Chinese Language Blog

History of the PRC – Part Thirteen Posted by on Jan 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

When we last left off, the CCP and KMT had ceased fighting with each other, albeit temporarily, to fight together against Japan. For years now, a civil war had been raging within China’s borders and little attention had been paid to its neighbor to the East, thanks to a policy of “first internal pacification before external resistance” (攘外必先安内 – ráng wài bì xiān ān nèi). Problems with Japan, however, were nothing new to China – the two nations had been involved in many conflicts ever since the First Sino-Japanese War.

In July 1937, tensions between the two began to increase during and as a result of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which is known in Chinese as the Lugou Bridge Incident (卢沟桥事变 – Lú gōu qiáo Shì biàn). Basically, Japan was running military drills in a Chinese city without informing the locals about it in advance. (Writer’s Note: This history lesson sounds strikingly similar to what happened with the Koreas this past month.) The Chinese freaked out and brought in reinforcements. Then Japan said one of their soldiers went missing and they brought in reinforcements themselves. Taking place in the city of Wanping (宛平), this lasted for a few days and went back and forth with agreements and truces being made only to quickly be broken.

Although historians have differing opinions on the matter, many claim that this incident kicked off the long and brutal Second Sino-Japanese War, referred to in Chinese as the War of Resistance Against Japan (抗日战争 – Kàng rì zhàn zhēng). Soon enough, the Japanese invaded northern China. According to Chiang, this was the “last point“( 最后关头 – Zuì hòu guān tóu) of his tolerance for Japanese aggression. As such, he decided to lead China into full-on war, although a formal declaration of war was not made.

In August, the Battle of Shanghai, or as it is known in China, the Battle of Songhu (淞沪会战 – Sōng hù huì zhàn) began as the first of the twenty-two major battles what would occur during this war. This bloody battle lasted for over three months, and spread from downtown Shanghai out to the beaches of Jiangsu.

During this devastating battle, Chiang decided to send his best forces out to fight – a decision that would have severe repercussions. While the Natinoal Revolutionary Army of China had a massive standing army of about 1.7 million, its troops were ill-prepared to deal with the more sophisticated, better trained Japanese army. It is estimated that only about 100,000 Chinese troops were actually capable of fighting Japan on equal terms.

As the battle raged, it appeared hopeless for the Chinese forces, but they surprised the Japanese with their willingness and determination to fight back. Since Shanghai was the most important Chinese city in the eyes of the western world, Chiang decided that his troops had to fight to maintain control of it as long as possible. His hopes were riding on the Nine Power Treaty Conference, which convened in Brussels just as Chinese troops were making their last stand in Shanghai. Sadly for Chiang and his troops, western intervention never came, and China suffered a crushing defeat in Shanghai.

While China was again battered and bruised, some good did come out of this terrible battle. First of all, the strategy of “trading space for time” (以空间换取时间 – Yǐ kōng jiān huàn qǔ shí jiān), or delaying Japanese advance to northern and eastern cities, proved successful. This was also a high point for Chinese nationalism (民族主义 – Mín zú zhǔ yì), as China had proven that it would not go down without a fight.

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.

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