China's World War II 1937-1945: Forgotten Ally
Contributor: Andrew Nguyen
Review Date: 13 May 2015
When most people think of the Allies of World War II, they usually think of the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union. China sometimes enters the conversation although more as a peripheral ally due to the inefficient capabilities that it brought to the conflict. However, China was the first to feel the weight of the aggression from the nations that would eventually make up the Axis, which in this case was Japan. Despite enduring immense suffering to the point at times of considering ceasing resistance against Japan, China pressed on with its war of resistance and eventually its efforts would contribute to the ultimate victory Allies. Furthermore the events that led up to the war as well as the war itself played a pivotal role in shaping China to this very day as well as that of its relations with the world.
As the 20th century dawned, China was amongst the countries in the world affected by the rampant scramble by the west for colonies all over the world. While nominally under the rule of the Qing Dynasty, China had undergone many decades of humiliation by the Western Powers with Japan following them decades after the West dragged Japan (at times kicking and screaming) out of its self-imposed isolation.
Not surprisingly, this created resentment amongst the population and rebellions wracked China during this period with anger against the leaders at the time as well as the nations that had footholds onto China. Into this story stepped three people who would play a pivotal role in China's future. History knows two of them as Chiang Kei Shiek and Mao Zedong. The third person, Wang Jingwei does not have much notoriety in the west but in both China and Taiwan, he is the standard-bearer China uses to define traitors as he collaborated with the hated Imperial Japan. Before the war would engulf the three, they also served in their own way under the legendary Chinese revolutionary figure Sun Yat-Sen with Wang being the most closest to Sun. Though born in different circumstances and taking different paths to different fates, these three and the organizations that they would lead would play their own respective roles as China navigated through the first half of the 20th century before enduring a war at the hands of its island neighbor Japan that would change it along with the world forever.
In addition to the hellish battles that China endured, it would also have to endure political intrigue amongst the three men and in the chase of Chiang and Wang, domestic discontent as the war inflicted immense hardship on the population, both at the front and in the rear areas. On the foreign policy front, all three leaders would have to deal with allies who often treated the Chinese leaders poorly with Chiang and the British and Americans (particularly in the form of Joseph Stilwell), Mao with the Soviet Union, and Wang with Japan. Despite having to deal with multiple domestic problems alongside the Japanese invasion, a situation could have broken another nation, Chiang's China, along with some assistance from Mao, preserved against all the odds to emerge as one of the victorious Allies powers of World War II.
Tragically, it would not be the end of China's troubles for the exertions of the Nationalist Chinese along with the widespread corruption in the government allowed Mao Zedong's Communist Chinese to gain the upper hand and eventually triumph in 1949 as Chiang and his followers fled to Taiwan. As for Wang, he would die from accumulated injuries in 1944, virtually condemned forever more by China as a traitor despite his earlier dedication to his homeland.
Fittingly, the book ends with an epilogue that detailed how both sides of the Chinese civil war interpreted the events of the war with the particular surprise being that of the People's Republic of China. At first, the communist Chinese focused completely on their own sacrifices to the point of ignoring most of the atrocities that Imperial Japan inflicted. It would not be until the economic reforms of the 1980s when the communist government began to acknowledge the efforts of the Chinese Nationalists in the war against Japan while also taking on the familiar tone of lecturing Japan about confronting Japan's dark past. Ironically, Japanese authors during the 1970s would be the first to bring Nanking back into the light. In making the changes to its economic model, the People's Republic of China began to fall more in line with the vision Chiang had than with that of Mao (despite the fact that no direct criticism of Mao and the communist party is allowed, which continues to this day). Finally, China has used the experience of the war to justify itself as a great power and as a former allied power of equal standing and contribution with the US, Britain, and Russia.
Despite the fact that some records about the war in China are probably still hidden from the public, this book is part of a recent wave of books that serve as an attempt to give China its fair share in the Allied victory, in a manner similar to what the history of the Eastern Front has undergone in recent years.
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945