Japan, they had to draw down forces. But given the nature of the Pacific battlefield and the constraints of the Japanese logistical capability, shifting massive forces was impossible until the final battle for the Home Islnds began shaping up.

Home Fronts

China and Japan were very different countries before the War and thus the World War II home front experiences were very different. China was a large diverse, largely feudal country involved in a Civil War. Chinese nationalism was strong among the educated middle class, but that was a small part of the population. The largely peasant population was uneducated and basically did not know that they were Chinese. There was vbery little of the intense nationalism exhibited by the Kapanese. Japan was the most modern, industrialized country in Asian. The Japanese were a largely homogenous people, educated by Asia's first public school system, and unified with an intense national spirit to support the war effort. The Japanese home front became to be affected as the war in China dragged on for years, but nothing like the Chinese home front. Conditions deteriorated even more when the Pacific War began to go against Japan. Food rations declines, but unklike China people did not starve. The War finally came home to Japan when the American strategic boming camapaign began in ernest akesr (Januraty 1945). Of course the major difference was that China was invaded by Japan nearly a decade before the Germans and Soviets launched World War II (September 1939). Evetually the Japanese would occupy most of the heavily populated areas of China and the important food producing area. Maps may show that large areas of China were unoccpied, bit these were lightly populated areas that were not very productive agricultural areas. Thus for the Chinese people the home front was also the front line of the War. And from an early point of the War food became a problem and an increasingly serious one as the War progressed. Finally the Chinese hime frint began to crack with the Japanese Ichi-Go Offensive (April 1944). By this time, however, the Pacific War began to undermine the Japanese war effort.

Japanese Puppet Administration

The Japanese did not wnt a unified China. They thus dministered the occupied areas through an network of puppet regimes headed by Chinese officials willing to collaborate. The most important was Wang Jingwei who had been a close associate of Sun Yat-sen. He had been a high-ranking KMT official and struggle with Chiang to control it, ultimately losing out. It is not entirely clear what Wang's motives were. His personal oposition to Chiang was clearly a factor. The most charitable assesment is that he thought that the Japanese had won the War ans attempted to cut the best deal possibe to reduce the suffering of the Chinese people. Some ccounts suggest that he was lured into working with the Japanese because of its promtion of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. It is unclear how seiously he took this propaganda effort. The Japanese also promised to return to China all concessions and leased territories and to abolish extraterritoriality. There was also alure of a united front to fight the Communits. Wang had to concede Japanese control of Manchukuo, the stationing of Japanese troops in China, preferred access to China’s natural resources, and accept Japanese cultural and educational advisors. These wre not measures that ahinese nationalist could accept he was convinced that the Japanese had wn the War ad could not be defeated. Chiang condemned Wang ad his concessions to the Japanese. He charged tht they were a thinly concealed plan to annex China. He expelled Wang from the KMT and charged him with treason. Wang died before the end of the War, butbmany f his associate were arrested after the War and executed for treason.

Burma (1940-45)

The campaign in Burma was one of the least reported of the War. It was also fought in some of the most remote and diffuicult terraine of the War. America and Britain began funneling military supplies to China through the Burma Road (1940). Burma was at te time a British colony. The Flying Tigers were created in part to protect the Burma Road. After seizing Maaysia and Singapore, the Japanese struck west and seized Burma, driving the British back into India (1942). This severed the Burma Road and made it virtually impossible to supply the Nationalists. High prioroty supplies like aviation fuel was flown Over the Hump (the Himilayas) from supply depots in India. The Allies using American, British, Chinese, and Indian units launched an offensive back into Burma. The Battle for Burma involved some of the most vicious of the War.. Allied units drove into northern Burma. A road connction was finally made with the old Burma Road called the Ledo Road which greatly inctrased the flow if war material to the Nationalists. Japanese forced were concentrated in southern Burma where they launched an offensive against the British 14th Army in India. That offensive failed and the British rentered Burma and drove the Japanse back into Malasia. When the war ended, the British were preparing to retake Malaya.


China is a huge country. World War II histories tend to focus on the south and fighting between the Natinlists and Japanese. Much more was goung on and not only Communidt cintrolled Yenan in the north. Yan'an/Yenan in north-central China was near the endpoint of Mao Tse Tung's Long March. Yenan thus became the center of the Chinese Communist Revolution (1936-48). Chinese communists celebrate Yan'an as the birthplace of the Revolution. Yenan was a remote, desolate location in which the Japanese had little interest. It was, however, hardly the remote northwest of the country. The most remote location was Xinhijang. It was southwet of Mongolia and north of Tibet. The fabeled medieval Silk Road passed through the province. The Japanese never got near Xinjiang, but the province was contested by The Nationalists, Communists, and Soviets in a diplomatic and politican dance that would not play out until after the War. With the Republican Revolution, the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty was overthrow and Yuan Dahua, the last Qing governor, fled (1912). A subordinate, Yang Zengxin (杨增新), took control of the province and nominlly acceded in name to the Republic of China. Actually he became one of a number of war lords. Through Byzantine machinations and the careful balancing of the various ethnic populkations, Yang ruled Xinjiang until his he was assassinated (1928). Jin Shuren (金树仁) replaced him as the provincial war lord. He soon faced rebellions fomented by some of the ethnic minorties. The most significant was the Kumul Rebellion, a largely Muslim uprising (early-1930s). This involved Uyghurs, other Turkic groups, and Hui (Muslim) Chinese. Jin drafted White Russians who had fled the Soviets, to crush the revolt. An uprising in the Kashgar or southwestern region proclaimed the East Turkistan Republic (ETR)/Uyghuristan (1933). The Chinese Muslim Kuomintang 36th Division (National Revolutionary Army) was committed to destroy the ETR which it did at at the Battle of Kashgar (1934). The Nationalists executed the two ETR Emirs (Abdullah Bughra and Nur Ahmad Jan Bughra). Shortly after the Soviet Union invaded launching the Xinjiang War (1937). This brought warlord Sheng Shicai (盛世才) to power. He ruled Xinjiang for the folowing decade with support from the Soviet Union. This is one example of Stalin's cooperation with the Nationalists and reluctance to fully embrace Mao and the Chinese Communists. Sheng followed the advice of Soviet advisers in the ethnic and security policies he instituted. The Soviet Union maintained a military base in Xinjiang during this period. Sheng facilating between Chiang and Mao invited a Chinese Communists delegation to Xinjiang. Mao sent a high level delegation, including his brother Mao Zemin. Although the whole episode is murky, the Communists apparently were fomenting a coup. Sheng alerted by his Soviet-trained security service ordered the Chinese mission arrested and executed, including Mao's brother.


One of the great tragedies of World War II are the displaced people often described as refugees. The story of refugees in Europe has been treated by historians in great detail. The story of refugees in Asia, especually Chna, has been the subject of much less historical study, despite the huge numbers of people involved. And the term refugee or even dispaced persons does not begin to capture what occured in China. There were indeed large numbers of what we would consider as traditional regugees as well as homeless. And here the number was larger than any other beligerent country, including the Soviet Union. There were three reasons for this. First, the Japanese offensive was not as rapid as the German military operations. And the Japanese were not as mechanized as the Germans. This meant that the Chinese had more time to flee than the people of the Captive Nations in Europe. Second, the Japanese never totally defeated the Chinese and occupied the whole country. This meant that the Chinese had somewhere to try to reach. In Europe, the Germans conquerd whole countries, except for the Soviet Union. Thus there was no wherefor Europeans toescape to, but Britain and Spain. The Channel and North Sea made it virtually impossible to reach Britain. Spain was easier, but had a Government linked to the Germans. Third, the Japanese were increadily brutal, creating an enormous refugee flow. In addition to the refugees, you have forced labor as well as war ophans and widows. There were akso special groups particularly associatd with China that were not refugees or dispalced, but suffered in a simalar way to refugees. This included increased opium addiction (promoted by the Japanese), military concripts (ill-cared for and fed), amd civilian laborers. Chinese peasants were not safe just because they were not in a Japanese occupied area. The Japanese ruthlessly seized crops, but so did Chinese authorties (Nationalist and Communist) in the unoccupid zone. The Nationalists could be especially brutal as the War went on and the Japanese seized more and more of China's prime agricultural land. This meant that the Nationalists had access to less harvested food and with swelling refugee populations and a large army to feed, more and more demand for food. Unlike Britain and the Soviet Union, there was no way for America to get food through to the Nationalists. The Japanese seized all the Chinese ports (1937-38) and eveually closed off the remaining lifelines, French Indochina (1940) and British Burma (1942). The Nationalists not only seized food from the peasants but often their sons as well to serve in the military. These seizures were limted early in the War, but as the War pogressed became more and more severe. Many peasants so affected might not be refugees or displaced, but after their food, livestock, and sons were seized were in very much the same sitution. The Communists did the same, but were more restrained. This was undoubtedly a factor in the Commiunist victory after the War. There are no definitive data for the numbers of people involved, refugees, other displced people, and the special Chinese categories.

Japanese Ichi-go Offensive (April-November 1944)

The Japanese Ichi-go Offensive diverged from their normal rice offensives that they had persued in China. It was a major effort. Even with the Burma Road closed, General Chennault’s 14th Air Force was conducting effective raids on Japanese positions. And plans called for initiating the strategic air campaign against Japan from Chinese bases once the new long-range B-29 bomber became available and the Ledo Road connected with the old Burma Road. (The American capture of the Marianas made the Chinese bases much less important.) The Japanese who still held the Marianas decided to seize the Sino-American airbases that Chennault was using. The Japanese launched Ichi-go with 17 divisions with 0.4 million men. They had 12,000 vehicles and 70,000 horses. The Japanese force was given three major objectives: 1) Control the entire length of the Beijing and Hong Kong rail line, 2) Link the forces in China with those in occupied French Indochina, and 3) Seize control of American air fields in southern China. Given the state of the war, the operation made some sense. The Germans were not yet defeated still help France and much of Eastern Europe. The Imperial Navy was still a powerful force and the Marianas were still in Japanese hand. The greatest threat to the Homne Islands came from the sino-American airfields in southern China. The Japanese forces were ordered to destroy crops and other food supplies that could not be seized. The food situation in Nationalist China was becoming desperate and thre was still no way for America to get food into China. The major battles were Henan (April-May), Changsha (June-August), and Guilin-Liuzhou (November). The Japanese committed terrible attroicities against civilians during the offensive. The Japanese achieved most of their objctives ans serioudly weakned the Nationalists. The success of the Japanese exposed the weakness of the Nationalist forces. The Chinese units that Stillwell had supplied and trained in Burma and India fought well. The unreformed Natioinalist divisions outsiude of stillwell's control and not as well supplied simply desintegrated and melted away in the face of the Japanese offensive. The Nationalists reported 0.5 million casualties and some of these were reportedly the best divisions in Chiang's army. None of the accomplishments in any way benefitted the Japanese war effort. The real threat to Japan came from th Pacific advance of the Americans. Ichi-go used Japan's scarce resources in China far from the real threat. By the end of Ichi-go, Japan's hold on Burma was crubling. the Marianas were in American hands, the Imperial Fleet no longer existed, and the Philippines was being liverated.

Chinese Offensive (April 1945)

Japan was seriously weakened by the Pacific War, especially the successful American submarine campaign which starved Japanese industries of raw materials from the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ). Obtaining these resources was the primary rson Japan had launced the Pacific war. It also prevented food imports from the SRZ. The American strategic bombing campaign began to have a significant impact on Japan just as the Ledo Road again connected China to American Lend Lease supplies--although the quntities involved were still relatively small. Thus beginning in mid- and late-1944, the Nationalists were able to mount offensives against the Japanese Army on a level that had not been possible earlier. The Japanese also began withdrawing divisions from China to strengthen the defenses of the Home Island to counter the anticipated American invasion. And the divisions remaining found it increasily difficult obtaining military equipment and supplies. Japanese production plummeted as a result of the submarines choking off raw material imports nd the mobers destroyin war plants. The war material produced was primarily used to equpand supply he divisions being massed in Kyushu to oppose the expected american invasion. As a result, the Nationalist Army despite the massive losses as a result of Ichi-go, was able to strike at the Japanese in force for the first time since the first year of the War. Chiang launched his offensive (Spring 1945). It was code names ping-jen ("Iceman") or pai-t'a ("White Tower"). The primary objective was to liberate the ports along China's southwestern coast. This was to prepare for Anglo-American landings that would follow an invasion of Formosa (Taiwan). American and Chinese planners conceived of Alpha Plan. This was an American agreement to equip and train 36 Nationalist divisions. This would create a force that would liberate China from the Japanese. The American plans changed, however, after General MacArthur convinced President Roosevelt to liberate the Philippines rather than invade Formosa. The Chinese offensive went ahead anyway. The Chinese launchd their first counteroffensive at Kweilin and Lichou moving east toward the southern coast (April 1945). The second phase of the Chinese counteroffensive was aimed at Canton, the most important southern city and the long envisioned port through which American aid could reach the Nationalists (late-July 1945). This offensive was ended, however, by the Japanese surrender which surprised the Chinese.

Atomic Bombs (July 1945)

The United States Manhattan Project suceeded in creating fussion weapons. The weapon was successfully tested (July 1945). The United Sttes dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 6 and 9, 1945). The results were horendous. Japanese scientists were at the time working on an atmic bomb. This was of course secret and only a small number of officvials and ciebtisdts were aware of the work. Thus the Japanese were totally unprepared and had no idea a first what had ocurred. Militry autorities assured the Emperor after the Hiroshima attack that the Americans could not possibly have produced enough uranium for a second bomb. War Minister Korechika Anami still wanted to continue the War, When told about the nushroom cloud, he replied, "Would it not be wondrous for this whole nation to be destroyed by a beautiful flower?" [Pellegrino] Most Americans believe it was the atmnic bomb that forced the Japanese to surrender. It surely was a factor, but even before the two attacks, coventional attacks had destroyed mny Japanese cites. It is likely that the decesion to surrender was also infuenced indicrectly through Moscow. The Hiroshima attack caused Stalin to order the immediate declaration of war on Japan and invasion of Manchuria least Japan surrender before the Soviets attacked. The prospect of a Soviet occupation was a major factor in the Emperor's decesion and the Army's acquiesence to the Emperor's decession. The human tragedies are heart rending. There are many factual accounts. Many fiction writers have also addressed the cataclism. One particularly moving fction account was about Emikio Amai age 6. "One morning toward the end of the summer they burned away by face. My little brother and I were playing on the bank of the river." [Bock] At the time there was no real controversy in America about President Truman's decesion to use the bomb. Over time the American use of the bomb has become controversial even in America. The Japanese largely because of the bomb see thenselves as a cictim of the War. Japanese authors write a great deal about the atmic bomb and very little about the much larger number of people that died at their heands throughout SoutheastvAsia nd the Pacific. While many of the issues concerning the bomb can be debted, One more definitive observation is that the atmic bomb was not just one more weapon, albit of great power, Dropping the bomb represented one of the fundamental inflection point in history. [Pellegrino]

Soviet Invasion of Manchuria (August 8, 1945)

Stalin as promissed at Yalta and Potsdam declared war on Japan. At the time the Japanese were attempting to use the Soviets to mediate and end to the War. He moved the date up after the Hiroshima bombing as he wanted to be in the War before Japan surrendered. The Soviet Union declared war on Japan (August 8, 1945).The Soviets struck in Manchuria and routed the Japanese forces there. The offensive was in sharp contrast to the campasigns the Americans conducted in the Pacific. The Soviets after declaring war immediately launched a massive invasion--the largest ground operation of the Pacific War. The Red Army rapidly swept over Manchuria. Japanese resistance crumpled. The Soviet invasion is not well covered in Western histories of the War. One question that arises is why the Japanese so quickly suceeded in Manchuria while the United States struggled in Okinawa. I think this is primarily because Okinawa was a small island where the Japanese could concentrate their forces in mountenous terraine. Manchuria was a huge area, much of it a flat plane, idea for tank warfare. The Japanese could not defend it like they were able to do on Okinawa.

Chinese Children

World War II was a disaster for China, but no one suffered more than the children. This is because despite te unbelievable brutality of the Japanese, the major killer was famine and food shortages. Even in normal times, China's archaic agricultural sector struggled to feed the population. And children because of their lower resistance to disease and need for more regular nutrition were often the first to die as a result of food shortages. And orphaned children or those seprated from their parents had virtually no way of obtaining food. Some 10-15 million Chinese people are believed (some estimates are higher) perished during the war, most because of food shortages. And children were a large part of that total. The United States after the Japanese cut the Burma Road (February 1942) had no way of getting significantly quantities of food into China. At first the Nationalists controlled vast areas of productive agricutural land, but as Japan moved steadily south and west, more and more agrucultural land fell into their hands. This meant that children would have increaing difficulty obtaining food. In Nationalist-controlled areas the authorities as a result had less access to food and greater demand for it as refugees fleeing the Japanese flooded toward the Nationalists seeking safety. The Nationalists had insufficient food for permanent residents let alone the refugees. In Commuinst controlled areas, we are not sure what occuurred. In Japanese-controlled areas, the Japanese seized contol of the food supply. Food production declined because of the brutal occupation regime. Labor shortages were a major problem. The Japanese Army seized food from the peasantry for its troops and shipped some back to the Home Islands albeit much less than they thought possibe when they launched the war. The Chinese were on their own and of course displaced children were most affected. While food shortages were the major killer, childrn died and suffered in many other ways. Children were not exempted from terrible Japanese attrocities (the Rape of Nanking is but one example), bombing of Chinese cities, use of chemical and biological agents, and medcal experiments. Even if not killed directly, the killing of parents meant that younger children had very little chance of survival unless taken in by other family members. And given the terrible food shortages, this often did not happen. The Nationlists, Communists, and Japanese often press-ganged civilans and this included both teenagers and even older boys. Many did not survive because of mistreatment and food shortages. The Japanese murdered all Chinese POWs, including the boys and teenafgers. Children also played a role in the war effort as they were consripted into military service and worked on construction projects. Orphanages were opened for the displaced children, but we have limited information on these facilities at this time. A major problem for the orhaages was obtaining food. This is a poorly stdied subject. If you do a Google serch, virtually nothing come up. In fact what comes up or Japanese children stranded in China after the war. This is a miniscule part of the stry of children in China during World War II, but interesting in itself.

Japanese Surrender (August 1945)

After Iwo Jima and Okinawa, Allied military planners expected the Japanese, despite the strageic bombing campaign destroying city after city, would fight it out to the bitter end. Japanese soldiers with few exceptions fought to the death,refusing to surrender. And even many Jpanese civilians on Saipan refused to surrender. Thus the Jpanese surrender without an invasion of the Home Islads surprised the Chinese. The combination of American atomic bombs and Soviet invasion convinced the Emperor to surrender unconditionally (except the fiture of the monrchy wascheld open) aginst the advise of much of the military. At the time, substantial Japanese armies were still largely undefeated and in control of substantial areas of China. The Chinese were thus totally unprepared for the Jaoanese surrender. They even had difficulty arranging tranportation for the Japanese surrender delegations. Chiang was forced to request the Japanese to stay in place and maintain order in occupied China until KMT Nationalist troops could move into the occupied areas. Given the size of China abd the fact that the Nationalists were in the southern interior. This took some time. The primary trasport system in China was the railroads. The fact that the rail lines were jammed by huge numbers of refugees, slowed the KMT efforts to move north. This was especiall true of northern China and Manchuria, which had been occupied by the Soviets. And this had serious implications for the postwar Civil War with the Communists.

Casualties (1937-45)

China of all the beligerants asailed by the Axis countries fought the longest war. At he time Hitler and Stalin invaded Poland, launching World War II, China had already been fighting the Japanese for 4 years. The casualties were enormous, but the actual fighting was a small part of it. The Nationalists after fighting the Japanese for a year in northern China were forced to withdraw into the interior because their best units were chewed by the better arnmed and led Japanese. The Communists for the most part avoided field engagements with the Japanese. The War with some exceptions continued at a low-level, largely because the Japanese could not get at the Nationalists in their remote interior strongholds. They began boming Nationalist-held cities, but after the Americans entered the War, American air power made this costly for the Japanese. The Japanese also used chemical and biological weapons, but while killing Chinese civilians had little military impact And the Japanese engage in horific attrocities like the Rape of Nanking. There were many more such attrocities on a smaller scale that are virtually unreported. The Japanese war time policy was the Three Alls (三光作戦): kill all, burn all, loot all. This is also reffered to as the Burn to Ash Strategy (燼滅作戦). Along with these horific actions, it was starvation that was the big World War II killer in China. Opposing armies (Nationlist, Japanese, and Communist) seized food from the peasants. And as the Japanese advanced deeper and deeper into China, they seized a great deal of the productive agriultural land. Thus the Nationalists were hard pressed to feed thei population and military formations, let alone the millions of refugees who fled Japnese terror into Nationlist held areas. Adding to the carnage was fighting between the Nationalists and Communists. The food situation got particularly severe in the last years of the war. And wth the Japanese controlling Chinese ports, there was no way to get substantial quantties of American food aid to China. Military casualties are only estmates, but are probably reasonably accurate. They include lossess due to malnutrition and related causes which are substantial. There is mo way of estimating the number of civilian casualties, but they are know to be huge. One estimate places it at 14 million. [Mitter] This is within the range of most estimates. Generally estimtes range from 10-20 million people. Military deaths may have been 3-4 million, a relatively small part of the total. This is because, unlike the more evenly matched German-Soviet conflict on the Eastern Front, there was a relatively low level of combat during much of the Civilin deaths related to militry operations and Japanese attrocities may have totaled 7-11 million people. Deaths related to strvation and malnutrition are the most difficult to estimate We have seen estimates of some 5 million people, but this seems like a relatively low estimate. Some historians focus more on famine and starvaton than Japanese attrocities. [Collingham, pp. 248-6.] The Chinese peasantry in the best of times suvived on the edge. With the Japanese controlling much of the richest agricultural areas, disaster was inevtable. There are much higher estimates which bring possible Chinese deaths to 25 million or more. The actual numbers will never be known with any certaintty While the percentage losses compared to the overall population is relatively small compared to European countries, the absolute numbers are huge with only the Soviet Union suffering comparble losses.

Chinese Contribution to the Allied War Effort

President Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor hopedthat Nationalist China a Chiang would b e an important fighting ally. Prime Ministr Churchill was more skeptical and roved a more realistic analyist of the Asian scene. China simply could not generate the powerneeded to cnfront the Japanese. In part this was because of the internal weaknesses of the Kuomingtang. It was also because of China's lack of industrial development ad as the War dragged on the loss if agricultural land to the Japanese. This made it increasingly difficult for the Natinalists to feed its Army and civiian population, let alone the millions of refugees who fled from the Japanese. President Roosevelt dispached General Stillwell to assist Chiang modernize his army. Stillwell was a competent military commander and adviser. He did a find job in training the Chinese troops in India and Burma that he xcoud adequately supply. He did not, however, ger on well with Chiang, calig him 'Peanut Head'. Someof his criticisms were accurate, but Stillwell also faled to fully understand the pressure Chiang was under and the crriticall weak state o te Chnese economy. President Roosevelt never got his fifgting ally, but the impact of the Nationalist Army is often underrelated. Chinese resistance meant that the bukof the Japanese Army was deployedin China throughout the War. This meant that the British in Indaand Burma and the Amercans in the Pacific faced only a small fraction of the the Japanese Army. This was in part because of the inadequate Japanese logistical capability, but it is also because th Japanese so committed in China. It meant that the Japanese were unable to join the German campaign against the Soviet Union or fully pursue operations in the Pacific and Southeat Asia. [Mitter]

Shanghai and Hong Kong (1945-46)

The two European outposts in Chuin (Sghanghai and Hong Kong) had different fates after the War. Both were still in Japanese hands when Japan surrendered. The Japanese after attacking Pearl Harbor, moved into the Shanhai International Settlement (December 1941). They formally ended European concessions except for the French. Vichy Franhce at the time was under ythe control of thei German aklies. The end iof the Internationl Settlements was formally recognized in the Anglo-Chinese Friendship Treaty (1943). After the Japanese surrendered to the Allies (August 15, 1945), General Douglas MacArthur ordered all Japanese forces within China (except Manchuria, Formosa and French Indochina north of 16° N latitude) to surrender to the Nationalists. The Japanese troops in China formally surrendered (September 9, 1945). The British did not attempt to restablish their concession after the War. The French ceded their privileges a year later as their ficus shifted to Indchina/Vietnam (1946). The United States Consulatewas opened (September 5). Shanghai was, however, not the same city and was soon engulfed in civil war between the Nationalists and Communists. Unlike Shanghai, the British did not relinquish their claim on Hong Kong. Chiang Kai-shek had assumed that his Government would tajke control of Hiong Kong. He had the support of President Roosevelt who beklieved that colonialism would have to come to abnd ebd in the post-War wirld. He promised Firstv Lady Soong May-ling during a trip to the United States that Hong Kong would be turned over to Chinese control after the War. [Zhao] Roosevelt was, however, no longer president when the Japanhese surrendered. The British moved decisively after the Japanese surrender. Franklin Gimson, Hong Kong's colonial secretary, had been inpriosoned by the Japanese. Upon hearing of the Jaoanese surrenhder, he walked out of the prison camp and declared himself acting governor. The Japabese recognized his action. He opened an office in Victoria (September 1). The British ordered Rear Admiral Sir Cecil Halliday Jepson Harcourt to Hong Kong. He sailed into Hong Kong harbor on board the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Swiftsure to show thec flag. He formally accepted the Japanese surrender (Septemjber 16). The Allies arrested General Takashi Sakai who had commanded the Japese forces which had seized HoingbKong and acted for a time as governor. He was tried as a war criminal and after being found guilty executed (September 30, 1946).


Collingham, Lizze. The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (New York: Peguin: 2012), 634p.

Hammond, Kelly A. "China's Mislims amd Japan's Empire: Centering Islam in World War II," Center for Straregic and International Studies" (July 8, 2020). Dr. Hammond was intervied by Jude Blanchettem Freeman Chair in International Studies. aboui her book on the sujject.

Mitter, Rana. Forgotton Ally: World war II, 1937-45.

Shaw, Norman Douglas. "Life in Occupied Shanghai - 1941" WW2 People's War (BBC: April 18, 2005).

Zhao, Li and Warren I. Cohen. Hong Kong under Chinese rule: the economic and political implications of reversion (Cambridge University Press: 1997).


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Created: December 30, 2002
Last updated: 11:39 PM 4/13/2023