The Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945)

Steve Phillips

in International Relations

ISBN: 9780199743292
Published online February 2013 | | DOI:
The Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945)


The Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), what the Chinese often refer to as the Eight Year War of Anti-Japanese Resistance, began with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident of July 1937 and ended with Japan’s surrender in September 1945. This conflict marked the culmination of almost a half-century of growing Japanese aggression toward China. In 1895, Japan took the island of Taiwan from China’s ailing Qing Dynasty after the First Sino-Japanese War, and in 1931 the Japanese Army occupied Manchuria, China’s three northeastern provinces. Despite the superiority of Japan’s military, by 1937 no Chinese government could accept further territorial losses while maintaining legitimacy with the Chinese people. Japan’s all-out invasion and Chinese resistance would be second only to the clash between Germany and the Soviet Union in terms of destruction and the number of dead. Early scholarship focused on the battlefield. Experts placed the 1937 to 1945 period into different contexts—a China-centered War of Resistance, a regionally based Second Sino-Japanese War or Pacific War, or a global war. One controversial issue is how much Chinese resistance figured in the ultimate defeat of the Japanese. If China’s role was limited, what factors hampered the resistance effort? Later, scholars examined the political aspects of the war. Debate over the nature and effectiveness of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government dominates much of the English-language material. Did the Nationalists vigorously prosecute the war against the Japanese? Could the United States have done more to assist Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist government? The legacy of Communist victory in China’s civil war is another issue confronting those who research Sino-Japanese conflict. Memoirs, oral histories, and the secondary literature on the 1937–1945 period often present the war as a prelude to Communist victory, or as a case study in Nationalist defects that would lead to the regime’s collapse in 1949. As Steven Levine writes in China’s Bitter Victory, “If not for the Sino-Japanese War, it is doubtful whether the Chinese Communist party would ever have come to power.” (Hsiung and Levine 1992, p. xvii; cited under General Overviews) In the past few decades, scholars expanded from military or state-centric topics to issues of collaboration and the impact of war on Chinese society. Japanese atrocities, such as the Nanjing Massacre, and postwar reconciliation also have received more attention from researchers in recent years.

Article.  13380 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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