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If China was by then "a battered nation on its knees, waiting for the Americans and British to save it from certain destruction at the hands of the Japanese", it could be partly attributed to, as the book made clear, the fact that they had been fighting the Japanese alone. Yet one can hardly blame the West for seeing it this way, for Japan, while surely on their radar even prior to December , was secondary in relation to Germany then. Had Japan not made the blunder of attacking Pearl Harbor, their invasion of South East Asia would have at most threatened the European colonies, and not the European homeland, it would still have been of secondary importance.

Other reasons also made 'forgotten' inevitable. Secondly, the cold war narrative also quickly distorted the history of that time, focusing people's attention on China's political ideology rather than their history in the Second World War. Finally, the outcome of the civil war in China meant that certain events must be emphasised, others diminished, and some invented.

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Which brings me to this question I had as I read the book - who was forgotten really? If the answer is China, then who in China? And if the West can be accused of forgetting their Nationalists allies as the author implies, then whatever the Nationalists did right among the many wrongs was comprehensively eradicated by the Communists when they came to power see pg And to be fair, post-Second World War and even current Chinese discourse on that part of history hardly give enough credits to the West used loosely here too.

I cannot accuse the author of falling short in his effort to support his thesis, he might have felt that the two-thirds of the book before China became an 'ally' was necessary to provide the context but that leaves only the last third of the book to try and develop his argument. I also feel that too little was given on the Communists side of the story, perhaps because in the context of actually fighting the Japanese they haven't done much.

One last question was whether Russia was as inconsequential to the events in China as it seemed, for very little was said about them throughout. Still, for anyone who wants a source of information on that period of history in China this book is indispensable. Dr Mitter, with his great scholarship, vivid descriptions, and dynamic style will take you on a throught-provoking ride through his riveting narrative.

As you read Chapter 11, ask yourself what you would do if you were in Zhou Fohai's position. View 2 comments. This is a useful but flawed account of an important theatre of war in the struggle of liberal internationalism Western imperialism and socialism against the attempted imperialisms of rising powers. The story has two contemporary sets of resonance - the obvious one is the tricky current state of Sino-Japanese relations that has Westerners rushing to books like this. The less obvious is the attempt by the West to answer the question, 'what to do with rising powers?

It starts at the beginning what led up to the Marco Polo Bridge incident, the 'Sarajevo' of eight years of slaughter through to the surprise ending - the 'deus ex machina' of the Atom Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With the usual unconscious racism of the Western armchair liberal, the debates on the use of the Bomb usually wonder about the dreadful morality of wiping out , persons in a few days in terms of saved men and materiel for the West. A more open view would throw into the pot the hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of Chinese and Japanese lives saved from not going down the Nazi route of a year or two of mayhem as Japan fought to the end despite its prospect of certain defeat.

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Between 8 million and 20 million, variously estimated, died in those eight years with perhaps three to four million the victims of first the deliberate flooding of Henan and then its appalling famine Mitter also notes the estimated 3m who died in a similar Indian wartime famine. The whole business is another story of 'things getting out of control' with millions being disrupted, starved, conscripted, terrorised and murdered as a few 'big men' squabble for advantage and for 'values' that are often noble enough but equally as often hypocritical.

It is a story played out almost continuously even today - Africa being the current playground for 'big men' and psychopaths of all 'moral' persuasions. We should be pleased the rising thuggery of new empires was suppressed but it was not a simple tale of good and evil. The flaws in the book, however, detract from its usefulness as analytical tool although the 'further reading' at the back is useful for anyone wanting to delve deeper.

Above all, the book often reads like an unjustifiable apologia for Chiang Kai-Shek, warlord leader of the Nationalist Chinese with most claim to legitimacy as ruler of China. It certainly spends more time on the squabble with General Stilwell than a straight narrative deserves. What is going on here? The reality is that, legitimate though he was, Chiang Kai-Shek was soon run out of town the core of China in the East and was not much more than a superior warlord from an earlier era.

Forgotten Ally: China's World War II, 1937-1945

He could speak for China and for millions of men but he had proved an unimaginative and narcissistic leader before the Marco Polo Bridge incident and was not much better after it. Mitter justifiably contextualises his decisions but they were more often than not poor. Most of the non-Communist warlords in the south marked time under his leadership but his control was limited, while the Communists under Mao cannily created a state within a state in North West China that treated the peasantry as if they mattered instead of as fodder. The blunders of Stilwell and the Americans can be charitably put down to them 'learning on the job' as they slowly displaced the British Empire as global arbiter.

US foreign policy does not really settle down into full competence until after the McCarthy blood-letting. Mitter's attempt to recover Chiang's reputation by pointing out the new status given to China in the 'UN' holds little water. Yes, this was a fact on the ground and it portended great things, a benefit that India failed to achieve, but China was always a tool under Chiang. In essence, China held down some , Japanese troops and that was important for the Allied war effort but it presupposes that this was always in the interests of the Chinese who died in huge numbers holding together a ramshackle strategy of mere survival.

It is noticeable that in the struggle against the last Japanese offensive - like the last push of the Germans in - Nationalist troops were attacked by Henan peasants who had suffered deliberate flooding and then famine, fertile ground for communism later. The second flaw is associated with the first.

China's war With Japan the struggle for survival, by Rana Mitter, review - Telegraph

Mittel devotes about the right amount of space to the Communists in Yan'an but his coverage is still cursory and lacking in analysis. His great lack is any serious investigation of Japanese thinking and Japanese motives. This is highly problematic. The book is about the Japanese war on China. That means it is about both main participants and the whole war zone yet we hear virtually nothing of East China other than Nanking and little of Japanese-collaborationist dealings. He devotes a great deal of attention to the Petain of China - Wang JIngwei and his circle - but always in the light of them being implicitly honourable Nationalists who got it wrong.

This misses the point - they were naive and 'useful idiots' but there were important ideological and practical Japanese reasons for creating 'Vichy' regimes across Asia and for nationalists to choose what they thought might be the lesser evil. We get little sense of this. Right or wrong, what was actually happening in the huge area of East China under Japanese rule needs to be explained in terms of Japanese conduct on the ground after the Rape of Nanking and of the motivations for Chinese collaborationism and resistance.

By the second half of the war, just as the National Socialists could put 'national' SS divisions into the field against the Soviets so there were substantial collaborationist Chinese troops fighting against the nationalists alongside the Japanese in the final offensive. This has to be explained.

It cannot be explained by giving excessive coverage to the superior warlord's dealings with Washington and almost completely neglecting the dynamic between Tokyo and Nanking except in terms of the factional struggles of a few failed politicians. The net effect is that we have a book that does not take the detached and cold view of the struggle that we need to have in order to assist with the analysis of the twin issues noted at the beginning of this review - Sino-Japanese relations and the rise of new powers. Instead, what we have is another easy read for liberal internationalists that seems intended to guide them through the group think politics of their own side rather than assist in understanding complexity and think about the unthinkable.

It is a morale-booster that seems to say that the 'real' China was only accidentally corrupt and incompetent and that if we the West had behaved in diferent ways and taken a flawed great man at face value, things would have been better. It is like a polemic for the past!

However, there is lot to learn from this book - about Mao's genius for making inaction look like action, about the cynicism of the Allies, about the delusions of the Japanese elite, about the resilience and humanity of the Chinese people and about the chaos of war. One lesson is fascinating and well taught.

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Under conditions of war and threat, all three regimes in China turned to terror to try and hold power - Mao's reined in his intellectuals and mobilised the peasantry with the help of the Yezhov-trained Kang Sheng but he was not alone. Chiang used the dedicated monster Dai Li with the close co-operation of the Americans to eliminate opposition to a regime that was really not much different from those targeted in Libya and Syria more recently.

Chiang was not a democrat but an authoritarian militarist. Wang Jingwei hired politicised gangsters to do much the same in Nanking from a class which, in Shanghai, had helped Chiang himself on his road to power. Even today, it is clear that, after seventy years of Communist 'totalitarianism', South China's gangster culture thrives. Although the victor Mao adopted techniques later that taught Pol Pot and the extremists in North Korea their techniques of terror and power, thuggery arose on all sides out of warfare and whatever state might have emerged, none would have had much truck with 'human rights'.

This makes any attempt to make the 'less worse' seem good rather futile - Chiang murdered , Chinese in a somewhat poorly thought-out tactical attempt to slow down the Japanese by breaching the dams on the Yellow River. No wonder the Henanese peasants were obstructive! At the end of the day, the whole debacle came down to an incident where a rising power thought that it had rights, demonstrated by its imperial enemies in the Opium Wars and subsequently, to use force to extract concessions on spurious grounds against a weak target. That the target was weak was definitely not the fault of Chiang Kai-Shek. He was dealt an appalling set of cards but, given the realities of the situation, his decisions tended to make things worse, starting with his initial 'Night of the Long Knives' against the Reds. Still, the book remains a valuable narrative introduction to one of the nastiest wars in an era of nasty wars.

It left this reader with an abiding sense of solidarity with the Chinese people if not their leaderships. Above all, I have come to admire the achievement of China in not merely holding itself together but appearing to cohere into a Great Power that has managed, through the construction of its own creation myth, to bind together the East, the Party and the nationalist impulse into one. The nervousness of the West - and the margin states of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan and perhaps Vietnam and the Philippines as well - is understandable but it may be that the US in particular is still not learning the lessons of the s.

The book reminds us of the fragility of the Communist 'achievement'. The European Union is now seeing old interwar attitudes re-emerge in troubled economies - notably Spain and Eastern Europe - and there is no reason why something similar might not happen in China.