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Women collaborators within China during the Second Sino-Japanese War?

Women collaborators within China during the Second Sino-Japanese War?

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There are several reports of women collaborators in Europe during the Nazi occupation. I am wondering if there is any reports of this occurring in China, and what possibly happened to these women after the war?

Women collaborators within China during the Second Sino-Japanese War? - History

The Second Sino-Japanese War began on July 7, 1937 and ended on September 9, 1945 after Japan surrendered to China and the Allied forces. This war ignited from a conflict between Chinese and Japanese troops for control of Chinese mainland. The Second Sino-Japanese War was the biggest Asian war in the twentieth century and contributed to more than 50 percent of casualties in the Pacific War. This war merged into World War II, after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. In addition to that, the war played a big role in the ultimate Communist defeat of the Nationalist troops in 1949.


The origin of the Second Sino-Japanese War can be traced back to the First Sino-Japanese War that lasted from 1894 to 1895. After the end of First Sino-Japanese War which made Korea a part of Japan, Japan took her troops along a railroad from Manchuria to Korean ports-of-trade. This railroad was used to transport raw materials and other finished goods to Korean docks to be shipped to Japan. Japanese troops controlled this railway and wanted more free resources from Manchuria. Therefore, the Japanese started to attack Chinese troops and succeeded in gaining control of Manchuria. Although Chinese had insufficient resources, they managed to fight back especially after receiving economic help from the Soviet Union and the U.S.


The leader of Nationalist government’s forces, Chiang Kai-Shek, was kidnapped in 1936 by Chang Hsueh-liang, commander of the Communist forces. Chiang was forced to agree to have a common anti-Japanese front as a condition for his release. With the two sides united, they were able to defend themselves against the Japanese in Manchuria and North China. This resulted in the commencement of the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Japan’s Strategy

Japan aimed at taking all roads, railroads, and cities, in order to gain total control. Despite the fact that Japanese forces were controlling the eastern coastal region, guerrilla fighting continued in the conquered areas. The Chinese Nationalist government had been forced to retreat to a transitory capital at Chongqing. However, Japanese did not have the capability or intention of directly controlling all of China. So, they set up friendly “puppet” governments which would favor their interests. These governments were not very popular especially after Japan refused to negotiate with China’s Communist Party.

China’s Strategy

China, on the other hand, was not ready for war. Moreover, she had few mechanized divisions, lacked significant military industrial strength, and had no armor support. China largely depended on the League-of-Nations to come to her aid and offer countermeasures to Japan’s assault. Furthermore, the Kuomintang, or the Chinese Nationalist Party, was caught up in an internal fight against the Communists. Due to all these disadvantages, the Chinese were forced to come up with a strategy which aimed at preserving their army strength. In addition to that, occupied areas would continue to exert pockets of resistance in order to disturb Japanese forces and make their control of China as difficult as possible.

Foreign Aid for China

After the Japanese left the League of Nations in 1933, they practiced an aggressive foreign policy whose aim was to create the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. This offered a serious threat to the economic influences and interests of European powers and the U.S. in Asia. When the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out, the United State’s government imposed economic sanctions on the Japanese. Japan turned to the Axis Powers and signed the Tripartite Pact with Italy and Germany in 1940. Japan managed to occupy French Indochina in mid 1941, but the U.S. continued to avoid any direct confrontation. However, Japan’s imperial goals in the Pacific led to an untimely collision with U.S.A. The United States responded by imposing an oil ban which would suffocate Japan’s economy. For this reason, Japan strategized on how to remove the U.S. from the Pacific region so as to control the whole of Southeast Asia.

When Japanese bombed the Pearl Harbor, the United states and China declared war against Japan. This merged the second Sino-Japanese War into World War II. China also declared war on Italy and Germany. Eight hours after the bombing, Japan attacked Hong Kong and destroyed the Allied forces’ aircrafts. Britain and the U.S. offered financial support to China as well as setting up military air bases on the mainland. This support from Britain and the U.S. relieved China, and forced Japan to divert troops elsewhere. Nonetheless, China’s military strength continued to worsen until April, 1945. The Japanese seemed unstoppable, especially after sinking Britain’s two biggest warships in Singapore during an air attack on December 10, 1941.

Japan’s Surrender

With help from the western allies, China managed to launch a successful offensive on August 14 1945, at Zhijiang. This was a big blow to the Japanese who had been winning consistent victories. The U.S.A. dropped an atomic-bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Three days later, the Soviet Union attacked the Japanese in Manchuria. On August 9, 1945, the U.S. dropped another atomic bomb, this time on Nagasaki. Emperor Hirohito of Japan officially surrendered to the Allies on August 15, 1945. The Soviet Union on the other hand continued to attack the Kwantung Army (the main Japanese fighting force) and destroyed them completely within two weeks. Japan’s official surrender to the Allies was signed on September 2, 1945 aboard the USS Missouri battleship.

Now that the Allied Forces had won the war, Gen. Douglas ordered all Japanese troops within China (except those in Manchuria), French Indochina and Formosa to surrender to Chiang Kai-Shek. The Japanese forces in China surrendered officially on September 9, 1945, marking the end of the 2nd Sino-Japanese War as well as World War II. In addition to that, Taiwan, the Pescadores and Manchuria were restored to China, as per the conditions of the Cairo Declaration.

Speaking on Behalf of the State: The Women on the Radio and behind the Loudspeakers during the Cold War

Women have a complicated relationship with the wars waged by the nation-state. Women are the reproducers and boundary ma(r)kers of the nation, so women, notably when they embody the nation’s image, are said to be protected by the state as a reason for going to war. They are also projected as the victims of war when the state loses to its enemy, mainly when the enemy uses rape as a weapon to weaken national morale. On the battlefield, women are used as fighters, porters, carers, entertainers or sex slaves to enhance war fighting capacity physically or mentally. During the two world wars, in the state’s propaganda, women were encouraged to ‘give away’ their husbands and sons to the state or were recruited to fill the vacancies left by men to work in the manufacturing, agricultural or transport sectors. Their homemaking and thrifty cooking were characterised as contributing to war efforts. Regardless of which of these roles they play, they are instrumentalised by the state. It mobilises or monopolises their physical, caring, emotional or sexual labour for the war effort. As manifested by their performance inside or outside of the home, the bifurcation between masculinity and femininity is reinforced.

Women’s voices, expressing a specific kind of emotion as legitimised by the state, are also mobilised as political resources. This is captured by Madam Chiang Song Mei-ling’s speech aired in New York on 8 January 1950: ‘I hope that wherever my voice carries, to whatever corner of the free world, I can help awaken liberty-loving peoples to the realisation that China [i.e., the Republic of China], abandoned and alone, now shoulder the only rifle in the defence of liberty’ (emphasis added). Thus, Song joined the ranks of women radio hosts who serve on the psychological war front. Along with Song, Hasegawa Teruko (working for the Kuomintang. KMT, government during the Second Sino-Japanese War), Mildred Elizabeth Gillars, Rita Zucca and Trịnh Thị Ngọ were the voices that carried the ideologies of their regimes during WWII and the Cold War to wherever the airwaves reached.

When women’s voices, speaking on behalf of the masculine state, are transmitted by the radio or loudspeakers, the bifurcation between masculinity and femininity as reified by the state seems to dissolve. Co-opted by the masculine state and enacting the state’s sovereignty, their voices, whether comforting or aggressive, circulate information, disseminate disinformation and entice defection amongst the enemy. Their voice also contributes to the indoctrination of their fellow citizens. Their voices and the political messages they carry, together with the political-ideological boundary and the people behind the boundary, construct a geographical space that is transgressed by the intangible and mobile sound and demarcated by antagonistic ideologies. This acoustic space is a ‘soundscape’ underlain by animosity and the orchestration between masculinity and femininity.

Riding on the mobile airwave and aiming to overcome political fixity, this soundscape is most evident in the psychological warfare waged between ‘Free China’ (the Republic of China, ROC) and ‘Red China’ (the People’s Republic of China). From Kinmen, Dadan, and Matzu, the ROC military’s transmission of women’s voices on the radio or via loudspeakers was as highly classified as other military exercises, such as firing off propaganda bombs, releasing high altitude balloons and sending out water-proof containers from the shores of Kinmen and Matzu. In entirety, these operations distributed propaganda materials, including women’s voices and perishable substances, to reach as near as the coast of China or as far as its hinterland. Among the materials delivered by these border-crossing operations, women’s voices are the only invisible and intangible human and personal element, critically sustaining the ideological rivalry, political antagonism, and military confrontation between the two warring parties.

Needless to say, a soundscape of the same nature was also built by China for competing in this invisible acoustic space for supremacy. Across the Taiwan Strait, the soundscape built by either side was intended to penetrate and reach the people on the opposite side. However, the people within reach of the airwaves were not all captured as listeners. When radio ownership was banned, when the weather disrupted the reception, or when the broadcast was consistently obstructed by either side, the intended listeners became ‘un-listeners’ whose inclusion into this soundscape was at the mercy of natural and political forces, regardless of their own will.

Therefore, whether the women’s voices could reach not only the ears of the intended listeners but also their hearts and minds is the ultimate challenge of this geo-ideological soundscape. Whilst it seems that little research has been conducted to ascertain its effectiveness, anecdotes abound. One of these somewhat nostalgic memories I collected during fieldwork was from a Chinese tourist who visited the National Radio Museum in Minhsiung in 2019. Reading illustrations in the museum hall about how radio was used to wage a ‘smokeless’ war during the Cold War, this middle-aged man reminisced about his puzzlement during his adolescent years caused by listening to a radio programme aired from Taiwan entitled ‘the Era of Three People’s Principles’ (三民主義的時代) which prophesied the fall of communism. On the other hand, despite the harsh punishment imposed by the authoritarian KMT government of Taiwan, for some Mainlanders, listening to radio programmes clandestinely aired from China seemed to soothe the aching pain of longing for home. Their children also seemed to be enticed to seek a connection with that remote land as close as human voices in their ears when they hid in the bed and turned their radio on in the deep dark night.

Whilst it is little studied how the people within the soundscape responded to these acoustic and human simulations, it is also largely unknown to whom these voices belonged. An exception is Theresa Teng (鄧麗君). Today, at Mashan Broadcasting Station, Teng’s life-sized cardboard cut-out sits in the studio where her broadcast to China is played regularly. Like every other woman who sat in the same studio before and after her, she narrated a script that propagated the righteousness of the KMT regime, praised the democracy and prosperity achieved in Taiwan, and denounced the Chinese Communist Party. She served her nation when her voice built that geo-ideological soundscape. Today, as a highlight of tourism to Kinmen, her voice is now confined in this hollow, meandering through the dark, humid and claustrophobic underground bunker.

Teng aside, military women were assigned to speak behind the microphone, as well as civilian women recruited from Taiwan and locally in Kinmen. Scant information about these radio hosts and loudspeaker announcers can be found amongst published life stories of the officers of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) (女青年工作大隊) and a small number of interviews with officers who graduated from the Academy of Political Warfare (APW) (政治作戰學校). ‘Earnestness, duty, honesty, and grace’ (熱忱, 負責, 誠實,端莊) is their motto recovering the lost territory of the mainland is the last verse of their unit anthem. In military parades, the handsome WAC officers in their figure-fitting blue blazer and white skirt seemed to embody the value and significance of grace. In interviews, civilian women broadcasters reminisced about how the image of these uniformed officers assured them of the dignity of taking a job in the military amongst rank-and-file soldiers and their commanding officers. If the feminine quality of their voices was co-opted to serve the masculine interests of the state, then little is known about how grace as a value was ‘operationalised’ when WAC and APW officers, as well as civilian employees, worked in shifts behind the male-dominated, regimented and fortified barracks.

With the invisible border-crossing technology advancing in cyberspace, the transmitting of women’s voices on the radio or loudspeakers to construct a geo-ideological soundscape seems to decline. These once highly guarded facilities are now decommissioned. Some of them are open to the public for tourism, and others are left to decay. Whilst these physical spaces may have been ‘demystified,’ we are in a race against time to hear from the owners of the voices, the women now in their sixties and older, about how they perceived their relationship with the masculine state, how they worked with their male superiors or subordinates, and how they understand their role in this soundscape. It is also necessary to preserve the scripts they narrated and to digitalise the recording of their voices as an intangible cultural heritage that can help us understand the material side of the construction of this geo-ideological soundscape. Making these efforts will contribute to piecing together the human and cultural face of the lingering legacy of the Cold War.

Isabelle Cheng is Senior Lecturer in East Asian and International Development Studies at the School of Area Studies, History, Politics and Literature of the University of Portsmouth. Her research interests are marriage and labour migration in East Asia.

This article was published as part of EATS 2021: Narrating Taiwan special issue. All articles in the special issue can be found here.

China's War with Japan

The Second World War in China was the single most wrenching event in modern Chinese history. The conflict is often termed the second Sino-Japanese War, and known in China as the War of Resistance to Japan. There are arguments that the conflict began with the invasion of Manchuria in 1931, but between 1937 and 1945, China and Japan were at total war. When Japan was finally defeated in 1945, China was on the winning side, but lay devastated, having suffered some 15 million deaths, massive destruction of industrial infrastructure and agricultural production, and the shattering of the tentative modernization begun by the Nationalist government.

This research group was based on a concept grounded in the discipline of history, but with rich implications for our understanding of postwar and contemporary China – that China’s conflict with Japan in the mid-twentieth century must be brought to the forefront of our understanding of the wider path of Chinese modernity, and that to do so will bring about significant new historical and political insights, not only for the academic world, but also for the wider public understanding of China, a major commercial and diplomatic power in the twenty-first century.

In spring 2007, the Leverhulme Trust generously awarded a major grant to this project under its Research Leadership Award Scheme. Over the period 2007-12, a dedicated research programme involving postdoctoral Research Associates, doctoral students, and research assistants worked on publications, fieldwork, and international collaborations including conferences and workshops. The programme was directed by Rana Mitter (Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China).

In recent years, Oxford has rapidly become one of the world’s most important centres for the study of China. Oxford has been the beneficiary of several generous awards in recent years, including a Leverhulme-funded Contemporary Chinese Studies Project, a HEFCE-funded award to establish new programmes in Modern Chinese Studies (2000-05), and the new British Inter-University China Centre (BICC), held jointly between Oxford, Manchester, and Bristol (2006-11).

In 2006, a new Oxford China Centre was initiated to coordinate these initiatives. Oxford’s connections with China go well beyond these programmes, including collaborations in medical research and training for a new generation of government officials.

Programme Director

Professor Rana Mitter

Research Associates

Dr Sherman Lai - Sherman Lai gained his PhD from Queen’s University at Kingston, Canada (2008). His doctoral thesis concerns the growth of the military and financial strength of the Chinese Communist Party in Shandong province during Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). Born in Shanxi province, China, in 1962, he obtained his BA in history from Nankai University (1984), MA from Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (1987). He then joined the Chinese army, worked, at the Foreign Military Studies, the Academy of Military Sciences, as a translator, a sub-editor, an analyst on US security policy in the Western Pacific (1995-96). He also served as a deputy commander of an infantry company in China's Vietnam War (1989) and a UN peacekeeper in Western Sahara (1991-1992). He retired as a lieutenant colonel to emigrate in 1997. He landed in Montreal in Jan 2000, obtained his MA in the War Studies from Royal Military College of Canada (2002) and did his internship at Lester B. Pearson International Peacekeeping Centre (2002). He has numerous publications in Chinese on military and history.

Dr Helen Schneider - Dr Helen Schneider, a native of Washington, DC, received her BA from Swarthmore College and her PhD in History from the University of Washington in Seattle. She also spent time studying at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center in Nanjing, at the Mandarin Training Center in Taipei, in Harbin and in Beijing. She is currently on leave from her position as an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Virginia Tech (in Blacksburg, Virginia) where she teaches East Asian history. Helen’s first monograph uses the discipline of home economics as a lens to examine how educated Chinese women interpreted their domestic and professional identities and created careers to meet the needs of the nation over the course of the twentieth century. Her current projects include the cross-cultural professional interactions of home economists in the United States and China, a study of Nationalist women’s mobilization for social relief during the Sino-Japanese War, and the role of international aid in China during and immediately following the war.

Research Assistants

Dr Annie Hongping Nie - Dr. Hongping Annie Nie came from China and did her graduate study in the United States (MA, Calvin College, Michigan, 1995 PhD, Biola University, California, 2005). She has been a tutor on Chinese Politics for different colleges at the University of Oxford since 2005. She was also a research assistant at the Department of Politics and International Relations and a language instructor at the Institute for Chinese Studies before she joined the project. Her research interests include nationalism, citizenship education, foreign relations and diplomacy in contemporary China.

Affiliated Researchers

Dr Matthew Johnson - Matthew D Johnson (PhD, UC San Diego, History) is Departmental Lecturer in the History and Politics of Modern China, Faculty of History. His research interests include international political communication, propaganda, Cold War studies, the League of Nations, and modern state formation. He is currently writing a book manuscript entitled Before Soft Power: International Image-Making and the Chinese Communist Party, 1928-1980. Matthew has published reviews and articles on contemporary filmmaking in China, co-edited a special issue of the Journal of Chinese Cinemas, and is involved in a variety of projects on the political uses of media during the twentieth century. He is a former employee of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, U.S. Department of Education Jacob K Javits fellow, U.S. Fulbright IIE student fellow, and visiting researcher in the Department of History, Peking University.

Dr James Reilly - James Reilly was a Research Associate on the China's War with Japan programme in 2008-09. He is now Lecturer in International Relations of East Asia at the University of Sydney. He received his PhD from George Washington University in August 2008 in Political Science. Dr. Reilly researches Chinese foreign policy, China-Japan relations, and state-society relations in China. He is currently preparing a book manuscript for publication based upon his dissertation: The Role of Public Opinion in China’s Japan Policy: 1997-2007. Dr. Reilly’s research, supported by a Fulbright-Hays dissertation grant, explores the role of public opinion in the foreign policy of authoritarian countries by drawing upon Chinese public opinion poll data, quantitative content analysis of Chinese publications, and extensive interviews with Chinese and Japanese scholars, officials, businesspeople, and activists.

Dr. Reilly has published articles in The Washington Quarterly, China: An International Journal, Asian Survey, Survival, and several chapters in edited books. From 2001 through 2007, he was based in Dalian, China, where he served as the East Asia Representative of the American Friends Service Committee. He was a Fulbright Scholar based at Renmin University of China for the 2007-08 academic year. He holds an MA in East Asian Studies from the University of Washington, and a BA in History from Guilford College.

Dr Federica Ferlanti - Federica Ferlanti was a Research Associate on the China's War with Japan programme in 2007-09. She is now Lecturer in Moden Chinese History at the University of Cardiff. Federica Ferlanti’s research field is Modern Chinese History and specifically China’s state-building and political history during the 1930s and 1940s. Federica holds BA Hons from Università di Venezia (DSAO, 1995), M.Phil. from University of Cambridge (Oriental Studies, 1996), and PhD from Università di Cagliari (DiSPI, 2003). Her doctoral thesis "The New Life Movement and the Politics of the Guomindang in Jiangxi Province, 1934-1936"' explores the development of the New Life Movement, its long-term impact on political and administrative institutions, along with its contribution in shaping citizenship and national identity. Federica has taught Modern and Contemporary Chinese History at Università di Venezia at Treviso (2003-2004) and has been a recipient of the Post-doctoral Fellowship awarded by the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange (2004-2006) with a project entitled "New Life Movement, civilian mobilisation, and state-building during the War against Japan, 1937-1945." Her current project explores the Nationalist government’s commitment to the organisation of popular resistance during the war against Japan, society’s response to the mobilisation in support of the war, and the impact of the war on Chinese society.

Dr Aaron William Moore - Aaron William Moore (PhD Princeton 2006) is a specialist in modern East Asian history. In 2008-10 he was a postdoctoral Research Associate with the China's War with Japan programme, and in February 2010 he took up an appointment as Lecturer in Chinese History at the University of Manchester.

His research, transnational in approach, primarily involves the critical study of subjectivity and diary writing during the Second World War, including texts written by Japanese, Chinese, and American servicemen. He is also working on nineteenth century Japanese anthropology, children's writings and language, work diaries in 1950s mainland China, and the intersection between popular Chinese, Japanese, and Russian genres such as science fiction with broader discourses on social management, gender, technology, and the body. His publications currently include "Essential Ingredients of Truth" (Japan Focus, August 2007), "The Chimera of Privacy" (Journal of Asian Studies, February 2009), "Talk about Heroes: Expressions of Self-Mobilization and Despair in Chinese War Diaries, 1911-1938" (Twentieth Century China, Spring 2009) as well as reviews and translations. Moore's current manuscript project is provisionally entitled, "The Peril of Self-Discipline: Chinese Nationalist, Japanese, and American Servicemen Record the Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1937-1945." His research languages include Chinese, Japanese, and Russian.

At Oxford, he explored the wartime diaries of American, Chinese, and Japanese servicemen during the Second World War, focusing his efforts on the critical period 1939-1945 in mainland China. His work will contribute to an ongoing discussion among area specialists on the nature of the Japanese occupation, the effectiveness of Chinese resistance, and the successes and failures of mobilization efforts on either side. In particular, he shows how individual servicemen described their experiences during this period, and how these descriptions affected their concepts of soldiering, warfare, and the self.

For Spring 2009, Moore won funding to support two conferences at Oxford. The first concerned the role of the wartime generation in the construction of historical memory in East Asia. The second examined representations of humans and machines in twentieth century China, Japan, the USSR, and Asian North America.

Dr Tehyun Ma - Tehyun Ma received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and just completed her PhD in History at the University of Bristol. Her research probes the ideological and administrative preoccupations of Chinese Nationalist leaders as they strove to mobilise Taiwan for conflict with the Communists after 1945. Her current project explores how the Nationalist Government planned the rehabilitation and reconstruction of territories occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War. Tehyun has taught at the University of Bristol and has held an Overseas Research Studentship and a Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation dissertation fellowship.

China's War with Japan, 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival

This book is the culmination of an ambitious multi-year research project, of which I was a part, wherein Rana Mitter proposed to re-examine as many aspects as possible of China’s experience of the highly destructive, eight-year war with Japan. Other collaborative projects have attempted comprehensive efforts in the past, such as the successful conference organised by Ezra Vogel and others at Harvard University, which produced a useful bibliography, but Mitter’s Leverhulme-funded endeavour has focused on including a new generation of scholars who view the Nationalist regime in a different way (more on this below). This book, which has been informed by Mitter’s conversations with scholars formally and informally affiliated with the project, is therefore one of the best contributions to our current understanding of the war, particularly at the level of elite political actors such as Chiang Kai-shek, Wang Jingwei, and Mao Zedong.

Mitter’s book was preceded by three important volumes on the war from the Chinese perspective, beginning with Lloyd Eastman’s Seeds of Destruction (1984), followed by Hans van de Ven’s War and Nationalism in China (2003), and Diana Lary’s The Chinese People at War (2010).(1) There have been other important contributions to our understanding of the war, particularly in recent years, but many have been restricted to certain areas of China or particular subjects, examples being Stephen Mackinnon’s Wuhan 1938 (obviously, restricted to Wuhan) and Parks Coble’s important Facing Japan (1991, which focused primarily on Chiang’s intraparty struggles).(2) Mitter’s book synthesises important aspects of these works, such as Mackinnon’s emphasis on the refugee experience (see chapter six, especially). Coble, who called for more social historical work on the war, ably narrated in Facing Japan the incessant crises faced by Chiang Kai-shek, including those involving rivals from his own party, which is reflected in Mitter’s nuanced treatment of Japanese collaborators such as Wang Jingwei and Zhou Fohai.

Historical treatment of the Nationalist regime prior to Eastman rarely used primary materials in Chinese, for a variety of reasons (such as limited archival access, even in Taiwan), and tended to fall into either the Barbara Tuchman / ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell camp of complaining about Nationalist incompetence, on the one hand, or uncritical reproductions of wartime propaganda, on the other. First Eastman entered this field by harshly criticising the GMD (Kuomintang) (beginning with Abortive Revolution in 1974), insisting on the inherently reactionary character of Chiang’s regime. Eastman cited disparaging comments by Tang Enbo and the generalissimo himself, echoing many Chinese Communist Party (CCP) arguments that it was the Nationalists’ corruption and suppression of revolutionary forces that lost them the war, and China. When peasants began taking up crude arms and attacked retreating Nationalist forces (141–2), how could one possibly claim that Chiang’s government was channelling Chinese patriotism against Japanese invasion? Second, scholars such as Hans van de Ven made a major contribution to re-writing this view of the GMD in War and Nationalism, along with other historians working roughly at the same time such as Parks Coble and Frederic Wakeman, Jr. Seeing the Nationalist Party leadership as facing considerable opposition both outside and inside its own ranks, historians like van de Ven urged us to view the GMD’s war against Japan realistically, and noted the party’s successes when guiding a growing, but disparate, national consciousness toward resistance against Japan. Finally, Diana Lary was certainly not the first to point out that the narrative of China’s war with Japan must also be a social history, but her work has been an important culmination of disparate efforts through the years to explore the stories of refugees, women, and ordinary soldiers (as in her early work, Warlord Soldiers). As Lary put it, the Second World War in China ‘was different from traditional patterns of foreign conquest … [it was] a fundamental disturbance to Chinese society that produced profound and permanent change …’ (p. 195). This sentiment is repeated throughout Mitter’s work as well.

In this sense, China’s War with Japan is not a revisionist history (although it might appear so at first glance to those unfamiliar with the field) but a very skilful syncretic project, pulling the best of diplomatic, political, and military history into a highly readable format. This will make Mitter’s book one of the best places to begin for casual or beginning readers of Chinese modern history, with the caveat that their study cannot end here (Mitter provides a good ‘Further reading’ section at the end of the book). Mitter uses some of the most important archives: Chongqing Municipal, Shanghai Municipal, and No. 2 in Nanjing, but future researchers, while needing to touch base with these collections, should not neglect Taiwan, and I believe an emphasis on regional archives in provinces such as Hubei, Yunnan, and Shaanxi will add important information to the Chinese resistance. Of course, the Communist Party archives are likely to also have a story to tell, but I am not holding my breath for access to useful or new (unpublished) materials. Mitter also revisits the Chiang Kai-shek diaries, which have been the subject of some attention in print already (see Jay Taylor’s 2009 Generalissimo and, in the same year, Wang Qisheng in The Journal of Modern Chinese History (3)), but he is able to integrate them into the larger narrative and show us how they change our view of the war he also makes reference to the well-known Zhou Fohai diary throughout, which has been crying out for better inclusion into the historiography (however, see Brian G. Martin’s article in Twentieth Century China, 2008 (4)). Newspapers such as the North China Herald and foreigners’ accounts at the Yale Divinity Library archives help Mitter flesh out the general narrative as well as the complex and mercurial international relations of the wartime period. In this sense, Mitter has responded to scholarly reviews of Parks Coble’s Facing Japan, which asked that the intraparty GMD struggle be combined with the older narrative of China-qua-Allied power, as well as its international relations (see Akira Iriye’s review of Coble in The China Quarterly, 1993 (5) ). Thus, non-specialist readers will be unaware of the mass of scholarship supporting Mitter’s view of the war, including his own original research, and may take exception to his portrayal of the GMD efforts and the decisions made by collaborationists. Especially in the latter case, sceptical readers should review Poshek Fu’s path-breaking Passivity, Resistance, and Collaboration (1993), Mitter’s first book Manchurian Myth (2000), and Timothy Brook’s Collaboration (2005).(6)

One area in which this volume particularly excels is the situation of Chongqing (Chungking) at the heart of the Chinese war experience, and the return to focusing on the period after Pearl Harbor. While Nanjing was the pre-war capital, and we have a lot of recent studies on Shanghai, the Communist effort, Hong Kong, and Japanese-occupied areas such as Dalian, Qingdao, Tianjin, and Manchukuo, Chongqing (the wartime capital) has been a relatively minor concern for historians (there are, of course, important book chapters by Chang Jui-te and Edna Tow on the Chongqing bombing). Mitter rightly reminds us of the importance of Chongqing, which was heavily bombed by the Japanese, but which also became the nexus of an international effort to weaken and eventually destroy the Japanese empire. Here Mitter wisely divides the war effort into two key stages: 1938–41, ‘Resisting alone,’ and (following Pearl Harbor) 1941–5, ‘The poisoned alliance.’ In particular, the period from the fall of Wuhan to Pearl Harbor is poorly understood, and Mitter draws on foreigners’ accounts, Chinese reporters, and post-war published Chinese resource collections, such as Qu da houfang (Shanghai, 2005), to show how civilians weathered the crisis in Sichuan. Mitter and Lary are in agreement: the war was transformative for China’s sense of itself for Mitter, this is especially true when the government had to move to Chongqing, which ‘helped to consolidate ideas of a united China that spanned the whole of the country’s land mass’ (p. 172). In chapters ten to twelve, Mitter shows why he, the author of Manchurian Myth and A Bitter Revolution (2005) (7), is able to tell this tale particularly well combining CCP, collaborationist, and GMD resistance narratives is extraordinarily difficult, but he manages to present the story with unusual clarity. In these chapters, he is also indirectly challenging the approach of Eastman and Tuchman, as well as the more widespread Western memory of the war (shaped by reporters such as Theodore White, intelligence officers such as Graham Peck, and various Western soldiers’ and civilians’ memoirs), by emphasising how the regime survived by wit and willpower almost entirely on its own. These chapters are, to this reader, the most important contribution that the book has made to the way we talk about the Second World War in China.

The ‘poisoned alliance’ between China and the United States is a story we know well by now, but Mitter uses it as an opportunity to complicate the one-dimensional view of GMD corruption being the paramount reason for the regime’s failures after 1941. On pages 260 to 262, Mitter presents America’s man-in-China, Joseph Stilwell, as a rather poorly-informed gambler with other nations’ assets, who simultaneously fed the press statements that bolstered his position at the expense of Chiang’s. Although Stilwell could hardly have claimed to even match Nationalist achievements from 1937 to 1941, he managed to win ‘the war for Washington’s ear’ (p. 342) which, in the age of dependency on Lend-Lease, was almost everything. He follows this with a nuanced view of one of China’s infamous wartime famines in Henan, which was largely a consequence of Chiang’s destruction of the Yellow River dikes. Mitter admits that Chiang’s regime must be blamed for the famine, which was exacerbated by policies that served the wartime state, but he follows this with a fairly hard-hitting comparison with the British armed forces’ cynical decision to withhold relief in wartime Bengal—and South Asia could hardly be said to have suffered encirclement and sustained attack by the Japanese Empire as mainland China was (pp. 273–4). China’s failing economy and long-suffering people created the conditions that necessitated a strong government response (in the name of survival) and this, ironically, was the Nationalists’ undoing. When analysing the ruthless secret service war carried on between the collaborationist government in Nanjing and the GMD in Chongqing, Mitter puts it succinctly: ‘The public saw the agents not as ideological stalwarts, but as weak men given power to exercise for their own benefit’ (p. 297). By 1945, this was arguably true for the regime altogether. With Stilwell failing in his command of Chinese troops and Stalin backing the GMD over the CCP as the only reliable resistance force in East Asia, one wonders just who could have done a better job of holding down the Japanese Imperial Army with limited industry, a currency continually destabilised by the enemy, a multi-lingual force with shifting loyalties, little or no air power, and unreliable access to critical fuels and materials—all in region that had been under the control of warlords until 1936.

Mitter concludes his narrative by bluntly stating that, without the resistance, ‘China would have become a Japanese colony as early as 1938’ (p. 388) instead of becoming a critical part of the Allied war against Japan. Because he has written such a readable and well-informed book, it is hopeful that it will help shift our historical memory of China’s role in the Second World War. There are two important lessons for the casual student of East Asian history to take from this new work: first, the resistance, which saved China from outright colonisation, was primarily a Nationalist endeavour, despite CCP claims to leadership and their ultimate victory in 1949 second, that the effort was the consequence of genuine public support for the war effort in China. On the second point, the discussion becomes quite challenging for scholars today. R. Keith Schoppa’s recent monograph on refugees, In a Sea of Bitterness (2011), argues strongly that, when analysing the diaries of ordinary civilians, nationalism and dedication are almost nowhere to be found. However, in my own work on soldiers’ diaries, Writing War (2013), I have found many instances of Chinese troops earnestly dedicating themselves to the war against Japan, particularly from 1937 to 1939.(8) Although Mitter does cite some personal accounts, it is first and foremost a study of high level political and military actors. Still, these monographs tell slightly different tales of the war experience, suggesting that, even with the remarkable progress we have made in the last two decades in re-evaluating the war in China, we still have a long way to go. Furthermore, China scholars continue to note that it was a terribly fractious place in the 1930s and 1940s, which strong regional governments, dialects, ethnic diversity, and local cultures. Is it sensible to speak of a ‘Chinese’ resistance at all? Mitter shows us that this is where we must begin – with the Nanjing/Chongqing government under Chiang Kai-shek – but that subsequent attention to local experiences may change the story.

Synthesizing years of research by dozens of scholars, including many original findings of his own, Mitter has provided a powerful, readable, and accessible account of the conflict in China, focusing on its leading figures and major turning points, which will help readers navigate this complicated, confusing, and terrible war. What is needed now are more studies of the social history of the conflict, particularly those that might combine various local histories this will help us resolve some of the contradictory images we see from different studies but, in my view, this can only be accomplished through the gruelling task of exploring China’s rich regional archives.

This Amazing Spy Story Is Why China Never Invaded Taiwan

Key point: Beijing really wanted to invade Taiwan but his agents on the inside were compromised.

In the summer of 1949, Chiang Kai-shek and his Republic of China (ROC) government appeared doomed. Shanghai and Nanjing, then China’s capital city, had fallen to Mao Zedong's communist forces, and Chiang's units all over China were collapsing under the weight of mass attack and defections.

Southeastern China's harbors were clogged with ships ferrying ROC government officials, troops and treasure to Taiwan, the final redoubt of “Free China.” Soon, only a long string of offshore islands stretching from Zhoushan in the north down to Hainan in the south would be left under Chiang's control. It was at this pivotal moment in history that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) began planning the invasion of Taiwan.

From June 1949 to June 1950, PLA generals under Mao Zedong undertook intensive battle planning and preparations for what was to become the formative strategic challenge facing China’s new communist leadership. An unexpected turn of history kept Mao and his generals from putting their Taiwan invasion plan into action. On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, and U.S. President Harry Truman swiftly decided to save South Korea’s friendly government, while also ordering the U.S. Seventh Fleet to prevent a possible Chinese invasion across the Taiwan Strait.

As a consequence, China's new government aborted the Taiwan invasion, and many of the forces that had been training for the mission were subsequently redeployed to the Sino-Korean border area. In October 1950, “Red” China intervened on the side of North Korea, sending a flood of troops equipped with jungle warfare kits into frigid battles against the United Nations forces led by the United States. This intervention resulted in what was to become two drawn-out and dangerous stalemates which still exist today: one on the Korean Peninsula, the other across the Taiwan Strait.

But why was China’s invasion plan not put into action before the outbreak of the Korean War? How did Taiwan and its ROC government survive? The answer lies in a little known, but deadly, case of espionage.

The Invasion Plan

The Battle of Taiwan was intended to be the final chapter in the Chinese Civil War, a conflict that had ravaged China from 1927 to 1949, interrupted by the Japanese invasion and occupation of Manchuria and Eastern China during the Second World War. Mao and his communist forces were essentially on the defensive throughout the first two decades of their insurgency. They lurched from one battlefield defeat to the next, husbanding their strength and avoiding any decisive losses. The scene suddenly changed in early 1949, when they took the upper hand against the ROC Army, winning a series of crushing campaigns across northern and central China.

In March 1949, Mao ordered his generals to add Taiwan to the list of strategic objectives to be captured. Previously, the strategy for 1949 had been to seek the “liberation” of nine provinces in China. After the dramatic series of battlefield victories, the list of provinces to seize by the end of the year was expanded to seventeen, including Taiwan.

Events developed rapidly. Within just a few months of the strategy shift, PLA troops had captured Nanjing and Shanghai and were marching down the eastern seaboard of China on their way to Fujian Province, across from Taiwan. At this moment, Mao contacted the star commander of 3rd Field Army, General Su Yu, and his chief of staff, General Zhang Zhen. On June 14, 1949, he directed them via telegram to find out whether Taiwan could be taken in a short timeframe and told them to plan a large-scale military operation to capture the island.

In his message, Mao alluded to the possibility of using covert actions to get Nationalist forces to defect at the key moment―something his undercover intelligence officers in Taiwan were already preparing. Indeed, the PLA needed more than ships, planes and troops to conquer Taiwan. For the invasion plan to work, the army needed a large network of secret agents buried in Taiwan’s society, whose cardinal mission was to recruit ROC military commanders, convincing them to defect (preferably with their entire units intact) to support communist operations when the amphibious landings began.

Beyond enticing Nationalists officers to betray their cause, secret agents were also needed for fomenting social unrest, organizing riots, and engaging in acts of sabotage all across the island. The effort dated back to April 1946, when the top secret “Taiwan Works Committee” was established in China. Over time, this covert action group developed an extensive web of undercover operatives, who were spun across Taiwan and poised to strike at the key moment.

The Spymaster

At the dark heart of Mao's covert operations was Cai Xiaogan, the spymaster who served as the PLA's station chief in Taipei. Born in 1908, Cai was a Taiwanese native who had grown up under Japanese colonial rule. In the 1920s, he left Taiwan as a teenager to attend school in Shanghai. On campus, far from home, Cai was apparently lonely and confused, making him easy prey for communist recruiting efforts. After a period of cultivation, Cai joined Mao's insurgency against the ROC government.

Cai’s intellectual potential was readily apparent, and like all the best and the brightest he was assigned to the Red Army's political department. He excelled at writing and was given a coveted position as a propaganda officer. Eventually he became the only Taiwanese native to survive the Long March.

During the Second Sino-Japanese War (World War II), Cai became an expert in interrogating and reprogramming Japanese prisoners and translating and analyzing their documents. Born a Taiwanese subject of Imperial Japan, he was a fluent speaker of Japanese. Over time, Cai’s spy skills became so renowned that he was asked to write teaching materials to guide other intelligence officers who would follow in his footsteps.

In early 1946, just months after the Empire of Japan surrendered to the Allies, Cai arrived in Shanghai and began preparing for his next mission. He had been hand-picked to lead a group of secret operatives against Nationalist forces in Taiwan. In July 1946, he adopted a new identity and infiltrated back into his native island. It took him and his team little time to blend in and establish themselves. Reports indicate that they developed and recruited nearly seventy local agents within their first six months, and by 1948 they controlled an estimated 285 agents.

In 1949, Nationalists forces began a mass exodus to Taiwan, and Cai's spy network surged in the depressing tumult. In December 1949, undercover operatives under his control reportedly numbered up to 1,300 agents. Additionally, Cai estimated that up to 50,000 civilian assets, almost all of them unwitting, could be mobilized for factory strikes, protest marches, and campus riots. He told his Third Field Army superiors that his covert forces would be ready to play their part in eroding support for Chiang’s regime just before the landings started. He recommended that the invasion be launched in April 1950, when the weather would be most favorable for amphibious operations.

In late 1949, Cai had good reason to be optimistic. He had a prize agent, a two-star ROC general, Wu Shi, who had retreated to Taipei from Nanjing. General Wu had been assigned to the Ministry of National Defense (MND) General Staff Department, a position which gave him access to war plans and other highly sensitive strategic information. Wu met repeatedly with Cai, handing over top secret documents, including military maps showing the locations of landing beaches, troop dispositions and military bases on Taiwan. Wu also purloined documents on troop deployments and artillery emplacements on the Kinmen and Zhoushan islands. These documents were subsequently smuggled into mainland China through a trusted female officer named Zhu Fengzhi. Great damage had been done to the defense of Taiwan.

Unbeknownst to Cai or Wu, a net was slowly closing around them both. In the fall of 1949, Chiang Kai-shek began to consolidate his retreating forces on Taiwan. Having experienced a fatal hemorrhaging of intelligence and the defection of key military units in mainland China, he was determined to eradicate undercover spies who had infested Taiwan. It was a race against time. Chiang needed to clean up his ranks before communist agents could lure away his displaced and demoralized officers. Recognizing the perils facing him, he made counterintelligence and counterespionage operations his emergency government's top priority, placing the MND Counterintelligence Bureau in charge of the dragnet.

The first breakthrough for Chiang's spy catchers came in September 1949, when they uncovered a spy ring and underground printing press in the port city of Keelung. As a consequence, they were subsequently able to track down the official in charge of PLA underground intelligence work in southern Taiwan. They arrested him in Kaohsiung that November. Cai’s long-cultivated spy network then quickly came unglued, as one communist agent after the next was apprehended and compromised.

By January 1950, Taiwan's men in black had closed in on Cai himself. Counterintelligence officers discovered his home address in Taipei and quickly moved to arrest him. When it occurred, the arrest came as a surprise to Cai, but did little to knock the wind out of his sails. Cai, himself a seasoned interrogator, knew exactly what to do in jail to turn the tables on his captors. It didn’t take long. After a brief period of interrogation, Cai convinced MND officers that he had defected and would help them. They allowed him to visit a certain phone booth in downtown Taipei, where he promised to take a call luring in his commanding officer. Despite being escorted through the streets by a large contingent of plainclothes officers, Cai was able to make a successful escape and vanish into the city nightlife.

Finally Some Aid for China

Jiang Jieshi (Chiagn Kai Sek) requested aid from the Soviet Union leader, Joseph Stalin, to resist the advancing Japanese army in Chinese territory. Stalin provided Jieshi with some assistance.

In 1938, Jiang ordered his troops to blow the banks of the Yellow River dams. That was the only way to overpower the Japanese army. This strategy worked Jiang’s favor. However, it caused a flood followed by disastrous famine that killed nearly 500,000 to 1,000,000 Chinese civilians.

1 Answer 1

There were certainly some high ranking officers and other officials who escaped punishment:

Perhaps the most notorious was Gen. Ishii of Unit 731, who escaped
postwar prosecution in exchange, apparently, for supplying the U.S.
government with details of his gruesome human experiments. Other
suspected Japanese war criminals who were never indicted include three
postwar prime ministers: Hatoyama Ichirō (1954�), Ikeda Hayato
(1960�), and Kishi Nobusuke (1957). A convicted Class A war criminal, Shigemitsu Mamoru, a senior diplomat and
foreign minister during the war years, regained the foreign minister portfolio in 1954.

Among others who escaped being charged were Lt. Gen. Kawabe Torashirō, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff, and

. the notorious Col. Tsuji Masanobu. the instigator behind the
Bataan Death March.

Inevitably, some escaped justice. Prosecutors were hampered

. because of the empire-wide document destruction that the Imperial
Japanese Government had orchestrated prior to effecting

directive (dated 20 August 1945) from Tokyo to respective Japanese
Armies in Korea, Taiwan, Manchuria, China, Hong Kong, Thailand,
Borneo, Malaya, and Java, the following instructions were given:

"Personnel who mistreated prisoners of war and internees or who are
held in extremely bad sentiment by them are permitted to take care of
it by immediately transferring or by fleeing without trace."

Australian officials in 1948 claimed that there was "extensive evidence" of not just of destroying records but also fabricated evidence and instructions to subordinates to lie.

Not surprisingly, many suspects fled.

In Southeast Asia and China, some suspects joined the local
nationalist or communist movements, though not all who did were
suspected of war crimes. Some of those who were arrested managed to
escape from custody others committed suicide while in Allied hands.

Nonetheless, the Allied powers pursued war criminals not just through the Tokyo Trials. However, details of, for example, Soviet prosecutions, may never to be clarified given Cold War propaganda following the war.

Allied nations also held war crimes trials throughout Asia and the
Pacific. Americans, British, Australians, Dutch, French, Filipinos,
and Chinese held trials at forty-nine locations between October 1945
and April 1956. The British prosecuted numerous Japanese for war
crimes in Southeast Asia, including those involved in the construction
of the ThaiBurma railway of death, immortalized as the Bridge over the
River Kwai. Australian prosecutors worked in conjunction with British
and American courts to bring Japanese to justice and tried large
numbers of Japanese at Amboina, Dutch East Indies, and at Rabaul, New
Britain. China tried at least 800 defendants, including some involved
in the Nanjing massacre. France and the Netherlands tried several
hundred more. The French brought to justice a Japanese civilian on
Java who forced dozens of women into prostitution for the military
authorities, and the Dutch condemned Japanese to death for the murder
of indigenous people and Dutch prisoners. In late 1949 at
Khabarovsk, the Soviet Union also put twelve Japanese on trial for
biological warfare crimes—six were members of Unit 731, two of Unit
100, an independent biological warfare entity, and four from
elsewhere—and later transferred several hundred Japanese ex-servicemen
suspected of war crimes to the People’s Republic of China, where
Chinese authorities judged them in the mid-1950s. Of 5,379 Japanese,
173 Taiwanese, and 148 Koreans tried as class B and C war criminals
for conventional crimes, violations of the laws of war, rape, murder,
maltreatment of prisoners of war, about 4,300 were convicted, almost
1,000 sentenced to death, and hundreds given life imprisonment.

The Ecology of War in China

This book has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Online publication date: December 2014
  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online ISBN: 9781107785274
  • DOI:
  • Series: Studies in Environment and History
  • Subjects: East Asian History, Area Studies, Asian Studies, Military History, History, Regional History after 1500

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Book description

This book explores the interplay between war and environment in Henan Province, a hotly contested frontline territory that endured massive environmental destruction and human disruption during the conflict between China and Japan during World War II. In a desperate attempt to block Japan's military advance, Chinese Nationalist armies under Chiang Kai-shek broke the Yellow River's dikes in Henan in June 1938, resulting in devastating floods that persisted until after the war's end. Greater catastrophe struck Henan in 1942–3, when famine took some two million lives and displaced millions more. Focusing on these war-induced disasters and their aftermath, this book conceptualizes the ecology of war in terms of energy flows through and between militaries, societies, and environments. Ultimately, Micah Muscolino argues that efforts to procure and exploit nature's energy in various forms shaped the choices of generals, the fates of communities, and the trajectory of environmental change in North China.


'This is a riveting study of one of modern history’s worst war-induced disasters. In 1938 the Yellow River was turned into a weapon of strategic defense, its waters let loose on the North China plain by Chinese forces resisting the Japanese invasion. This consummate work shows the evolution of the disaster and lays out its ghastly human and ecological effects. It is a pioneering combination of environmental history and Chinese history.'

Diana Lary - University of British Columbia

'In this brilliantly conceptualized work Muscolino draws on the memories of the displaced as well as the records of the river to tell an environmental history of the Yellow River, granting the latter its full agency in the shaping of modern Chinese history.'

Wen-hsin Yeh - Richard H. and Laurie C. Morrison Chair Professor in History, University of California, Berkeley

'Conceptualizing the relationship between armies and environment in terms of energy flows, Micah Muscolino provides us with a startlingly new and rich way to think about the relationship between war and environment.'

Hans van de Ven - Director in Oriental Studies, St Catharine’s College, University of Cambridge

'The Ecology of War in China is an ambitious book that delivers an intense vision of the tremendous hardships faced by the people and environment of the central Chinese province of Henan throughout a dozen years of Anti-Japanese Resistance, widespread famine, civil war, and, finally, recovery … Muscolino does a masterful job of demonstrating the pivotal role that the Yellow River and the larger environment played in Chinese history.'

Norman Smith Source: The Journal of Interdisciplinary History

'Micah Muscolino already has a strong reputation as a pioneering scholar in the field of China’s Republican-era environmental history. His new book makes another major contribution to that field. … The Ecology of War in China is a valuable addition to the literature on the environmental destructiveness of warfare. It must count as one of the most rigorously researched, analytically sophisticated, and strongest studies we have of the causes and consequences of an environmental disaster in twentieth-century China. It deserves to be widely read.'

Pauline Keating Source: The China Journal

'… in an age in which human decisions - often based on the short-term pursuit of power - may shape even the broadest long-standing background conditions of human societies, Muscolino's account of unintended consequences, incomplete reversibility, and destabilized environments is also a story of more than just historical interest.'

Kenneth Pomeranz Source: Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review

'This is a work of painstaking local history, illustrated with numerous detailed maps of the shifting Yellow River flood, and gripping photographs from the time. Archival sources and local observers provide telling details and useful statistics. … Muscolino is an environmental historian, a path-breaker in this discipline in the China field. He forces old-fashioned historians like me to think in new ways, which is certainly both necessary and useful.'

Joseph Esherick Source: Journal of Chinese History

'The Yellow River, China’s second-longest waterway and Asia’s third-longest, is not exactly a typical veteran of the Second World War (or, if you are Chinese, of the 'War of Resistance against Japan'). As Micah S. Muscolino ably demonstrates, the Yellow River nevertheless did literally play a central role as 'an actor' in the second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945). In its attention to postwar policies and legacies, the book begins to fill a gap in the growing literature on 'war and the environment' by looking beyond the immediate effects of military operations. Overall, The Ecology of War in China is a powerful demonstration of the synergy between people and nature that both destroys and restores.'

David Bello Source: The American Historical Review

'The Ecology of War in China is a superbly researched and tightly argued text on the environmental consequences of the Pacific War in China. … the focus on the first elements of the metabolic cycle, the consumption of energy, in all its myriad forms and consequences, is a very useful construct to disentangle the mutually supporting and complex impacts that militaries and military action had on the physical and social landscape in the lower Yellow River valley.'

David Pietz Source: Environmental History

'Muscolino describes vividly the effects of this state-induced inundation, which sacrificed the livelihoods of millions of farmers in the interests of state security and once again failed to stop the foreign invader. He describes the aftermath of the river flood, during the time when the river continued to shift course, refugees covered the landscape, and military operations continued. Muscolino also vividly narrates the experience of refugees, laborers, and farmers, and he describes the survival strategies they used to withstand the blows of armies, sand, and water. Such extensive militarization of water, land, and human labor laid the ominous foundations for the mass mobilizations of the PRC during the 1950s and 1960s.'

Peter Perdue Source: Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies

'This is a rich empirical study of a complex subject matter. It is essential for understanding the environmental impact of the Second Sino-Japanese War and the civil war on North China.'

Traveling with a Priceless Library

As Zhejiang University in Hangzhou planned for evacuation, Chen Xunci, Head Librarian of Zhejiang Library, asked the university to take the valuable collection from the Wenlan Ge with them. The school chancellor agreed, even though it added another 230 boxes to their cargo.

Chen promised to get funding for the library&rsquos transportation, but couldn&rsquot persuade the education ministry to give him any, even as a loan. He borrowed from family and friends, and before the war ended, had sold his own property to ensure the Siku Quanshu&rsquos safety.

Thus began the library&rsquos journey. The university&rsquos route diverged at times from that of the books, which they tried to move by boat or truck whenever possible otherwise, they would pack the boxes into carts and wheelbarrows, and pay local laborers to move the books. At times the students carried some of the books in their backpacks. In one near-disaster, a container of books overturned while crossing a stream. The box was taken to the nearest town, where the books were spread out to dry in the wide courtyard of the local City God&rsquos temple.

All the &ldquoschools in exile&rdquo faced danger and hardships. There was the endless trudging each day, under threat of aerial attacks. They were always tired, cold and hungry. They slept in temples when no other lodgings were available. Professors did what they could to continue classes if they stopped to rest for more than a few days. Cut off from their families, students had to make do with a small government stipend. My father recalls times when, rather than spend his money on fuel, he would take a tin can and poke around abandoned cooking fires to find remnants of coal.

Yet despite it all, they were generally cheerful, he said, because everyone was suffering the same hardships. They were touchingly optimistic, trusting their professors to bring them safely through a war zone.

And they were young. Memoirs by Zhejiang University students include accounts of unrequited love (young men outnumbered the women five to one), with many women complaining about the truly terrible love poems they received from admirers. When they were able to stay in one place for weeks or months, the students enjoyed outings and sports. In rural areas, women in short skirts and bathing costumes had never been seen and the female students caused a scandal.

It wasn&rsquot until the New Year of 1940, after 1,400 miles on the road and 28 months of makeshift classrooms and dormitories, that the 800 members of Zhejiang University arrived at their final wartime campus in Zunyi, a small town in Guizhou province.

Yet with aerial attacks now moving deeper into China, the Siku Quanshu was still not safe. Guizhou is famed for its spectacular karst caves and the chancellor moved the books to a cave outside Zunyi. Two university servants stayed behind to guard and care for the books. The volumes survived the war in surprisingly good condition and were sent back to Zhejiang Library.

The story of the Siku Quanshu Wenlan Ge is inseparable from the story of people who risked all to protect a cultural legacy, from the librarian who sold off his house to the students who would not abandon the heavy boxes that slowed their travel.

As a final note, in 1994 a professor from Zhejiang University was in Kyoto looking through Japanese war records when he found a note dated after the fall of Hangzhou. It stated that &ldquoon February 22, 1938 the Occupied Area Literature Procurement Committee sent nine agents from Shanghai to Hangzhou to search for books from the Wenlan Ge.&rdquo

If the books had not been moved, the fate their keepers feared could have easily come to pass. But by the time Japanese agents reached Hangzhou, the Siku Quanshu was already on its long march to safety.

Janie Chang is the author of the novel The Library of Legends, available now from William Morrow. The Library of Legends draws from family history and is set during the evacuation of Chinese universities at the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Watch the video: Evergrande Got a Clean Bill of Health From PWC Months Before Collapse (June 2022).


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