If, or when the war starts, where and what you are—North, South, young, old—is irrelevant. You all share in the responsibility of protecting our homeland and repelling the enemy. For this cause, you must be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.
— Chiang Kai-Shek, rather late after actual fighting began but before declaration of war
The Greater East Asian War was righteous and justified.The Second Sino-Japanese War was, right behind the Second World War (of which it was a part), the biggest and most costly war in human history. It was fought by Imperial Japan against China, beginning in the summer of 1937note and ending in the summer of 1945. The conflict was eventually eclipsed by WWII in 1939 and became part of the wider war in 1941, with China and Japan respectively joining the Allies and Axis, and ended with the complete surrender of Japan to the Allied powers. It was also the largest war ever fought in Asia, leaving as many as 30 million Chinese — and just short of 3 million Japanese dead. The war is still within living memory, and what successive generations have been taught about it is the subject of (fierce) controversy in East Asia. Generally speaking, nations best deal with shared negative experiences like war and imperialism when they treat the whole thing fairly impersonally, reach broad agreements on the rough facts of the matter without trying to demonize anyone, and do their best to move on. For example, Germany and Poland: whilst many Poles still don't forgive aspects of the conduct of Nazi Germany, most of today's Germans are sorry about what happened, and the great majority of Poles and Germans mutually regret the whole business and don't want that sort of thing to happen ever again between anyone, and like to leave it at that. That's probably not going to happen any time soon with this. In 1949, after three years of Civil War, the Guomindang under Chiang Kai-Shek lost its last major holdouts on the mainland and was reduced to just the isles of Hainan and Taiwan. Their foe, the Communist Party of China under Mao Zedong, proclaimed the establishment of a People's Republic of China on the First of October that year. The People's Republic soon reached a level of cultural understanding and reconciliation with Japan despite the differences in their ideologiesnote and economic systems. Throughout the '50s and '60s, both countries blamed a small clique of Japanese militarist leaders — thereby leaving out the uncomfortable issue of the behaviour of Japanese troops and Chinese Communist guerrillas — and the Americans and British for The War. Communist China emphasized its own grass-roots patriotism and independence from the Soviets, also seeking to play up the — actually very marginal — actions of Maoists during the war and to portray the Guomindang as hopeless corrupt, immoral, un-patriotic, traitorous and a puppet of the Americans. This broad agreement on the "facts" of the matter changed in the '70s, when Japan became the world's no.2 economy and China — which had broken rather messily with the Soviets — normalised diplomatic and later economic and cultural relations with America. Japanese public opinion began dodging the uncomfortable aspects of the past by fudging some details and missing others, whilst playing up the suffering of the Japanese people as a result of the American fire-bombings, atomic bombings and ensuing occupation. At roughly the same time, the Chinese Communists suddenly started to play up the foreign invasion angle of the war, demonising not just the Japanese military junta, but Japanese troops and the Japanese people generally. They also stopped portraying the Guomindang as American puppets (though they continued to assert that they were American puppets at-present), but continued to neglect their foes' critical contribution to the war effort whilst playing up their own part in resisting the "savage dwarf-pirates" — to use a traditional racial slur. This is more or less the status quo today, with the uncomfortable details of the war being glossed over or neglected entirely in Japan in favor of a victim narrative. As an example, in Hiroshima the Peace Memorial Museum's historical account begins with something like, "In the springtime of 1945, the U.S. Army Air Corps launched a campaign of firebombing against major cities in Japan..." with no mention of what might have happened beforehand or why. The museum attached to the Yasukuni Shrine (controversial in its own right due to the interning of war criminals there) explicitly lays out the "ABCD Theory" - that the Americans, British, Chinese and Dutch "forced" Japan into a war by monopolizing all the resources which Japan needed, and Japan would have starved if they didn't fight for what was "rightfully theirs." The governments of the respective countries are not the only forces at work, however. Beginning in the late '70s and blossoming in the late '90s, neo-conservative nationalist groups in Japan have tried to emphasise the importance of giving the Japanese nation a positive, forward-looking outlook under the leadership of a strong centralised state. Of course, there is little room in this forward-looking narrative for dwelling on the past, especially the bad bits of it, and these groups think of the Second Sino-Japanese War as a war of Pan-Asian liberation from Western Imperialism. Likewise, they are quick to claim that Japanese atrocities have been massively exaggerated, and are based mostly on hearsay from anti-Japanese sources or fabricated wholesale, all in the name of shaming the Japanese people into being hesitant to form a strong state or military; with which, the foreigners fear, they might protect their own interests rather than remaining at the mercy of the foreign powers like America and China. Several textbooks have been written along just these lines, and are often singled out for criticism. There are also differences in how history is taught in both nations. Japanese schools have a choice of around thirty to fifty textbooks, produced by various private companies, although subject to some editing and license requirements by the department of education. As one would expect, they vary in their portrayal of events; some are fairly objective, and others are ideologically charged. But when taken as a whole they have a readily apparent bias towards sanitising history, (quite a bit) more so than in contemporary Anglo-European textbooks. Schools in the People's Republic of China, on the other hand, use precisely one periodically-updated textbook written by the Department of Education itself. The Department of Education is not particularly bothered by historical 'objectivism', which they are quick to dismiss as an unattainable and self-contradictory British academic fad. The German-Polish approach is held up as the standard to aspire to with regards to uncomfortable history as the text seeks to inform and explore the issues at work in order to promote some measure of understanding and reconciliation. The war is still a very polarising event, and is certainly not a topic for polite conversation. The Manchurian Incident:
— General Hideki Tojo, 1946
On September 18, 1931, near the city Mukden in Manchuria (today Shenyang), a railroad owned by Japan's South Manchuria Railway was blown up (which was totally not a false flag operation). The Japanese military generals accused Chinese terrorists of this act, and used it as an excuse for the full-scale invasion of Manchuria. The civilian government in Tokyo was not consulted at all in this matter, but Emperor Hirohito quickly gave up on the idea of punishing the offenders, since at this point the civilian government was just a puppet of the Imperial Japanese Army. The Japanese generals then decided to set up a puppet government in the occupied north, called Manchukuo ("the Manchu State") and placed the last emperor Pu Yi back on the throne. They weren't fooling anyone. The American media sarcastically called the new colony "Japanchukuo". The League of Nations demanded that Japan withdraw its armies from Manchuria, but the Japanese public fully supported a war of expansionism in Asia. So the Japanese gave the international community the middle finger by withdrawing from the Security Council. This set the stage for an inevitable war, even though the Sino-Japanese War did not break out until 1937. United Front:
By 1936, Chiang Kai-Shek (a.k.a. Jiang Jieshi) leader of the Chinese Guomindang (GMD or 'National[ist] Party'), had (relatively) firm control over all the territory a hundred miles to either side of the Yangzi river. This was more (economically important) territory than any one Chinese warlord or government had controlled since President-for-life Yuan Shikai died in 1916. In the years since the "Northern March" of 1927, wherein the Guomindang had taken control of the mid-lower Yangzi (chiefly Shanghai, Nanjing, and Wuhan) and established a base of power for itself, Chiang had done a lot to consolidate the party's hold on the country. He had managed this by fighting communism, "fighting" communism, and fighting "communism" — by taking over communist base areas in Jiangxi and Henan and Hunan provinces, by using the fight to unify the country and eliminate communism to smooth over political and ideological tensions within the party, and by using the pretext of eliminating communism to take over the rest of Hunan and Sichuan province. In 1936 Chiang was determined to eliminate the Communist Soviet in Yan'an province. Stationing so many troops in the area (for the offensive to crush the Soviet) meant he was able to find a use for and curb the influence of the wily and backstabbing Warlord Yan Xishan (who was based out of neighbouring Shanxi province) and other, smaller warlords. With troops in their backyard, he was able to bully them into contributing to the campaign. Moreover, when the Guomindang won (as it almost certainly would, in retrospect), it would give Chiang a good position from which he could eliminate them in the (near) future. However, Chiang's chosen the Operations-Commander for the campaign — Zhang Xueliang — had an axe to grind. Manchuria and Japan's other client states in northern China had all been carved out of his territory. Zhang's father Zhang Zuolin had once ruled all the territory between Bejing and Harbin and had fought the Guomindang for control of the country; now, all he had were some troops and a few scattered figures (like Yan Xishan) who owed him their allegiance or shared his views. Zhang tried unsuccessfully to convince Chiang to join forces with the Dirty Communists against Japan but the Generalissimo would have none of it, not least because Chiang believed (rightly) that A: The Guomindang could not win an open fight with Japan and B: that the Japanese wanted to disengage from China given the threat posed by the Soviet Union. Despite having sworn allegiance to Chiang, Zhang eventually came to the conclusion that he had to (as he put it) "keep China strong for the war with Japan". Consequently, when Chiang turned up at Xi'an to observe Zhang's offensive, Zhang got his troops to slaughter Chiang's guards, kidnap him, and force him to negotiate with the communists at gunpoint. The Chinese Communist Party was contacted in secret and asked for a delegation to decide on the next step. After some deliberation, Chiang agreed to call off the offensive to crush the Yan'an Soviet and to establish a "united front" against Japan. Since Chiang was agreed to be the only man who could lead China in such a war, not at all coincidentally, the man himself was released. As one would expect, Chiang immediately had Zhang (who had turned himself in to the police) shot and initiated the offensive anyway. The Soviet was crushed in just a few months, and with it Chinese Communism. China went on to become a centralised, authoritarian state under the Guomindang, one that maintained close relations with Imperial Japan through the 1940s — the two ideologically-similar regimes having united in common cause against the threat of the Soviet Union. Only, that didn't happen. Chiang kept his word and forged the United Front. Zhang Xueliang was gaoled for life of course, but he became a national hero almost overnight as the urban Chinese publicnote was just itching for a war with Japan A Game of Marco Polo:
Though Japan was still a jingoistic military dictatorship, saner heads had just begun to prevail in the year of 1937. Unfortunately, neither they nor Chiang could control the troops involved along their mutual border around Beijing; though they had control of the city itself, the Guomindang's control of the surrounding countryside was contested by Yan Xishan and other warlords, and Japan's Kwantung (Guandong) Army was notoriously independent-minded (they were the ones who arranged the "Manchurian Incident"). During the night of July 7, a Japanese soldier went missing during night-exercises near the Marco Polo Bridge on the Manchukuo-China border (named so after the traditional belief that Marco Polo crossed it on his way into Beijing). When he still hadn't turned up in the morning, the Japanese forces demanded the right to search the city. The Guomindang commander refused to let them in and warned them off with shots, which turned into a firefight, which culminated in a full-scale battle with tanks and artillery. Both Chiang and Tokyo quickly exchanged apologies for the incident and tried to avoid antagonising each other, but then other firefights broke out all along the border and before long the two states were at an undeclared, de facto state of war. The Battle of Shanghai:
The warlords of Shandong province soon gave up without a fight, and Yan Xishan's forces were unable to offer effective resistance either. Chiang sent some of his own troops to shore them up, but it was soon clear that the North China plain would probably be lost if the Japanese fueled their offensive "push" with fresh men redeployed from their border with the Soviets. Thus, Chiang decided to take the Japanese concession in Shanghai to open a "Second Front" that would slow Japan's southwards offensive and let him fight the Japanese on the closest thing he could get to an even footing — though the Japanese would have overwhelming supremacy in airpower and naval and land-based artillery, fighting within the city would hopefully negate these advantages enough for the Guomindang to win an important victory there. It didn't work out. After a three-month battle involving a million men the Guomindang had lost some 300,000 casualties, lost half the literate and academy-trained officer corps, and the city... and Nanjing, the Capital, would have to be abandoned too as it was totally indefensible. Most of Chiang Kai-Shek's half-million elite German-trained and equipped troops, the veterans of a decade of warfare, are dead — in combat, or of their wounds, or of disease — or captured. The battle also took a terrible toll on the Guomindang's tiny and outdated air forces, which were practically irreplaceable since China produced no planes of her own. The only positive things about this crushing defeat were that it gave the Guomindang time to move most of the lower Yangzi delta's factories and plants upstream to the mid- and upper-Yangzi, where they would be safe (albeit under-supplied with raw materials) and raised foreign sympathy for China, especially from the USA. The Japanese forces involved at Shanghai were traumatised, furious, and hell-bent on vengeance after so much cheeky, insubordinate, and unforgiveable resistance by their racial inferiors. The Rape of Nanking:
Nanjing, China's "Southern Capital", was the Guomindang's centre of administration, and by extension the Capital City of China. Once word spread that Shanghai was lost, the GMD government fled from the city — it was clear to everyone that Nanjing was a sitting duck. As the Japanese ground forces made their way to Nanjing, their air force began bombing the capital. Nanjing's defenses had several weaknesses, due to the breakdown of morale among the retreating soldiers from the battle outside the city walls. Nanjing fell on December 13th, and opened its gates for the Japanese expeditionary force. Someone — either the forces' commander, Crown Prince Asaka or one of his aides — issued an order: "KILL ALL CAPTIVES." And so the Nanjing Massacre... occurred. It's also been given the cheerful moniker the Rape of Nanking... because of the mass-rapes, you see. The official Japanese death toll was about 2000, but we're pretty sure that 200,000 civilians and a few PO Ws were killed during the course of it. Given that there were only a hundred thousand or so Japanese soldiers in and around the city at the time, this disproves the notion that each one massacred a small mountain of innocent civilians by themselves. The participation of most soldiers in the event was restricted to looting, or wisecracking as your mates tortured someone to death or shot some random people in the street on a whim, and finding someone to rape with thirty of your best friends. Now we know what you're thinking: "being raped by thirty-plus people, even if it does happen every day for a week, doesn't kill you!" That's true. But unfortunately, most Japanese soldiers "forgot" to feed the civilians they restrained for such purposes... and they had a nasty of habit of killing their play-things when they were bored with them. The IJA's Military Police were solely concerned with rooting out Socialism and internal dissent, and so didn't even try to restrain the rank-and-file as they basically did whatever they wanted. There was a little bit of official involvement in the whole thing, of course, (apart from the "Kill all captives" and "let's all look the other way" things) when it came to killing all the PO Ws captured in the battles for Shanghai and Nanjing and in supervising the creation of Army Brothels using conscripts as unpaid prostitutes, aside from feeding them. There weren't that many of them, though, just a few thousand "employees" at a time (though the turnover was high due to suicide and other cheery things). While the looting was fairly harmless, as we mentioned before, not as many livelihoods as you might expect were destroyed by it — while not all of the former owners were dead, of course, many if not most were. The complete break-down of law-and-order continued for about six weeks, when it just sort of petered out what with the place being a Ghost-City and barely any live females left outside the army-brothels. These atrocities are still denied by certain Japanese ultra-nationalists, to the understandable anger of... well, pretty much anyone with a heart, but especially ethnic-Chinese folk. This is despite the mountains of sickening images, newspaper articles, and letters homenote from the perpetrators themselves. The Massacre caused a rare Crowning Moment Of Awesome for a citizen of Nazi Germany — John Rabe, a businessman and diplomat, opened the German embassy (which as German soil was in theory sacrosanct to Japanese incursion) to tens of thousands of refugees who were sheltered inside. For this he's acquired the moniker 'The Good Nazi', a title he shares with Oskar Schindler. His is the only German name most Chinese schoolchildren know (apart from/including Hitler). The Flood:
Despite an impassioned but poorly-coordinated defense by Guomindang and Guangxi-Clique troops around Zhengzhou - where the Beijing-Nanjing railroad met the line coming from Shandong - the North China Plain was lost in its entirety. Yan Xishan fled into the hills of Shanxi province but maintained close ties with a collaborationist regime in the city of Taiyuan, and The Guomindang set up numerous partisan units and guerilla lines to operate behind Japanese lines. However, the speed of the Japanese advance was disastrous. With Guomindang-Guangxi Clique forces in full retreat and Japanese forces threatening to link up with forces advancing northward from Nanjing to encircle and capture most if not all of them (and certainly losing all their literally irreplaceable heavy equipment and weapons), Chiang took the decision to blow the dykes of the Yellow River and flood the North China Plain. It worked, but cost up to 2 million people their lives - mostly from water-borne diseases like dysentry (one of the many pleasant things you get when you drink water that has dead things/shit in it), starvation-related diseases in the months that followed when they starved because their crops were washed away or rotted because they were immersed in water or withered and died from lack of water. Some have blamed the Guomindang for not providing humanitarian aid to the victims, and that this treatment was especially cold given that it was their fault it happened in the first place, but Chiang's choice was simple: help them and invalidate the reason he'd done it in the first place (as well as encouraging Imperial Japan to do this kind of thing themselves in future so Chiang's regime would exhaust itself trying to save everyone), or keep going and try to drag out the war. One might well ask why Japan did nothing to help the victims either, given how they were always talking about how they were in China for the Chinese people's own good. Anyhow, the whole 'artificial flood' thing turned a panicked rout into an orderly retreat (for lack of a Japanese pursuit) and slowed the Japanese advance for as much as six months as they first scrambled to recover their pursuit forces before they starved to death/died of dysentry and then had to find enough pack animals to replace all the ones they had lost in the flooding as well as repair all the railway and telegraph lines. Chiang relocated the capital first to Wuhan on the mid-Yangzi, where he called a conference with all the Guomindang leaders and Warlords (who nominally overlapped) of China. In it, against the wishes of Wang Jingwei and others who thought that further war was pointless and would result in even greater suffering, he persuaded them that fighting the war to the end was not only the only politically-acceptable course of action but also the only morally justifiable one. Chiang then publicly that China would keep fighting until Japan was defeated (with the unlikely entry of the USSR/USA into the war) or (inevitable without foreign intervention, though this went unsaid) the Guomindang was totally destroyed. Chongqing in the upper Yangzi basin, and continued the war of resistance from there. With casualties rapidly increasing on the Japanese side, their air force concentrated on carpet bombing of major cities to break Chinese morale. Chongqing still holds the sad distinction of being the most heavily bombed city in the world (if only because, unlike Hamburg or Nagoya, it wasn't destroyed in a single night of intense bombing but instead whittled away steadily over the course of seven years). Puppet States:
As in Manchuria, the Japanese created puppet states in China to help facilitate and legitimize their rule. One was created soon after the Marco Polo Bridge attack, inside Inner Mongolia. A nationalist official-turned-collaborator, Wang Jingwei, agreed to help the Japanese set up a Chinese puppet state based in Nanjing. To put on an image of legitimacy, Wang's regime used the same flag and sun symbol as the old government. The Japanese also set up warlords to rule over the other parts of the huge country. Les Collaborateurs had little power, and though they were allowed to have their own troops, these were in turn commanded by Japanese overseers. Almost a million Chinese POW were forced to join the collaborator army (as garrison troops, as they were too unreliable to be used as cannon-fodder against the Guomindang). Ichigo:
For three years after the outbreak of the Pacific War, the Chinese managed to fight the Japanese into an exhausted stalemate. Japan's invasion had bogged down by 1938, and they were unable to achieve a decisive victory, despite dedicating the majority of its troops and resources to the China front. In 1944, while the naval war raged across the Pacific, the Japanese commanders in China decided to launch Operation Ichigo ("number one"). The main objectives were to seize the southern provinces of Hunan and Guangxi, the centers of Chinese resistance. If the NRA could be finally defeated in the field, the Japanese could then advance upriver to the ROC capital at Chongqing, ending the war in China. The secondary objective of the offensive was to destroy the allied airbases in Hunan and Guangxi, which were being used by American planes to harass Japanese bombers and disrupt the IJA's overstretched supply lines. Ichigo was the largest Japanese ground offensive of the entire war, and involved over 500,000 Japanese and 400,000 Allied troops. The GMD was caught by surprise and the airfields were either captured or evacuated, but the NRA managed to hold out by virtue of American training and lend-lease equipment, which had by this time made good on the GMD's losses at Shanghai. Operation Ichigo was a mixed success, but the course of the war had already been decided by events elsewhere. Ichigo was the last successful Japanese offensive. Even as it drew to a close, Japanese cities were being fire-bombed by the US Air Force. Even the lowest Japanese grunt knew the war was lost, but surrender was unthinkable. Three generals launched one last, desperate offensive into Sichuan, but were beaten back. The Allied leaders then issued a final ultimatum that demanded the unconditional surrender of Japan on threat of "utter destruction". Given the numbers of Japanese civilian dead and the way the Third Reich had just gone down, High Command didn't expect for a moment this would actually work and had been planning an amphibious invasion of the Japanese Home Islands — Operation Downfall — which was set to begin in October. Naturally, Japan refused to surrender. The USAF then dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Soviet Union entered the war the same week and in just two weeks captured the whole of Manchuria and more than a million IJA troops, breaking the back of the Japanese Army. Meanwhile, the Guangxi Clique had managed to take back Guangxi and forward elements of their forces managed to make it to Guangzhou/Hong Kong - prompting The Commonwealth to send an emergency task-force from Australia to take it from the token Japanese force that held it before the GMD got there - and the Guomindang as a whole were preparing for an all-out offensive down the Yangzi to prevent the Soviets from getting there first... when to everyone's astonishment, Japan surrendered. On the day before surrendering, the IJA was still gaining territory in the south.
Works set in this period:
The Second Sino-Japanese War provides examples of the following tropes: