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

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

Rana Mitter

Language: English

Pages: 480

ISBN: 0544334507

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


An Economist Book of the Year
A Financial Times Book of the Year

“A book that has long cried out to be written.” — Observer (UK), Books of the Year

In 1937, two years before Hitler invaded Poland, Chinese troops clashed with Japanese occupiers in the first battle of World War II. Joining with the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain, China became the fourth great ally in a devastating struggle for its very survival.

Prizewinning historian Rana Mitter unfurls China’s drama of invasion, resistance, slaughter, and political intrigue as never before. Based on groundbreaking research, this gripping narrative focuses on a handful of unforgettable characters, including Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Zedong, and Chiang’s American chief of staff, “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell. Mitter also recounts the sacrifice and resilience of everyday Chinese people through the horrors of bombings, famines, and the infamous Rape of Nanking.

More than any other twentieth-century event, World War II was crucial in shaping China’s worldview, making Forgotten Ally both a definitive work of history and an indispensable guide to today’s China and its relationship with the West.

“In the manner of David McCullough, [Mitter] creates a complex history that is urgently alive.” — Kirkus Reviews

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Nehru or Gandhi with the same credibility. Chiang was privately disappointed that he had been unable to persuade the Congress leaders to back the war effort fully. In this, his agenda was no different from that of Churchill or Roosevelt, although the British leader, at least, failed to realize or acknowledge that. Had the British authorities backed Chiang more fully, the result might have been different. Above all, however, the visit marked China’s first wartime gesture as a great power, a

stronger because the two nations shared a common cultural heritage, as well as elements of their written language and religion, and yet were set on different paths in their quests for modernity. As Chiang took power in Nanjing, the difference between the two countries’ visions for East Asia foretold a deadly confrontation. Chapter 3 The Path to Confrontation ON SEPTEMBER 18, 1931, a bomb exploded on a railway line near the city of Shenyang (then known better in the West under its

future for the party and the country looks very difficult. In the next ten years, I don’t know what changes there may be.” Chiang also noted that the city itself looked deserted.1 In fact, for some months, an eerie quiet had blanketed the capital at Nanjing. In mid-August the war had taken the city by surprise: Nanking had its first taste of aerial warfare when twelve Japanese machines appeared at two this afternoon to bomb the capital and were engaged by ten Chinese planes . . . Sirens

whole Sino-Japanese War. Severe breaks in the dikes near Kaifeng sent a five-foot wall of water fanning out over a 500-square-mile area, spreading death. Toll from Yellow River floods is not so much from quick drowning as from gradual disease and starvation. The river’s filth settles ankle-deep on the fields, mothering germs, smothering crops. Last week, about 500,000 peasants were driven from 2,000 communities to await rescue or death on whatever dry ground they could find.10 Chiang’s

subordinate to Chiang, the pretender who occupied what Wang considered his rightful place as leader of the National Revolution, and who had now lost large parts of China’s most ancient heartland to the Japanese. To Wang, Chiang’s closest enemy, the message of resistance seemed increasingly hollow. “Wang was very unhappy about being vice chairman,” recalled the diplomat Gao Zongwu. “He thought he was better qualified than anyone else to be party chair.”16 Wang did not leave behind detailed

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