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Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45) /
Anti-Japanese War /
Eight Year War of Resistance/
War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression

The Marco Bridge Incident was the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War, and the start of the Second World War in Asia. Japan was the second strongest power of the fascist bloc in World War II. With great aggressive ambition, Japan launched not only an aggressive war against China in 1937 but also the Pacific War in December 1941. The Chinese battlefront pinned down the main force of the Japanese army from 1937 when Japan launched the full-scale aggressive war against China through to 1945 when it was defeated and surrendered. The arduous struggle waged by the Chinese people in the Anti-Japanese War crushed the Japanese imperialists' dream of seeking hegemony in Asia and conquering the world.

January 18, 1915, ranked in Japanese history and in world history with Japan's invasion of Seoul in 1894; her declaration of war with Russia in 1904; her annexation of Korea in 1910. Japan's attitude toward China has not changed perceptibly since her statesmen, a quarter of a century ago, laid it down as a root principle that Japan must dominate all Asia washed by the Pacific. When China suddenly turned her back on the East, and by her revolution of 1911 declared to the world that she wished to enter the Western family of nations as a republic, a great menace to Japan's plans arose. She fomented the rebellion of 1913; again Yuan Shih Kai and a Western loan beat her.

Following the Sian Incident of 1936, a united front was fonned between the KMT and the CCP. In December 1936 Chiang Kai-shek was kidnapped at Sian by the Communists in an effort to pressure him into a united front against the Japanese. People had regarded Chiang Kai-shek as the best symbol of resistance against Japan, the best leader against the Japanese. He was held by the Communists and by some of his own troops from Manchuria, who were involved also in the sequestering. In any case, the result was they worked out a deal for cooperation between the KMT and the Communists against the Japanese. Chiang was released, sent back to Nanjing, along with Chang Hsueh-liang, the nationalist general who had collaborated with the Communists in holding him. Prior to 1937 the Kuomintang and Communist governments had fought one another for ten years, with neither side winning. This civil war was temporarily discontinued by mutual consent when war with Japan broke out, but no satisfactory liaison was ever established between the two rivals. In some areas, instead of fighting Japanese army, CCP used the chance to fight KMT army. And the Japanese army indirectly helped the CCP to get power in China.

If the Chinese people had not carried outtenacious resistance, and if the Chinese mainland had been conquered by Japan, the strategic situation, as a natural outcome, wouldhave been far more favorable to the German-Italian-Japanese fascist bloc when World War II broke out on a full scale. The one million-strong Japanese troops would have had more freedom in making the choice between advancing northward or southward. In the main, the Chinese people had resisted the Japanese aggressors on their own during the period from 7 July 1937 to 3 September 1939. Those big powers including Britain, France, and the United States, which joined the antifascist alliance later, had not taken part in the resistance but adopted an appeasement policy toward Japan in that period. The Soviet Union had observed neutrality since its policy of collective security had been boycotted by Britain and France.

In general, the Japanese rulers initially thought that they could win thewar against China very quickly. In a memorandum to the emperor, Japanese Arm Minister Hajime Sugiyama predicted that the war could be woundup in a month or so. They regarded China as "a split and weak countrywhich could not possibly be reunified; and which would surrender as soon asJapan showed an uncompromising stand." By the end of 1937, Japan had sent to the Chinese battle front 16 divisions with a total of more than 600,000 soldiers, equivalent to two-thirds of the military strength of the Japanese army, which consisted of 24 divisions with a total of 950,000 soldiers. The Japanese troops were enormously proud of their success in. taking over Nanjing on l3 December 1937.

During the 3-month Songhu campaign in 1937, Japan, faced with the tenacious resistance of the Chinese people, wasforced to send in reinforcements again and again, and the Japanese troopsengaged in the campaign exceeded 200,000, with more than 40,000 casualties. Following the outbreak of the war of resistance against Japan in the fall of 1937, the guerrilla forces in the southern provinces received orders from the CPC Central Committee and were ready to be reorganized by the national government and to drive east to resist the enemy. This move conformed to the party's new policy of practicing unity to resist the Japanese aggressors. The guerrilla forces in the southern provinces resolutely left the revolutionary base areas which they seized and protected through years of bloody battles and went on an expedition to the enemy rear areas.

By the spring of 1938, the Communists and the Nationalists had joined in a tenuous "United Front," and the Communists' Eighth Route Army, commanded by Chu Teh, was in the field. Japanese forces, driving out of Manchuria, had overrun the northern area of China downto the Shantung peninsula and in the southwere well established on the Yangtze River. Chiang Kai-shek had borne the brunt of the Japanese attack and, despite heavy losses around Shanghai, had managed to preserve the fighting strength of his army. The Communists, in the meantime, had begun the political organization of the thinly-held Japanese territory in Shansi-Hopeh provinces. Their base area in northwest Shensi had not been reached by the Japanese.

At that time, Mao Tse-tung delivered a series of lectures at the "Yenan Association for the Study of the Anti-Japanese War." The Japanese War had been going on for almost a year. Mao used the theory of "protracted war" to encourage and unify his people and to turn the energies of his party to expandingpolitical control over the peasants andestablishing guerrilla bases. Mao's brilliant examination of the existing contradictions in the Sino-Japanese struggle and his three-stage portrayal of China's victory plan has becomea modern military classic.

Mao wrote that "The Sino-Japanese War is not just any war, it is specifically a war of life and death between semi-colonial and semi-feudal China and imperialist Japan fought in the nineteen thirties." Mao concluded that the Chinese struggle against the Japanese could not be a quick victory, but that China would win in a protracted struggle. This stemmed directly from his assessment of the "contrasting features" of the two protagonists. "Japan's advantage lies in her great capacity to wagewar, and her disadvantages lie in the reactionary and barbarous nature of her war, in the inadequacy of her man power andmaterial resources, and in her meager international support." In contrast, Mao explained: "China's disadvantage lies in her military weakness, and her advantages lie in the progressive and just character of her war, her great size and her abundant international support."

Mao Tse-tung concluded that the initial disparity in military strength would allow the Japanese to advance deep into the countryside. At the point where her limited national resources of manpower and raw materials could not support a sustained attack and a significant occupational force as well, a stalemate would ensue. But with the passage of time, because of the "just" nature of the Chinese cause, the impact of international support, and "provided ... we make no mistakes of principle and exert our best efforts," Mao predicted that the balance of forces would shift in China's favor, and permit her victorious counteroffensive.

The New Fourth Army consisted of only 10,000 soldiers in four detachments located in the mid-Yangzi River valley when it was established on 25 December 1937. During 1938-1941, its main area of operations shifted northeast-ward to those parts of Jiangsu and Anhui that lay north of the Yangzi River, and several base areas were established. By the time Japan surrendered in 1945, the New Fourth Army had grown to 118,000 regulars, 100,000 guerrillas, and 525,000 self-defense forces. Similar success was achieved to the north and west of the New Fourth Army area of operations by the Eighth Route Army.

When the New 4th Army left the southern mountain areas in 1938, the KMT perfidiously sent troops to attack these areas. The KMT reactionaries assumed that they could implement their policy of opposing the Communist Party and the people without obstruction. However, the facts went contrary to their wishes. The unreasonable offensives launched by the KMT evoked the loca1 people's resistance for self-defense and the self-defensive wars continued. In autumn of 1938, Japan launched the Wuhan campaign and the Guangzhou campaign in an ambitious attempt to wind up the war quickly. The Japanese threw nearly 380,000 troops into the battle in Wuhan. While the campaign was under way, the deputy chief of the Japanese general staff headquarters showed his worries: "The situation would be very unfavorable to Japan if we were simply dragged into the interior of China, without anyhope of progress. If we have a look at the situation at home, we can find that the abnormal antiwar feeling has been gaining ground as the people are demoralized and the unemployed are faced with difficulties in their daily life. If such a situation continues, we will gradually fall into a predicament." By the end of the Wuhan campaign and the Guangzhou campaign, Japan had thrown into China a total of 24 divisions with about 1 million soldiers. Thus the Japanese troops had turned out in full force, with only a guard division stationed in Japan proper. After that, the Japanese troops could no longer take the offensive but were forced to shift to a protracted war strategy.

During the period from 1939 to the south Anhui incident in January 1941, the Japanese and anticommunist KMT troops launched converging attacks against the Communist Party and army. As the expansion of the Communist army in the enemy's rear area was a fatal threat to the Japanese aggressors, they launched mopping-up operations one after another. Chalmers A. Johnson, in his book Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power: the Emergence of Revolutionary China, 1937-1945, concludes that "The importance of [Japanese mopping up] campaigns to the growth and entrenchment of the Communist movement cannot be overstated." In his opinion, the peasant mobilization that the Communists carried out was "a process that was initiated by the Japanese invasion and by the conditions of rural anarchy following the evacuation of local elites."

Johnson notes that "The Communists were the beneficiaries and not the main source of this mobilization; their contribution was the organization of the mobilized peasants, the establishments of rear-area bases, and the leadership of effective guerrilla warfare against the Japanese." So critical was the Japanese army's involvement in the process that, according to Johnson, "as a general rule, the Communists were not able to establish guerrilla bases in regions that had no direct experience with the Japanese Army."

On 30 March 1940 the Wang Ching-wei Government was formally inaugurated at Nanking in opposition to the Chungking Government. The United States promptly refused recognition of the new regime, as a Japanese "puppet," and offered Chiang another loan, this time for 20 million dollars. This was followed on 2 July with enactment of an export control law covering national defense materials, the implied intent of which was to curb the Japanese national potential.

The 8th Route Army launched the we1l-known Hundred Regiment Campaign on 20 August 1940. During this 3-1/2-month large-scale campaign, the 8th Route Army fought a total of 1,824 big and small battles, inflicted 20,645 casualties upon theJapanese troops, destroyed such major railways as the Zhengding-Taiyuan railway, the Beiping-Hankou railway, the Datong-Puzhou railway, and the Beiping-Guisui railways, as well as many highways in Hebei and Shanxi Provinces, rooted up 2,993 strongholds of the enemy and puppet troops, and recovered 40-50 counties.

In December 1941, Japan could send to the southern front (namely, Southeast Asia and Pacific) no more than l0 divisions and 3 composite brigades, which accounted for about 20 percent of the ground forces of the Japanese army. The main Japanese mainforce was trapped in China -- the Japanese army's China headquarters were in command of 21 divisions, l cavalry unit, and 20 composite brigades; in addition, the 4th Division directly under the general headquarters was stationed in Shanghai, and the Kwantung army headquarters, which were in command of 13 divisions and 24 composite brigades, were in charge of guarding against the Soviet Union and the Chinese anti-Japanese Northeastern United Army.

The 8th Route Army and the New 4th Army underwent the most difficult period of their struggle in 1941-1942. The liberation zones began to recover gradually and managed to make progress in expanding their force in 1943 despite frequent "mopping-up operations" by the Japanese. In that single year, the 8th Route Army fought a total of more than 24,800 battles with the enemy and inflicted more than l36,000 casualties on the enemy and puppet troops; while the New 4th Army fought a total of more than 5,300 battles with the enemy and inflicted more than 66,000 casualties upon the enemy and puppet troops.

Before its surrender, Japan had been worn out by hundreds of thousands of large- and small-scale battles waged by the Chinese people in 8 successive years. During that period, 447,000 Japanese soldiers were killed in China,an equivalent of 39 percent of the total 1.13 million Japanese soldiers killed in World War II. Japan's war expenses in China amounted to some $12 billion, equivalent to 35 percent of the total $34 billion that it spent in the war. Comrade Mao Zedong pointed out: "China is one of the world's' five greatest powers taking part in the antifascist war. It is also the major country opposing the Japanese aggressors on the Asian continent."

The anti-Japanese war waged by China deferred the Pacific War and served as a strong support for the United States and Britain in theirstruggle after the Pacific War broke out. After the German army had overrun Western Europe, Japan decided to take the opportunity of Germany's victory toa dvance southward. Nevertheless, the troops that Japan could transfer from China were limited because of the ongoing Sino-Japanese war. Therefore, the "Outline of Measures To Be Taken To Cope With the Development of the World Situation" adopted by the joint meeting of general headquarters and government on 27 July 1940 cited two cases: In the first case, military force would be used to solve the problem concerning the southern front "when the Chinese issue was basically settled." In the second case, "if the Chinese issue was not completely solved, any policy should be based on the principle that it would not bring Japan into war with any third country." However, if the domestic and international situations were especially favorable, Japan could also use military force.

On l7 April 1941, the Ministries of the Army and Navy under the Japanese general headquarters adopted another "Outline on the Policy Concerning the South," which held that Japan could only resort to force on the southern front when the embargo placed by the United States, Britain, and the Netherlands endangered Japan's existence and when the United States stepped up military pressure on Japan, either onits own or in cooperation with Britain, the Netherlands, and China.

Why did Japan postpone its advance to the south? First, because the Japanese navy thought that exerting military force on the south would mean exerting military force on the United States; and Japan was not yet ready to resort to force at that time. Next, because the "Chinese issue" had not been settled. The appendix to the "outline" provided: "'The Outline of Measures To Be Taken To Cope With the Development of the World Situation' adopted in July of the 15th year of the reign of Emperor Showa has laid down the policy concerning the south. But the current outline on the policy concerning the south will override that outline so long as the Chinese issue is not settled. When the Chinese issue is settled or there are drastic changes in the world situation, our policy concerning the south will be drawn up anew."

By and large, the war of resistance to Japan carried out by China had delayed the outbreak of the Pacific War and had pinned down the Japanese so that they failed to get enough military strength when they finally launched the war. In fact, China's struggle enabled Britain, the United States, and the Netherlands to make fuller preparations and mitigated the Japanese troops' attack on them.

After successive victories, the Japanese navy became more and more ambitious. It planned to attack the east coast of Australia so as to cut off the communication line between Australia and the United States, and to raid Ceylon and the Indian Ocean area so as to join forces with Germany. At that time, Germany was expecting Japan to occupy Ceylon and Madagascar since the situation would be much more favorable to the advance of Rommel's North African Army if Japan managed tocut off the communication line by which the British could reach Egypt via the Red Sea.

The Japanese army, though obsessed with ambition, did not support the navy's plan since its main force had been trapped on the Chinese mainland and it could not transfer any large number of troops to launch offensives elsewhere.

Roosevelt was clearly aware of China's role in preventing Japan from carrying out the above plan. In the spring of 1942, he told hisson: "Suppose China. did not resist Japan or China was defeated by Japan, how many Japanese divisions do you think could be transferred to fight onother frontlines? The Japanese could capture Australia and India immediately. They could take all these places without making an effort, and they could even march straight toward the Middle East.... Japan and Germany couldcooperate to launch a large-scale pincer attack, then join forces in the Near East, completely isolate Russia, annex Egypt, and cut off all communication lines passing through the Mediterranean Sea."

Chinese civilization of millennia suffered disastrous destruction, and the Chinese nation, huge losses. According to incomplete statistics, China suffered over 35 million casualties, both military and civilian; China^s direct economic losses exceeded US$ 100 billion and its indirect economic losses totaled more than US$ 500 billion, calculated at the price in 1937.

World War II had worked to Mao Tse-tung's advantage. Prior to the Japanese invasion the Chinese Communist Party had been on the run, as the government had forced Mao's army to flee to north China in the famous "Long March." The KMT's conventional forces bore the brunt of the Japanese invasion, enabling Mao not only to regroup, but to expand his guerrilla forces by capitalizing on hostility toward the Japanese invaders. As a result, the Communist movement grew from 40,000 party members and 92,000 guerrillas in 1937 to 1.2 million members and 860,000 soldiers by August 1945, by which point the party controlled nearly 20 percent of China's population. Japan's surrender provided further opportunities for Mao, as the withdrawal of Japanese troops from northern and eastern China created a vacuum that the CCP's northern-based guerrillas were better situated to exploit than Chiang's armies in south-central China.

For a long time, there have been forces in Japan that have categorically denied the aggressive nature of the war Japan launched against China and the crimes it committed, and have tried their best to whitewash its militarist aggression and call back the spirit of those Class A war criminals who have been condemned by history. Such actions have not only breached the Japanese Government^s commitment regarding historical issues, but also shaken the political foundation of the Sino-Japanese relations, thus badly hurting the feelings of the Chinese and other Asian peoples concerned.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:30:17 ZULU