Chapter 17: World War II

The Beginning of WWII

In the spring of 1937 there was a calm period while the Guomindang and the CCP worked on propaganda initiatives. In May 1937 the American ambassador in Nanjing expressed his concern that anti-Japanese agendas/beliefs had now become, “a part of the Chinese racial consciousness” (397). The divide was growing. When Japan’s commanding general in China had a heart attack, he was replaced, and at that time the Chinese troops near the Marco Polo Bridge decided to stregthen some of their shore line defenses on the Yongding River. This bridge was really important strategically speaking, due to the important railway that had been built next to it. On July 7th 1937, The Japanese made the bridge a base for a night maneuver. The Japanese fired blanks into the sky, and the Chinese fired into the Japanese assembly area, without causing casualties. However, when the Japanese thought they were missing a soldier, they ordered an attack on Wanping. This can be considered the first battle of WWII. Prince Konoe claimed that, “The incident was ‘entirely the result of an anti-Japanese military action on the part of China” (399) and insisted that they apologize. Chiang did not stand for this. On July 27th the Japanese troops seized the Marco Polo Bridge, and soon they would consolidate their power over the entire Tianjin-Peking region. On August 14th, Chiang ordered his air force to bomb the Japanese warships. However, they had lost the element of surprise, as well as having missed their target, instead hitting the city of Shanghai killing hundreds of civilians. An important note to keep in mind, during all of this war had not yet been declared. The Chinese had suffered 250,000 casualties and the Japanese had suffered about 40,000. The Japanese broke through the Chinese lines and on November 11th, forced the Chinese to retreat west.

The Rape of Nanjing

This was truly horrendous period in Nanjing. For almost seven weeks Japanese troops, who entered the city on December 13th, terrorized defeated Chinese troops and Chinese civilians with unparalleled violence and cruelty, which would come to be known as the “Rape of Nanjing”. According to Spence, “The number of women who were raped, many of whom died after repeated assaults, were estimated by foreign observers living in Nanjing at 20,000; the fugitive soldiers killed were estimated at 30,000; murdered civilians at 12,000” (401). The point he makes following these horrific numbers was that the war was still undeclared even at this point, with no clear goal or purpose of the war. Spence explains that it must, “rank among the worst in the history of modern warfare”(401).

The Loss of East China

The Japanese advanced further west to the ancient capital of Kaifeng, which won them control of the railroad leading south to Wuhan. By late 1938 the Japanese had the planes, tanks, and artillery needed for a final assault of Wuhan and in October, Wuhan was in ruins.

China Divided 

By 1938, what made up the Qing was fragmented into 10 separate major units. The fall of Wuhan marked the end of Japan’s first assault on China. Japan’s goal was to acquire natural resources from China that could help their industrial growth. They wanted to develop puppet regimes and provide puppet troops, in hopes that they could fragment China’s economy and undermine what was left of their financial stability. The Japanese went on to establish a central China development company. Taiwan became the fifth of these regimes, supplying Japan with industrial products. Chinese families were left with the decision to stay in East China or take their chances with packing up.

Chongqing and Yan’an

Communists in Yan’an and nationalists in Chongqing faced similar problems including, “how to protect their domains from further Japanese assaults, how to establish some form of viable governmental structure, and how to strengthen the loyalty of those living in the areas they rules”(407). They wanted to build support through guerrilla forces inside Japanese dominated areas. They eventually made an agreement in late 1937, after the attack on Shanghai, and the Red army would constitute as the eighth route army under nationalist command. They had three principles of the people, nationalism, democracy, and socialism. The new fourth army incident occurred in 1941, they were ambushed by the nationalist forced, and around 3000 communist troops were killed.

World War II Continues

The war breaking out in Europe strengthened Japan’s power in China. The bombing of Pearl harbor was greeted with relief by the Chongqing because it meant the full involvement of the United States, and would put China on the allied side of the war.

The End of the war 

Japan had a lot of military pressure on them from the United States rather than China. American and communist forces got to know each other well. The war officially ended when Germany had surrendered in 1945. Japan was much weaker due to conflict with the United states and the use of the atomic bomb. China recognized that there would be a large shift in the Asia, but that they weren’t quite prepared for the next step.

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