The Second Sino-Japanese War: an overview
To mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), the Republic of China government will hold a series of commemorative events in the second half of this year.
President Ma Ying-jeou ( ) in March said that Rana Mitter, an Oxford University professor and author of “Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945,” will be invited to Taiwan to take part in the commemorative events.
Thomas Rabe, a German professor of gynecology at the University Hospital Heidelberg and a grandson of John Rabe, a German businessman who helped 200,000 people evade slaughter during the Nanking Massacre from 1937 to 1938, will also visit Taiwan, during which time he will accept a citation conferred by the government on John Rabe, Ma said.
The Ministry of National Defense ( MND) will hold a military display in an army base in Hukou Township, Hsinchu County, on July 4, marking the 78th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, also known as the July 7th Incident, a battle between China and Japan in suburban Beijing on July 7, 1937.
A special exhibition of the EightYear War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, another name for the Second Sino-Japanese War, will be held in the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei from July 7, 2015 to June of 2016.
Another exhibition about the toll of the war, its victory and aftermath will be held in both the Armed Forces Museum and the Academia Historica in Taipei from Aug. 15 to Nov. 28.
What follows is a brief overview of the war:
On Sept. 18, 1931, the Japanese Kwantung Army staged an explosion near Mukden (now Shenyang) and used this as an excuse to attack cities in northeastern China (Manchuria). The Japanese army occupied most of Manchuria, which was over three times as big as Japan’s current size, in three months; the conflict was dubbed the Mukden Incident or Manchurian Incident.
Partly due to civilian strife in Shanghai as well as economic losses brought by the Chinese boycott of Japanese products following the Mukden Incident, thousands of Imperial Japanese Navy Land Forces started to attack Chinese troops in Shanghai on Jan. 28, 1932.
Japanese invading forces, which bombed the Commercial Press (
) and its library, burned more than 300,000 volumes of books housed there, were dragged into a quagmire in outskirts of Shanghai in March and Japan signed a ceasefire pact with China brokered by the League of Nations in May. It is called the January 28 Incident or Shanghai Incident.
Besides taking on the Chinese communists and their selfproclaimed government in South China, China’s Nationalist government instituted currency and financial reforms, cooperated with Germany to modernize its troops and initiated the New Life Movement, meant to educate and moralize its populace, in early 1930s.
After the Xi’an Incident of December 1936, in which Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the ruling Nationalist Party (aka KMT) and its National Army, was abducted by two general officers for about two weeks in Xi’an and later released, the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) started to cooperate to face the imminent Japanese aggression.
1937-1941, Going it Alone
Japanese troops in North China started moving westward and southward after occupying Beijing and Tianjin in July, 1937, following the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in July 7, 1937, which is widely considered the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War.
After the incident, Japan declared they would bring China to its knees in three months. The battle of Shanghai began on Aug. 13, 1937, however, the Chinese troops kept fighting for over three months, shattering the Japanese illusion of a swift victory and attracting international attention to the trading port in East Asia.
Nevertheless, it is not until Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, that the United States and the United Kingdom formally entered into the war on China’s side as the Allied Powers.
By the end of 1941, China had been able to cope with Japanese troops mostly on its own for more than four years, with the exception of some industrial and military cooperation with Germany until 1938 and the military aid offered by the Soviet Volunteer Group, which provided more than a thousand fighter planes and hundreds of air force pilots from 1937 to 1941.
1942-1944, US Aid and Allies
Material aid from the U.S. was limited by the difficulty of getting supplies to Chongqing, China’s wartime capital in southwest mainland, since Japan had seized almost all coastal areas in China, then French Indochina and UKcontrolled Burma, thus cutting China’s lifelines. Thereafter, U.S. pilots flew supplies in over “the Hump” from India from May 1942 to July 1945.
Under the leadership of retired U.S. Army officer Claire Lee Chennault, the 1st American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force, nicknamed the Flying Tigers, helped China combat against Japanese aggression in 1941-1942.
Chinese Army Gen. Sun Li-jen ( ) led part of his 38th Division, with some 1,100 soldiers, to rescue some 7,000 British soldiers encircled by Japanese troops in central Burma in April 1942. Sun managed to rescue his British allies with the resounding success of the battle of Yenangyaung.
Many historians have said that the largest contribution China made to World War II was to engage some 800,000 to 1.2 million Japanese troops in China Proper and Manchuria for many years, thus diminishing Japan’s strength in fighting with the U.S. and other allies.
Recognizing China’s contribution to the allies, the U.S. signed a treaty formally ending 100 years of extraterritoriality in China, bringing an end to the legal privileges long held by foreigners in October 1943. China signed new equal treaties with the U.S. and the UK in January 1944.
U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek, head of the Republic of China, held a conference in Cairo, Egygt, in November 1943. The concluding Cairo Declaration specified that “all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese,” such as Manchuria, Taiwan and Penghu, “shall be restored to the Republic of China,” and “Korea shall become free and independent.”
In October 1943, representatives of China, the Soviet Union, the UK and the U.S. signed a Joint Four-Nation Declaration in Moscow, asking Germany and Japan to lay down arms on the basis of unconditional surrender and foretelling the establishment of the United Nations.
1945, Victory and Celebration
After U. S. bombers dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August 1945, Japanese Emperor Hirohito officially announced to surrender to the Allies on Aug. 15.
The official surrender was signed aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945. China’s Nationalist Government declared a three-day celebration of the victory over Japan starting on Sept. 3.
Sept. 3 has been Armed Forces Day in Taiwan since 1955 and the memorial day of victory over the Japanese aggression in mainland China since 1951.
During the eight years from July 1937 to August 1945, there were 22 major battles, 1,117 engagements and more than 38,000 skirmishes. More than three million Chinese soldiers were killed, wounded or missing in operations, including the death of 200 general officers. Some 20 million civilians were killed, wounded or missing and about 80 million refugees were forced to leave their homeland.
Some scholars estimate that Japan had spent one-third to one half of its resources and manpower in the China theater.
President Ma Ying-jeou speaks while holding the Chinese version of Rana Mitter’s “Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945” at a symposium on the war in Taipei on June 3.