Military Wiki
Second Sino-Japanese War
Part of the Pacific War of World War II (from 1941)
Second Sino-Japanese War WW2.png
Map showing the extent of Japanese control (red) in 1940.
DateMinor fighting since September 18, 1931
Full scale war: July 7, 1937 – September 9, 1945
(8 years, 1 month, 3 weeks and 5 days)
LocationMainland China, Burma Korea divided between US and Soviet forces.

 Republic of China [lower-alpha 1]
with Foreign support

 Empire of Japan with Collaborator support

  • Flag of the Republic of China-Nanjing (Peace, Anti-Communism, National Construction).svg Nanjing Government (1940–45)
  •  Manchukuo (1932–45)
  •  Mengjiang (1936–45)
  • Republic of China (1912–1949) Provisional Government (1937–40)
  • Flag of Reformed Government of the Republic of China.svg Reformed Government (1937–40)
  • Republic of China (1912–1949) East Hebei (1937–38)
Commanders and leaders

Republic of China (1912–1949) Chiang Kai-shek
Republic of China (1912–1949) Chen Cheng
Republic of China (1912–1949) Yan Xishan
Republic of China (1912–1949) Li Zongren
Republic of China (1912–1949) Xue Yue
Republic of China (1912–1949) Bai Chongxi
Republic of China (1912–1949) Wei Lihuang
Republic of China (1912–1949) Du Yuming
Republic of China (1912–1949) Fu Zuoyi
Republic of China (1912–1949) Sun Liren
Mao Zedong
Zhu De
Peng Dehuai
United States Joseph Stilwell
United States Claire Chennault

United States Albert Wedemeyer

Empire of Japan Hirohito
Empire of Japan Korechika Anami
Empire of Japan Yasuhiko Asaka
Empire of Japan Shunroku Hata
Empire of Japan Seishirō Itagaki
Empire of Japan Kotohito Kan'in
Empire of Japan Iwane Matsui
Empire of Japan Toshizō Nishio
Empire of Japan Yasuji Okamura
Empire of Japan Hajime Sugiyama
Empire of Japan Hideki Tōjō
Empire of Japan Yoshijirō Umezu
Empire of Japan Seizo Ishikawa
Manchukuo Puyi

Flag of the Republic of China-Nanjing (Peace, Anti-Communism, National Construction).svg Wang Jingwei
5,600,000 Chinese
3,600 Soviets (1937–40)
900 US aircraft (1942–45)[1]
4,100,000 Japanese [2]
900,000 Chinese collaborators[3]

The Second Sino-Japanese War (July 7, 1937 – September 9, 1945), called so after the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95, was a military conflict fought primarily between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan from 1937 to 1941. China fought Japan with some economic help from Germany (see Sino-German cooperation), the Soviet Union (see Soviet Volunteer Group) and the United States (see American Volunteer Group). After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the war merged into the greater conflict of World War II as a major front of what is broadly known as the Pacific War. The Second Sino-Japanese War was the largest Asian war in the 20th century.[4] It also made up more than 50% of the casualties in the Pacific War if the 1937–1941 period is taken into account.[citation needed]

The war was the result of a decades-long Japanese imperialist policy aiming to dominate China politically and militarily and to secure its vast raw material reserves and other economic resources, particularly food and labour. Before 1937, China and Japan fought in small, localized engagements, so-called "incidents". In 1931, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria by Japan's Kwantung Army followed the Mukden Incident. The last of these incidents was the Marco Polo Bridge Incident of 1937, marking the beginning of total war between the two countries.

Initially the Japanese scored major victories in Shanghai after heavy fighting, and by the end of 1937 captured the Chinese capital of Nanking. After failing to stop the Japanese in Wuhan, the Chinese central government was relocated to Chongqing in the Chinese interior. By 1939 the war had reached stalemate after Chinese victories in Changsha and Guangxi. The Japanese were also unable to defeat the Chinese communist forces in Shaanxi, which performed harassment and sabotage operations against the Japanese using guerrilla warfare tactics. On the 7th of December 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the following day (8 December) the United States declared war on Japan. The United States began to aid China via airlift materiel over the Himalayas after the Allied defeat in Burma that closed the Burma Road. In 1944 Japan launched a massive invasion and conquered Henan and Changsha, but eventually surrendered on September 2, 1945 after atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Soviet invasion of Japanese-held Manchuria.


Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, Allied Commander-in-Chief in the China theatre from 1942 to 1945.

The beginning of the war.


In the Chinese language, the war is most commonly known as the War of Resistance Against Japan (simplified Chinese: 抗日战争; traditional Chinese: 抗日戰爭), and also known as the Eight Years' War of Resistance(八年抗战/八年抗戰), simply War of Resistance (抗战/抗戰), or Second Sino-Japanese War (第二次中日战争/第二次中日戰爭).

In Japan, nowadays, the name "Japan–China War" (日中戰爭 Nitchū Sensō?) is most commonly used because of its perceived objectivity. In Japan today, it is written as 日中戦争 in shinjitai. When the invasion of China proper began in earnest in July 1937 near Beijing, the government of Japan used "The North China Incident" (北支事變/華北事變 Hokushi Jihen/Kahoku Jihen?), and with the outbreak of the Battle of Shanghai the following month, it was changed to "The China Incident" (支那事變 Shina Jihen?).

The word "incident" (事變 jihen?) was used by Japan, as neither country had made a formal declaration of war. Especially Japan wanted to avoid intervention by other countries, particularly the United Kingdom and the United States, which were its primary source of petroleum; the United States was also its biggest supplier of steel. If the fighting had been formally expressed that it had already escalated to "general war", US President Franklin D. Roosevelt would have been legally obliged to impose an embargo on Japan in observance of the US Neutrality Acts.

Other names

In Japanese propaganda, the invasion of China became a "holy war" (聖戦 seisen?), the first step of the Hakkō ichiu (八紘一宇?, eight corners of the world under one roof). In 1940, Japanese Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe launched the Taisei Yokusankai. When both sides formally declared war in December 1941, the name was replaced by "Greater East Asia War" (大東亞戰爭 Daitōa Sensō?).

Although the Japanese government still uses the term "China Incident" in formal documents[citation needed], the word Shina is considered derogatory by China and therefore the media in Japan often paraphrase with other expressions like "The Japan–China Incident" (日華事變 Nikka Jiken?, 日支事變 Nisshi Jiken), which were used by media as early as the 1930s.

The name "Second Sino-Japanese War" is not usually used in Japan, as the First Sino-Japanese War (日清戦争 Nisshin–Sensō?) between Japan and the Qing Dynasty in 1894 is not regarded as having obvious direct linkage to the second[citation needed], between Japan and the Republic of China.


First Sino-Japanese War

The origin of the Second Sino-Japanese War can be traced to the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95, in which China, then under the Qing Dynasty, was defeated by Japan and was forced to cede Formosa, and to recognize the nominal independence (in fact, Japanese control) of Korea in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. The Qing Dynasty was on the brink of collapse from internal revolts and foreign imperialism, while Japan had emerged as a great power through its effective measures of modernization.[5]

The Republic of China

The Republic of China was founded in 1912, following the Xinhai Revolution which overthrew the Qing Dynasty. However, central authority disintegrated and the Republic's authority succumbed to that of regional warlords. Unifying the nation and repelling imperialism seemed a very remote possibility.[6] Some warlords even aligned themselves with various foreign powers in an effort to wipe each other out. For example, the warlord Zhang Zuolin of Manchuria openly cooperated with the Japanese for military and economic assistance.[7]

Twenty-One Demands

In 1915, Japan issued the Twenty-One Demands to extort further political and commercial privilege from China.[8] Following World War I, Japan acquired the German Empire's sphere of influence in Shandong[9] (Shantung), leading to nationwide anti-Japanese protests and mass demonstrations in China, but China under the Beiyang government remained fragmented and unable to resist foreign incursions.[10] To unite China and eradicate regional warlords, the Kuomintang (KMT, or Chinese Nationalist Party) in Guangzhou launched the Northern Expedition of 1926–28 with the help of the Soviet Union.[11]

Jinan Incident

The Kuomintang's National Revolutionary Army (NRA) swept through China until it was checked in Shandong, where Beiyang warlord Zhang Zongchang, backed by the Japanese, attempted to stop the NRA's advance. This battle culminated in the Jinan Incident of 1928 in which the National Revolutionary Army and the Imperial Japanese Army were engaged in a short conflict that resulted in Kuomintang's withdrawal from Jinan.[12]

Nominal Unification of China

In the same year, Zhang Zuolin was assassinated when he became less willing to cooperate with Japan.[13] Afterwards Zhang's son Zhang Xueliang quickly took over control of Manchuria, and despite strong Japanese lobbying efforts to continue the resistance against the KMT, he soon declared his allegiance to the Kuomintang government under Chiang Kai-shek, which resulted in the nominal unification of China at the end of 1928.[14]

Communist Party of China

In 1930, large-scale civil war broke out between warlords who had fought in alliance with the Kuomintang during the Northern Expedition and the central government under Chiang. In addition, the Chinese Communists (CCP, or Communist Party of China) revolted against the central government following a purge of its members by the KMT in 1927. The Chinese government diverted much attention into fighting these civil wars, following a policy of "first internal pacification, then external resistance"((Chinese): 攘外必先安内).

Course of the war

Invasion of Manchuria, interventions in China

Japanese troops entering Shenyang during Mukden Incident

Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek announced the Kuomintang policy of resistance against Japan at Lushan on July 10, 1937, three days after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident.

The chaotic situation in China provided excellent opportunities for Japanese expansionism. Japan saw Manchuria as a limitless supply of raw materials, a market for its manufactured goods (now excluded from the influence of many Western countries in Depression era tariffs), and as a protective buffer state against the Soviet Union in Siberia. Japan invaded Manchuria outright after the Mukden Incident (九一八事變) in September 1931. After five months of fighting, the puppet state of Manchukuo was established in 1932, with the last emperor of China, Puyi, installed as its puppet ruler. Militarily too weak to challenge Japan directly, China appealed to the League of Nations for help. The League's investigation led to the publication of the Lytton Report, condemning Japan for its incursion into Manchuria, and causing Japan to withdraw from the League of Nations. Appeasement being the predominant policy of the day, no country was willing to take action against Japan beyond tepid censure.

Incessant fighting followed the Mukden Incident. In 1932, Chinese and Japanese troops fought a battle known as the January 28 Incident. This resulted in the demilitarisation of Shanghai, which forbade the Chinese from deploying troops in their own city. In Manchukuo there was an ongoing campaign to defeat the anti-Japanese volunteer armies that arose from widespread outrage over the policy of non-resistance to Japan.

In 1933, the Japanese attacked the Great Wall region, the Tanggu Truce taking place in its aftermath, giving Japan control of Jehol province as well as a demilitarized zone between the Great Wall and Beiping-Tianjin region. Japanese aimed to create another buffer zone between Manchukuo and the Chinese Nationalist government in Nanjing.

Japan increasingly exploited internal conflicts in China to reduce the strength of its fractious opponents. This was precipitated by the fact that even years after the Northern Expedition, the political power of the Nationalist government was limited to just the area of the Yangtze River Delta. Other sections of China were essentially in the hands of local Chinese warlords. Japan sought various Chinese collaborators and helped them establish governments friendly to Japan. This policy was called the Specialization of North China (Chinese: 華北特殊化; pinyin: húaběitèshūhùa), more commonly known as the North China Autonomous Movement. The northern provinces affected by this policy were Chahar, Suiyuan, Hebei, Shanxi, and Shandong.

This Japanese policy was most effective in the area of what is now Inner Mongolia and Hebei. In 1935, under Japanese pressure, China signed the He–Umezu Agreement, which forbade the KMT from conducting party operations in Hebei. In the same year, the Chin–Doihara Agreement was signed expelling the KMT from Chahar. Thus, by the end of 1935 the Chinese government had essentially abandoned northern China. In its place, the Japanese-backed East Hebei Autonomous Council and the Hebei–Chahar Political Council were established. There in the empty space of Chahar the Mongol Military Government (蒙古軍政府) was formed on May 12, 1936, Japan providing all necessary military and economic aid. Afterwards Chinese volunteer forces continued to resist Japanese aggression in Manchuria, and Chahar and Suiyuan.

Full scale invasion of China

Casualties of a mass panic during a June 1941 Japanese bombing of Chongqing. More than 5000 civilians died during the first two days of air raids in 1939[15]

On the night of July 7, 1937, Chinese and Japanese troops exchanged fire in the vicinity of the Lugou (or Marco Polo) bridge, a crucial access route to Beijing. What began as confused, sporadic skirmishing soon escalated into a full-scale battle, in which Beijing and its port city of Tianjin fell to Japanese forces. The initial skirmishes at the bridge, known as the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, is recognized by most historians as the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War.

1937 Japanese map of Shanghai, showing the Bund.

The Imperial General Headquarters (GHQ) in Tokyo were initially reluctant to escalate the conflict into full scale war, being content with the gains acquired in northern China following the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. The KMT, however, determined that the "breaking point" of Japanese aggression had been reached. Chiang Kai-shek quickly mobilized the central government's army and air force, placed them under his direct command, and attacked Japanese Marines in Shanghai on August 13, 1937, leading to the Battle of Shanghai. The Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) had to commit over 200,000 troops, along with numerous naval vessels and aircraft, to capture the city. After more than three months of intense fighting, their casualties far exceeded initial expectations.[16]

Building on the hard won victory in Shanghai, the IJA captured the KMT capital city of Nanjing (Nanking) and Northern Shanxi by the end of 1937. These campaigns involved approximately 350,000 Japanese soldiers, and considerably more Chinese. Historians estimate up to 300,000 Chinese (mostly civilians) were mass murdered and tortured in unspeakable methods and tens of thousands of women raped (themselves also slaughtered without mercy) during the notorious Nanking Massacre (also known as the "Rape of Nanking"), after the fall of Nanking from December 13, 1937 to late January 1938; some Japanese deny that the massacre occurred.

At the start of 1938, the leadership in Tokyo still hoped to limit the scope of the conflict to occupy areas around Shanghai, Nanjing and most of northern China. They thought this would preserve strength for an anticipated showdown with the Soviet Union, but by now the Japanese government and GHQ had effectively lost control of the Japanese army in China. With many victories achieved, Japanese field generals escalated the war in Jiangsu in an attempt to wipe out Chinese resistance, but was defeated at the Battle of Taierzhuang. Afterwards the IJA changed its strategy and deploy almost all of its existing armies in China to attack the city of Wuhan, which by now was the political, economic and military center of China, in hopes of destroying the fighting strength of the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) and forcing the KMT government to negotiate for peace.[17] The Japanese captured Wuhan on October 27, 1938, forcing the KMT to retreat to Chongqing (Chungking), but Chiang Kai-shek still refused to negotiate, saying he would only consider talks if Japan agreed to withdraw to pre-1937 borders.

With Japanese casualties and costs mounting, the Imperial General Headquarters attempted to break Chinese resistance by ordering the air branches of the navy and the army to launch the war's first massive air raids on civilian targets. Japanese raiders hit the Kuomintang's newly established provisional capital of Chongqing and most other major cities in unoccupied China, leaving millions dead, injured, and homeless.

From the beginning of 1939 the war entered a new phase with the unprecedented defeat of the Japanese at Changsha and Guangxi. These outcomes encouraged the Chinese to launch their first large-scale counter-offensive against the IJA in early 1940; however, due to its low military-industrial capacity and limited experience in modern warfare, the NRA was defeated in this offensive. Afterwards Chiang could not risk any more all-out offensive campaigns given the poorly trained, under-equipped, and disorganized state of his armies and opposition to his leadership both within the Kuomintang and in China in general. He had lost a substantial portion of his best trained and equipped troops in the Battle of Shanghai and was at times at the mercy of his generals, who maintained a high degree of autonomy from the central KMT government.

After 1940 the Japanese encountered tremendous difficulties in administering and garrisoning the seized territories, and tried to solve its occupation problems by implementing a strategy of creating friendly puppet governments favourable to Japanese interests in the territories conquered, the most prominent being the Nanjing Nationalist Government headed by former KMT premier Wang Jingwei. However, atrocities committed by the Japanese army, as well as Japanese refusal to delegate any real power, left them very unpopular and largely ineffective. The only success the Japanese had was the ability to recruit a large Collaborationist Chinese Army to maintain public security in the occupied areas.

By 1941, Japan held most of the eastern coastal areas of China and Vietnam, but guerilla fighting continued in these occupied areas. Japan had suffered high casualties from unexpectedly stubborn Chinese resistance, and neither side could make any swift progress in a manner resembling the fall of France and Western Europe to Nazi Germany.

Chinese resistance strategy

Chinese soldiers in house-to-house fighting in Battle of Taierzhuang.

National Revolutionary Army soldiers march to the front in 1939.

The basis of Chinese strategy before the entrance of Western Allies can be divided into two periods:

First Period: 7 July 1937 (Battle of Lugou Bridge) – 25 October 1938 (Fall of Wuhan).

Unlike Japan, China was unprepared for total war and had little military-industrial strength, no mechanized divisions, and few armoured forces.[18] Up until the mid-1930s China had hoped that the League of Nations would provide countermeasures to Japan's aggression. In addition, the Kuomintang (KMT) government was mired in a civil war against the Communist Party of China (CCP), as Chiang Kai-shek was quoted: "the Japanese are a disease of the skin, the Communists are a disease of the heart". The Second United Front between the KMT and CCP was never truly unified, as each side was preparing for a showdown with the other once the Japanese were driven out.

Even under these extremely unfavorable circumstances, Chiang realized that to win support from the United States and other foreign nations, China had to prove it was capable of fighting. Knowing a hasty retreat would discourage foreign aid, Chiang resolved to make a stand at Shanghai, using the best of his German-trained divisions to defend China's largest and most industrialized city from the Japanese. The battle lasted over three months, saw heavy casualties on both sides, and ended with a Chinese retreat towards Nanjing, but proved that China would not be easily defeated and showed its determination to the world. The battle became an enormous morale booster for the Chinese people, as it decisively refuted the Japanese boast that Japan could conquer Shanghai in three days and China in three months.

Afterwards China began to adopt the strategy of "trading space for time" ((Chinese): 以空間換取時間). The Chinese army would put up fights to delay the Japanese advance to northern and eastern cities, allowing the home front, with its professionals and key industries, to retreat west into Chongqing. As a result of Chinese troops' scorched earth strategies, in which dams and levees were intentionally sabotaged to create massive flooding, Japanese advances began to stall in late 1938.

Second Period: 25 October 1938 (Fall of Wuhan) – December 1941 (before the Allies' declaration of war on Japan).

During this period, the main Chinese objective was to drag out the war for as long as possible, thereby exhausting Japanese resources while building up Chinese military capacity. American general Joseph Stilwell called this strategy "winning by outlasting". The National Revolutionary Army adopted the concept of "magnetic warfare" to attract advancing Japanese troops to definite points where they were subjected to ambush, flanking attacks, and encirclements in major engagements. The most prominent example of this tactic was the successful defense of Changsha in 1939 (and again in 1941), in which heavy casualties were inflicted on the IJA.

Local Chinese resistance forces, organised separately by both the communists and KMT, continued their resistance in occupied areas to pester the enemy and make their administration over the vast land area of China difficult. In 1940 the Chinese Red Army launched a major offensive in north China, destroying railways and a major coal mine. These constant harassment and sabotage operations deeply frustrated the Japanese army and led them to employ the "Three Alls Policy" (kill all, loot all, burn all) (三光政策, Hanyu Pinyin: Sānguāng Zhèngcè, Japanese On: Sankō Seisaku). It was during this period that the bulk of Japanese war crimes were committed.

By 1941 Japan had occupied much of north and coastal China, but the KMT central government and military had successfully retreated to the western interior to continue their resistance, while the Chinese communists remained in control of base areas in Shaanxi. In the occupied areas, Japanese control was mainly limited to railroads and major cities ("points and lines"). They did not have a major military or administrative presence in the vast Chinese countryside, where Chinese guerillas roamed freely. This stalemate situation made a decisive victory seem impossible to the Japanese.

Relationship between the Nationalists and Communists

Eighth Route Army Commander Zhu De with KMT Blue Sky White Sun Emblem cap.

After the Mukden Incident in 1931, Chinese public opinion was strongly critical of Manchuria's leader, the "young marshal" Zhang Xueliang, for his nonresistance to the Japanese invasion, even though the Kuomintang central government was also responsible for this policy, giving Zhang an order to "improvise" while not offering support. After losing Manchuria to the Japanese, Zhang and his Northeast Army were given the duty of suppressing the Red Army of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Shaanxi after their Long March. This resulted in great casualties for his Northeast Army, which received no support in manpower or weaponry from Chiang Kai-shek.

On 12 December 1936 a deeply disgruntled Zhang Xueliang kidnapped Chiang Kai-shek in Xi'an, hoping to force an end to the conflict between KMT and CCP. To secure the release of Chiang, the Kuomintang agreed to a temporary end to the Chinese Civil War and, on 24 December, the creation of a United Front between the CCP and KMT against Japan. The alliance having salutary effects for the beleaguered CCP, they agreed to form the New Fourth Army and the 8th Route Army and place them under the nominal control of the National Revolutionary Army. The CCP's Red Army fought with KMT forces during the Battle of Taiyuan, and the high point of their cooperation came in 1938 during the Battle of Wuhan.

Despite Japan's steady territorial gains in northern China, the coastal regions, and the rich Yangtze River Valley in central China, the distrust between the two antagonists was scarcely veiled. The uneasy alliance began to break down by late 1938, partially due to the Communists' aggressive efforts to expand their military strength by absorbing Chinese guerrilla forces behind Japanese lines. Chinese militia who refused to switch their allegiance were often labelled "collaborators" and attacked by CCP forces. For example, the Red Army led by He Long attacked and wiped out a brigade of Chinese militia led by Zhang Yin-wu in Hebei in June, 1939.[19] Starting in 1940, open conflict between Nationalists and Communists became more frequent in the occupied areas outside of Japanese control, culminating in the New Fourth Army Incident in January 1941.

Afterwards, the Second United Front completely broke down and Chinese Communists leader Mao Zedong outlined the preliminary plan for the CCP's eventual seizure of power from Chiang Kai-shek. Mao began his final push for consolidation of CCP power under his authority, and his teachings became the central tenets of the CCP doctrine that came to be formalized as "Mao Zedong Thought". The communists also began to focus most of their energy on building up their sphere of influence wherever opportunities were presented, mainly through rural mass organizations, administrative, land and tax reform measures favoring poor peasants; while the Nationalists attempted to neutralize the spread of Communist influence by military blockade of areas controlled by CCP and fighting the Japanese at the same time[20]

Foreign support for China

Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union provided aid to China at the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War. By 1940 the United States had become China's main diplomatic, financial and military supporter.[21]

German support

Prior to the outbreak of the war, Germany and China had close economic and military cooperation, with Germany helping China modernize its industry and military in exchange for raw materials. More than half of German arms exports during its rearmament period were to China. Nevertheless, the proposed 30 new German-trained divisions in the National Revolutionary Army failed to materialize after Germany withdrew its support in 1938. By that time Adolf Hitler was forming an alliance with Japan against the Soviet Union.

Soviet support

I-16 with Chinese insignia. I-16 was the main fighter plane used by the Chinese Air Force and Soviet volunteers.

After the signing of the Anti-Comintern Pact between Germany and Japan, the Soviet Union hoped to keep China in the war as a way of deterring the Japanese from invading Siberia, thus saving itself from the threat of a two-front war. In September 1937, the Soviet leadership signed the Sino-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact and approved Operation Zet, the formation of a Soviet volunteer air force. As part of this secret operation, Soviet technicians upgraded and ran some of China's transportation systems. Bombers, fighters, supplies and advisors arrived, including Soviet general Vasily Chuikov, the future victor of the Battle of Stalingrad. Prior to the entrance of the Western allies, the Russians provided the largest amount of foreign aid to China, totalling some $250 million in credits for munitions and other supplies. In April 1941, Soviet aid ended as a result of the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact and the beginning of the Great Patriotic War. This pact enabled the Soviet Union to avoid fighting against Germany and Japan at the same time. In total, 3,665 Soviet advisors and pilots served in China,[22] and 227 of them died fighting there.[23]

Japan lost a separate local confrontation with the Soviet Union at the Battles of Khalkhin Gol in May - September 1939. The defeat left the Japanese army reluctant to fight the Soviets again.[24]

Allied support

Flying Tigers Commander Claire Lee Chennault

A "blood chit" issued to AVG pilots requesting all Chinese to offer rescue and protection.

From December 1937 events such as the Japanese attack on the USS Panay and the Nanking Massacre swung public opinion in the West sharply against Japan and increased their fear of Japanese expansion, which prompted the United States, the United Kingdom, and France to provide loan assistance for war supply contracts to the Republic of China. Australia also prevented a Japanese government-owned company from taking over an iron mine in Australia, and banned iron ore exports in 1938.[25] However in July 1939, negotiations between Japanese Foreign Minister Arita Khatira and the British Ambassador in Tokyo, Robert Craigie, led to an agreement by which Great Britain recognized Japanese conquests in China. At the same time, the U.S. government extended a trade agreement with Japan for six months, then fully restored it. Under the agreement, Japan purchased trucks for the Kwantung Army,[26] machine tools for aircraft factories, strategic materials (steel and scrap iron up to 16 October 1940, petrol and petroleum products up to 26 June 1941[27]), and various other much-needed supplies.

Japan invaded and occupied the northern part of French Indochina (present-day Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia) in September 1940 to prevent China from receiving the 10,000 tons of materials delivered monthly by the Allies via the Haiphong–Yunnan Fou Railway line.

On June 22, 1941, Germany attacked the Soviet Union. Notwithstanding non-aggression pacts or trade connections, Hitler's assault threw the world into a frenzy of re-aligning political outlooks and strategic prospects.

On July 21 Japan occupied the southern part of French Indochina (Southern Vietnam and Cambodia), contravening a 1940 "Gentlemen's Agreement" not to move into southern French Indochina. From bases in Cambodia and Southern Vietnam, Japanese planes could attack Malaya, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies. As the Japanese occupation of Northern French Indochina in 1940 had already cut off supplies from the West to China, the move into Southern French Indochina was viewed as a direct threat to British and Dutch colonies. Many principal figures in the Japanese government and military (particularly the navy) were against the move, as they foresaw that it would invite retaliation from the West.

On 24 July 1941 Roosevelt requested Japan withdraw all its forces from Indochina. Two days later the USA and the UK began an oil embargo; two days after that the Netherlands joined them. This was a decisive moment in the Second Sino-Japanese war. The loss of oil imports made it impossible for Japan to continue operations in China on a long term basis. It set the stage for Japan to launch a series of military attacks against the Allies, including the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

US Air Forces video:Flying Tigers Bite Back

In mid-1941, the United States government financed the creation of the American Volunteer Group (AVG), or Flying Tigers, to replace the withdrawn Soviet volunteers and aircraft. Contrary to popular perception, the Flying Tigers did not enter actual combat until after the United States had declared war on Japan. Led by Claire Lee Chennault, their early combat success of 300 kills against a loss of 12 of their shark painted P-40 fighters earned them wide recognition at a time when the Allies were suffering heavy losses, and soon afterwards their dogfighting tactics would be adopted by the United States Army Air Forces.

Entrance of Western Allies

On February 18, 1943, Madame Chiang addressed both houses of the U.S. Congress.

Chiang Kai-shek, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill met at the Cairo Conference in 1943 during World War II.

Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and his wife Madame Chiang with Lieutenant General Joseph Stilwell in 1942, Burma.

A U.S. poster advocating to help China fight on.

Within a few days of the attack on Pearl Harbor, China formally declared war against Japan, Germany and Italy,[28] and almost immediately Chinese troops achieved another decisive victory in the Battle of Changsha, which earned the Chinese government much prestige from the Allies. President Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union and China as the world's "Four Policemen", elevating the international status of China to an unprecedented height after a century of humiliation at the hands of various imperialist powers.

Chiang Kai-shek continued to receive supplies from the United States as the Chinese conflict was merged into the Asian theatre of World War II. However, in contrast to the Arctic supply route to the Soviet Union which stayed open through most of the war, sea routes to China and the Yunnan–Vietnam Railway had been closed since 1940. Therefore, between the closing of the Burma Road in 1942 and its re-opening as the Ledo Road in 1945, foreign aid was largely limited to what could be flown in over "The Hump".

Most of China's own industry had already been captured or destroyed by Japan, and the Soviet Union refused to allow the United States to supply China through Kazakhstan into Xinjiang as the Xinjiang warlord Sheng Shicai had turned anti-Soviet in 1942 with Chiang's approval. For these reasons, the Chinese government never had the supplies and equipment needed to mount major counter-offensives. Despite the severe shortage of materiel, in 1943, the Chinese were successful in repelling major Japanese offensives in Hubei and Changde.

Chiang was named Allied commander-in-chief in the China theater in 1942. American general Joseph Stilwell served for a time as Chiang's chief of staff, while simultaneously commanding American forces in the China-Burma-India Theater. For many reasons, relations between Stilwell and Chiang soon broke down. Many historians (such as Barbara W. Tuchman) have suggested it was largely due to the corruption and inefficiency of the Kuomintang (KMT) government, while others (such as Ray Huang and Hans van de Ven) have depicted it as a more complicated situation. Stilwell had a strong desire to assume total control of Chinese troops and pursue an aggressive strategy, while Chiang preferred a patient and less expensive strategy of outwaiting the Japanese. Chiang continued to maintain a defensive posture despite Allied pleas to actively break the Japanese blockade, because China had already suffered tens of millions of war casualties and believed that Japan would eventually capitulate in the face of America's overwhelming industrial output. For these reasons the other Allies gradually began to lose confidence in the Chinese ability to conduct offensive operations from the Asian mainland, and instead concentrated their efforts against the Japanese in the Pacific Ocean Areas and South West Pacific Area, employing an island hopping strategy.[29]

Longstanding differences in national interest and political stance among China, the United States, and the United Kingdom remained in place. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was reluctant to devote British troops, many of whom had been routed by the Japanese in earlier campaigns, to the reopening of the Burma Road; Stilwell, on the other hand, believed that reopening the road was vital, as all China's mainland ports were under Japanese control. The Allies' "Europe First" policy did not sit well with Chiang, while the later British insistence that China send more and more troops to Indochina for use in the Burma Campaign was seen by Chiang as an attempt to use Chinese manpower to defend British colonial holdings. Chiang also believed that China should divert its crack army divisions from Burma to eastern China to defend the airbases of the American bombers he hoped would defeat Japan through bombing, a strategy that American general Claire Lee Chennault supported but which Stilwell strongly opposed. In addition, Chiang voiced his support of Indian independence in a 1942 meeting with Mahatma Gandhi, which further soured the relationship between China and the United Kingdom.[30]

American and Canadian-born Chinese were recruited to act as covert operatives in Japanese-occupied China (Canadian-born Chinese having not yet been granted citizenship were trained by the British army). Employing their racial background as a disguise, their mandate was to blend in with local citizens and wage a campaign of sabotage. Activities focused on destruction of Japanese transportation of supplies (signaling bomber destruction of railroads, bridges).[31]

The United States saw the Chinese theater as a means to tie up a large number of Japanese troops, as well as being a location for American airbases from which to strike the Japanese home islands. In 1944, with the Japanese position in the Pacific deteriorating rapidly, the IJA mobilized over 400,000 men and launched Operation Ichi-Go, their largest offensive of World War II, to attack the American airbases in China and link up the railway between Manchuria and Vietnam. This brought major cities in Hunan, Henan and Guangxi under Japanese occupation. The failure of Chinese forces to defend these areas encouraged Stilwell to attempt to gain overall command of the Chinese army, and his subsequent showdown with Chiang led to his replacement by Major General Albert Coady Wedemeyer.

By the end of 1944 Chinese troops under the command of Sun Li-jen attacking from India, and those under Wei Lihuang attacking from Yunnan, joined forces in Mong-Yu, successfully driving the Japanese out of North Burma and securing the Ledo Road, China's vital supply artery.[32] In Spring 1945 the Chinese launched offensives that retook Hunan and Guangxi. With the Chinese army progressing well in training and equipment, Wedemeyer planned to launch Operation Carbonado in summer 1945 to retake Guangdong, thus obtaining a coastal port, and from there drive northwards toward Shanghai. However, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Soviet invasion of Manchuria hastened Japanese surrender and these plans were not put into action.

Intrusion into French Indochina

The Chinese Kuomintang also supported the Vietnamese Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang in its battle against French and Japanese imperialism.

In Guangxi Chinese military leaders were organizing Vietnamese nationalists against the Japanese. The VNQDD had been active in Guangxi and some of their members had joined the KMT army.[33] Under the umbrella of KMT activities, a broad alliance of nationalists emerged. With Ho at the forefront, the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi (Vietnamese Independence League, usually known as the Viet Minh) was formed and based in the town of Chinghsi.[33] The pro-VNQDD nationalist Ho Ngoc Lam, a KMT army officer and former disciple of Phan Boi Chau,[34] was named as the deputy of Pham Van Dong, later to be Ho's Prime Minister. The front was later broadened and renamed the Viet Nam Giai Phong Dong Minh (Vietnam Liberation League).[33]

The Viet Nam Revolutionary League was a union of various Vietnamese nationalist groups, run by the pro Chinese VNQDD. Chinese KMT General Zhang Fakui created the league to further Chinese influence in Indochina, against the French and Japanese. Its stated goal was for unity with China under the Three Principles of the People, created by KMT founder Dr. Sun and opposition to Japanese and French Imperialists.[35][36] The Revolutionary League was controlled by Nguyen Hai Than, who was born in China and could not speak Vietnamese. General Zhang shrewdly blocked the Communists of Vietnam, and Ho Chi Minh from entering the league, as Zhang's main goal was Chinese influence in Indochina.[37] The KMT utilized these Vietnamese nationalists during World War II against Japanese forces.[33] Franklin D. Roosevelt, through General Stilwell, privately made it clear that they preferred that the French not reacquire French Indochina (modern day Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) after the war was over. Roosevelt offered Chiang Kai-shek control of all of Indochina. It was said that Chiang Kai-shek replied: "Under no circumstances!".[38]

After the war, 200,000 Chinese troops under General Lu Han were sent by Chiang Kai-shek to northern Indochina (north of the 16th parallel) to accept the surrender of Japanese occupying forces there, and remained in Indochina until 1946, when the French returned.[39] The Chinese used the VNQDD, the Vietnamese branch of the Chinese Kuomintang, to increase their influence in Indochina and to put pressure on their opponents.[40] Chiang Kai-shek threatened the French with war in response to manoeuvering by the French and Ho Chi Minh's forces against each other, forcing them to come to a peace agreement. In February, 1946 he also forced the French to surrender all of their concessions in China and to renounce their extraterritorial privileges in exchange for the Chinese withdrawing from northern Indochina and allowing French troops to reoccupy the region. Following France's agreement to these demands, the withdrawal of Chinese troops began in March 1946.[41][42][43][44]

Contemporaneous wars being fought by China

The Chinese were not entirely devoting all their resources to the Japanese, because they were fighting several other wars at the same time.

The Soviet Union attacked the Republic of China in 1937 during the Xinjiang War (1937). The Muslim General Ma Hushan of the Kuomintang 36th Division (National Revolutionary Army) resisted the Soviet invasion, which was being led by Russian troops commanded by Muslim General Ma Zhanshan, previously one of Chiang Kaishek's suboordinates.

General Ma Hushan was expecting some sort of help from Nanjing, as he exchanged messages with Chiang regarding Soviet attack. Both the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Xinjiang War erupting simultaneously rendered Chiang and Ma Hushan on their own to confront the Japanese and Soviet forces.

The Republic of China government was fully aware of the Soviet invasion of Xinjiang province, and Soviet troops moving around Xinjiang and Gansu, but was forced to mask these manoeuvers to the public as "Japanese propaganda" to avoid an international incident and for continued military supplies from the Soviets.[45]

Because the pro-Soviet governor Sheng Shicai controlled Xinjiang, which was garrisoned with Soviet troops in Turfan, which bordered Gansu, the Chinese government had to keep troops stationed there as well.

The Muslim General Ma Buqing was in virtual control of the Gansu corridor at this time.[46] Ma Buqing had earlier fought against the Japanese, but because the Soviet threat was great, Chiang made some arrangements regarding Ma's position. In July 1942 Chiang Kai-shek instructed Ma Buqing to move 30,000 of his troops to the Tsaidam marsh in the Qaidam Basin of Qinghai.[47][48] Chiang named Ma Reclamation Commissioner, to threaten Sheng Shicai's southern flank in Xinjiang, which bordered Tsaidam.

After Ma evacuated his positions in Gansu, Kuomintang troops from central China flooded the area, and infiltrated Soviet occupied Xinjiang, gradually reclaiming it and forcing Sheng Shicai to break with the Soviets. The Kuomintang ordered Ma Bufang several times to march his troops into Xinjiang to intimidate the pro-Soviet Governor Sheng Shicai. This helped provide protection for Chinese settling in Xinjiang.[49]

The Ili Rebellion broke out in Xinjiang when the Kuomintang Chinese Muslim Officer Liu Bin-Di was killed while fighting Turkic Uyghur Rebels in November 1944. The Soviet Union supported the Turkic rebels against the Kuomintang, and Kuomintang forces were fighting back.[50]

Use of chemical and bacteriological weapons

Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces with gas masks and rubber gloves during a chemical attack[citation needed] near Chapei in the Battle of Shanghai.

Despite Article 23 of the Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907), article V of the Treaty in Relation to the Use of Submarines and Noxious Gases in Warfare,[51] article 171 of the Treaty of Versailles and a resolution adopted by the League of Nations on May 14, 1938, condemning the use of poison gas by the Empire of Japan, the Imperial Japanese Army frequently used chemical weapons during the war.

Japanese troops stage a poison gas attack in China.

According to historians Yoshiaki Yoshimi and Seiya Matsuno, the chemical weapons were authorized by specific orders given by Japanese Emperor Hirohito himself, transmitted by the Imperial General Headquarters. For example, the Emperor authorized the use of toxic gas on 375 separate occasions during the Battle of Wuhan from August to October 1938.[52] They were also used during the invasion of Changde. Those orders were transmitted either by Prince Kan'in Kotohito or General Hajime Sugiyama.[53]

Bacteriological weapons provided by Shirō Ishii's units were also profusely used. For example, in 1940, the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force bombed Ningbo with fleas carrying the bubonic plague.[54] During the Khabarovsk War Crime Trials the accused, such as Major General Kiyashi Kawashima, testified that, in 1941, some 40 members of Unit 731 air-dropped plague-contaminated fleas on Changde. These attacks caused epidemic plague outbreaks.[55]

Ethnic minorities

Japan attempted to reach out to ethnic minorities to rally to their side, but only succeeded with certain Manchu, Mongol, and Uyghur elements.

Conclusion and aftermath

End of Pacific War and surrender of Japanese troops in China

Japanese troops surrendering to the Chinese.

Commander-in-chief of the China Expeditionary Army Yasuji Okamura presenting the Japanese Instrument of Surrender to general He Yingqin at Nanjing on 9 September 1945

The United States and the Soviet Union put an end to the Sino-Japanese War (and World War II) by attacking the Japanese with a new weapon (on America's part) and an incursion into Manchuria (on the Soviet Union's part). On August 6, an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped the first atomic bomb used in combat on Hiroshima, killing tens of thousands and leveling the city. On August 9, the Soviet Union renounced its non-aggression pact with Japan and attacked the Japanese in Manchuria, fulfilling its Yalta Conference pledge to attack the Japanese within three months after the end of the war in Europe. The attack was made by three Soviet army groups. On that same day, a second equally destructive atomic bomb was dropped by the United States on Nagasaki.

In less than two weeks the Kwantung Army, which was the primary Japanese fighting force,[56][57] consisting of over a million men but lacking in adequate armor, artillery, or air support, had been destroyed by the Soviets. Japanese Emperor Hirohito officially capitulated to the Allies on August 15, 1945, and the official surrender was signed aboard the battleship USS Missouri on September 2.

After the Allied victory in the Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur ordered all Japanese forces within China (excluding Manchuria), Formosa and French Indochina north of 16° north latitude to surrender to Chiang Kai-shek, and the Japanese troops in China formally surrendered on September 9, 1945.

Post-war struggle and resumption of civil war

The Chinese return to Liuzhou in July 1945

Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong in 1946.

In 1945, China emerged from the war nominally a great military power but economically weak and on the verge of all-out civil war. The economy was sapped by the military demands of a long costly war and internal strife, by spiraling inflation, and by corruption in the Nationalist government that included profiteering, speculation and hoarding.

Furthermore, as part of the Yalta Conference, allowing a Soviet sphere of influence in Manchuria, the Soviets dismantled and removed more than half of the industrial equipment left there by the Japanese before handing over Manchuria to China. Large swathes of the prime farming areas had been ravaged by the fighting and there was starvation in the wake of the war. Many towns and cities were destroyed, and millions were rendered homeless by floods.

The problems of rehabilitation and reconstruction from the ravages of a protracted war were staggering, and the war left the Nationalists severely weakened, and their policies left them unpopular. Meanwhile, the war strengthened the Communists both in popularity and as a viable fighting force. At Yan'an and elsewhere in the communist controlled areas, Mao Zedong was able to adapt Marxism–Leninism to Chinese conditions. He taught party cadres to lead the masses by living and working with them, eating their food, and thinking their thoughts.

The Chinese Red Army fostered an image of conducting guerrilla warfare in defense of the people. Communist troops adapted to changing wartime conditions and became a seasoned fighting force. With skillful organizational and propaganda, the Communists increased party membership from 100,000 in 1937 to 1.2 million by 1945.

Mao also began to execute his plan to establish a new China by rapidly moving his forces from Yan'an and elsewhere to Manchuria. This opportunity was available to the Communists because although Nationalist representatives were not invited to Yalta, they had been consulted and had agreed to the Soviet invasion of Manchuria in the belief that the Soviet Union would deal only with the Nationalist government after the war.

However, the Soviet occupation of Manchuria was long enough to allow the Communist forces to move in en masse and arm themselves with the military hardware surrendered by the Japanese army, quickly establish control in the countryside and move into position to encircle the Nationalist government army in major cities of northeast China. The Chinese Civil War broke out between the Nationalists and Communists following that, which concluded with the Communist victory in mainland China and the retreat of the Nationalists to Taiwan in 1949.

Peace treaty and Taiwan

The Taiwan Strait and the island of Formosa.

Formosa and the Penghu islands were put under the administrative control of the Republic of China (ROC) government in 1945 by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.[58] The ROC proclaimed Taiwan Retrocession Day on October 25, 1945. However, due to the unresolved Chinese Civil War, neither the newly established People's Republic of China (PRC) in mainland China nor the Nationalist ROC that retreated to Taiwan was invited to sign the Treaty of San Francisco, as neither had shown full and complete legal capacity to enter into an international legally binding agreement.[59] Since China was not present, the Japanese only formally renounced the territorial sovereignty of Taiwan and Penghu islands without specifying to which country Japan relinquished the sovereignty, and the treaty was signed in 1951 and came into force in 1952.

In 1952, the Treaty of Taipei was signed separately between the ROC and Japan that basically followed the same guideline of the Treaty of San Francisco, not specifying which country has sovereignty over Taiwan. However, Article 10 of the treaty states that the Taiwanese people and the juridicial person should be the people and the juridicial person of the ROC.[58] Both the PRC and ROC governments base their claims to Taiwan on the Japanese Instrument of Surrender which specifically accepted the Potsdam Declaration which refers to the Cairo Declaration. Disputes over the precise de jure sovereign of Taiwan persist to the present. On a de facto basis, sovereignty over Taiwan has been and continues to be exercised by the ROC. Japan's position has been to avoid commenting on Taiwan's status, maintaining that Japan renounced all claims to sovereignty over its former colonial possessions after World War II, including Taiwan.[60]


China War of Resistance Against Japan Memorial Museum on the site where Marco Polo Bridge Incident took place.

The question as to which political group directed the Chinese war effort and exerted most of the effort to resist the Japanese remains a controversial issue.

In the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japan Memorial near the Marco Polo Bridge and in mainland Chinese textbooks, the People's Republic of China (PRC) claims that the Nationalists mostly avoided fighting the Japanese to preserve their strength for a final showdown with the Communist Party of China (CCP or CPC), while the Communists were the main military force in the Chinese resistance efforts.[61] Recently, however, with a change in the political climate, the CCP has admitted that certain Nationalist generals made important contributions in resisting the Japanese. The official history in mainland China now states that the KMT fought a bloody, yet indecisive, frontal war against Japan, while the CCP engaged the Japanese forces in far greater numbers behind enemy lines. For the sake of Chinese reunification and appeasing the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan, the PRC has begun to "acknowledge" the Nationalists and the Communists as "equal" contributors, because the victory over Japan belonged to the Chinese people, rather than to any political party.[62] Other scholars document quite a different view. Such studies find evidence that the Communists actually played a minuscule role in the war against the Japanese compared to the Nationalists, and preserved their strength for a final showdown with the Kuomintang (KMT).[63] This view point gives the KMT credit for the brunt of the fighting, which is confirmed by Communists leader Zhou Enlai's secret report to Joseph Stalin in January 1940. This report stated that out of more than one million Chinese soldiers killed or wounded since the war began in 1937, only 40,000 were from the Communists Eighth Route Army and New Fourth Army. In other words, by the CCP's own account, the Communists had suffered a mere three percent of total casualties half way into the war.[64]

This is because the Communists were not the main participants in any of the 22 major battles between China and Japan (involving more than 100,000 troops on both sides) and usually avoided open warfare (the Hundred Regiments Offensive and the Battle of Pingxingguan are notable exceptions), preferring to fight in small squads to harass the Japanese supply lines. In comparison, right from the beginning of the war the Nationalists committed their best troops (including the 36th, 87th, 88th divisions, the crack divisions of Chiang's Central Army) to defend Shanghai from the Japanese, and continued to deploy most of their forces to fight the Japanese even as the Communists changed their strategy to engage mainly in a political offensive against the Japanese and declared that the CCP should "save and preserve our strength and wait for favorable timing" by the end of 1941.[65]

Chinese/Japanese relations

Today, the war is a major point of contention and resentment between China and Japan. The war remains a major roadblock for Sino-Japanese relations, and many people, particularly in China, harbor grudges over the war and related issues.

Issues regarding the current historical outlook on the war exist. For example, the Japanese government has been accused of historical revisionism by allowing the approval of a few school textbooks omitting or glossing over Japan's militant past, although the most recent controversial book, the New History Textbook was used by only 0.039% of junior high schools in Japan[66] and despite the efforts of the Japanese nationalist textbook reformers, by the late 1990s the most common Japanese schoolbooks contained references to, for instance, the Nanking Massacre, Unit 731, and the comfort women of World War II, all historical issues which have faced challenges from ultranationalists in the past.[67] In response to criticism of Japanese textbook revisionism, the PRC government has been accused of using the war to stir up already growing anti-Japanese sentiments in order to spur nationalistic feelings.

Aftermath in Taiwan

Traditionally, the Republic of China government has held celebrations marking the Victory Day on September 9 (now known as Armed Forces Day) and Taiwan's Retrocession Day on October 25. However, after the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the presidential election in 2000, these national holidays commemorating the war has been cancelled as the pro-independent DPP does not see the relevancy of celebrating events that happened in mainland China.

Meanwhile, many KMT supporters, particularly veterans who retreated with the government in 1949, still have an emotional interest in the war. For example, in celebrating the 60th anniversary of the end of war in 2005, the cultural bureau of KMT stronghold Taipei held a series of talks in the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall regarding the war and post-war developments, while the KMT held its own exhibit in the KMT headquarters. Whereas the KMT won the presidential election in 2008, the ROC government resumed commemorating the war.

Casualties assessment

The conflict lasted for eight years, a month and three days (measured from 1937 to 1945).

Chinese casualties

  • Chinese sources list the total number of military and non-military casualties, both dead and wounded, at 35 million.[68] Most Western historians believed that the total number of casualties was at least 20 million.[69]
  • The official PRC statistics for China's civilian and military casualties in the Second Sino-Japanese War from 1937 to 1945 are 20 million dead and 15 million wounded. The figures for total military casualties, killed and wounded are: Nationalist 3.2 million; Communist 500,000.
  • The official account of the war published in Taiwan reported the Nationalist Chinese Army lost 3,238,000 men ( 1,797,000 WIA; 1,320,000 KIA and 120,000 MIA.) and 5,787,352 civilians casualties. The Nationalists fought in 22 major engagements, most of which involved more than 100,000 troops on both sides, 1,171 minor engagements most of which involved more than 50,000 troops on both sides, and 38,931 skirmishes.[70]
  • An academic study published in the United States estimates military casualties: 1.5 million killed in battle, 750,000 missing in action, 1.5 million deaths due to disease and 3 million wounded; civilian casualties: due to military activity, killed 1,073,496 and 237,319 wounded; 335,934 killed and 426,249 wounded in Japanese air attacks [71]
  • According to historian Mitsuyoshi Himeta, at least 2.7 million civilians died during the "kill all, loot all, burn all" operation (Three Alls Policy, or sanko sakusen) implemented in May 1942 in north China by general Yasuji Okamura and authorized on 3 December 1941 by Imperial Headquarter Order number 575.[72]
  • The property loss suffered by the Chinese was valued at 383 billion US dollars according to the currency exchange rate in July 1937, roughly 50 times the gross domestic product of Japan at that time (US$7.7 billion).[73]
  • In addition, the war created 95 million refugees.

Japanese casualties

Contemporary studies from the Beijing Central Compilation and Translation Press have revealed that the Japanese suffered a total of 2,227,200 casualties, including 1,055,000 dead and 1,172,000 injured. These numbers were largely based on Japanese statistics.[74]

The Japanese recorded around 1.1 to 1.9 million military casualties during all of World War II (which include killed, wounded and missing). The official death-toll of Japanese KIA in China, according to the Japan Defense Ministry, is 480,000 men. The combined Chinese forces claimed to have killed at most 1.77 million Japanese soldiers during the eight-year war.

Another source from Hilary Conroy claim that a total of 447,000 Japanese soldiers died in China during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Of the 1,130,000 Imperial Japanese Army soldiers who died during World War II, 39 percent died in China.[75]

Then in "War Without Mercy", John Dower claim that a total of 396,000 Japanese soldiers died in China during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Of this number, the Imperial Japanese Army lost 388,605 soldiers and the Imperial Japanese Navy lost 8,000 soldiers. Another 54,000 soldiers also died after the war had ended, mostly from illness and starvation.[75] Of the 1,740,955 Japanese soldiers who died during World War II, 22 percent died in China.[76]

Current Japanese statistics, however, lack complete estimates for the wounded. From 1937 to 1941, 185,647 Japanese soldiers were killed in China and 520,000 were wounded. Disease also incurred critical losses on Japanese forces. From 1937 to 1941, 393,000 were killed in China and 430,000 Japanese soldiers were recorded as being sick. In North China alone, 18,000 soldiers were evacuated back to Japan for illnesses in 1938, 23,000 in 1939, and 15,000 in 1940. Chinese forces also report that by May 1945, 22,293 Japanese soldiers were captured as prisoners. Many more Japanese soldiers surrendered when the war ended.[75][76]

Both Nationalist and Communist Chinese sources report that their respective forces were responsible for the deaths of over 1.7 million Japanese soldiers.[77] The Communist claim, which almost equate total Japanese deaths in all of World War II, was ridiculed by Nationalist authorities as propaganda since the Communist People's Liberation Army was outnumbered by the Japanese Army by approximately 3 to 1. Nationalist War Minister He Yingqin himself contested the claim, finding it impossible for a force of "untrained, undisciplined, poorly equipped" guerrillas to have killed so many enemy soldiers.[78]

The National Chinese authorities ridiculed Japanese estimates of Chinese casualties. In 1940, the National Herald stated that the Japanese exaggerated Chinese casualties, while deliberately concealing the true amount of Japanese casualties, releasing false figures that made them appear lower. The article reports on the casualty situation of the war up to 1940.[79][80][81]

Number of troops involved

Chinese forces

National Revolutionary Army

Flag of the National Revolutionary Army.

With Chiang Kai-shek as the highest commander, the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) is recognized as the unified armed force of China during the war. Throughout its lifespan, it employed approximately 4,300,000 regulars, in 370 Standard Divisions (Chinese: 正式師), 46 New Divisions (Chinese: 新編師), 12 Cavalry Divisions (Chinese: 騎兵師), eight New Cavalry Divisions (Chinese: 新編騎兵師), 66 Temporary Divisions (Chinese: 暫編師), and 13 Reserve Divisions (Chinese: 預備師), for a grand total of 515 divisions.

However, many divisions were formed from two or more other divisions, and many were not active at the same time. The number of active divisions, at the start of the war in 1937, was about 170 NRA divisions. The average NRA division had 4,000–5,000 troops. A Chinese army was roughly the equivalent to a Japanese division in terms of manpower but the Chinese forces largely lacked artillery, heavy weapons, and motorized transport.

The shortage of military hardware meant that three to four Chinese armies had the firepower of only one Japanese division. Because of these material constraints, available artillery and heavy weapons were usually assigned to specialist brigades rather than to the general division, which caused more problems as the Chinese command structure lacked precise coordination. The relative fighting strength of a Chinese division was even weaker when relative capacity in aspects of warfare, such as intelligence, logistics, communications, and medical services, are taken into account.

Although Chiang Kai-shek is recognized as the highest commander in name, his power on NRA was in the effect limited. This was due to NRA was an alliance of powers such as warlords, regional militarists and communists. Before the alliance was formed under the pressure of Japanese invasion, these powers had their own land, struggled or allied with each other under their own interests and mutual conflicts were common. Because of this, NRA could be unofficially divided into 3 groups, Central Army, Regional Army and Communist forces.

Loyal to Chiang Kai-shek, the Central Army(Chinese: 中央軍) was best equipped. Most of officers in Central Army were trained by the Whampoa Military Academy, where Chiang Kai-shek served as the first president. Before the war, the Central Army mainly controlled east China.

The Regional Army(Chinese: 省軍) consisted of various types of strengths from all the parts of China. Before the war, these strengths governed certain places and most of them admitted Chiang Kai-shek's leader position. However, they didn't really follow Chiang's command, nor receive Chiang's assist. They generally ran independently. The notable strengths under this category included Guangxi, Shanxi, Yunnan and Ma clique.

After Xi'an Incident, Chiang paused his invasion to Chinese Red Army led by communists. Communists incorporated into NRA and formed Eighth Route Army and New Fourth Army of NRA. Although during the entire war communists fought under the name of NRA, their de facto commander was Mao Zedong. Communists also led a large number of militias during the war.[82]

The National Revolutionary Army expanded from about 1.2 million in 1937 to 5.7 million in August 1945, organized in 300 divisions.[82]

Japanese forces

Imperial Japanese Army

Flag of the Imperial Japanese Army.

The Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) had approximately 3,200,000 regulars. More Japanese troops were quartered in China than deployed elsewhere in the Pacific Theater during the war. Japanese divisions ranged from 20,000 men in its divisions numbered less than 100, to 10,000 men in divisions numbered greater than 100.

At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the IJA had 51 divisions, of which 35 were in China, and 39 independent brigades, of which all but one were in China. This represented roughly 80% of the IJA's manpower.

By October 1944 the IJA in China was divided into three strategic groupings.

  • The China Expeditionary Army was dislocated along the coast. Its primary component was the 13th Army with four divisions and two brigades.
  • The North China Area Army occupied the north-eastern China. It included the Kwantung Army with two divisions and six brigades, the Mongolian Garrison Army with one division and one brigade, and the 1st Army with two divisions and six brigades.
  • The Sixth Area Army occupying the inland zone south of the Yellow River included: the 12th Army with four divisions, including one armoured, and one infantry brigade; 34th Army with one division and four brigades along the Yangtze valley; 11th Army with ten divisions; 23rd Army with two divisions and five brigades.

Collaborationist Chinese Army

The Chinese armies allied to Japan had only 78,000 people in 1938, but had grown to around 649,640 men by 1943,[83] and reached a maximum strength of 900,000 troops before the end of the war. Almost all of them belonged to Manchukuo, Provisional Government of the Republic of China (Beijing), Reformed Government of the Republic of China (Nanjing) and the later Nanjing Nationalist Government (Wang Jingwei regime). These collaborator troops were mainly assigned to garrison and logistics duties in their own territories, and were rarely fielded in combat because of low morale and Japanese distrust. They fared very poorly in skirmishes against both Chinese NRA and Communist forces.

Military equipment

National Revolutionary Army

The Central Army possessed 80 Army infantry divisions with approximately 8,000 men each, nine independent brigades, nine cavalry divisions, two artillery brigades, 16 artillery regiments and three armored battalions. The Chinese Navy displaced only 59,000 tonnes and the Chinese Air Force comprised only about 700 obsolete aircraft.

For regular provincial Chinese divisions their standard rifles were the Hanyang 88 (copy of Gewehr 88). Central army divisions were typically equipped with the Chiang Kai-Shek rifle (copy of Mauser Standard Model) and Czechoslovakian vz. 24. However, for most of the German-trained divisions, the standard firearms were German-made 7.92 mm Gewehr 98 and Karabiner 98k. The standard light machine gun was a local copy of the Czech 7.92 mm Brno ZB26. There were also Belgian and French light machine guns. Provincial units generally did not possess any machine guns. Central Army units had one LMG per platoon on average. German-trained divisions ideally had 1 LMG per squad. Surprisingly, the NRA did not purchase any Maschinengewehr 34s from Germany, but did produce their own copies of them. Heavy machine guns were mainly locally-made Type 24 water-cooled Maxim guns, which were the Chinese copies of the German MG08, and M1917 Browning machine guns chambered for the standard 8mm Mauser round. On average, every Central Army battalion would get one heavy machine gun (about a third to half of what actual German divisions got during World War II). The standard weapon for NCOs and officers was the 7.63 mm Mauser C96 semi-automatic pistol, or full-automatic Mauser M1932/M712 machine pistol. These full-automatic versions were used as substitutes for submachine guns (such as the MP18) and rifles that were in short supply within the Chinese army prior to the end of World War II. Throughout the Second Sino-Japanese War, particularly in the early years, the NRA also extensively used captured Japanese weapons and equipment as their own were in short supply. Some élite units also used Lend-Lease US equipment as the war progressed.

Generally speaking, the regular provincial army divisions did not possess any artillery. However, some Central Army divisions were equipped with 37 mm PaK 35/36 anti-tank guns, and/or mortars from Oerlikon, Madsen, and Solothurn. Each infantry division had 6 French Brandt 81 mm mortars and 6 Solothurn 20 mm autocannons. Some independent brigades and artillery regiments were equipped with Bofors 72 mm L/14, or Krupp 72 mm L/29 mountain guns and there were 24 Rheinmetall 150 mm L/32 sFH 18 howitzers (bought in 1934) and 24 Krupp 150 mm L/30 sFH 18 howitzers (bought in 1936). At the start of the war, the NRA and the Tax Police Regiment had three tank battalions armed with German Panzer I light tanks and CV-33 tankettes. After defeat in the Battle of Shanghai the remaining tanks, together with several hundred T-26 and BT-5 tanks acquired from the Soviet Union were reorganised into the 200th Division.

Infantry uniforms were basically redesigned Zhongshan suits. Puttees were standard for soldiers and officers alike since the primary mode of movement for NRA troops was by foot. Troops were also issued sewn field caps. The helmets were the most distinguishing characteristic of these divisions. From the moment German M35 helmets (standard issue for the Wehrmacht until late in the European theatre) rolled off the production lines in 1935, and until 1936, the NRA imported 315,000 of these helmets, each with the Blue Sky with a White Sun emblem of the ROC on the sides. These helmets were worn by both elite German-trained divisions and regular Central Army divisions. Other helmets include the Adrian helmet, Brodie helmet and later M1 helmet. Other equipment included straw shoes for soldiers (cloth shoes for Central Army), leather shoes for officers and leather boots for high-ranking officers. Every soldier was issued ammunition, ammunition pouches or harness, a water flask, combat knives, food bag, and a gas mask.

On the other hand, warlord forces varied greatly in terms of equipment and training. Some warlord troops were notoriously under-equipped, such as Shanxi's Dadao (大刀, a one-edged sword type close combat weapon) Team and the Yunnan clique. Some, however, were highly professional forces with their own air force and navies. The quality of the New Guangxi clique was almost on par with the Central Army, as the Guangzhou region was wealthy and the local army could afford foreign instructors and arms. The Muslim Ma clique to the northwest was famed for its well-trained cavalry divisions.

Imperial Japanese Army

Although Japan possessed significant mobile operational capacity, it did not possess capability for maintaining a long sustained war. At the beginning of the war, the Imperial Japanese Army comprised 17 divisions, each composed of approximately 22,000 men, 5,800 horses, 9,500 rifles and submachine guns, 600 heavy machine guns of assorted types, 108 artillery pieces, and 600 plus of light armor two-men tanks. Special forces were also available. The Imperial Japanese Navy displaced a total of 1,900,000 tonnes, ranking third in the world, and possessed 2,700 aircraft at the time. Each Japanese division was the equivalent in fighting strength of four Chinese regular divisions (at the beginning of the Battle of Shanghai).

Major figures

Chinese Nationalists

Chinese Communists

Foreigners supporting China

Imperial Japanese Army

Chinese collaborators supporting Japan

Military engagements of the Second Sino-Japanese War


Battles with articles. Flag shows victorious side in each engagement. Date shows beginning date except for the 1942 battle of Changsha, which began in Dec. 1941.

Aerial engagements

Japanese invasions and operations


Numerous monuments and memorials throughout China, including the Museum of the War of Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression in Beijing's Wanping Fortress.

See also



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References and bibliography

  • Bayly, C. A., and T. N. Harper. Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia, 1941–1945. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005. xxxiii, 555p. ISBN 0-674-01748-X.
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  • Hsiung, James Chieh, and Steven I. Levine, eds., China's Bitter Victory: The War with Japan, 1937–1945. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1992. xxv, 333p. ISBN 0-87332-708-X. Chapters on military, economic, diplomatic aspects of the war.
  • Ray Huang, 從大歷史的角度讀蔣介石日記 (Reading Chiang Kai-shek's Diary from a Macro History Perspective) China Times Publishing Company, 1994-1-31 ISBN 957-13-0962-1.
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