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

BOOK: Forgotten Ally: China's World War II, 1937-1945
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Table of Contents

Title Page

Table of Contents




Dramatis Personae

Pronunciation Guide

Prologue: City on Fire



As Close as Lips and Teeth: China’s Fall, Japan’s Rise

A New Revolution

The Path to Confrontation


Thirty-seven Days in Summer: The Outbreak of War

The Battle for Shanghai

Refugees and Resistance

Massacre at Nanjing

The Battle of Taierzhuang

The Deadly River



“A Sort of Wartime Normal”

Flight into the Unknown

The Road to Pearl Harbor


Destination Burma

Hunger in Henan

States of Terror

Conference at Cairo


One War, Two Fronts

Showdown with Stilwell

Unexpected Victory

Epilogue: The Enduring War


Further Reading


Photo Credits


About the Author

First U.S. Edition


Copyright © 2013 by Rana Mitter


All rights reserved


For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.


First published in Great Britain by Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books, 2013


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.





“Malagueña” by Federico García Lorca copyright © Herederos de Federico García Lorca. English translation by Rana Mitter, copyright © Herederos de Federico García Lorca and Rana Mitter. All rights reserved. For information regarding rights and permissions, please contact: William Peter Kosmas, 8 Franklin Square, London W14 9UU, England, or
[email protected]





For Katharine





La muerte
entra y sale
y sale y entra
la muerte
de la taberna.


goes in and out
out and in
from the tavern.]



Dramatis Personae

Chen Bijun: Wang Jingwei’s wife, and also a significant figure in the “peace movement” that ultimately led to collaboration with Japan.


Chiang Kai-shek: Leader of China’s Nationalist Party from 1926 to his death in 1975. Chiang was China’s leader during its war against Japan from 1937 to 1945.


Winston S. Churchill: British prime minister, 1940–1945, 1951–1955.


Archibald Clark Kerr: British ambassador in China, 1938–1942.


Dai Li: Chiang Kai-shek’s security chief, who used torture and intimidation against enemies of the government, in particular the Communists.


Clarence Gauss: US ambassador in China, 1941–1944.


He Yingqin: Minister of war in the Nationalist government.


Hirota Kôki: Japanese foreign minister, 1937–1938.


Patrick Hurley: US ambassador in China, 1944–1945.


Nelson T. Johnson: US ambassador in China, 1929–1941.


Konoye Fumimaro: Japanese prime minister, 1937–1939, 1940–1941.


Long Yun: Canny Yi (Lolo) militarist who ruled Yunnan province in southwest China for much of the wartime period, and maintained a wary relationship with Chiang Kai-shek.


Mao Zedong: Leader of China’s Communist Party, 1943–1976. Mao achieved paramount power during the war years, sidelining and eliminating rivals, and preparing his party for its ultimate victory against Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists in 1949.


George C. Marshall: Chief of staff of the United States Army, 1939–1945.


Matsui Iwane: Japanese commander who took Nanjing in 1937 and was in overall charge of Japanese troops during the massacre of 1937–1938.


Song Meiling: Chiang Kai-shek’s wife and a powerful political figure in her own right in the Nationalist government. She spoke fluent English and was Chiang’s channel to the Americans.


Lord Louis Mountbatten: Supreme commander, Southeast Asia Command, 1943–1946, who clashed frequently with General Stilwell.


Franklin D. Roosevelt: President of the United States, 1933–1945.


T. V. Soong (Song Ziwen): Chiang’s brother-in-law, foreign minister for a period, and a relatively liberal figure within the Nationalist Party.


Josef V. Stalin: General secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, 1922–1953.


Joseph W. Stilwell: “Vinegar Joe,” the American general sent as Chiang Kai-shek’s chief of staff after Pearl Harbor, who quickly fell out with his commander.


Sun Yat-sen: Tireless revolutionary and briefly president of China, 1912, shut out of power after the overthrow of the emperor in 1912 as military leaders undermined the new republic.


Tôjô Hideki: Japanese prime minister, 1941–1944.


Wang Jingwei: Joined the Nationalist revolution early and was a close ally of Sun Yat-sen. Wang achieved high political office but little real power under Chiang, and defected to form a collaborationist government under the Japanese in 1938, based in Nanjing.


Zhou Enlai: Senior figure in the Communist movement who served as Mao’s representative in Chongqing for much of the war.


Zhou Fohai: Nationalist government official who would become close to Wang Jingwei and eventually help him to defect to Japan.

Pronunciation Guide

Most Chinese names in this book have been rendered into the internationally accepted pinyin system of romanization. While correct pronunciation of pinyin takes some training, the only sounds that are wholly different from standard English pronunciation are “q” (which sounds like a “ch” as in “church”) and “x” (which is a “sh” as in “sheet”). For more details the Internet has a wide range of pinyin pronunciation guides. In some cases, better-known alternative romanizations are used, such as Chiang Kai-shek rather than Jiang Jieshi. Also, I have preserved the older Wade-Giles system of romanization where it appears in the original document, but have generally added a pinyin version in brackets afterward.

Prologue: City on Fire

1939 Europe was still, albeit uneasily, at peace. But some seven thousand kilometers to the east, the Second World War was already well under way.

On May 3 the sky was clear above the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing. The weather was sweltering. Not for nothing is Chongqing known as one of “China’s three furnaces,” where temperatures regularly rise to 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. At noon Zhang Xiluo, a reporter for the
newspaper, was getting ready for lunch. In the bustling city around him, the locals were going about their usual business. On the docks, stevedores hauled boxes on and off the ships that plied the Yangtze. Passengers descending from the boats would be mobbed by dozens of sedan-chair bearers. Chongqing is famous as a
, a “mountain city”—far better to be carried up the steep hills that separate the river from the upper town, if you could afford it.

In the markets, traders and their clients bargained for rice, vegetables, and meat. The number of customers was greater than at any time in the city’s history. In October 1937 the Nationalist government of China had announced that it could no longer defend the existing capital at Nanjing to the east against a Japanese invasion that had begun three months earlier. Chongqing therefore became the temporary capital. Millions of refugees had fled westward, and Chongqing’s population swelled. A city of fewer than half a million inhabitants in 1937 more than doubled in size within eight years. Aside from the crowded markets, the refugees’ presence was clear from the ugly, slapdash buildings, made from mud and metal girders, that had rapidly sprung up across the local landscape. These shanties gave an already slovenly-looking city an even more unkempt air.

Suddenly, as he was sitting down to eat, Zhang heard a sound whose terrifying significance he knew well. “At about noon, we heard a short alarm signal,” he recalled. “I didn’t even finish my meal, but got ready to go and hide away in the air-raid shelter in the newspaper office in Jintang Street.” Half an hour passed. Then an even more urgent siren began howling in short, continuous bursts. The last few people left in the newspaper office grabbed their possessions and ran down into the shelter.

Zhang was lucky. The particular refuge where he found himself was one of the most advanced in the city, built by the government air-raid defense agency. It was outfitted with electric lights, communications equipment, and supplies of food and drink. Many of the city’s poorer inhabitants had only makeshift shelters much less able to withstand a powerful blast from the sky. One man later wrote that in his household, “when the air-raid siren sounded, our whole family of more than ten people just hid under our table.”
The British consulate in the city had placed a large Union Jack on its roof to proclaim neutrality and warn off air-raid pilots, but there were no guarantees of safety, even for the privileged. Not long before, a Japanese bomb attack on a water-treatment plant had also hit the nearby diplomatic building.

At 12:45 p.m. dots appeared in the sky, thirty-six of them. They swiftly grew larger and louder. From airfields in occupied China, the Japanese Navy could dispatch Type 96 Land Attacking aircraft able to fly over one thousand kilometers on a single fueling. The Japanese were almost invulnerable and could bomb the Chinese government in exile into submission.

From inside the shelter Zhang heard the noise of aircraft engines. First he made out the pitifully small number of Chinese air-force fighters sent up to engage the enemy. Not long afterward, he heard the sound of bombs dropping, and then the booming response of Chinese anti-aircraft guns. The raid continued for a full hour before the all-clear finally sounded at 2:35 p.m.

Zhang went out to see the damage. All across the city, from the docks to the residential districts, buildings were gutted, bombed into hollow wrecks. So complete was the destruction that the surviving buildings seemed to him strangest of all: at one junction, a cluster of banks stood undamaged amid the rubble of endless flattened structures. Even hours later, as darkness fell, the city was filled with the sounds of moaning and screams for help. “It was truly unbearable to hear,” Zhang recalled. The journalist interviewed the wounded and relatives of the dead before rushing back to the office to write the story for that night’s edition.

The next day, May 4, Zhang was in a local park, talking to Fan Changjiang, one of the era’s star journalists at the prestigious newspaper
Da gongbao
. They came across a woman weeping. She, her husband, and their children had been unable to reach a shelter, and when the bombers struck, they had been in the park. Her husband was killed outright, and her two children were wounded. “Why didn’t the Japanese devils kill all of us?” she cried. “How are we going to live now?” In later years, one man remembered a story from that terrible day: the man’s father had been talking to a group of young factory workers when the bombs fell. He heard a violent noise, and before his very eyes the workers were “turned into bloody, fast-flying bits of flesh.” This man’s mother knew of an even worse tale: in the darkness of one of the larger shelters, people had stampeded in a desperate rush to avoid the raid. In the crush, many who tripped and fell were simply trampled to death.

But the city had not escaped yet. That afternoon, on May 4, the sirens sounded once more. At 5:17 p.m. twenty-seven Japanese aircraft appeared and began to bomb Chongqing again. “It was like being in a tiny boat, constantly shaking,” recalled one survivor. “Outside, bomb shrapnel was flying, window glass was shattering and falling to the floor . . . and there were the sounds of the enemy planes buzzing and machine-guns firing.” Terrified but also curious, he looked out of the window and saw “the whole sky was lit up by flames, and the surrounding buildings were collapsing one by one. Our beloved homes were being flattened and turned into a sea of fire.” When the all-clear signal sounded, just after 7:00 p.m., Zhang Xiluo’s newspaper office was still standing, but the buildings all around had been destroyed.

BOOK: Forgotten Ally: China's World War II, 1937-1945
13.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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