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The Second Sino-Japanese War Begins

   Even before modern times, China and Japan always had a love and hate relationship. The Japanese always admired the Chinese and borrowed much of their culture and lifestyles from the Chinese. China often tried to invade Japan and was never successful. China always perceived Japan as an inferior state but by the late 1800s much change took place in eastern Asia. Since mid 19th century the Qing Dynasty in China slowly declined in power and China was weakening as a result of following strict isolationist policies. By 1912 China was no longer ruled by an emperor. The Qing Dynasty fell and the nationalist party took over. It was a weak China that Japan faced during the 2nd Sino-Japanese war (which took place from 1937-1945). Japan, on the other hand, had been quickly industrializing ever since the Europeans first broke their ideals of isolationism during the 1853 visit of Commodore Mathew Perry. By the beginning of the 1900’s Japan was becoming more and more ambitious and powerful. In 1904 it entered the Russo-Japanese war in a fight to hold power over Manchuria and Korea, a war that it won (much to the surprise of the rest of the world).

   Japan tried to take a bite out of China when it invaded Korea during the first Sino-Japanese War in 1894-1895 and managed to wrestle control of Korea away from the Chinese, it also taking Taiwan, the Pescadores archipelago, and the Liaodong Peninsula. Since the Russo-Japanese war the Japanese had stationed troops in Manchuria and on September 18, 1931 the Manchuria Incident occurred. On this day a section of a railroad was dynamited. The Japanese military there accused the Chinese of committing the act and so provided the Japanese with a justification for occupying Manchuria and setting up a puppet government there. This incident was probably the first major indication of an imminent Sino-Japanese face off.

   In 1937 China faced a Japan that was not content with a few islands but determined to take all of China. Up until 1937 the Chinese and Japanese engaged in some small scuffles, however they were all fairly localized and neither side really wanted to declare war officially. The official beginning of the Sino-Japanese war was marked by the Marco Polo incident that occurred on July 7th 1917. The incident began because the Japanese claimed that one of their soldiers was taken by the Chinese, and although he was found only a little later, the event was enough to spark war. This small incident sparked an attack by the Japanese on Beijing, and later on Shanghai in November and in Nanjing by December. In the year 1938 other major Chinese cities such as Wuhan and Guangzhou were taken. The Japanese rampaged throughout eastern China, conquering one city after another, winning almost every battle. Eventually the Chinese had to resort to guerrilla fighting and many guerrilla offensives were actually more successful than planned army attacks. It was not a fair battle. The Japanese had superior commanders, superior training, and superior weapons. The Chinese were badly equipped, poorly trained, and were often led by incompetent and money grubbing men. Most of the Chinese were split into factions and could not agree to work together (the Chinese were split between the Guomingdang or Nationalist party and the Communist party)! However the Chinese did have superior numbers, some foreign aid, and equipment. The Chinese’s greatest advantage, however, was that they were fighting on their own land. They had the greater incentive to fight (although, in the beginning, many Chinese actually welcomed the Japanese and wanted to be ruled by them), and they knew the geography much better than their enemies. The Chinese also came up with many clever tactics (such as flooding rivers) to cripple the Japanese army. Although the Japanese army took almost all of the major Chinese cities, it had a hard time conquering all of China and its army. Capture and complete destruction of the entire army always eluded the Japanese because China was so large, which enabled the Chinese to escape and reassemble every time.

   The Japanese started out strong, and by the end of 1937 it had taken all the major cities in northeastern China including Tianjin, Beijing, Nanjing, Taiyuan and Jinan and also Shanghai in mid-eastern China. In 1938 they would take Xuzhou, Wuhan; they would take almost all of northeastern China except Zhenzhou, which would hold out until 1941. Later, the Japanese ventured into southern China and successfully took Guangzhou. The Japanese never ventured into western China due to the limits of their supply line and the fact that all major Chinese cities were located on the eastern coast. However after 1938 the Japanese were no longer able to conquer territory as quickly as they had earlier. Their supply lines were really being stretched, and the Chinese had started guerrilla fighting. The Chinese government even trained guerrilla groups and many poor Chinese men joined the guerrilla fighting.

   In 1939 the Europeans began their war; WWII was raging in Europe. By 1939 the Japanese were getting desperate, because of both the drag of the Chinese theatre and embargo of its oil supply by the Americans. This led them to commit their fatal mistake on December 7, 1941. They attacked Pearl Harbor. By leading the Americans into this war the Japanese doomed not only themselves, but also their ally, the Germans. By attacking the Americans, the Japanese ensured that the Americans would support the Chinese and the Western Allies stronger than ever. Japanese Admiral Yamamoto referring to the US said, "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."

   By 1944, the Chinese army was a much different army than it was in 1937. It had acquired many more weapons, and was beginning to hold its own. The Chinese were able to hold off the Japanese attacks much longer and sometimes even took back land. For the first time the Japanese were getting desperate and in April, they launched Operation Ichi-Go, a series of battles fought in Henan, Guangxi, and Human, which would last until December. This offensive would eventually fail, marking the beginning of the end for the Japanese. The Japanese would make two more desperate offensives during the last year of the war, to no avail. On May 8, Germany surrendered, and on August 5th and 9th, atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. On August 9th, the Russians declared war on Japan. On August 10th, the Japanese government finally surrendered. The Japanese fell as quickly as they had begun their war. The Sino-Japanese war cost the Japanese almost two million men, and the Chinese more than three million (not including the millions of civilians who died during or as a result of the war). The Second Sino-Japanese War was a war that few people asked for, it was a war that brought little good to either side committed in the battle. Millions of lives were lost, but what exactly was gained?