Japanese in Manchuria

In July 1937, Japanese forces, already in possession of Manchuria (which it had renamed Manchukuo), launched a full-scale invasion of the Republic of China Chiang Kai-shek’s forces collapsed under the pressure of the Japanese invasion. The war that ensued is referred to by historians as the The Second Sino-Japanese War.

According to the Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations: “Increasing Japanese pressure against northern China led, in July 1937, to the second Sino-Japanese war, which continued into World War II and saw Japanese forces occupy most of China's major economic areas. Nationalist China, established in the south-western hinterland with its capital at Chongqing, resisted with US and UK aid, while the Communists fought the Japanese in the northwest. Japan evacuated China in 1945 and both Communist and Nationalist forces moved into liberated areas. The rift between the two factions erupted into civil war. Although supported by the United States, whose mediation efforts had failed, the Nationalists steadily lost ground through 1948 and 1949, were expelled from the mainland by early 1950, and took refuge on Taiwan. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

The Second Sino-Japanese War lasted from 1937 to 1945 but was preceded by a series of incidents between the Japan and China. The first phase of the Chinese occupation began when Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931. The second phase began in 1937 with the invasion of China by the Imperial Japanese Army and major attacks on Beijing, Shanghai and Nanking. The conflict became part of World War II, which is also known in China as the War of Resistance Against Japan. The First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) is known as the Jiawu War in China. It lasted less than a year.

The Japanese began their eight-year undeclared war with China in 1937 when China was weak and torn apart by rivalry between warlords. The excuse for the incursion was the so-called Marco Polo Bridge Incident on July 7, 1937, when Japan seized Beijing after Chinese nationalist troops under Chiang Kai-shek opened fire on some Japanese troops who had illegally taken over a railway station outside Beijing (then renamed Beiping) near the Marco Polo Bridge.

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “ By December 1937, Japanese forces had already inflicted significant defeats on the hapless Nationalist army, and by 1938, Japan controlled the eastern half of China, and Chiang’s Nationalist government and armies retreated to the less-developed western provinces, establishing a wartime capital in the city of Chongqing in Sichuan province. Japanese officials justified their actions in China by presenting Japan as the only force able to drive Western imperialism and Russian Communism out of East Asia, restore China’s territorial integrity and social stability, and bring about a new era of mutual peace, cooperation, and development among the countries of East Asia. Prince Fumimaro Konoe (or Konoye, 1891-1945) had made such arguments in his statements of December 22, 1938.[Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

left Good Websites and Sources on China during the World War II Period: Wikipedia article on Second Sino-Japanese War Wikipedia ; Nanking Incident (Rape of Nanking) : Nanjing Massacre ; Wikipedia Nanking Massacre article Wikipedia Nanjing Memorial Hall ; CHINA AND WORLD WAR II ; Good Websites and Sources on World War II and China : ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; U.S. Army Account; Burma Road book ; Burma Road Video


Generalissimo Chiang Assails Prince Konoe's Statement

Chiang Kai-shek

In response to Prince Konoe's Statement, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s said at a meeting of December 28, 1938: “On December 14 Konoye also said: “The ultimate objective of the China Incident lies not merely in achieving military triumph but in a rebirth of China and the erection of a new order in East Asia. …“ Let all observe that what he meant by a reborn China was that independent China was to perish and in its place an enslaved China created, which would abide by Japan’s word from generation to generation. [Source: “The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection,” edited by Pei-kai Cheng and Michael Lestz, with Jonathan D. Spence (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1999), 319-324; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

“Japanese periodicals have maintained that the structural relationship of the “East Asian unity” should be vertical with Japan at the summit, and not in any sense horizontal; the system of relationship should be patriarchal, with Japan as patriarch and governor and Manchukuo and China as offspring. … What is it if it is not the total extinction of China? On our part, the war for a year and a half has laid us a solid foundation for national regeneration. We fear no problems, nor are we concerned over impending dangers. We merely lament the fate of Japan.

“Today, her people are powerless, her throne without prerogative and her politicians without integrity and knowledge, thus allowing a few hot.headed young militarists to do as they please. …China as a state is founded on the principle of not oppressing the undefended, not fearing the aggressive. More particularly, she is not willing to violate pacts or to break faith and thus destroy the righteous principles governing the relations of mankind.”

Japanese Ambassador Justifies Japan’s Invasion of China

Hiroshi Saito

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “The task of justifying what, to much of the world, appeared as naked aggression fell to Japanese politicians and diplomats. Hiroshi Saito, Japanese ambassador to the United States, delivered the following explanation, which was reprinted in the journal World Affairs in December 1937. Here, he expresses the Japanese government’s point of view. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

Japanese Ambassador Hiroshi Saito wrote: “The conflict in the Far East is by no means as simple in origin as some Europeans and Americans seem to think. The trouble did not begin last July. It is a result of the condition of China, which has caused the invasion of foreign armies for more than a century, and is the reason for the presence there today of British, French, Italian, Dutch, and American troops. If China’s house were in order there would be no need for the presence of these foreign forces of Japan’s present action. [Source: “The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection,” edited by Pei-kai Cheng and Michael Lestz, with Jonathan D. Spence (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1999), 3-7; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

“It is difficult for many Japanese people to understand how so many people of the West can fail to see that the trouble is not of foreign but of Chinese making.The present conflict has been forced upon Japan, and Japan wants it to end as quickly as possible. But she is determined to end it in a way so decisive that a situation like the present can never recur. Our objective, therefore, is a genuine change of heart on the part of those in power at Nanjing. We insist that the organized campaign to stir up hate against Japan be discontinued and that the Central Government renounce the union with Communism [i.e. the “Second United Front” which united the Communist and Nationalist parties in the struggle against Japan]. Prince Konoye, Foreign Minister Hirota and War Minister Sugiyama have all stated that Japan is not bent on conquest and has no desire to detach or annex any part of China. What our government and people want is peace and security in the Far East.”

Major Events of the Japanese Occupation of China

Marshall Oyama of the Japanese infantry

The first phase of the Chinese occupation began when Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931. From 1933 onward Japan followed up its conquest of Manchuria by extending it influence into bear in Inner Mongolia and in North China. Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”: She succeeded first, by means of an immense system of smuggling, currency manipulation, and propaganda, in bringing a number of Mongol princes over to her side, and then (at the end of 1935) in establishing a semi-dependent government in North China. Chiang Kai-shek took no action. It was not long before the Japanese were marching southward.[Source: “A History of China” by Wolfram Eberhard, 1951, University of California, Berkeley]

The second phase began in 1937 when the Japanese launched major attacks on Beijing, Shanghai and Nanking. The Chinese resistance stiffened after July 7, 1937, when a clash occurred between Chinese and Japanese troops outside Beijing (then renamed Beiping) near the Marco Polo Bridge. This skirmish not only marked the beginning of open, though undeclared, war between China and Japan but also hastened the formal announcement of the second Kuomintang-CCP united front against Japan. By the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 they were firmly entrenched in China, occupying much of the eastern part of the country.

The Second Sino-Japanese War lasted from 1937 to 1945 and was preceded by a series of incidents between the Japan and China. The Mukden Incident of September 1931—in which Japanese railroad tracks in Manchuria were allegedly bombed by Japanese nationalists in order to hasten war with China—marked the formation of Manchukuo, a puppet state that fell under Japanese administrative control. Chinese authorities appealed to the League of Nations (a precursor to the United Nations) for assistance, but did not receive a response for more than a year. When the League of Nations did eventually challenge Japan over the invasion, the Japanese simply left the League and continued with its war effort in China. [Source: Women Under Seige ]

In 1932, in what is known as the January 28th Incident, a Shanghai mob attacked five Japanese Buddhist monks, leaving one dead. In response, the Japanese bombed the city and killed tens of thousands, despite Shanghai authorities agreeing to apologize, arrest the perpetrators, dissolve all anti-Japanese organizations, pay compensation, and end anti-Japanese agitation or face military action. Then, in 1937, the Marco Polo Bridge Incident gave the Japanese forces the justification they needed to launch a full-scale invasion of China. A Japanese regiment was conducting a night maneuver exercise in the Chinese city of Tientsin, shots were fired, and a Japanese soldier was allegedly killed.

The Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) began with the invasion of China by the Imperial Japanese Army. The conflict became part of World War II, which is also known in China as the War of Resistance Against Japan. The First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) is known as the Jiawu War in China. It lasted less than a year.

The July 7, 1937, Marco Polo Bridge incident, a skirmish between Japanese Imperial Army forces and China’s Nationalist Army along a rail line southwest of Beijing, is considered the official start of the full-scale conflict, which is known in China as the War of Resistance Against Japan although Japan invaded Manchuria six years earlier. The Marco Polo Bridge incident is also known in Chinese as the “77 incident” for its date on the seventh day of the seventh month of the year. [Source: Austin Ramzy, Sinosphere blog, New York Times, July 7, 2014]

Impact of the Japanese Occupation on China

fighting in Manchuria

Gordon G. Chang wrote in the New York Times: “Between 14 million and 20 million Chinese died in the “war of resistance to the end” against Japan last century. Another 80 million to 100 million became refugees. The conflict destroyed China’s great cities, devastated its countryside, ravaged the economy and ended all hopes for a modern, pluralistic society. “The narrative of the war is the story of a people in torment,” Rana Mitter, a professor of Chinese history at Oxford University, writes in his superb work, “Forgotten Ally.” [Source: Gordon G. Chang, New York Times, September 6, 2013. Chang is the author of “The Coming Collapse of China” and a contributor at]

Few Chinese had any illusions about Japanese designs on China. Hungry for raw materials and pressed by a growing population, Japan initiated the seizure of Manchuria in September 1931 and established ex-Qing emperor Puyi as head of the puppet regime of Manchukuo in 1932. The loss of Manchuria, and its vast potential for industrial development and war industries, was a blow to the Nationalist economy. The League of Nations, established at the end of World War I, was unable to act in the face of the Japanese defiance. The Japanese began to push from south of the Great Wall into northern China and into the coastal provinces. [Source: The Library of Congress *]

Chinese fury against Japan was predictable, but anger was also directed against the Kuomintang government, which at the time was more preoccupied with anti-Communist extermination campaigns than with resisting the Japanese invaders. The importance of "internal unity before external danger" was forcefully brought home in December 1936, when Nationalist troops (who had been ousted from Manchuria by the Japanese) mutinied at Xi'an. The mutineers forcibly detained Chiang Kai-shek for several days until he agreed to cease hostilities against the Communist forces in northwest China and to assign Communist units combat duties in designated anti-Japanese front areas. *

John Pomfret wrote in the Washington Post, “The only ones really interested in saving China were China’s communists, captained by Mao Zedong, who even flirted with the idea of maintaining an equal distance between Washington and Moscow. But America, blind to Mao’s patriotism and obsessed with its fight against the Reds, backed the wrong horse and pushed Mao away. The inevitable result? The emergence of an anti-American communist regime in China. [Source: John Pomfret, Washington Post, November 15, 2013 -]

Marco Polo Bridge Incident

Japanese fighting in 1937 after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident

The Japanese invasion of China was justified by the so-called Marco Polo Bridge Incident on July 7, 1937, when Japan seized Beijing after Chinese nationalist troops under Chiang Kai-shek opened fire on some Japanese troops who had illegally taken over a railway station south of Beijing. Chinese general Fang Zhenwu, "the man who shot the first bullet against the Japanese," is regarded today as a great Chinese hero. The skirmish between Japanese Imperial Army forces and China’s Nationalist Army along a rail line southwest of Beijing, is considered the official start of the full-scale conflict, which is known in China as the War of Resistance Against Japan. although Japan invaded Manchuria six years earlier. The Marco Polo Bridge incident is also known in Chinese as the “77 incident” for its date on the seventh day of the seventh month of the year. [Source: Austin Ramzy, Sinosphere blog, New York Times, July 7, 2014]

Marco Polo Bridge Incident gave the Japanese forces the justification they needed to launch a full-scale invasion of China. A Japanese regiment was conducting a night maneuver exercise in the Chinese city of Tientsin, shots were fired, and a Japanese soldier was allegedly killed.

After the Marco Polo incident as armistice was briefly established by the Japanese government which then yielded to pressure from the military and sent in more troops and expanded the front. Chinese resistance was more than the Japanese anticipated. Also on July 7, the Japanese 1st Division, stationed in northern China, demanded to enter the city of Wanping, purportedly to search for a missing Japanese soldiers. Chinese officials refused and the Japanese shelled the city into submission.

The Chinese resistance stiffened after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. The skirmish not only marked the beginning of open, though undeclared, war between China and Japan but also hastened the formal announcement of the second Kuomintang-CCP united front against Japan. By the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 they were firmly entrenched in China, occupying much of the eastern part of the country.

Japanese Advances Southward After the Marco Polo Bridge Incident

After the Marco Polo incident, Chiang Kai-shek, then leader of the Military Affairs Commission of the Nationalist government, said “China hopes for peace, but not to live in cowardice; we are prepared for war, but do not seek war; once the war breaks out, there will be no distinction made between north and south or old and young; all will take responsibility for defending the land, and all should resolve to make complete sacrifices.” After that Japanese troops began attacking China’s 29th Battalion in northeast China. Chiang said China “has reached a critical point between survival and decimation. The entire nation is ready to confront the war.” On July 13, the war began in Songhi. After three months, China’s best troops suffered horrific loses and Shanghai was lost but China did manage to defeat Japan’s boastful claim of “conquering China on three months. In mid-November the government moved to Chongqing. In mid-December, Japanese troops entered Nanjing. [Source: Taiwan Cultural History, Vol. 2, Sanmin]

Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”: The Japanese government profited by a quite unimportant incident, undoubtedly provoked by the Japanese, in order to extend its dominion a little further. China still hesitated; there were negotiations. Japan brought up reinforcements and put forward demands which China could not be expected to be ready to fulfill. Japan then occupied Beijing and Tientsin and wide regions between them and south of them. The Chinese soldiers stationed there withdrew almost without striking a blow, but formed up again and began to offer resistance. In order to facilitate the planned occupation of North China, including the province of Shandong, Japan decided on a diversionary campaign against Shanghai. The Nanking government sent its best troops to the new front, and held it for nearly three months against superior forces; but meanwhile the Japanese steadily advanced in North China. On November 9th Nanking fell into their hands. By the beginning of January 1938, the province of Shandong had also been conquered. [Source: “A History of China” by Wolfram Eberhard, 1951, University of California, Berkeley]

The Japanese easily defeated the Chinese Nationalist Army in Shanghai. Describing the Battle for Shanghai, the Washington Post reported: "Fresh regiments of veteran Japanese regular army troops smashed China's defense line on the northern edge of the Yangtzepoo area of the International Settlement...Nipponese infantrymen fought with their bayonet behind a curtain of artillery shells and aerial bombs. There were continuous explosions of large-caliber artillery shells as Chinese and Japanese batteries engaged in a deafening duel.”

After the invasion of Shanghai Japanese troops conquered city after city. In November 1937, Shanghai was captured; the infamous Rape of Nanking took place in December 1937; and Canton was captured in 1938. Beijing, Tsinan and Wuhan also fell. The the U.S. gunship Panay and three Standard Oil tankers were sunk by Japanese bombs on the Yangtze River.

Japan's Gains During the Beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War

Chinese soldiers leaving Wanping After Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937

The Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45) ensued, and relations with the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union deteriorated. The increased military activities in China--and the Japanese idea of establishing "Mengukuo" in Inner Mongolia and the Mongolian People's Republic--soon led to a major clash over rival Mongolia-Manchukuo border claims. When Japanese troops invaded eastern Mongolia, a ground and air battle with a joint Soviet- Mongolian army took place between May and September 1939 at the Battle of Halhin Gol. The Japanese were severely defeated, sustaining as many as 80,000 casualties. Japanese troops were slaughtered in a Mongolian Desert called Nomonhan by Soviet tanks because the military leaders though they were assured of victory because they had been given a blessing by the Emperor. After that Japan concentrated its war efforts on its southward drive in China and Southeast Asia, a strategy that helped propel Japan ever closer to war with the United States and Britain and their allies.

Japanese General Hideki Tojo, the most well-known Japanese war criminal from World War II, lead attacks in Char Province on Inner Mongolia, urging men to repeatedly charge and attack. There were reports of atrocities and mass executions of Chinese there.

By 1939, most of coastal China was occupied by the Japanese. A year later more than 1.5 million Japanese troops were stationed in China, costing Japan more than $4 million a day. The Japanese occupied most of eastern China for eight years. The Kuomintang and the Communists were holed up in western China, where they were supplied towards the end of World War II by American and British weapons brought in on the Burma Road.

Chen Hui, a Chinese man who participated in the resistance movement against the Japanese in northern China, wrote poems that were surprisingly sympathetic to the enemy. One entitled "A Japanese Soldier" goes:

20080218-Agnes Smedley arches war oprhans in the 1930s.jpg
War orphans

"A Japanese soldier, took his last breath on the plains of Jinchaji.
His eye sockets congealed with dark red blood,
and his overflowing tears turned to ice, freezing his sadness. ...
Two farmers carrying hoes came across the soldier and buried him on a hill in the north. ...
The Chinese snow soundlessly fell on his last resting place..
On this lonesome night,in his poor home village far across the seas,
an old woman with a hunched back and long speckled gray hair
must be praying wholeheartedly for the safety of her son on a distant battlefield ... ."

(taken from "Seisen Chugoku Gendai Shishu," a collection of modern Chinese poetry edited and translated by Kukio Akiyoshi of Kyushu University)

Mobilizing Movies and the Media After the 1937 Japanese Invasion of China

In a review of the book “Fiery Cinema”, Jean Ma wrote: With the invasion of Shanghai by the Japanese in 1937 and the relocation of the Nationalist government to Chongqing came a reorientation of cinema toward national defense and the explicit aim of propaganda. Yet the turn to propaganda marks not a rupture from an earlier era of entertainment, but rather a continuation in a new key of the media aesthetics and spectatorial modes of prewar cinema. Thus in the post-1937 cinema of agitation, the earlier dispositifs of resonance and transparency return with a charged significance. [Source: Reviewed by Jean Ma, Stanford University, Jean Ma, MCLC Resource Center Publication, February, 2016; Book: “Fiery Cinema: The Emergence of an Affective Medium in China, 1915-1945" by Weihong Bao (University of Minnesota Press, 2015)]

The Marco Polo Bridge Incident in July 1937 marked the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War. As the event reverberated through Chinese media — relayed in news reportage and newsreels, mediated in poetry and spoken drama — it “initiated a national experience of the intensity of now” and launched the “singular time” of the War of Resistance. The westward migration through the hinterlands to Chongqing entailed a massive diffusion of these networks through space, penetrating regions beyond the urban center of Shanghai and reaching the rural masses. The geographic relocation of the center of power and cultural production contributed to the synchronization of the country within a singular time of emergency. Yet it also raised questions of how to reach new audiences composed of diverse demographics and identities, thus provoking reconsiderations of film and its aesthetics. In this context, wireless technology emerged as a master metaphor — for a radiating media network that aspired to instantaneity and coverage, also for the power of propaganda as a crucial instrument in a “war of nerves” waged both on land and in the ether. Along these lines, cinema too was reconceived as a “mobile art leaping in the air,” refitted as such by means of mobile projection units and multimedia formats of exhibition.

“Wartime Chongqing cinema responded to “the urgency of functionalizing art for immediate mass action,” and its politicality was inflected by the complex history of propaganda in China. Propaganda was tightly interwoven with longstanding trajectories of education and commercial publicity. Furthermore, the deployment of propaganda in the wartime era relied on the theoretical models formulated in earlier decades of spectatorship. As Bao points out, 20,000 bombs were dropped by enemy planes on Chongqing between 1938 and 1943; in this war of nerves, the cinema of agitation “provided the counterpart of such bombing in reconstructing space and time through a radical reorientation of mass media.” Fire assumes a new set of meanings as a metonymy of destructive violence. But in films like “Baptism by Fire”, “Paradise on Orphan Island”, and “Princess Iron Fan” (the first feature-length Chinese animation), the motif of fires assumes an even broader range of connotations: the furnaces of industry and reconstruction, the energy of the crowd, the spreading of information, the plasticity of the animated image.

1938 Yellow River Flood

In a tactic intended to halt the southward movement of Japanese soldiers from Manchuria before World War II, Chiang Kai-shek ordered his soldiers to breach the levees of the Yellow River and purposely divert its flow. At least 200,000, maybe millions, died, millions more were made homeless and the Japanese advanced anyway. The resulting 1938 Yellow River flood was a flood created by the Nationalist Government in central China during the early stage of the Second Sino-Japanese War in an attempt to halt the rapid advance of the Japanese forces. It has been called the "largest act of environmental warfare in history." [Source: Wikipedia +]

Following the onset of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army marched rapidly into the heart of Chinese territory. By June 1938, the Japanese had control of all of North China. On June 6, they captured Kaifeng, the capital of Henan, and threatened to take over Zhengzhou, the junction of the arterial Pinghan and Longhai Railways, and Japanese success would have directly endangered the major cities of Wuhan and Xi'an. +

To stop further Japanese advances into the western and southern part China, Chiang Kai-shek, at the suggestion of Chen Guofu, determined to open up the dikes on the Yellow River near Zhengzhou. The original plan was to destroy the dike at Zhaokou, but due to difficulties at that location the dike was destroyed on June 5 and June 7 at Huayuankou, on the south bank. Waters flooded into Henan, Anhui, and Jiangsu. The floods covered and destroyed thousands of square kilometers of farmland and shifted the mouth of the Yellow River hundreds of miles to the south. Thousands of villages were inundated or destroyed and several million villagers driven from their homes and made refugees. An official Nationalist post-war commission estimated that 800,000 were drowned, which may be an underestimate. +

20111106-Wiki C -Flood 1938_June_Yellow_River.gif
Intentional flooding of the Yellow River by the Kuomintang in 1938

Chiang’s soldiers first tried to blow up the dikes, but they were too sturdy. The troops had breach them by hand with shovels. The strategic value of the flood has been questioned. Japanese troops were out of its range, either to the north and east or to the south. Their advance on Zhengzhou was halted, but they took Wuhan in October by attacking from a different direction. The Japanese did not occupy much of Henan until late in the war and their hold on Anhui and Jiangsu remained tenuous. Most of the towns and transport lines in the areas which were flooded had already been captured by the Japanese; after the flood they could not consolidate their control over the area, and large parts of it became guerrilla areas. +

The number of casualties in the flood remains disputed and estimates have been revised by the Chinese government and other researchers in the decades after the event. There is no way of accurately assessing the casualties: much of the population, including officials had already fled, leaving no government control and no one to count the dead. In the shifting battles between bandits, Nationalists, Communists, and Japanese, counting casualties was not a high priority. The government, after initially claiming that the breach was caused by Japanese bombing, used the heavy casualties to demonstrate the scale of sacrifice required of the Chinese people. They claimed that 12 million people had been affected by the flood, and in 1948 it estimated the number of deaths at 800,000. A 1994 PRC's official history of the war put the dead in the flood at 900,000 and the refugees at nearly 10 million. Scholars exploring the archives now give much lower figures: 400,000–500,000 dead, 3 million refugees, and 5 million people affected (another estimate puts the number of dead at 500,000, and the number of homeless at 500,000). +

Besides the massive death toll, the flooded areas were affected for years to come. The flooded countryside was more or less abandoned and all the crops destroyed. Upon the recession of the waters much of the ground was uncultivable as much of the soil was covered in silt. Many of the public structures and housing were also destroyed, leaving any survivors destitute. The irrigation channels were also ruined, further adding to the ecological toll on the farmlands. +

The destruction also had an adverse effect on the Chinese population. Unable to fully decide which group deserved more blame for the catastrophe, the Chinese Government or the invading Japanese, many survivors blamed both sides. The flooded areas became fertile recruiting grounds for the Chinese Communists, using their anger towards a shared enemy to bring them into their ranks. By the 1940s they had evolved into a major guerrilla base known as the Yuwansu Base Area. The breach in the dam became such a major rallying point for the Communists that they actually tried to halt an attempt by the Chinese Government, with the assistance of the UN, to seal the breach. Their armed resistance ultimately failed and the dikes were rebuilt in 1946 and 1947 and Yellow River returned to its pre-1938 course. The point was nevertheless made, the breach had in the end given the Communists a huge boost in the North. +

Chinese Flee to Southern China

Many Chinese fled southward to Yunnan and Sichuan (where the Kuomintang had their wartime capital in Chongqing). Air raids were launched on Chongqing in May 1939. Altogether 218 air raids were conducted on the city over the next several years, leaving the city in ruins and killing around 20,000 people, including people that sought refuge in tunnels and suffocated to death there. The most deadly panic ever occurred in Chongqing in June 1941, when 700 people suffocated in an underground tunnel in a Japanese air raid. Recalling how he survived during the war one Chinese man told Time, "I would scavenge for food and elude the soldiers by running up into the hills and hiding."

Describing Chongqing in 1939, Edgar Snow wrote: "Acres of buildings had been destroyed in barbaric raids of May and June. The Japanese preferred moonlit nights for their calls, when from their base in Hankow they could follow the silver banner of the Yangtze up to its confluence with the Jialing, which identified the capital in a way no blackout could obscure. The city had no defending air force and only a few anti-aircraft guns...Spacious public shelters were being dug, but it was estimated that a third of the population still had no protection. Government officials given advanced warning, sped outside the city in their motor cars---cabinet ministers first, then vice-ministers, then minor bureaucrats. the populace soon caught on; when they saw a string of official cars racing off to the west, they dropped everything and ran. A mad scramble of rickshaws, carts, animals and humanity blew up the main streets like a great wind, carrying all before it."

Chongqing (Chungking) ws the most important commercial and financial centre of the interior of China after Wuhan, which itself was threatened by the Japanese fleet. Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”: By means of a number of landings the Japanese soon conquered the whole coast of China, so cutting off all supplies to the country; against hard fighting in some places they pushed inland along the railways and conquered the whole eastern half of China, the richest and most highly developed part of the country. Chiang Kai-shek had the support only of the agriculturally rich province of Sichuan, and of the scarcely developed provinces surrounding it. Here there was as yet no industry. Everything in the way of machinery and supplies that could be transported from the hastily dismantled factories was carried westward. Students and professors went west with all the contents of their universities, and worked on in small villages under very difficult conditions—one of the most memorable achievements of this war for China. But all this was by no means enough for waging a defensive war against Japan. Even the famous Burma Road could not save China.

"China Cannot Be Conquered”: 1939 Speech by Chiang Kai-shek

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Chiang Kai-shek inherited, among other things, the role of defining and strengthening Chinese nationalism, a force that he hoped to use to unify the Chinese people behind him and his government. The speech below on national unity was delivered by Chiang in January 1939 when China was in a full.scale war with Japan. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

In his “China Cannot Be Conquered” speech, Chiang Kai-shek said: “We are fighting this war [against the Japanese] for our own national existence and for freedom to follow the course of national revolution laid down for us in the Three Principles of the People. … You [high.level Kuomintang officials] should instruct our people to take lessons from the annals of the Song and Ming dynasties. [Source: "China Cannot Be Conquered" (Speech, 1939) by Chiang Kai-shek from “Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook”, edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, 2nd ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 401-406; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

The fall of these two dynasties [to the Mongols and the Manchus, both non-Chinese] was not caused by outside enemies with a superior force, but by a dispirited and cowardly minority within the governing class and society of the time. Today the morale of our people is excellent. … Our resistance is a united effort of government and people. … Concord between government and people is the first essential to victory. “The hearts of our people are absolutely united.”

Did Mao Zedong's Collude with the Japanese Army

In 2016, the Japanese scholar Dr. Homare Endo of the University of Tsukuba claimed that Mao colluded with the Japanese army during the War of Resistance and sold them information that would hurt the Kuomintang (KMT) --- his Nationalist Army rivals. “The Chinese version of the new book "The Truth about Mao Zedong's Collusion with the Japanese Army" says Mao Zedong sold the Kuomintang military intelligence obtained from the cooperation between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party to Japan in order to weaken the power of the Kuomintang army during the War of Resistance. Mao used the War of Resistance to strengthen the Chinese Communist Party and pave the way for the future defeat of the Kuomintang army. Dr. Endo believes that it was Mao Zedong’s personal actions and decisions that were then carried out by a very small number of spies. This behavior was not a collective decision of the CCP at the time. In fact, other senior CCP officials did not know about it. [Source: MCLC Resource Center /

Dr. Endo is not regarded as a completely reliable source. She has connections with right-wing and nationalist groups in Japan. In a paper entitled “Mao Zedong, Founding Father of the People’s Republic of China, Conspired with the Japanese Army”, she wrote: “During the Sino-Japanese War, Mao Zedong concentrated his efforts on conspiring with the Japanese army to weaken the KMT forces. He planted communist spies such as Pan Hannian in the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s local agency Maison Iwai and sold KMT military intelligence obtained from the National Government in Chongqing through the KMT-CPC Cooperation to the Japanese at a high price, creating an environment in which it was easy for the Japanese military to deal blows to the KMT forces. “And that is not all. Mao Zedong sent Communist spies to make direct contact with the Japanese army, even going as far as to propose a truce between the CPC forces and the Japanese army. [Source: Homare Endo, Director, Center of International Relations, Tokyo University of Social Welfare, Professor Emeritus, University of Tsukuba, Discuss Japan May 17, 2016, translated from an original article in Japanese written for Discuss Japan. April 10, 2016]

“A correlation diagram shows the names of leading communist spies acting on the secret orders of Mao Zedong and the command structure, and the right side shows the names of Japanese organizations and individuals who were in contact with the Communist spies. To reiterate, the purpose of making contact was to sell military intelligence of the Chongqing National Government led by Chiang Kai-shek to the Japan side at a high price, to weaken the KTM forces under Chiang Kai-shek, making it easy for Mao Zedong to take power when the Sino-Japanese War ended. There is evidence that Mao Zedong maneuvered to ensure that the Sino-Japanese War dragged on to enable the CPC forces, which were so weak they bore no comparison to the KTM forces, to grow stronger, and there is even evidence that Mao Zedong proposed a partial truce between the Japanese Army and the CPC forces.

In 1939, Mao Zedong planted a Communist spy called Pan Hannian in Maison Iwai, a local agency of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Shanghai to get close to Iwai Eiichi (then Vice Consul in Shanghai). Pan Hannian was a professional spy from the CPC Central Intelligence Group’s Secret Service (Spy) Division. He had received training at Comintern headquarters in Moscow. The spy of the century Yuan Shu, known as the “five spy,” had penetrated Maison Iwai as a Communist spy earlier on. Pan Hannian asked Yuan Shu for a meeting with Iwai Eiichi. He subsequently continued providing military intelligence about the KMT forces to the Japanese. In return, Pan Hannian received a large fee for providing intelligence from Iwai. The amount received each month was equivalent to five times a policeman’s annual salary at the time (2000 Hong Kong Yuan). Iwai Eiichi paid Pan Hannian from secret funds of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Jews in Occupied China

The Japanese were not all beasts. Shanghai under the Japanese was one of the few places in the world that accepted Jewish refugees from Europe. Thousands of Jews arrived in Japanese-occupied Shanghai in the late 1930s and early 1940s from Europe because it was the only place that would accept them without passports or visas and unlike other places there were no restrictions on the numbers of Jews allowed in the country.

Japanese rulers in Shanghai accepted 25,000 Jewish refugees, more than Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India combined. The Japanese Foreign Minister told a group of Jewish businessmen in December 1940: "I am the man responsible for the alliance with Hitler, but nowhere have I promised that we would carry out his anti-Semitic policies in Japan."

Most of the Jewish refugees came from Austria, Poland and Russia. The Japanese "Schindler," Chiyune Sugihara, a consul in the Japanese Embassy in Lithuania issued thousands of exit visa for Jews, which allowed them to leave the country before the Nazi occupation. After his seal was taken he issued the visas by hand and continued doing so out of the window of the train that took him out of the country.

In 1943, partly to appease their Nazi allies, the Japanese rounded up 18,000 newly arrived Jews, mostly from Austria, Germany and Poland, and placed them in Hongkew (now Hongkou), a two-square-mile ghetto that had been badly damaged by bombing raids.

The Nazis proposed rounding up the Jews for a "final solution." One suggestion was to sponsor a big Rosh Hashana party on some barges and then send the celebrators to concentration camps on Tsungming Island (later canisters of gas were found on the island that contained the same chemicals used to kill Jews in Europe). Why the Japanese refused to go along with the plan is unknown? Some have suggested that it was because Jewish businesses had lent them money during the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War.

The Jews in Shanghai suffered terribly. They did menial jobs and relied on charity to survive. Baths, fresh food and hot water were luxuries. They ate old bananas and cabbage soaked in chemicals to kill bacteria and washed their hair with kerosene to kill lice. Many died from starvation and diseases. Others busied themselves with clubs, dances and theater performances. Most survived the war.

Image Source: Nanjing History Wiz, Wiki Commons, History in Pictures

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2021

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