The Second Sino-Japanese War was, right behind the Soviet-German War, the biggest and most costly war in human history. It was fought by Imperial Japan against China, beginning in the summer of 1937 note and ending in the summer of 1945. The conflict was eventually eclipsed by World War II 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 some 5-15 million Chinese military and civilian dead note — and just short of half a million Japanese military dead.
Due to the horrors of Japanese atrocities and Mao rewriting history after winning the civil war, the 'Eight Years' War of Resistance' (as it's called in China) is still a very polarizing event, and is certainly not a topic for polite conversation, unless you're with other historians or military history buffs.
On September 18th, 1931, near the city Mukden in Manchuria (today Shenyang), some dynamite exploded a few hundred meters from a railroad owned by Japan's South Manchuria Railway (which was totally not a false flag operation), causing no damage aside from making a tiny gap in the tracks. The commanders of the now-famously insubordinate Japanese Kwantung Army, then in Korea, accused Chinese bandits of committing this "act", in which nothing actually happened, and then used it as an excuse for the full-scale invasion of Manchuria. Two artillery pieces stationed at the Mukden officers' club opened fire on the Chinese garrison commanded by Zhang Xueliang, warlord of Manchuria. Japanese soldiers attacked the garrison, killing 500 Chinese while losing only two of their own, as well as destroying Zhang's small air force. Within five months of the incident, all major cities, towns and ports were occupied by the Kwantung Army.
The civilian government in Tokyo under Prime Minister Konoe 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, although the invasion of Manchuria was also precisely contrary to direct orders given to the Kwantung Army by the IJA high command in Tokyo.
The Kwantung Army then decided to set up a puppet government in the occupied north, called Manchukuo ("the Manchu State") and placed the former Emperor of China, Aisin Gioro Puyi, or Henry Puyi (if he wanted to use his Western name), back on a throne. Despite their claims of bringing order to China, the Japanese weren't fooling anyone, with the American media sarcastically calling the new colony "Japanchukuo". In a few years' time, Manchukuo would become both an industrial powerhouse and one of the most brutally run states in the world.
The Japanese also set up another puppet government in Tungchow, Beijing, the East Hebei Autonomous Council, but it was short-lived.
The League of Nations demanded that Japan withdraw its armies from Manchuria, but thanks to rising ultranationalism and militarism in Japan, 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 it did not break out until 1937.
Still, border clashes took place between both sides. The most serious was the January 28th Incident, where resistance to Japanese influence escalated into an assault on Shanghai by the Imperial Japanese Navy and an IJA landing force. Buildings were burnt by Japanese troops while the city was shelled by the IJN and civilians strafed and bombed by the air force, but the Chinese 19th Route Army furiously defended it, withdrawing only when their supplies ran out.
Eventually, the League persuaded both nations to stop and the Shanghai Ceasefire Agreement was signed. The agreement made Shanghai a demilitarized zone, similar to the post-WW1 Rhineland, and forbade China to garrison troops. Japan agreed to station a small garrison in Shanghai, but secretly built it up until tanks and artillery were added to their garrison.
The incident revealed the weaknesses of China's National Revolutionary Army. The NRA was largely made up of incompetent officers and undertrained illiterate conscripts, with inferior equipment, logistics and an inefficient command structure. These would become fatal if Japan actually invaded. Desperate for assistance, China turned to Nazi Germany for help. A German military mission lead by the highly decorated General Alexander von Falkenhausen (who disliked Nazism but was loyal to the Wehrmacht, having served the Weimar Republic before the Nazis took power) arrived to help modernize the NRA. Falkenhausen did an excellent job, arming the Chinese with the latest in German weapons, artillery and equipment, improved tactics, brought in German engineers to assist in industrialization and gave China blueprints to make their own copies of German small arms. He also trained several divisions that would become the elite of the NRA.
The Japanese launched an attack on the Great Wall in 1933, overwhelming the poorly-armed Chinese defenders note under Zhang Xueliang. The Japanese succeeded, and the frontier of Manchukuo was extended towards the Great Wall.
By 1936, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (a.k.a. Jiang Jieshi) leader of the politically centre Chinese Kuomintang (KMT or 'Chinese National[ist] Party') and commander-in-chief of the Chinese military, 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. Chiang ruled as an authoritarian military dictator and followed Dr. Sun's policy of the "People's Tutelage", which meant keeping China under single-party rule until the people were ready for actual democracy.
In the years since the "Northern Expedition" of 1927, wherein the Kuomintang 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 Kuomintang 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 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 Kuomintang for control of the country; now, all he had was a small army 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 Kuomintang 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, shoot anyone trying to escape (the KMT minister of propaganda died after he got hit in the balls trying to climb over a fence), kidnap Chiang, 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 note , the man himself was released.
Chiang kept his word and forged the United Front. Zhang Xueliang was gaoled for life, but he became a national hero almost overnight as the urban Chinese public note was just itching for a war with Japan.
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 Kuomintang's control of the surrounding countryside was contested by Yan Xishan and other warlords, plus the Chinese Communists, and Japan's Kwantung Army was notoriously independent-minded-they were the ones who arranged the "Manchurian Incident", after all.
During the night of July 7th, Private Shimura Kikujiro 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 Kikujiro still hadn't turned up in the morning, the Japanese forces, claiming their honor had been insulted by the Chinese, demanded the right to search the city. The Kuomintang commander refused to let them in and fired off warning shots, which turned into a firefight and culminated in a full-scale battle with tanks and artillery. Even after Kikujuro returned from his unauthorized brothel visit, the gunfire did not cease until two days later.
Both Nanjing and Tokyo quickly exchanged apologies for the incident and tried to avoid antagonising each other, but other firefights quickly broke out all along the border and before long, the two states were at an undeclared, de facto state of war.
Han Fuju, the warlord of Shandong, soon gave up his province without a fight. He then went on the KMT's shit-list after it was discovered that he tried to negotiate with the Japanese despite being a high-ranking general. An absolutely furious Chiang had Han executed by General Hu Zongnan, Soviet-style, with a pistol bullet to the back of the head. In Chinese culture today, Han Fuju's name has become synonymous with cowardice, incompetence and his godawful poetry.
Although they fought fiercely, 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 Kuomintang to win an important victory there, and hopefully end the war quickly through a series of quick follow-up offensives.
It didn't work out. After a three-month battle involving a million men, the NRA had over 300,000 casualties, lost half the literate and academy-trained officer corps, and Shanghai was now occupied by the Japanese, after being shelled by the Japanese navy and bombed to rubble by the Japanese air force. Nanjing, the capital, would have to be abandoned too as it was totally indefensible note . Most of Chiang Kai-Shek's half-million German-trained and equipped elite troops, the veterans of a decade of warfare, were dead — in combat, or of their wounds, or of disease — or captured and sent to the hellish Japanese prison camps. The battle also took a terrible toll on the Kuomintang's tiny and outdated air force, 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 Kuomintang 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. A small victory had also been obtained at the epic defense of Sihang Warehouse, where the "800 heroes" note inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese before being forced to withdraw after a week-long battle. 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.
Nanjing, or Nanking as it was called back then, China's "Southern Capital", was the Kuomintang's centre of administration, and by extension the capital city of China. Once word spread that Shanghai was lost, the KMT 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, while artillery and tanks shelled the defenders. Nanjing's defenses had several weaknesses, due to the breakdown of morale among the retreating soldiers from the battle outside the city walls.
The US State Department ordered the American Embassy evacuated, and the US Navy sent the Yangtze River Patrol boat USS Panay upstream from Shanghai to get them out. The Japanese were quite familiar with the YRP, and allowed the American boat upstream unmolested, but on December 12th, as Panay headed back downstream, Japanese bombers appeared overhead. A news crew was aboard, and filmed the Japanese planes as they orbited for several minutes, confirmed the gunboat's identity, then attacked. Panay was sunk, three American sailors were killed, and 43 more wounded. Though hunted by the Japanese, the survivors were rescued by KMT soldiers and conveyed back to the Shanghai International Zone. The Japanese government would claim that the unprovoked attack was the result of mistaken identity, poor communication, and poor visibility. Despite a brief public outcry, the Roosevelt administration accepted the excuse and seized the footage of the incident, which showed clear skies and highly-visible American flags flying from the gunboat's masts.
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, women and children included, and a few POWs 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 kidnapped and restrained for such purposes... and they had a nasty of habit of killing their playthings when they were bored with them.
It's also pretty certain that many Japanese war crimes, including the Nanjing massacre, happened thanks to the entire IJA running on meth. Generals thought the side effects of Philopon meth pills (given free to all soldiers as part of daily rations), such as killing off empathy altogether, ignoring hunger and dulling emotions, would turn their already highly-disciplined soldiers into completely loyal warriors. The result was an army of drug-fueled psychopaths happily stabbing, beating, raping and burning their way across Southeast Asia until 1944, when supply become difficult. By then, one didn't need to be on tweek 24/7 to commit war crimes, instead being driven by a equally lethal combination of frustration, boredom, brutal training, harsh discipline, desensitization and xenophobia.
At the height of the violence, two officers, Toshiaki Mukai and Tsuyoshi Noda, had a little contest to see who could kill at least 100 people with their shin-guntō swords. The Japanese media patriotically reported both officers killing countless Chinese soldiers in hand-to-hand combat, but Noda later admitted that the majority of kills came from both men executing Chinese POWs after the battle for Nanjing had ended, and that he didn't feel like the contest was a big deal. One of the swords used was later obtained by the KMT, and now resides in the Republic of China Armed Forces Museum.
The IJA's military police were solely concerned with rooting out Communism 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 POWs captured in the battles for Shanghai and Nanjing and in supervising the creation of Army brothels, using captured women as unpaid prostitutes for Japanese conscripts, 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 breakdown 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 women left outside the IJA brothels. And the conditions inside the brothels were... note
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 and Taiwanese folk. This is despite the mountains of sickening images note , newspaper articles, and letters home note 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. With the assistance of other expats, such as Minnie Vautrin, the Nanjing Safety Zone was established to provide as much refugees as possible with a safe haven, although the Japanese occasionally broke in to kidnap women. Chiang was delighted with the idea, and offered 100,000 Chinese dollars to support it, although only 40,000 were actually delivered. For this, Rabe 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). In appreciation for his efforts, the KMT supported Rabe's poverty-stricken family with aid packages and money after the war, while the people of Nanjing raised regular donations for Rabe's family until the communists retook Nanjing during the civil war.
Perhaps most importantly of all, the Japanese intended to use the massacre as a threat. Surprisingly, all it did was piss off China even more. From ordinary citizens to Chiang himself note , people were horrified and angry enough that the KMT, Chinese Communists and the warlords put all their feuds aside to seriously unite against Japan (at least for the time being). The KMT's propaganda department swept into action, churning out anti-Japanese works while public protests against the Japanese began in China's inner regions.
Despite an impassioned but poorly-coordinated defense by Kuomintang 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 Kuomintang set up numerous partisan units and guerilla lines to operate behind Japanese lines. However, the speed of the Japanese advance was disastrous. With Kuomintang-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 on June 9th, 1938. With many knowing the damage previous floods caused, the NRA were hesitant to do so, and reluctantly blew the dykes open after several pep talks from the high command.
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 Kuomintang 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 looking at the events, 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 the Japanese first scrambled to recover their pursuit forces before they starved to death/died of dysentery/drowned and then had to find enough pack animals to replace all the ones they had lost in the flooding, as well as repairing all the disrupted railway and telegraph lines.
Chiang relocated the capital first to Wuhan on the mid-Yangzi, where he called a conference with all the major Kuomintang 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 stated that China would keep fighting a defensive war, rather than an offensive one note , 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 Kuomintang was totally destroyed. After the fall of Nanjing, Japanese pressure had lead to von Falkenhausen and his advisors being withdrawn note , leaving the KMT alone and defenseless against the rapidly advancing Japanese.
Fortunately, foreign aid arrived in the form of the Soviet Union. Manchukuo had long been a sore point in already hostile Soviet-Japanese relations, with the two nations massing forces on the Manchurian border and engaging in the occasional skirmish. Tensions rose, a border war began and in a series of epic clashes at Khalkin Gol from May-September 1939, the Soviets ultimately routed the Japanese. When Japan signed the Anti-Comintern pact with Germany, the Soviets hoped to keep China in the war to stop Japan from invading Siberia and forcing Stalin to wage a two-front war. Signing a non-aggression pact with China on August 21st, 1937, the USSR launched Operation Zet, a generous donation of Soviet planes, artillery, small arms, petrol, machine-tools and tanks to China. In particular, I-16 fighter planes proved vital to the Chinese air force, who now had an aircraft fast and well-armed enough to challenge Japanese fighters, while Soviet volunteer pilots fought on the front lines. Technical assistance enabled Soviet technicians to update China's transport systems, while advisors arrived, including Vasily Chiukov, who later commanded the Red Army at Stalingrad. Before the entrance of the Allies, the USSR supplied the equivalent of $250 million US dollars in aid to China, allowing Chiang to continue his defensive war of attrition against the Japanese.
Much as with the second half of the Soviet-German War (1942-45), the major combat operations of 1938-1941 (including the Chinese victory at Taierzhuang in 1938, two of the titanic battles of Changsha in 1939 and 1941, plus the 1938 Battle of Wuhan, the largest and longest battle of the entire war) are usually 'lost' to common knowledge. These are glossed over for three reasons: 1) the Chinese Communist Party played no role in them, 2) nobody cares what the Kuomintang/Taiwan have to say about them, and 3) Japan likes to pretend they didn't happen. Suffice it to say that although Wuhan was captured (and the battle saw the KMT using up a full quarter of their total ammunition), Changsha wasn't. The campaigns did however help bleed the Kuomintang dry and very nearly cut their rail-links with the Guangxi Clique (at Changsha).
China also saw her Darkest Hour upon the withdrawal of Soviet financial and material aid in 1940 (but not technical aid). Advisers still came in steadily, the USSR continued to import goods to China and large numbers of Soviet planes were left behind, forming the backbone of the Chinese air force until American planes replaced them. This was done as the Soviet armament drive began in earnest and the signing of the infamous Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact in 1941.
However, the victory at Taierzhuang, the first Chinese victory since the war began, greatly boosted Chinese morale. It was also the first battle to prove that Chinese troops could take on a technologically advanced force and win. Large amounts of Japanese equipment were captured, while the Japanese military no longer seemed invincible to the international community. Naturally, the humiliated Japanese military attempted to brush it off, but China and other international newspapers reported it to the rest of the world. Although the NRA still suffered near-constant defeats, the memory of Taierzhuang and the two successful defenses at Changsha helped keep morale up, at least for a while longer.
After Wuhan fell, the Kuomintang relocated to Chongqing, a major hillside city in Sichuan. Millions of refugees streamed into the city, on foot, horse and on carts. Like how Stalin moved Soviet industry to the Urals, entire factories and a few mines were disassembled in their entirety, the hauled a few thousand miles upriver by wooden boats and ox-hauled carts. Books from China's biggest libraries, teaching materials from important schools and hospital equipment were also transported the same way. As they retreated away from the coast and into the interior of China, the KMT pursued a scorched earth policy, tearing up infrastructure, burning fields and blowing up any factories that they couldn't take with them, so the Japanese would inherit a barren wasteland. Infamously, the KMT also burned Changsha, causing severe damage to the city note and killed 30,000, paralyzing the city for days. Zhou Enlai was nearly killed in the fire, while Wang Jingwei and his clique were furious enough to consider defecting to the Japanese (which they did). The entire fire turned out to be pointless, with Changsha rebuilding and successfully defended by the NRA until 1944.
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).
Once the KMT was reassembled at Chongqing, Chiang gathered them for another meeting. Outlining the weaknesses of his army, Chiang stressed the need for serious reform, pointing out horrific scenes where dead NRA troops were left unburied and incompetent NRA commanders leaving wounded men to steal or beg to support themselves. Chiang pointed out that rural populations feared NRA troops, who behaved like thugs towards them, an old habit from previous campaigns against the Communists, who had their power base in the countryside. Officers would have to stop exaggerating Japanese casualties or lying when they lost a battle. Chiang desired to centralize the NRA bureaucracy, laid out plans to send NRA divisions to Sichuan for serious retraining and took personal responsibility for losing Shanghai, Wuhan and other key areas. Finally, Chiang made it clear that China could only beat Japan if the NRA improved its discipline. Although it never fully improved, the NRA did become better-equipped as the war went on.
Although the KMT's military problems began to improve in the later years of the war, one serious flaw worsened - government corruption. The KMT was not only made up of various bickering political wings, but warlord cliques as well, who weren't above selling off badly-needed equipment or withholding resources when they saw fit. Government salaries were low enough that many officers and officials could barely make ends meet for their families. There was no centralized payroll either, so many KMT officials embezzled money or withheld important military supplies to sell at high prices to warlords.
With the loss of their ports and a major financial hub in Shanghai, the KMT had to resort to increasingly brutal measures to survive. Peasants were taxed along with the towns, while local landlords demanded a share of the government's taxes. The KMT had effectively controlled provinces from Nanjing, but now they had to let them rule themselves, with officials being assigned to districts within the various provinces. Some officials ran their areas well, such as Chiang Ching-kuo, Chiang Kai-shek's only son, who introduced social and economic reforms in Gannan Prefecture, despite continuing his dad's authoritarian style of rule. But others did not, and their areas remained poor. Chiang was well aware of the corruption, but failed to stop it from worsening, largely by ignoring it in favor of managing the war effort. KMT corruption would become an absolute pain in the ass for everyone and cemented the KMT's bad reputation for inefficiency and cruelty directed at the peasants note , becoming a major factor for the Communist victory in the civil war.
Chongqing would remain the wartime capital of Chiang Kai-shek until 1945. Although less developed and poorer than Shanghai or Nanjing, the city still managed to hold out. Air raid shelters were carved out of mountains in Chongqing, schools were expanded, basic electronics and air raid sirens were set up. Factory machinery was rebuilt, retooled for war production and moved underground, which proved to be very effective protection from Japanese bombs. All this transformed Chongqing from an inland port to a densely populated and industrialized area.
Just like 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. Named Mengjiang, or the United Mongol Autonomous Government, it was ruled by Prince Demchugdongrub, chairman of the military government that ruled it. The prince had shown interest in collaborating with the Japanese before the war, and waged several campaigns against Yan Xishan, who defeated the prince every time. Demchugdongrub's army was reconstructed with Japanese assistance, and helped the IJA capture Suiyan province and the city of Taiyuan. Another was the Provisional Government of the Republic of China, headed by the former KMT minister of finance, Wang Kemin, and based out of Beijing. Aside from possessing a small army of 13,200 men, it had no real authority and was of limited value to the Japanese military.
Perhaps the most famous puppet state was the Reorganized Nationalist Government. It began when Nationalist official-turned-collaborator, Wang Jingwei, agreed to help the Japanese set up a Chinese puppet state based in Nanjing around 1940. Wang was a significant political rival to Chiang, and thought he should have been elected leader instead of vice-chairman. In the early months of the war, with the KMT losing ground fast, Wang believed that China would be either utterly destroyed by the Japanese or a Communist China would emerge under Soviet control. Instead, Wang believed that working with Japan would let China achieve peace and continue modernizing.
On 19th December 1938, Wang and his supporters defected and flew to Hanoi. After a few months of sitting around doing nothing, the defectors finally met with the Japanese in early June, 1939. Wang hoped for Japanese support so he could unite China under his rule, but the Japanese disagreed, wanting a network of buffer states while Japan ruled the rest of China. However, they merged Wang's area of control with the Provisional Government, forming the Reorganized Government.
To put on an image of legitimacy, Wang's regime used the same flag and sun symbol as the old government, which was heavily criticized by the Japanese, as it made things downright confusing for their forces. Wang's regime was acknowledged as the legitimate Chinese government by the Axis powers, but Les Collaborateurs had little power, and though they were allowed to have their own troops, these were in turn commanded by Japanese overseers and armed with Japanese weapons. Almost a million Chinese POWs were forced to join the collaborator army as garrison troops, as they were too unreliable to be used as cannon fodder against the Kuomintang. But they proved a serious threat to Chinese guerrilla fighters, ruthlessly hunting them through the countryside with riverboats, tanks and search dogs. The Reorganized government also possessed a small navy of captured Allied warships (significant as Nationalist China literally had no navy) and an air force made up of Japanese planes.
As for Manchukuo, thanks to Japanese investment and technical assistance, it became industrially rich, producing raw materials for the Japanese war effort. Planning to bring 5 million Japanese settlers into Manchukuo, the government encouraged families to move into the area, with Manchu farmers being forcibly evicted to make way for the incoming settlers. By 1939, 837,000 Japanese lived in Manchukuo.
The region also became the site of a major opium industry-while the Japanese declared it illegal for troops, civilian demand for the drug was high. A group of Japanese officials created a monopoly on the opium market, making profits of 20-30 million yen per year. Under General Kenji Doihara, an IJA intelligence officer, a vast criminal empire was built on this opium trade. Kenji aimed to disrupt Chinese society to weaken public resistance, via any means possible.
The Japanese secret service promptly turned Manchukuo into a crime-infested hellhole, where systematic campaigns of terror and repression targeted the Chinese and Russian populations, while rape, child molestation, assault by Japanese soldiers and murder became common. The Kempeitai, the Japanese military police, ran underground brothels, opium dens, gambling houses and narcotics shops to compete with the state monopoly on opium. The secret service even disguised thousands of agents as aid workers and sent them to villages in occupied territory. Pretending to be operating health centers, the agents mixed opium with medicine to create a recipe for instant opium addiction. Part of those affected were White Russian women, who were forced into prostitution and worked in hellish conditions. They were encouraged to smoke opium to escape from their misery, and forced to sell opium pipes on the side, earning one free pipe for every six sold to customers. Many Japanese officers were horrified at how Manchuria had sunk into depravity, but their complaints went ignored by Tokyo, even after the commander of the Kwantung Army, Baron Nobuyoshi Muto, allegedly committed seppuku in protest.
But Doihara's criminal empire looked downright pleasant in comparison to a bioweapons department set up in Harbin, Manchukuo's biggest city. The department was officially called the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army, but it's better known as Unit 731. Founded in 1935 and headed by Surgeon General Shiro Ishii, the unit was based in a huge compound with its own railway station, airbase, Shinto temple, cinema and crematorium. The department regularly used at least 3000 men, women and children as test subjects each year, referred to as 'marutas', or logs note , to dehumanize them.
It's true that unlike Dr. Mengele, Unit 731 used actual scientific procedures and produced some genuinely useful work, such as water purification for soldiers in the field, malaria treatments, frostbite treatments and artificial blood. But on the whole, almost all the Unit's experiments were simply finding new ways to kill people as sadistically as possible, without any anesthesia whatsoever. These included stitching a stomach, esophagus and intestines together to see if the maruta could still perform digestion, raping then injecting women with syphilis then cutting them open to see the results over time (and killing them on the operating table if they fell pregnant), freezing marutas' limbs in liquid nitrogen before smashing them off, throwing marutas into pressure chambers, locking women and children in gas chambers, exposing groups of maruta to the full effects of bubonic plague, tying marutas to stakes to be killed by flamethrowers, sending off planes to bomb villages with anthrax and most famously of all, vivisecting maruta alive and removing their vital organs, dumping them in jars of formaldehyde. Sometimes whole heads or even bodies sliced in two would be preserved for study.
No matter how pointless they were, the Japanese government fully approved of the unit's activities, with Ishii performing sadistic experiments for the benefit of visiting military staff. Other medical units spread across China and even the Pacific, with civilians of all ages in occupied territory exposed to similarly brutal experimentation at the hands of Japanese military scientists.
The unit even managed to pull off a top-secret mission, Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night. Intending to target Southern California, five submarines carrying three kamikaze aircraft would launch the planes, so the pilots could drop balloon bombs filled with plague-infested fleas or crash the explosives-laden plane so the plague could spread. Fortunately, the operation was never performed as Japan surrendered before it could be done. While not as well known as the Nanking Massacre nor did it kill as much people as Mengele's crimes, Unit 731's experiments killed tens of thousands and rank high among the worst war crimes in history.
China has two basic advantages in wartime — its an enormous country, with the world's largest population. From the very beginning of the war, the Japanese occupation forces were drowning in a sea of hostile humanity which they could barely interact with due to Japanese xenophobia and ultranationalism. Very few Japanese learned a foreign language - not even French or English - because it was a sign of possible 'unpatriotic tendencies'. China's interior is also quite rocky and mountainous, with rolling hillsides, vast deserts, winding rivers, marshes and dense forests, giving any defenders plenty of good ground to dig trenches in or set up booby traps. The Japanese had taken the coast and ports with relative ease, but now they had to navigate the rough terrain of China's east without local guides and in danger of ambushes.
But worse, the Japanese very quickly pissed off pretty much everybody through the sheer and pointless cruelty of their troops, from breaking into random houses so they could bayonet or rape anyone inside to burning down entire villages while the inhabitants were machine-gunned. So from the very beginning, the Japanese occupation was something of a joke: every level of government in the occupied territories was riddled with Kuomintang and warlord (and later, Communist) spies and guerrillas.
The guerrillas were usually farmers armed with a wide variety of weapons, from spears to .38 revolvers and bolt-action rifles. Periodically, the guerrillas would launch surprise attacks on Japanese patrols or sabotage railway lines, then hide their weapons and go back to working on their fields, secretly reporting to the KMT or Communists when they could. Despite the Kuomintang's total inability to break Japanese military codes, or even intercept their wireless messages at all in many cases (due to a lack of powerful radio transmitters and receivers), they usually knew pretty much everything the Japanese were up to anyway, as the situation was just that bad.
The Japanese military also knew the KMT's every move, but with the secret service busy being criminals, it was hard to obtain sufficient intel for military operations note . Additionally, the KMT's secret police under the sadistic Dai Li note , the Bureau of Investigation and Statistics, assassinated Chinese collaborators and performed resistance operations in occupied urban areas, especially in Shanghai.
Before Allied aid began in earnest, Chinese soldiers were outgunned by the Japanese, yet they admirably fought one of the most powerful military forces in the world to a stalemate. Typically, NRA soldiers were armed with the Type 24 rifle note in 7.92x57mm Mauser note , a HY1935 sword bayonet and Type 23 stick grenades note . Officers carried Mauser C96 pistols or any of its variants, sometimes with a shoulder stock (as seen above) for greater accuracy. Warlord troops often wielded a Dadao sword, as many had only a literal handful of ammunition for their rifles (with the exception of Guangxi Clique troops, who were sufficiently equipped enough to fight alongside the NRA) or a Mauser pistol. Although most warlord soldiers lacked morale, the fanatical "Big Sword" shock troop brigades armed with swords and Mauser pistols were fairly effective in fighting the Japanese hand-to-hand, especially during the street fighting in Taierzhuang. Cavalry was common in the Guominjun army, the majority using traditional spears and swords alongside Mauser pistols. Yet they were fast and strong enough to drive the Japanese away from Henan and scare them enough that Qinghai remained in Guominjun hands until Japan's surrender note
Communist soldiers were armed similarly note , using the Hanyang 88 as their service rifle and making their own stick grenades, while officers and commissars also carried Mauser pistols. But the Communists were short of machine guns and mortars, and as the KMT was reluctant to supply them with their own equipment, Communist soldiers made heavy use of captured Japanese munitions.
Automatic weapons were effective against charging Japanese, but Chinese platoons had one light machine gun on average, usually a ZB vz.26 in 7.92x57mm Mauser, and a entire KMT battalion only got one heavy machine gun for everyone, usually the Type 24 Maxim note or the Type 30 note . Meanwhile, most warlord battalions had no machine guns at all. This meant that banzai charges often inflicted heavy casualties on Chinese defenders, even if they outnumbered the Japanese attackers (it didn't help that Japanese soldiers were heavily trained in bayonet fighting as part of the Japanese military's blade obsession).
Most NRA divisions had no support artillery at all-instead, mortars of all calibers (either ones purchased directly from Western nations or local copies of them) were used as substitutes, but these were in short supply. The KMT and warlords also failed to resupply their forces efficiently for the most part, which undermined Chinese defenses. Equipment losses for the warlord armies and militias were high enough that a large amount of equipment in the field was ex-Japanese, not only weapons but gear such as mortars, gas masks and combat webbing. Meanwhile, the Japanese were not only well-supplied, but tended to back up their attacks with artillery, poison gas, tanks and airplanes, which the Chinese defenders had to repel with bullets, stick grenades and mortar fire.
Yet, China's massive manpower pool meant that NRA and warlord forces still outnumbered the Japanese, letting them continue fighting despite frequent defeats. The violence of Japanese atrocities also convinced many Chinese soldiers to continue fighting, no matter what the odds. And while most NRA troops happily beat up the nearest peasant if things weren't going their way, rural Chinese preferred having them (or even better, the Communists, whose soldiers treated the peasants kindly) in their area, rather than the Japanese occupying it and stabbing anyone who looked at them funny.
During this period, the CCP kept their truce with Chiang to...sit back and let the KMT soak up the damage. While the CCP did engage in isolated, well-organized guerrilla battles (using both Communist guerrillas and the Eighth Route Army) against the IJA by ambushing Japanese convoys, destroying bridges, wrecking infrastructure, attacking railway stations and the occasional airfield, it also attempted to preserve resources and avoid heavy engagements with Japan or her puppet regimes, and did its best to undermine Kuomintang-backed warlords and independent guerilla groups behind Japanese lines, using their network of spies and sympathisers to tell the occupation forces who they where and where to find them (while maintaining plausible deniability and avoiding looking like they were directly fighting non-CCP Chinese resistance groups).
And despite their United Front, the KMT and CCP continued to fight. In the New Fourth Army Incident on January 1941, the Communist 4th Army was encircled by 80,000 Nationalist troops and suffered heavy losses, being reduced to just 2000 men. The exact reason why the KMT attacked the Communist army remains murky, but it seems that the Communists were ordered by Chiang to move their forces to move north of the Yellow River, and Mao refused, moving them south instead. The Communist general Chen Yi also had been goading Nationalist troops, increasing political tensions. The 4th Army was disbanded (but eventually reassembled in time for the civil war), and Chiang was criticized internationally for creating internal strife when they should have been focusing on stopping the Japanese. The incident remains a very sore point for party-sponsored Chinese and Taiwanese historians-the former insists it was KMT treachery, the latter maintains that it punished Communist insubordination.
Only recently has the People's Republic of China begun to admit that the Kuomintang actually did anything at all to fight the Japanese, though it still maintains that the CCP's Eighth Route Army did the brunt of the fighting, when in reality, being a peasant-based guerrilla army solely consisting of light infantry, the overall contribution of the CCP towards winning the war is rather limited,note except when Stalin bullied them into committing forces (in the short-lived 'Hundred Regiments Offensive') to save the Kuomintang's hide in 1940, when the latter was on the verge of collapse.
The CCP's leader, Mao something, used this failure to further undermine the pro-Soviet faction within the CCP and assert his own independence from Moscow - resuming his truce with the Japanese to focus on turning the entire countryside under nominal Japanese occupation into one gigantic Communist Soviet so that either A) when the Kuomintang was destroyed the CCP could eventually come to power by taking over Wang Jingwei's government (ideally Japan would be busy fighting someone else, e.g. the USSR, by then) or B) the CCP could beat a critically-weakened Kuomintang in a continuation of the Civil War. Obviously, the CCP ended up taking option B.
As of December 1941, the Second Sino-Japanese War merged with World War II and the Republic of China joined the Allies. Japan still controlled the cities and railway lines in coastal China, but basically had no power over the areas more than a day's march (c.30 km) from the nearest railway line, canal, or river.
Eventually, the Chinese managed to fight the Japanese into an exhausted stalemate. Japan's invasion had bogged down by 1938, and despite further major campaigns in 1939-40 they were unable to achieve a decisive victory despite dedicating the majority of their troops and resources to the China front. However, by 1942, Japan had seized the British colonies in Southeast Asia, occupied the Dutch East Indies, controlled French Indochina, captured the Philippines and were now trying to push into India through Burma, with Commonwealth forces desperately trying to hold them back.
As part of the Allies, American and British lend-lease aid flooded into China. China received machine guns, artillery and other equipment on a scale not seen before, as well as technical advisers from the USA. If a trickle of lend-lease equipment reached the NRA, it was immediately pressed into service by grateful soldiers along with captured Japanese equipment. At the Third Battle of Changsha, the defenders received large numbers of British mortars, two batteries of French 75mm field guns, several 2-pounder anti-tank guns and even eight new American M2A2 light tanks, a godsend to the divisions who received them. All this new equipment was invaluable to the Chinese victory, helping the defenders hold out while NRA reinforcements hidden in the hills destroyed the Japanese supply lines.
The Chinese economy was also straining from the sheer effort of funding the war, with inflation rising at alarming rates. Although less money was printed, the KMT pumped money into a closed-off war economy that was dedicated to producing military equipment rather than consumer goods, shrinking the economy instead of strengthening it. This was somewhat alleviated by vast sums of American loans, but the KMT became more and more dependent on them. Eventually, the Truman administration began to get frustrated with Chiang's continued demands for more US dollars to prop up the Nationalist economy for the incoming civil war.
One successful endeavor was the development of the Chinese air force, thanks to the efforts of Claire Lee Chennault, a retired USAAF officer, and his volunteer group of American mercenary pilots, the Flying Tigers. Flying their signature Curtiss P-40 Warhawks, with their distinctive shark-teeth nose paint, the Tigers were very successful, shooting down 296 Japanese planes at the loss of 16 of their own. On 4th July, 1942, the Tigers were disbanded and replaced with the 23rd Fighter Group of the USAAF headed by Chennault, with more American flyers arriving in China as the war went on. Chinese cadets were sent abroad to America and returned to fly the latest Allied aircraft against the Japanese while other Chinese found jobs as mechanics. By all accounts, the Americans and Chinese got along very well, even though most Americans quickly became dismayed at the increasing corruption of Chiang's government. The USAAF delivered plenty of replacement aircraft to the KMT over the course of the war, until American aircraft formed the backbone of the KMT's air force (and continued to do so after the civil war).
Aside from being a useful base for the USAAF, China was crucial in one of the most famous air missions in World War II, the Doolittle Raid. After Pearl Harbor, American morale was low, and Roosevelt wanted Japan to be bombed to raise it, plus showing the Japanese that they weren't invincible. Headed by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, 16 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers were launched from the USS Hornet carrier to hit military targets in Japan, then land at Zhejiang province to refuel before heading to safety at Chongqing. While the bombers hit all their targets, and caused significant damage by destroying several oil refineries, they quickly ran low on fuel. One bomber crash-landed at Vladivostok note , while the other 15 crash-landed in various parts of Zhejiang and Jiangxi. Chinese civilians rushed to help the stranded Americans, transporting them to nearby cities and villages, where they were cared for and hidden from the Japanese. The grateful Raiders gave the Chinese anything useful they had on them, and 69 airmen, including Doolittle himself, escaped from occupied China alive, with only three executed and eight taken prisoner by the Japanese.
The raid was a massive boost to American morale, proved that the Japanese were vulnerable and paved the way for future bombing raids on Japan, while the American public became even more sympathetic to the Chinese war effort. However, China suffered terribly. While the bombers had done relatively little damage, the furious Japanese launched a campaign attacking Zhejiang and Jiangxi immediately after the raid. The IJA burned entire towns or villages suspected of helping Raiders to the ground and massacred any civilians who had American items. 250,000 Chinese civilians died, plus 70,000 Chinese soldiers were killed defending the airbases. The Japanese also unleashed bioweapons on the population, spreading cholera and typhoid to hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians. While it damaged Chinese morale, this move backfired spectacularly when 10,000 Japanese troops got infected from their own bioweapons, with 1,700 dying from disease. Eventually, the Japanese moved out of the area on mid-August, leaving behind destroyed airbases and destruction.
Meanwhile, Burma was vital to the Chinese war effort for one reason-it held their most important supply route. Thanks to the Japanese controlling all the ports, the KMT was effectively cut off from the outside world. They needed petrol, machine tools and military supplies, plus a way to export tea and other raw materials in exchange note . For trade routes, goods could be transported by camel caravan in the Gobi desert, or the Burma Road, a single road running through British Burma into China. Chinese construction efforts and American trucks helped China get supplies and export goods through the road until the Japanese cut it off. The only alternative was to fly supplies over 'the Hump', or the eastern end of the Himalayas, via American military transport aircraft. It was a difficult and dangerous operation, with frequent snowstorms, strong turbulence and high winds, as well as a long struggle to find a reliable aircraft that could carry enough material and endure the cold. The American pilots who performed the task were rightly admired and decorated.
A few Chinese divisions also fought in Burma, the X Force and Y Force. X Force was trained and equipped by the Americans and British, and commanded by arguably the KMT's finest general, Virginia Military Institute alumnus Sun Li-jen. Y Force retained their Chinese equipment and was commanded by Whampoa Academy star Du Yuming. Both forces played a crucial role in the Burma campaign and fought successfully, but had to retreat when Burma was overrun. X Force retreated through India and arrived with relatively few losses, but Y Force retreated through Yunnan and suffered heavy casualties from nature and Japanese attacks. With further American assistance, X Force was formed into the elite New 1st Army and became some of the best troops in the NRA, so much that they were mistaken for foreigners upon arriving back in China. As for Y Force, they were built back up into the Chinese Expeditionary Force, equipped by the KMT and retrained by the Americans. Commanded first by General Chen Cheng, then General Wei Lihuang, the CEF played a significant role in the Burma Campaign, totaling 15 divisions by 1945 before they were disbanded and reabsorbed into the NRA at the war's end.
In terms of foreign policy, the Nationalist government showed serious diplomatic talent, contrasting with their largely negative track record in domestic policy. Famously, Soong Mei-ling's diplomatic campaigning across America ended up getting China its permanent seat on the UN. Infamously, it's been claimed that Wendell Willkie had a one-night-stand with her, although others say that her response to Willkie's proposition (delivered by one of his friends) was to furiously scratch the messenger's face. Chiang visited India once the Chinese military presence in Burma was established, and even met with Gandhi. Although the KMT had supported Indian independence since the beginning, the conversation took an awkward turn when it came to Gandhi's pacifism. Coming from a nation that had violently sacked their monarchy, Chiang was skeptical of the effectiveness of Gandhi's tactics. However, Chiang was deeply invested in the Indian war effort, and warm relations between the Indian National Congress and the KMT continued. The INC hoped that a victorious China would let India form an 'Asiatic Federation' with it and other Southeast Asian nations, although this was never realized. Interestingly, the complex military and political situation in the British Raj seriously shocked Chiang, who even cabled Roosevelt to express his concerns.
In 1943, Chiang joined the Cairo Conference and finally met with other Allied leaders in person. Stalin was absent due to fears that Chiang would chew him out for signing the neutrality pact with Japan (again, Soviet aid had been vital) and withdrawing the Soviet advisors. Although the conference did not work out the way Chiang dreamed it would - Churchill and FDR made it clear that Europe was their main priority, and were vague on lend-lease to China - the generalissimo did manage to make some gains. The Allies agreed to fight until Japan unconditionally surrendered. If they did, Manchuria and Taiwan would be handed back to China, while the Allies divvied up Japan's islands in the Pacific. Chiang also took the time to advocate for Korean independence. It was a cause he had long supported - the 1920s saw Chiang assisting and arming exiled Korean independence activists, while praising Korean resistance fighters in his diary note . Churchill and the British weren't terribly impressed by Chiang or his wife, but Roosevelt left with an very positive opinion of Chiang. Eager to see China become a world power with American guidance (and perhaps help its transition to democracy), Roosevelt was keen to meet the generalissimo. Both leaders reportedly spent long hours alone together, talking about foreign policy - Roosevelt was pleased that Chiang shared many of his views, such as anti-colonialism.
China also gained two American military advisors throughout the war. The first and most infamous was General Joseph Stilwell, aka 'Vinegar Joe' for his caustic personality. Historians have assessed Stilwell in recent years, and it's safe to say that he did arguably more harm than good during his time in China. Basically, Stilwell-despite making some downright boneheaded moves as a military leader note - was angered by the corruption and 'oriental incompetence' of the KMT. Stilwell thought the best way to fix it was to put himself in charge of all ground forces in China, arm them all with American weapons and slowly drive the Japanese back through offensives. Chiang, who knew the weaknesses of his army too well, wanted to remain China's commander-in-chief and preferred to keep the NRA on the defensive, disagreed. Historians have noted that while Chiang was by no means a strategic or tactical genius, he did have decades of experience in managing the NRA. Stilwell, meanwhile, had only just gotten to China.
Stilwell's response was to send extremely negative reports back to America that exaggerated KMT failures (such as Chiang refusing to send reinforcements in Burma, when Chiang had actually sent 10,000 men and the 200th mechanized division note ), plus ranting in his diary and letters to his wife about besting "the peanut" as he called Chiang note . Stilwell also had a bitter rivalry with Chennault-while Chennault was full of confidence for Chiang, Stilwell absolutely loathed the generalissimo. There were tactical disagreements too-Stilwell believed that China could crush Japan via well-trained ground troops, while Chennault believed air support was vital for turning the tide. This resulted in nasty incidents where Chennault pleaded for reinforcements in desperate battles, with Stilwell refusing to send any. Stilwell's cushy relationship with the press didn't help matters either, and the US government's confidence in China began to decrease, although aid still arrived and the American public remained sympathetic to China's plight.
As the main American authority in China, Stilwell had full control of the lend-lease supplies. While a good amount of equipment began to reach NRA troops in China, such as support artillery, mortars, bazookas, machine guns and even a few light tanks, it still wasn't enough to equip all the NRA divisions, which was what Chiang had in mind when requesting foreign aid. Large amounts reached the X and Y Forces, but huge stocks remained in storage that could have been delivered to the NRA. Chiang has often been blamed for stockpiling his best equipment to fight the Chinese Communists instead of Japan. While this is true to some extent (such as how M1 helmets only become widely used in China during the civil war), Stilwell has been found to be largely responsible for withholding the supplies out of spite. Denied the amounts of Allied equipment they should have gotten, most of the NRA remained terribly under-strength compared to other Allied armies. Influenced by this, the British and American governments often criticized the KMT for not having a modern, Westernized army, ignoring the fact China was much poorer and undeveloped compared to them note .
On the other hand, Stilwell did have a few good traits. He was excellent at training NRA troops, genuinely wanted to modernize and improve the Chinese army, very fluent in Mandarin, was the guy who demanded American lend-lease to China in the first place and had great respect for the Chinese soldiers he commanded note , plus maintaining a good friendship with William Slim, the brilliant British commander in Burma and Sun Li-jen as well. All three men trusted each other greatly and got along very nicely. Perhaps due to this, Chiang renamed the Ledo Road (a supply route running through Burma to Yunnan) the Stilwell road in early 1945.
But Stilwell's worsening relations with Chiang note lead to his recall in 1944, leaving to America in disgrace. Stilwell was replaced by General Albert Wedemeyer, who was far less toxic, considerably more competent than Stilwell and openly cooperated with Chiang. He continued Stilwell's programs to modernize the Chinese army, as well as securing more transport aircraft and helping improve supply airlift operations over the Hump.
The Americans also launched the Dixie Mission to Yan'an in 1944, partially out of curiosity and partially out of frustration with the KMT, whose corruption had begun to alienate the US government from China (plus Chiang knowing of the corruption but not doing anything about it). At the time, the Chinese Communists were seen as a romantic guerrilla band, helped by the reports of Edgar Snow, who is either a good journalist or a Wide-Eyed Idealist who fawned over Mao, depending on who you ask. Eager for publicity, Mao assembled military parades, ordered his supporters to freshen up Yan'an as best as they could and moved all the political prisoners out of sight.
Although well aware that they were visiting a communist regime, the Americans were initially impressed by Yan'an, particularly how clean and efficient it was compared to the corruption and chaos of the KMT-held areas. John Service, diplomatic observer to both Stilwell and the American Embassy in Chongqing, wrote up reports over the next three months, likening the CCP to European socialists and appreciating their efforts to separate themselves from the dreaded USSR. Colonel David Barrett observed the Communist army's performance in war games and visited the Communist officer training academy. Barrett noted that the Communists prioritized political indoctrination over actual training and believed that American advisors could help improve the guerrillas' military performance, as they had done with the NRA. The CCP's guerrilla raids were praised by the Americans as well. However, the USA still recognized the KMT as the legitimate government of China, although they continued diplomatic ventures to Yan'an until 1947.
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 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 against 400,000 Allied troops, plus the Japanese making heavy use of motorized troops, APCs and tanks. The KMT was caught by surprise, losing Guilin, Liuzhou and Henan, and the airfields were either captured or evacuated. In a massive blow to Chinese morale, Changsha, a symbol of Chinese resistance, finally fell to the Japanese. 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 KMT's losses at Shanghai. Many Chinese divisions had retreated further inland, regrouped, retrained and returned with fresh reinforcements after Ichigo to launch successful attacks on the Japanese. Meanwhile, the Communists were able to take advantage of the chaos caused by Ichigo to increase their influence in the countryside and continue harassing Japanese garrisons. Despite the huge losses of Chinese manpower and territory, Ichigo was actually a mixed success for the Japanese, and would be the last successful Japanese offensive in China.
The war's course had already been decided by events elsewhere. Even as it drew to a close, Tokyo and the rest of Japan was being firebombed to hell by the American air force, who had moved their airbases to the Marianas. 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 by the Chinese.
With American assistance, Y Force launched a offensive across the Salween River, recapturing large areas of Yunnan and culminating in an epic three-month battle at Mount Song. Despite a fanatical defense and heavy fortification by the Japanese garrison (similar to those on Iwo Jima), the Chinese captured the mountain, driving the Japanese out of Yunnan. At the same time, Burma was retaken through a massive Allied offensive, finally linking the Burma and Ledo roads together.
By 1945, Japan was getting badly beaten on both fronts. After a bloody struggle, the Americans had liberated the Philippines and seized Okinawa and Iwo Jima, while the Chinese were slowly getting the upper hand in battles, partially thanks to American air support. With Burma recaptured, transportation had begun across the Burma and Ledo roads, with enough American equipment available to equip 35 NRA divisions.
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 USAAF 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 note , arrested Puyi (who was trying to flee to Tokyo so he could surrender to the Americans later on) and occupied North Korea. More than a million IJA troops were taken prisoner, 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, near Hong Kong - prompting the Commonwealth to send an emergency task-force from Australia to take Hong Kong from the token Japanese force that held it before the KMT got there - and the Kuomintang 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.
Like other parts of the world on August 14-15th, Chongqing erupted into wild celebration, as fireworks lit up the night sky. In a simple khaki uniform without any decorations, Chiang delivered his victory speech at a nearby radio station, before walking out to be embraced by a joyous crowd. Any US military personnel in the area were overwhelmed with gifts of cigarettes from locals. On August 21st, the KMT high command and the Japanese met in a formal surrender ceremony, with Major General Takeo Imai pointing out the locations of the remaining 100,000 Japanese soldiers in China, who were allowed to keep their weapons and maintain order until the NRA arrived.
In a massive sea and airlift operation planned by Wedemeyer, hundreds of thousands of NRA troops, armed with brand new American weapons and equipment, arrived to retake all key cities south of the Great Wall. Up to 4000 soldiers were landed daily by the USAAF, and greeted by cheering crowds as they marched through the streets. 50,000 US Marines also arrived to help the KMT reassert control of former Japanese territory. By November, the last Japanese troops had been rounded up and disarmed. Most of the countryside and Manchuria fell under Mao's control, and the Chinese Communists began consolidating their influence over the area, plus building the People's Liberation Army with Soviet assistance.
At the Tokyo War Crimes tribunal on April 29th, 1946, many high-ranking Japanese officials were executed for war crimes. One exception were the leaders of Unit 731-while some were executed by the Soviets, the rest, including Ishii, were spared by the Americans and went to the USA to assist in bioweapons research. note Three doctors went back to Japan and set up a pharmaceutical corporation, Green Cross, to sell artificial blood note and became rich. Most collaborators, such as those involved in the Reorganized government, were declared 'hanjian', or traitors to the Han Chinese by the KMT and executed, although some were spared and even given positions in the KMT government.
Wang Jingwei wasn't put on trial, as he had died in a Japanese hospital the year before, undergoing treatment for a shoulder wound from an assassination attempt in 1939. In an elaborate tomb, Wang was buried in Nanjing near Sun Yat-sen's mausoleum by the Japanese. Chiang responded by getting his chief of staff, He Yingqin, to demolish the tomb with 150kg of dynamite and an engineer battalion, before burning Wang's body. For many years, Wang's name was synonymous with traitor in Chinese culture. This view has significantly changed in recent years, with Wang now being recognized by both Taiwanese and Chinese historians as key to the success of the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, and his collaboration with Japan seen as a sadly misguided attempt to unify China.
1946 also saw the establishment of the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal, where four officers, included the two involved in the infamous sword contest, were tried and executed for their involvement in the massacre.
As for Puyi, the former emperor and a few servants were first detained in Chita, then a sanatorium, then the city of Khabarovsk, where he was well-treated by the Soviets. Chiang wanted to have Puyi shot for high treason, but the Soviets refused to hand him over.
Despite all the carnage, China had held on for eight years, tying down hundreds of thousands of troops from one of the most powerful military forces ever seen in Asia, absolutely refusing to surrender even without foreign aid. The war had greatly devastated China; millions were dead, infrastructure and industry lay in shambles, funding the war effort had wrecked the Chinese economy, and government corruption had significantly worsened. Yet China was one of the four major Allied powers, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, gained the island of Taiwan and Chiang hoped that his country would be finally able to modernize, become wealthy and take a role in defining the postwar world.
Following American pressure, Chiang decided to end the "People's Tutelage" and drafted a new constitution to slowly turn China into a representative democracy, and perhaps form a coalition government with the Communists and other parties. But despite American attempts to preserve it, the United Front quickly fell apart. Both sides quickly mobilized their forces and the civil war restarted on 31st March, 1946.
In 1949, after three years of civil war and at least another half-dozen million dead, the Kuomintang lost its last major holdouts on the mainland and was reduced to just Chinese Central Asia (Xinjiang, Qinghai, etc) and the islands of Hainan and Taiwan. Soon, Chiang - now President for Life of the Republic of China - fled to Taiwan with his ministers, taking 200,000 NRA troops, countless national treasures and most of China's gold reserves with them, accompanied by two million refugees.
Since 1945, Chiang had ruled Taiwan with an iron fist, turning the island into a police state, violently suppressing democratic voices and establishing martial law in a decades-long period known as the "White Terror", where tens of thousands of Taiwanese-many who were completely innocent-were murdered or imprisoned for opposing KMT rule, including most of the Taiwanese intellectual elite, after anti-KMT demonstrations on February 1947. But seeing as the mainland was lost to them, the KMT realized that securing Taiwanese loyalty was important, and began a legacy of good governance, although the White Terror continued. Before his death in 1975, Chiang managed to create a well-disciplined and modern Chinese army, ended most of the corruption that had destroyed his government during the civil war, launched Taiwan into economic prosperity and centralized his power. The KMT also finally decided on a political alignment and remains a centre-right party to this day.
Their foe, the Communist Party of China under Mao Zedong, proclaimed the establishment of a People's Republic of China on October 1st, 1949. The People's Republic soon reached a level of cultural understanding and reconciliation with Japan despite the differences in their ideologies note and economic systems.
Throughout the '50s and '60s, Communist/'Mainland' China and Japan both blamed a small clique of Japanese militarist leaders for the war — thereby leaving out the uncomfortable issue of the behaviour of Japanese troops, officers, and other military personnel — 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. They also had to avoid mentioning the details of the actual war's conduct, since that would inevitably mean mentioning the Kuomintang and the warlords. This meshed well thematically with Communist China's other propaganda portraying all historical processes as being the product of grassroots peasant-proletarian struggle. While they were able to write the warlords out of the war's history, they never felt able to completely deny the Kuomintang's involvement and so instead worked to portray them as having been hopelessly corrupt, immoral, fascist, un-patriotic, traitorous puppets of the Americans. Of course, these criticisms had some basis in fact (especially after 1940, when corruption started getting worse).
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 firebombings, 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 Kuomintang 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.
Today, the war is still within living memory in Southeast Asia, and what successive generations have been taught about it is the subject of (fierce) controversy. 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, not least because certain nationalist groups and even national governments aren't actually interested in reconciliation. Xenophobic hatred suits these people's interests because it fosters national unity and keeps their people's resentment focused outward.
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 today, 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 (especially oil, which was vital for the IJN), 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. note Several textbooks have been written along just these lines, and are often singled out for criticism.
With recent disputes over islands in the South China Sea, China has declared September 3rd, the day after Japan officially surrendered, a national holiday. It also has the habit of taking foreign diplomats to the massive Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, partially as a propaganda maneuver and as a jab against the Japanese government. With Taiwanese independence becoming more popular, the mainland government has also begun promoting the KMT's contribution to the war to try and counter it, even finally recognizing Nationalist veterans.
In Harbin, which is now famous for hosting an epic ice festival, the remaining compounds at the former site of Unit 731 have been turned into a museum in memory of the prisoners killed. Thankfully, the museum does not show the worst images of the Unit's experiments and keeps gore at a minimum in its wax replicas. Notably, Unit 731 tends to be not mentioned in Chinese and Japanese history textbooks, as the experiments are (understandably) considered too horrifying for the eyes of high school students. Historians of the war, Western, Taiwanese and Chinese alike also tend to skip over or briefly mention Unit 731 due to the goriness and utterly horrifying accounts of the experiments performed.
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.
Within the Western world, the entire war tends to be overlooked, completely unknown to the public or gain only a brief mention, as Europe and America prefer to focus on events from the invasion of Poland onwards. Most high school students aren't really taught about China's involvement at all, especially during the height of the Cold War when Communist China was considered a major threat. This was further influenced by how the USA reestablished diplomatic relations with the PRC and put Taiwan on the sidelines, meaning that the KMT's efforts in fighting Japan went relatively unnoticed. In many history books about WW2, brief mentions of the Sino-Japanese war pop up every now and then, or get a small paragraph, but nothing is really explored in detail. That said, there has been an effort in recent years by Western historians to try and bring the Sino-Japanese war into public awareness. Some universities offer courses centering around the war, while plenty of books have been written about the KMT's involvement. Only time will tell if China's role in World War II as the fourth Allied power will become common knowledge to future generations.
Works set in this period:
Anime and Manga
- The manga Kuni ga Moeru, about a bureaucrat in Imperial Japan during the war. The first (and only) Japanese manga to depict the Rape of Nanking in graphic detail, it kicked off a massive controversy.
- Osamu Tezuka's manga Phoenix is about Japanese soldiers during this war, searching for the eponymous magic bird in China (while presumably committing war crimes on the way). Sadly, it was never finished due to Author Existence Failure.
- The manga Ron by Motoka Murakami, author of Jin.
- The anime Night Raid 1931 is about a group of Japanese spies in China, 1931, and its plot involves the events leading up to the war, from the Mukden Incident to the creation of the Manchukuo puppet government. Notably it avoids Japanese jingoism and revisionism.
- Most of Zipang does not take place in China, but events in China form a critical background to its plot (much more important in the manga version than the incomplete anime version.) Anime viewers are treated to a Genius Bonus in the form of General Ishihara, who had complex schemes in real life concerning Manchuria that ran somewhat contrary to the more militant Japanese leaders but were still exploitative and imperialistic from the perspective of the subject peoples, who plays an important if subdued role. Unfortunately, the continuation of the anime series into the Manchurian plots was never produced.
- Tintin's adventure The Blue Lotus depicts the Japanese encroachment on China in the 1930s.
- Several of the early adventures of Buck Danny are set in wartime China.
- The Italian comic book Lilith has its titular time travel visit the Rape of Nanjing in one volume.
- Referenced in Requiem Vampire Knight Vol. 9, where a Japanese soldier that participated in the Nanking Massacre reincarnates as a vampire samurai and he gets challenged by a Chinese ghoul that had his family murdered by him.
- Issue #141 of Hellblazer has a story called Setting Sun, which has John Constantine dealing with the ghost of a recently deceased Unit 731 scientist named Yamagata. Yamagata's ghost relates all manner of For the Evulz stories about the pointless 'experiments' he and his colleagues had done, although the art (thankfully) doesn't go into too much detail. He even preempts the question of "why?" or "How would this help you win the war?" by explaining "You have to understand; we were insane." Yamagata's last request is that he wants to die being vivisected by John using his rusty wartime surgical implements before moving on, not for absolution, but because he feels it would be appropriate.
- Green Hornet: Year One has Kato serving in the Imperial Japanese Army at the start of the war. He participates in the invasion of China willingly until the horrors of the Nanking massacre shock him enough to kill his CO and go AWOL. Eventually, Kato is caught and about to be executed when he's saved by Britt Reid, who is working as a war correspondent.
- Terry and the Pirates had the Dragon Lady and her gang become guerrillas fighting the Japanese.
- Why We Fight: The Battle of China is a 1944 propaganda documentary by Frank Capra with first-rate footage of the war, plus providing much information about the events leading up to the war and the American perspective of China during World War II. Although it focuses mainly on lionizing the KMT, it provides glimpses of the warlords and the Chinese Communist army note It's also a good visual summary of the information provided in this article, although as this is a propaganda film, some things should be taken with a grain of salt, such as its positive opinion of Stilwell and the emphasis on the Tanaka Memorial note . The film also makes no mention of German and Soviet aid to China, portrays the Nanjing Massacre as creating the United Front rather than the Xi'an Incident, plus ignores the negative effects of blowing the Yellow River's dykes. However, it's arguably one of the more truthful films in the series, as others omit certain parts of the war for propaganda reasons note .
- Also see this newsreel from the Western Front looking at China. It has a surprisingly nuanced view of the Chinese front, and does not gloss over the flaws of Chiang's dictatorship. Additionally, it provides information that historians have rediscovered in recent years, such as how the war damaged China and Chinese casualties by 1941-42.
- Lust, Caution, about a plot to assassinate a pro-Japanese collaborator in occupied Shanghai.
- City of Life and Death, a drama film set during the Nanking Massacre.
- Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard (and the movie based on it) is about the author's childhood inside a Japanese prison camp for Western civilians.
- Men Behind the Sun, an truly disgusting and very NSFW Chinese "documentary" about Unit 731's inhumane experiments, apparently made with recovered Japanese lab notes note . From the same director, T.F Mou, comes Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre, a horrendous NSFW Torture Porn Exploitation Film about, well, the Rape of Nanking. Mou was about to make a third movie called No More War, but thankfully he wasn't able to obtain any funding whatsoever.
- Flying Tigers, a 1942 war film centering around the mercenary pilots, starring John Wayne.
- Purple Sunset: Set during the Soviet Invasion of Manchuria on August 9, 1945 to the day of Japan's unconditional surrender.
- Seven Man Army (八道樓子) is a 1976 Hong Kong Shaw Brothers martial arts film about the defense of the Great Wall in 1933.
- Zhang Yimou's directorial debut, Red Sorghum, is set at a sorghum-liquor distillery in the middle of the war. His 1994 epic To Live touches on it briefly, but focuses more on the Chinese Civil War and what came afterward.
- Zhang Yimou's Flowers of War a.k.a. Nanjing Heroes, set during the Rape of Nanking. Christian Bale plays an American mortician who helps to protect a group of Catholic schoolgirls and an equal number of Chinese prostitutes from the invading Japanese army.
- Chen Kaige's own directorial debut, Yellow Earth, is set in a remote rural region in 1939.
- Jiang Wen's Devils on the Doorstep (鬼子来了) is a Black Comedy taking place in northern China in the last phase of the war. Deliberately Monochrome to mimic old Chinese war films, the movie tells the story of a Chinese villager forced by a mysterious figure to take care of a bumbling Japanese sergeant and his hapless interpreter. It was Banned in China for portraying the Japanese as sympathetic rather than outright villains.
- The Children of Huang Shi deals with the evacuation to safety of orphaned Chinese children by two Westerners during the war.
- Purple Sunset is about a Chinese man and a Russian woman taking revenge on the Japanese in August 1945.
- Philosophy of a Knife is an infamously graphic and very NSFW Russian-Chinese 2008 horror film/mockumentary/Exploitation Film about Unit 731, with real interviews mixed in. It was also universally panned by critics.
- Ip Man is a martial arts film Very Loosely Based on a True Story about Ip Man (Bruce Lee's teacher) and his experiences during the Japanese occupation of China.
- The Good, the Bad, the Weird is focused on Korean exiles in Manchuria during the war (no later than 1941).
- Wild Rose is a 1932 Chinese film made right after the Japanese incursion into Manchuria, in order to encourage Chinese patriotism and resistance to the Japanese. At the end all the main characters join the army.
- Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo centers around the Doolittle Raid.
- Fist of Fury is a 1972 Bruce Lee film set in occupied Shanghai, although the villains are mainly a Japanese karate school rather than the Imperial Japanese Army.
- As part of a biopic detailing Puyi's life, The Last Emperor shows the war on several occasions. The Soviet invasion of Manchukuo is shown, as is Puyi's capture by the Red Army. The war also plays a role in the film's present, where Puyi is coerced to admit to collaborating with Imperial Japan by his Communist Chinese interrogators, and admits his guilt after watching a film of Japanese atrocities in China.
- Death And Glory in Changde, a Chinese war film about the Battle of Changde in 1943, that is notable for making a Japanese officer somewhat sympathetic, avoiding Chinese nationalism for the most part, and being a mainland Chinese war film that portrays the Kuomintang as heroes and shows the NRA doing the fighting instead of the Eighth Route Army. It can be watched here.
- Eight Hundred Heroes, a 1976 Taiwanese film about the defense of Sihang Warehouse at the Battle of Shanghai, which can be found here. Although there are plenty of anachronisms, such as the M14 rifle being prominently used by the heroes and US Marines wearing M1 helmets in 1937, it's a good film nonetheless.
- The Girl Who Played Go is about a relationship between a Chinese girl and a Japanese officer in the early stages of the war.
- The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang, which popularized the term and provides much historical information about this event, although it contains several inaccuracies. Unfortunately, Chang committed suicide a few years after writing it.
- The Corps series by WEB Griffin begins in the Shanghai International Zone in late 1940, and follows several officers and enlisted men of the 4th Marines stationed there, particularly Corporal Kenneth "Killer" McCoy, a young Marine fluent in Japanese, Italian, French, and several Chinese dialects as he conducts intelligence operations in and around the city. Japanese atrocities, the lawless nature of much of the Chinese countryside, and the tensions between American, British, and Japanese forces (as well as Chinese locals) on the eve of WWII are described in detail. The series follows McCoy and several other Marines through WWII and eventually to the Korean War, where they are involved in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir fighting the Communist Chinese PVA note .
- Dragon Seed by Pearl Buck, centering around a headstrong girl standing up to the Japanese occupying her village. It was adapted in a 1944 film starring Katherine Hepburn.
- Shanghai Girls starts out in this period. It is about wealthy sisters Pearl and May Chin who find out that their father lost all of their money and they are forced to move to America.
- Forgotten Ally / China's War with Japan by Rana Mitter, which revealed the KMT's huge role in fighting the Japanese (which has been often overlooked by WW2 historians), evaluates Nationalist China's role in WW2 as an Allied power, explores the decisions Chiang had to make and sheds new light on how the Nationalists operated as a government. Notably, it points out Sino-Indian relations, the role of secret police in the KMT/Communist/Reorganized regimes and gives a somewhat more sympathetic look at Chiang while not ignoring his own flaws.
- The Zombie Survival Guide reports an incident in 1945, where a special branch of Unit 731, named Black Dragon, attempted to unleash zombies on the Chinese army, inspired by a medical book found during the occupation of the Dutch East Indies. A platoon of 40 zombies was trained by 1942, but 10 instructors were turned into zombies by accident. After two years of useless research, the Unit decided to release the zombies anyway. 10 were blown up by British anti-aircraft fire in an attempt to parachute them into Burma, another 10 in a submarine heading to the Panama Canal were sunk, 20 in a submarine heading to the West Coast were destroyed when the boat was scuttled and the remaining zombies were parachuted into Yan'an, where Chinese Communist snipers killed nine. The final zombie was restrained and taken to Mao's headquarters for study.
- Wild Swans has several chapters on Jung's mother's life in occupied Manchuria, plus her experiences when it was occupied in 1945 by the Soviets, then the Communists and finally the Kuomintang until the civil war.
- The Hearts of Iron series regularly features both Nationalist China and the PRC fighting against Japan. Both are weak at the start, but can become extremely powerful through good research and modernizing their armies. In IV, both countries and the warlord cliques get their own expansion in the Waking the Tiger DLC, with new focus trees and unique infantry sprites.
- Company of Heroes features the war in a popular mod named Far East War that overhauls the entire game. The two factions are now the NRA and the IJA and maps of Chinese battlefields are available.