China's Wars: Rousing the Dragon 1894-1949

ISBN: 978 1 78200 407 3
Review Date:

In the 50-year period between 1894 and 1949, China was essentially in a continuous state of war. Qing Dynasty China faced foreign aggression from Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and Russia, while at the same time Taiping rebels and the republican revolutionaries threatened the country from within. After the establishment of the Republic of China, the new government had no reprieve from foreign demands while the nominal republic was actually ruled by a great many warlords who not only conducted each of their own foreign policy and built each of their own forces, but also regularly fought each other. In 1937, Japan and China engaged in a full scale war the destruction of which rivaled that of Russia during the first phases of the Russo-German War that began in 1941. While the rest of the world began to rebuild in 1945, China was plunged into yet another war, this time between the Nationalists and the Communists. Even when the Republic of China was forced to retreat to Taiwan, no peace was ever signed, and the Communist People's Republic of China continued to threaten Nationalist Republic of China with invasion. Today, tension between Communist mainland China and republican Taiwan continues to be high.

The 400-some page China's Wars by Philip Jowett provided a great overview of these five decades. While the book covered an extremely wide scope, and thus the depth suffered a bit necessarily, the author introduced each of the many conflicts in concise but yet sufficient detail, pausing every so often to discuss the training, equipment, and leadership of the military of each era and each faction. WW2DB visitors might find valuable insight in why Chiang Kaishek, who was obviously capable enough to nominally unite the warlords under his authority, would commit such dire failures as holding back his best troops in the war against Japan and replacing capable generals with more loyal but much less competent ones. The wide range of firearms used by the Chinese forces in the Second Sino-Japanese War (Czech, German, Japanese, Russian, and later American) and the resulting logistical nightmare was a good study for this military history enthusiast. While George Marshall was best remembered for his effective management of the US Army in WW2 and for his outstanding success in dealing with post-war Europe, this title reminded us of his naïveté in the China situation which prevented the Nationalists from dealing a serious blow to the Communists when the latter group was still weak. Each informative chapter was supported by excellent photographs, many of which I had not seen before. In terms of the names of Chinese people and places, I enjoyed the fact that the author was very consistent in the usage of Wade-Giles/Postal Map romanization. I caught some inconsistencies that at times even sharing the same page (Ichigo vs. Ichi-Go, KI43 vs. Ki-43, etc.), and that the author seemed to have failed to consult with a language expert to translate Chinese characters that appeared in photographs (in one instance the photograph showed a unit flag reading "infantry", but the caption insisted the photograph was of a cavalry unit), but such editorial problems did not detract from the generally great content of the book. Finally, the book was most handsome in look and feel, with glossy pages and a cleanly designed dust jacket.

I had enjoyed China's Wars very much, and felt that this title would be an excellent primer (plus a bit more) to a tumultuous era that many western readers might only have cursory knowledge about. I would recommend this title highly.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
6 Dec 2013 12:13:05 AM

Philip Jowett was born in Leeds in 1961, and has been interested in military history for as long as he can remember. His first Osprey book was the ground-breaking Men-at-Arms 306: Chinese Civil War Armies 1911-49; he has since published the three-part sequence The Italian Army 1940-45 (Men-at-Arms 340, 349 and 353). A rugby league enthusiast and amateur genealogist, he is married and lives in Lincolnshire.

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