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4.4 out of 5 stars
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4.4 out of 5 stars
China's War with Japan, 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival
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on 30 January 2016
This is a very readable account of the war between China and Japan between 1937 and 1945. It is not a military history of that period, although military actions are obviously recorded. It is more an account of the incredibly complicated political situation in China during the period. For perhaps half a century prior tp the events in this book, large parts of China had effectively been in a state of anarchy, with vast areas controlled by local warlords, and any 'official' government only controlled certain cities and areas. Effective government was non-existent, and any hope that the country would be able to resist Japanese invasion was very small.
The fact that the Chinese did resist Japan for so long does them enormous credit, but they paid a massive price, second only to Russia in the death toll. This book explains in a clear way the struggles of the Nationalist government under Chiang kai-shek; the position of the communists under Mao, and their interactions with all those involved - be they friends or enemies (sometimes it's difficult to tell who helped and who hindered).
The book certainly goes some way to help understand the current Chinese attitudes to the war, and to their neighbours to this day.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 25 December 2013
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Before starting this book I already knew that WWII really started in 1937, but the sheer scale of the tragic three-way struggle between Nationalist Chinese, Communist Chinese, and Japanese forces was not really apparent to me.

Author Rana Mitter recounts the story, and I warn you it's a horror story, in a very readable way. He is a heavy-duty academic, an Oxford professor of history and politics, but his writing flows with the ease of an accomplished novelist, not with the dusty dryness that might be associated with such a learned figure. I can say with certainty that unless the Sino-Japanese war has been a specialist subject of yours you will learn much from China's War With Japan, and also that you will be shocked and disturbed. History in detail always is shocking and disturbing, which is precisely why it is worth engaging with.

You are the type of person who would appreciate this book, that's why you're considering it. Take it from me that you'll find it very worthwhile indeed.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 7 August 2013
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The war between China and Japan started two years before the war in Europe, and at its close in 1945 the number of Chinese losses were similar to those of Russia, dwarfing the losses of the western allies. But although there are numerous books at all levels on the war in Europe, the China-Japan war has been largely neglected. This book is an attempt to partially redress the balance and tells the story of the war from the Chinese perspective.

It starts with a brief history of China, concentrating on the role of the western powers and their exploitation of China for commercial purposes. Japan already had a military presence on the Chinese mainland in 1937, and the main narrative starts with a minor clash between Chinese and Japanese soldiers at the Marco Polo Bridge in the small village of Wanping. Chiang Kai-shek chose this incident to declare war on Japan, but it was an ill-judged decision, because his nationalist army was no match for the experienced Japanese troops. The result was a series of retreats and the loss of much territory, including the cities of Shanghai and Nanjing. The behavior of the Japanese troops in taking the latter city was the atrocity known in the West as the `Rape of Nanking', which even now is a source of friction between the two countries. Chiang Kai-shek's failings were not helped by the behaviour of the numerous warlords with their personal armies and the treachery of some of his colleagues, principally Wang Lingwei, who eventually defected and set up a rival government collaborating with the Japanese.

There followed a long drawn-out conventional war between Chiang Kai-shek forces, based in Chongqing, and the Japanese, where many mistakes were made, both militarily and socially. The American who was sent to be the military leader of Chiang Kai-shek's armies, General Stilwell, was highly prejudiced against Chiang Kai-shek and also made gross misjudgments, including a disastrous foray into Burma. In addition to the nationalist army there was also another army, the communist one, led eventually by Mao Zedong, which occupied the northwestern part of China. They did not engage the Japanese in pitched battles like the nationalist, but nevertheless pinned down the latter by mainly guerrilla tactics. Much energy was expended by both factions in trying to neutralize the other, as both vied for power. The end of the war came only when the war in Europe was concluded and the Allies, particularly America, could turn their resources to engage the Japanese directly.

Although overall Chiang Kai-shek must probably be judged a failure, and was eventually forced to leave the mainland for Taiwan in the later civil war with the communists, he did achieve some significant achievements. For example, by holding down a large Japanese army until the war in Europe was won, China was rewarded with a place as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. That gave China its veto power in world affairs to this day.

It book is the result of many years of dedicated research, helped by a large number of assistants, and the result is a scholarly work, rich in detail. But it is not always easy to read. This is partly because the narrative is extremely detailed, but often disjoint, with forward and backward time shifts, sometimes even on the same page. I also had difficulty with the numerous Chinese names, the are rendered in a way that was unfamiliar to me, so that even those I did know I had to keep mentally `translating' back to the form more familiar to me. Finally, although the book is written from the Chinese perspective, I would have expected a brief discussion of how Japan came to invade China. Was the invasion opportunistic, a move by the strong military over the wishes of politicians, or part of a long-term strategy? The author offers no opinions. But these are relatively minor criticisms, and overall this is an very good, well-written account of a neglected topic.
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VINE VOICEon 22 January 2014
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Author,Rana Mitter is Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of St Cross College. As the author of A Bitter Revolution: China's Struggle with the Modern World, he is more than well qualified to write a compelling updated history of a bloody chapter in Sino/Japan relations. The war with Japan which preceded Mao's Communist forces taking control of the country,was a brutal war,the history of which has essentially been buried beneath the overwhelming WW2 narrative. However,the incredible suffering that Chinese people experienced at the hands of the Japanese goes a long way to explaining their isolationist stance within the modern world.
Author Mitter offers a highly readable and objective account of the campaign which will be enjoyed by those wishing to learn more about, what is in the West,a largely hidden war.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 4 September 2013
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This is a very readable and thorough account of China's conflict with Japan and the country's own internal divisions during the period 1937-45.

China's war with Japan began - probably without any planning - with the "Marco Polo Bridge incident" in 1937 and escalated into a full-scale, aggressive Japanese invasion - though the Japanese occupation of Manchuria had already taken place in 1931 - a fair indication of that country's expansionist intentions.
Mitter provides a good deal of historical background in the run-up to the outbreak of war, then proceeds with a very detailed analysis of virtually every aspect of events examining the roles of the Nationalists, Communists and the collaborationist government; he demonstrates the importance of China's tenacious resistance in the greater context of the global conflict and covers every major battle, evacuation, catastrophe and political/military development. The leading role played by the Nationalists - headed by Chiang Kai-shek - and the often uncomfortable relationship with the Western allies is given proper scrutiny and reveals the extent of incompetence, misunderstanding and prejudices which plagued operations and material support.
As Mitter indicates in his prologue, until comparatively recent times compiling a fully-rounded narrative of China's struggle to modernise and establish itself as a sovereign state while fighting a major axis power would have been difficult due to the unavailability of access to records, the Communist Party's official history and the tendency of Western accounts to downplay China's wartime role in World War 2.
That makes this volume all the more valuable; it provides an excellent overview not just of a theatre of war most Western readers probably know little about, but also of a country that was the fourth - and non-Western - player in the allied alliance, an important point to recognise and one not missed by those Colonial countries seeking self-determination after the war.

This is a quite densely detailed, heavily researched study, but it is also an absorbing and rewarding read; very recommendable.
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on 17 October 2013
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A truly fascinating and revealing account of one of the greatest regional wars in history. This book covers the whole conflict and puts the focus where it should be, on the Chinese and Japanese, and not the colonial powers of the UK, US or USSR. This was an asian conflict and had it's origins in centuries past, long before the europeans began establishing outposts in the region.

A history of such huge scope could easily just become a list of events, but the author has the talent to make it effortless to read, even to dip into. The true motives of both sides, from national government to individual soldier and civilian are explored and contrasted. Fear, mistrust, pride and anger are the recurring themes. Perhaps the most obvious thing to take from it is the resilience of the chinese people, both army and civilian, in face of an often ruthless and better-armed, better-fed enemy. The Chinese government often had to act in similarly ruthless ways resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of it's own citizens in order for the nation just to survive.

This is a history just as fascinating and important as that of the european theater, and should be read by anybody with an interest in WW2 or modern asia.
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on 27 June 2013
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This fine and important book is a vital corrective to the Eurocentric view that the Second World War began on the 1st September 1939; the global clash with totalitarianism was already well under way, and was centred in China.

To many general Western readers, the war to resist Japanese aggression in China has shrunk to a backdrop for films and novels such as Empire of the Sun and The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. This superficial view belies the enormous scale of clash between China and Imperial Japan which is the focus of this book. War caused 14 million deaths between 1937 - 1945, and set stage for the Civil War and eventual Communist takeover of 1949. Current tensions between the two former combatants track back to this period, still a powerful source of on-going tension and polarisation.

Despite a limitless capacity for retelling and reappraising WW2, the clash between these two gigantic Asian powers is poorly understood in the West, but was seen at the time by figures as diverse as WH Auden and Robert Capa as a central battleground in the opposition to fascism, and as important as the parallel conflict in Spain.

Mitter tells a vast story with deceptive ease and control. He is surefooted on the central role of three key men: Chiang Kaishek, Mao Zedong, and Wang Jingwei, the latter a complex figure tainted by collaboration. While the range of personalities in the book is richly portrayed, the reader is drawn back to this key trio who embody the three way struggle between Communist, Nationalist and collaborationist engagement with the Japanese invader. The book is effective, lucid and fluent, providing a balanced account of controversial events such as the chilling fall of Nanjing. The second half of the book is strong on the involvement of West in Burma and the Pacific seen from Asian perspective. There is some careful myth busting, and the grating relations between American commander Stilwell and Chiang are well done. I was constantly intrigued by snippets such as the Chinese fascination with the British Beveridge report on social welfare: a Chinese NHS?

The book is also strong on the legacy of war, and how China's war feels forgotten in the post-Cold War world; I found the reappraisal in modern China of Chiang as resistor of Japanese aggression fascinating. This is a timely and necessary book which in its reappraisal of China's war echoes the similar reappraisal of the Soviet war effort by John Erikson and David Glantz in the 1970s and 1980s. Highly recommended.
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on 16 October 2013
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This must now be the definitive history of what in the west has become a 'forgotten' war. But the Chinese-Japanese conflict that started in 1937 was one of the most horrendous and bloody of the last century, a form of total war not equalled until 1941 in Russia and later in the West during 1944-45.

Mitter has produced here an accessible- well written account that is all the more horrific for it's considered, detailed delivery. He also not only looks at the important political players, but the experience of ordinary people too, and shows how this conflict shaped the future of Asia for the rest of the century. This is how history books should be, threaded with a driving, affecting narrative. Great stuff.
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on 24 October 2013
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Having read lots of books about the Second World War but focused on the European theatre of war, and more recently having read about Mao Zedong, I was very interested to read about the war between China and Japan which lasted from 1937 to 1945.

Throughout the book, Rana Mitter looks to intertwine a chronological history (quite dry) with the people involved (more interesting). In this regard, much of the book is given to detailing the battle for rule over China between Chiang Kaishek (who would subsequently rule Taiwan), Mao Zedong (who would subsequently rule mainland China) and Wang Jingwei (who ruled a collaboralist regime in China similar to Vichy France). However, a lot of the narrative is also given to General Joseph Stilwell, a US four-star General based in China through the War. I found it a fascinating perspective and learnt a great deal about WW2 I did not know before.

Mitter also does well in terms of keeping focus - he avoids the temptation to write too much about the Civil War that followed in China, although he does refer to it in terms of background. Likewise there is very little time spent describing the war in Europe other than when it affects the situation in China (for example Allied priorities). My one criticism is that Mitter has very clear views on the behaviour of the various actors in the war, to the point that I found some of the content a little unbalanced (notably Stilwell). However, after reading 350+ pages on the subject I am not sure I want to read another book to get a different perspective.

Overall, I found the book very interesting and feel I am a lot more knowledgeable about the subject. It is a book you can read cover to cover (often difficult for a history book) and would also serve as a useful source for school assignments.
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on 8 February 2014
It is difficult to write interestingly enough for general readers about wars, even more so about long wars. China’s war with Japan lasted eight years and cost some 14 to 20 million Chinese lives. China’s long resistance has not been fully appreciated by historians, partly because of the fixation on the European fronts but also because under Chairman Mao, the rival Chinese Kuomintang Nationalist resistance was deliberately unrecognised. Rana Mitter provides a remarkable revisionist history, which overturns many of our previous assumptions about the War in the Far East. Most importantly, he goes some way to restoring the tarnished reputation of the Chinese Nationalist leader, Chiang Kai-Shek. Chiang was depicted by Barbara Tuchman in her magisterial history, Sand Against the Wind: Stilwell and the American Experience in China 1911-45 as a corrupt and incompetent military leader of a regime that was not much less fascistic than its enemies. British and American writers were obviously influenced by Chiang’s defeat at the hands of the Communists in 1949 and by Stilwell’s published memoirs.
Some of the changing historical interpretations are explained by Mitter in the epilogue to the book, but it might have been helpful to readers for this to have come at the beginning of the book, so that they could appreciate where Mitter was coming from. On the military side, Mitter is much influenced by Hans Van de Wen’s War and Nationalism in China: 1925-1945 (Routledge: 2003), who believes that Chiang’s defensive long-game strategy was much more sensible than Stilwell’s determination for the offensive and a concentration on an Allied land advance through Burma. This strategy depleted China’s defensive capabilities and allowed the Japanese to advance further and further into central and northern China. Mitter argues powerfully that Stilwell’s arrogance and lack of diplomatic skills may have tarnished Sino-American relations for a long time. I think that Mitter underestimates the importance of a land campaign to re-open the India-Burma-China route because that was China’s only supply route for much of the war.
Mitter is aware of Chiang’s weaknesses and also of some of his very poor decisions, but basically sees him as the only man who could have held the Chinese war effort together and that therefore he and the Kuomintang did not deserve to be written out of history by the Communists. Another nationalist who was literally dynamited out of history, or at least his tomb was, is Wang Jingwei, who defected from Chiang and collaborated with the Japanese. The book focuses on three leaders, Chiang Kai-Shek, Wang Jingwei and Mao Tse Tung. Mao was eventually to triumph over his opponents, partly by cannily avoiding set-piece battles with the Japanese but rather using guerrilla tactics. More important though were Mao’s social reforms which won him the support of the peasantry, whilst the Kuomintang were associated with crippling rural tax demands and corruption. Even so, there was nothing inevitable about the Communist victory in the civil war that followed the end of the war with Japan- if nationalist forces had not been so depleted in the war with Japan, Chiang would probably have controlled most of China. Mitter concludes by arguing that Chiang did bring China at last to the world stage, a seat at the Cairo Conference of 1943 and more importantly a seat on the UN Security Council. The price that China paid in lives and damage to the economy was, however, enormous and left certain legacies which presaged some of the dictatorial disasters of Mao’s leadership.
So, an excellent and readable history of a most important subject.
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