Peng Dehuai, Deputy Commander in Chief of the CPC-led Eighth Route Army, commands an operation during the Hundred Regiments Campaign in 1940 (XINHUA)
A major battlefield
Early in 1931, the Japanese, eager to grasp control of China's vast natural resources and taking note of the country's defensive weaknesses, plotted to conquer its northeast provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning. On September 18 that year, a group of Japanese officers incited the September 18 Incident, which led to Japan's total occupation of the area—known to the West as Manchuria—within five months.
Encouraged by the conquest of northeast China, the Japanese there built up a continental base for its further territorial encroachment on the Asian continent.
In January 1933, the Japanese Kwantung Army occupied Shanhaiguan Pass, the gateway to north China, and initiated a campaign in then Jehol Province, which was soon incorporated into Manchukuo, a puppet regime established by Japan in China's northeast provinces.
In the same year, Japanese troops also moved into Hebei Province, launching two attacks there. In May that year, the Japanese army signed the Tanggu Truce with the Chinese authorities, thus gaining it a foothold in the northern Chinese province.
Facing the national crisis, the CPC proposed a united front between political parties, civil organizations and armies in 1935. In December 1936, Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975), then Chairman of the National Military Council of the Nationalist Government of the Republic of China (1912-49), recognized the united front and from thereon in, the Chinese people rallied around the Kuomintang (KMT) and the CPC.
Six months later, Japanese officers manufactured an incident at the Lugou Bridge, better known as the Marco Polo Bridge, near Beijing on July 7, 1937. The Japanese army bombarded nearby Wanping County, close to Beijing, inciting full-scale war in China.
On August 13, the Japanese opened a second front in Shanghai, the financial center of the nation, aiming to cripple China's economy. Chiang committed some of his best German-trained troops there, who succeeded in stalling the enemy's advance for a period of three months.
Citing Japanese battle logs describing the bloody Songhu Battle in Shanghai, Hu said Chinese soldiers and civilians put up a "very tough" resistance, enduring a siege during which Japan suffered more than 40,000 casualties. The Japanese tactic of outflanking the defender ultimately worked, however, causing a rapid disintegration of Chinese defenses. The road to Nanjing was left wide open, and the enemy swiftly advanced to the gates of the Chinese capital.
Chiang then moved his capital to Chongqing in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River in southwest China. The southwest became a new base of resistance, dashing Japanese hopes for a swift occupation of the whole of China.
In October 1938, Japanese army units landed in south China and occupied Guangzhou in Guangdong Province. Other Japanese troops in central China attacked and seized the city of Wuhan along the Yangtze River. The fall of Wuhan marked the end of the first phase of the war, which lasted 16 months. During this period, the Chinese ceded space in return for time, enticing the enemy deep into their country's hinterland. Although the Japanese quickly captured all key Chinese ports and industrial centers, including capital Nanjing and Shanghai, the KMT and CPC forces continued to resist.
During the brutal conflict, the Japanese forces committed many massacres and atrocities. The most infamous came after the fall of Nanjing in December 1937, when Japanese troops slaughtered an estimated 300,000 civilians and raped 80,000 women. Moreover, many thousands of Chinese were killed in the indiscriminate bombing of cities by the Japanese air force.
Savage reprisals were also carried out against Chinese farmers, in retaliation for attacks by partisans waging a guerrilla war against the invader by ambushing supply columns and attacking isolated units. By the war's end, this had led to an estimated 10-20 million Chinese civilian deaths.
By the end of 1938, the war had descended into stalemate. The Japanese seemed unable to force victory, nor the Chinese to evict the invaders from occupied territory.
Around this period, Mao Zedong (1893-1976) wrote his famous On Protracted War, systematically analyzing the war situation and pointing out potential routes to triumph. In the article, Mao favored small assaults on Japanese supply lines over large-scale confrontations.
Accordingly, the CPC-led forces created a coherent theory of guerrilla warfare. The foundation of this strategy was the creation of base areas within enemy-occupied territory, where guerrillas could return for rest and replenishment and where recruits and material support could be assembled.
The CPC-led troops' surprise attacks and constant harassment of supply convoys and road and rail links put the Japanese army on the defensive for much of 1938. By August of that year, guerrillas had occupied nine of the 22 districts in the east of Hebei.
While the KMT troops were holding a large consignment of Japanese troops in central China at bay, the CPC troops launched the Hundred Regiments Campaign in August 1940, during which Chinese troops fought a total of 1,824 battles large and small, inflicted some 20,645 casualties on Japanese forces, destroyed major railways and many highways, uprooted some 2,993 Japanese and puppet regime strongholds, and recovered between 40 and 50 counties from Japanese occupation.
The outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941 changed the course of the Chinese struggle. The Allied powers established a China-Burma-India theater, with Chiang acting as supreme commander of the China Theater, consisting of China proper, as well as Viet Nam, Thailand and Burma, effective from January 5, 1942.
Foreigners also played their part. Joseph Stilwell (1883-1946), a former language officer in Beiping, now Beijing, was appointed the chief of staff of the Chinese army. A group of American volunteer pilots, the Flying Tigers, who had been operating in Kunming in Yunnan since August 1941, were incorporated into the U.S. 14th Air Force on July 4, 1942, with Claire Chennault (1893-1958) acting as commander.
During the early phases of the Pacific War, the Allied performance was poor in contrast with the long-fought Chinese resistance, which had garnered the latter respect in the West, convincing the U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to enlist China's aid.
At that time, the Chinese battlefield continued to occupy most of the Japanese army, greatly helping other Allied powers in their war against Japan, while providing strategic re-enforcement to efforts being made elsewhere around the world.
On November 1, 1943, the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union accepted China as one of the cosigners of the Moscow Declaration, in which the four nations pledged to prosecute the war unceasingly until victory was theirs.
On December 1, 1943, China, Britain and the United States jointly issued the Cairo Declaration, which formulated the general principles of resistance against Japanese imperialism.
The Potsdam Proclamation was jointly issued by China, the United States and Britain on July 26, 1945, and won support worldwide. It sounded the death knell for the Axis powers, while at the same time representing an official denunciation of Japan's actions.
On August 15, 1945, the war ended with the Japanese declaring an unconditional surrender. The Chinese people had finally achieved their first anti-imperialist victory, a century after the Opium War which lasted from 1840-42, helping to overcome the humiliations they had experienced in the past. Moreover, they had won the respect of the international community.
Over the 14 years of Japan's invasion and occupation, China suffered more than 35 million military and non-military casualties; military casualties reached 3.8 million, accounting for one third of the total casualties of all the countries involved in WWII; more than $100 billion in direct property losses were incurred, with indirect economic losses of $500 billion.
Up to 1938, China and Japan together put more than 4 million soldiers into action in a war zone of approximately 1.6 million square km. More than 400 million people were involved directly or indirectly in the war.
(Source: State Council Information Office)
China's Role in the World Anti-Fascist War
"China's great war of resistance is not only China's own business; it is also a war of the East and the world at large. Our enemy is the world's enemy, and China's war of resistance is of worldwide significance."
"Chinese battlefields restrain the brutal Japanese invading army so that it dare not covet India, invade Australia or cross the Aleutians in the north in an attempt to cut off contacts among the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom."
"Only when the Japanese invaders' hands and feet are tied up can we avoid fighting on two fronts simultaneously when the German invaders attack us."
"Had China not been fighting, or had China been defeated, how many Japanese troops do you think would then be deployed to other regions to fight? They would have captured Australia and India all at once."
—Franklin D. Roosevelt
"If the Japanese attack the West Indian Ocean, all our positions in the Middle East will be lost. Only China can help us to prevent that from happening."
Copyedited by Eric Daly
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