The Second Sino-Japanese War
The Beginning of WWII?
Baby in a bombed train station after the Battle of Shanghai
Communist "Hammer and Sickle" Icon War Flag of the Imperial Japanese Army
Icon of the Nationalist Party
Map of China in 1937 highlighting areas contolled by the Japanese, the Republic of Chinam, and the Communists
The War Begins...
During the spring of 1937 there was a period of calm, a deceptive respite before the cataclysm. While the Guomindang and the CCP sparred for the propaganda initiative in embracing the united front, the Japanese watched warily. ... A number of large and small events then came together in what — cumulatively — turned out to be a fateful way. (SMC, 397)
"This Day in History, July 7, 1939: The Marco Polo Bridge Incident (with Japanese Gunner)
Map showing strategic value of Marco Polo Bridge for controlling trains to Kalgan, Tianjin and Taiyuan[The Marco Polo Bridge] — about ten miles west of Peking — had once been famed for its beauty; Emperor Qianlong wrote a poem on the loveliness of the setting moon when viewed there in the first light of dawn. Now a strategically important railway bridge had been built next to it, linking the southern lines with the junction town of Wanping. An army holding Wanping could control rail access to Tianjin, Kalgan, and Taiyuan, and for this reason the Japanese troops in north China often conducted maneuvers in the area, as they were entitled to by the Boxer Protocol of 1901.
Chinese forces attempting to defend the Marco Polo Bridge
On July 7, 1937, the Japanese chose to make the bridge the base of a night maneuver by a company from one of the Peking garrison battalions. The troops were also authorized to fire blank cartridges into the air to simulate combat conditions. At 10:30 P.M. the Chinese fired some shells into the Japanese assembly area without causing casualties. But when one Japanese soldier was missing at roll call, the Japanese commander, thinking the Chinese had captured the man, ordered an attack on Wanping. This attack, which the Chinese beat back, can be considered the first battle of World War II. ...
Japanese army seize the Marco Polo Bridge
On July 27, just as the local military commanders seemed to be working out withdrawal arrangements, more fighting, fierce this time, erupted around the Marco Polo Bridge. Japanese troops seized the bridge and dug in on the left bank of the Yongding River. By the end of the month they had consolidated their hold over the entire Tianjin-Peking region. (SMC, 397-400)
Japanese army posing for a victory photograph
Icon of the Nationalist Party
The Zhabei area of Shanghai on fire after fighting on land
Map showing Shangai and the retreat path to NanjingIn a major military and strategic gamble, Chiang Kai-shek decided to deflect the Japanese from their campaign in north China by launching an attack on their forces in the Shanghai area. It was here that Chiang had the bulk of his best German-trained divisions, primed for action since the Communists had been forced out of the Jiangxi Soviet onto the Long March. His forces outnumbered the Japanese in Shanghai by more than 10 to 1, and he had taken the precaution of constructing — again with German advice — a protective line of concrete blockhouses in the area of Wuxi on the railroad to Nanjing, should retreat become necessary. (SMC, 400)
Attack on the Japanese Navy Flagship Izumo (which killed thousands of civilians in the International Settlement)
On August 14, Chiang Kai-shek ordered his air force to bomb the Japanese warships at anchor off the docks of Shanghai. If he had hoped that this would be a triumphal revenge for the humiliating destruction by the Japanese navy of the Qing forces at Weihaiwei in 1895, he was sadly disappointed. Not only had the Nationalist air force lost the element of surprise when the Japanese intercepted and decoded a secret telegram, but the Chinese planes bombed inaccurately and ineffectively, missing the Japanese fleet and instead hitting the city of Shanghai, killing hundreds of civilians. Despite this tragic fiasco, the commanding Japanese admiral announced that “the imperial navy, having borne the unbearable, is now compelled to take every possible and effective measure.” Prince Konoe [the Japanese Prime Minister] declared that Japan was now “forced to resort to resolute action to bring sense to the Nanjing government.” (SMC, 400)
War Flag of the Imperial Japanese Army
Prince Konoe giving a speech at the House of Peers, 1936
Prime Minister Prince Konoe’s Speech
72nd Session of the Imperial Diet
September 5, 1937
Since the outbreak of the affair in North China on July 7th, the fundamental policy of the Japanese Government toward China has been simply and purely to seek the reconsideration of the Chinese Government and the abandonment of its erroneous anti-Japanese policies, with the view of making a basic readjustment in relations between Japan and China. ... The Chinese, however, not only fail to understand the true motives of the Government, but have increasingly aroused a spirit of contempt and have offered resistance toward Japan, taking advantage of the patience of our government. ... For the people of East Asia, there can be no happiness without a just peace in this part of the world. The Chinese people themselves by no means form the objective of our actions, which directive is against the Chinese Government and its army who are carrying out such erroneous, anti-foreign policies. If, therefore, the Chinese Government truly and fully reexamines its attitude and in real sincerity makes endeavors for the establishment of peace and for the development of culture in the Orient in collaboration with our country, our Empire intends to press no further.
       At the present moment, however, the sole measure for the Japanese Empire to adopt is to administer a thoroughgoing blow to the Chinese Army so that it may lose completely its will to fight. And if, at the same time, China fails to realize its mistakes and persists in its stubborn resistance, our Empire is fully prepared for protracted hostilities. Until we accomplish our great mission of establishing peace in the Orient, we must face many serious difficulties, and, in order to overcome them, we must proceed steadily with our task, adhering to the spirit of perseverance and fortitude in one united body. (
DC, 319-320)
What is this speech intended to accomplish?
Bubble page divider
Do you think it was effective in convincing its intended audience(s)?
Bubble page divider
Were the Japanese justified in pursuing a military response to
Chiang Kai-shek’s offensive in Shanghai?

Map showing the expansion of the Japanese empire in East Asia from 1895 to 1939
War Flag of the Imperial Japanese Army
The Japanese army entering Nanjing
As the Japanese bombarded the city with leaflets promising decent treatment of all civilians remaining there, skeptical Chinese troops — fugitives from the Shanghai fighting — killed and robbed the people of Nanjing to obtain civilian clothing and make good their escape. On December 12 Tang [Shengzhi, commander of the Chinese troops] himself abandoned the city; since he had vowed publicly to defend Nanjing to the last breath, he made no plans for the orderly evacuation of the garrison troops there, and his departure worsened the military confusion.
Japanese soldier charging with rifle/bayonette
Scene from the movie "City of Life and Death" showing a large group of women and girls panicking
There followed in Nanjing a period of terror and destruction that must rank among the worst in the history of modern warfare. For almost seven weeks the Japanese troops, who first entered the city on December 13, unleashed on the defeated Chinese troops and on the helpless Chinese civilian population a nearly unparalleled storm of violence and cruelty that has become known as the “Rape of Nanjing.” The number of women who were raped, many of whom died after repeated assaults, was estimated by foreign observers living in Nanjing at 20,000; the fugitive soldiers killed were estimated at 30,000; murdered civilians at 12,000. Other contemporary estimates made by Chinese observers were as much as ten times higher, and it is difficult to establish exact figures. Certainly robbery, wanton destruction, and arson left much of the city in ruins, and piles of dead bodies were observable in countless locations. (SMC, 401-402)
Scene from the film "City of LIfe and Death" showing Japanese army engaging in urban fighting
War Flag of the Imperial Japanese Army
Japanese newspaper article showing two soldiers with Japanese swords
December 7:  Sub-lieutenant Toshiaki Mukai and Sub-lieutenant Takeshi Noda, both of the Katagiri unit of Kuyung, in a friendly contest to see which of them will first fell 100 Chinese in individual sword combat before the Japanese forces completely occupy Nanjing, are well in the final phase of their race, running almost neck to neck.  On Sunday when their unit was fighting outside Kuyung, the “score,” according to the newspaper the Asahi [a major Japanese newspaper], was:  Sub-lieutenant Mukai, 89, and Sub-lieutenant Noda, 78.
Original photo of the two swordsmen in the "Race to 100" competition
Japanese swordDecember 14:  The winner of the competition between Sub-lieutenant Toshiaki Mukai and Sub-lieutenant Takeshi Noda to see who would be the first to kill 100 Chinese with his Yamato sword has not been decided, the Nichi Nichi reports from the slopes of Purple Mountain, outside Nanjing.  Mukai has a score of 106 and his rival has dispatched 105 men, but the two contestants have found it impossible to determine which passed the 100 mark first.  Instead of settling it with a discussion, they are going to extend the goal by 50.
        Mukai’s blade was slightly damaged in the competition.  He explained that this was the result of cutting a Chinese in half, helmet and all.  The contest was “fun,” he declared, and he thought it a good thing that both men had gone over the 100 mark without knowing that the other had done so.
        Early Saturday morning, when the Nichi Nichi man interviewed the sub-lieutenant at a point overlooking Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s tomb, another Japanese unit set fire to the slopes of Purple Mountain in an attempt to drive out the Chinese troops.  The action also smoked out Sub-lieutenant Mukai and his unit, and the men stood idly by while bullets passed overhead.
       “Not a shot hits me while I am holding this sword on my shoulder,” he explained confidently. (
DC, 332-333)

What is the significance of stories such as this,
which appeared in both Japanese and English language newspapers?
Rape of Nanjing Memorial with the number of victims given as 300,000
Communist "Hammer and Sickle" Icon War Flag of the Imperial Japanese Army
Icon of the Nationalist Party
China Divided
The Divergent Strategies of Chiang, Mao & the Japanese
As the Japanese advanced yet farther west to the ancient capital of Kaifeng, which would win them control of the crucial railroad leading south to Wuhan, Chiang Kai-shek ordered his engineers to blow up the dikes of the Yellow River. The ensuing giant flood stalled the Japanese for three months, destroyed more than 4,000 north China villages, and killed unknown number of local peasants. ...
Map showing the 1938 flood of the Yellow River
Map showing the flood created by the Nationalists to slow down the Japanese
Chinese soldiers wading through the flooded Yellow River
Chinese soldiers wading through the flooded Yellow River
By the late summer of 1938, however, the Japanese had assembled the planes, tanks, and artillery needed for the final assault on the tricity area of Wuhan ... [and] by late October 1938 much of Wuhan was in ruins. ... The Japanese took over the ravaged area on October 25, 1938, having (according to Chinese estimates) sustained 200,000 casualties and lost more than 100 planes. Only four days before, Japanese marine and naval units had landed and seized Canton. Chiang Kai-shek had now lost de facto control over the whole swathe of eastern China stretching from the passes at Shanhaiguan to the rich ports in the semitropical south, along with all the wealthy commercial and industrial cities lying in between. The area encompassed the most fertile of China’s farmland and the ancient cultural heartland of the country. (SMC, 402-403)
Icon of the Nationalist Party
Map showing Chongqing (Chungking), the Nationalists' wartime capital, and Yan'an (Yenan), the stronghold of the Chinese Communist Party
Communist "Hammer and Sickle" Icon
Mao with Edgar Snow
Interview with Mao
Edgar Snow
“Gradually the Red Army’s work with the masses improved, discipline strenthened, and a new technique in organization developed. The peasantry everywhere began to volunteer to help the revolution. As early as Jingganshan [sic] the Red Army had imposed three simple rules of discipline upon its fighters, and there were: prompt obedience to orders; no confiscations whatever from the poor peasantry; and prompt delivery directly to the government, for its disposal, of all goods confiscated form the landlords. After the 1928 Conference [second Maoping Conference] emphatic efforts to enlist the support of the peasantry were made, and eight rules were added to the three listed above. These were as follows:
“1. Replace all doors when you leave a house;
“2. Return and roll up the straw matting on which you sleep;
“3. Be courteous and polite to the people and help them when you can;
“4. Return all borrowed articles;
“5. Replace all damaged articles;
“6. Be honest in all transactions with the peasants;
“7. Pay for all articles purchased;
“8. Be sanitary, and, especially, establish latrines a safe distance from people’s houses.
“The last two rules were added by Lin Biao. These eight points were enforced with better and better success, and today are still the code of the Red soldier, memorized and frequently repeated by him. Three other duties were taught to the Red Army, as its primary purpose: first, to struggle to the death against the enemy; second, to arm the masses; third, to raise money to support the struggle. (Mao Zedong and China’s Revolutions, 191-2)
War Flag of the Imperial Japanese Army
The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere: representatives of various Asian countries sitting around a table
The Greater East Asia
Co-Prosperity Sphere

Japan’s goal in its China operations was to win an extensive base of natural resources that would fuel further industrial development — both for civil and military purposes — and to expand the “new order” in Asia under Japan’s cultural leadership, a dream of the Japanese for forty years. There was no intention of tying down the cream of the Japanese army in a protracted occupation of all China; rather the plan was to develop an interlocking network of puppet regimes, on the model of Manchukuo, that would give Japan preferential economic treatment, be staunchly anti-Communist, and provide the puppet troops that would garrison and patrol their own territories in Japan’s name. (SMC, 405)
Propaganda picture showing Japanese, Chinese and Manchurian women with the caption "Japanese, Chinese, and Manchurians Cooperate to Pacify the World

Was this a benevolent attempt to help East Asia attain a measure of independence from Western Imperialism ... or a "diabolical plot" to rule the world?
Communist "Hammer and Sickle" Icon War Flag of the Imperial Japanese Army
Icon of the Nationalist Party
Those who wanted to preserve their freedoms faced the choice — however risky — of joining one of the two other regimes that had established new temporary bases: the Guomindang in Chongqing, Sichuan, and the Communists in Yan’an, Shaanxi. ...
Map showing the expansion of the Japanese empire in East Asia from 1895 to 1939
But most people in north and east China did not flee; they had not the strength, the resources, or the will. They saw no great merit in the policies and the political practices of the Guomindang or the Communists, and preferred to face an uncertain future with the Japanese. (SMC, 406-407)
Chiang and Mao Bobbleheads