China’s Victory Day

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China’s Victory Day
MaoNo / Pixabay

China’s Victory Day by Dr Dan Steinbock, Difference Group

As China prepares to commemorate WWII Victory Day, it’s time for the West to reassess China’s critical role in the triumph and its own historical amnesia.

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In the United States, World War II began with the surprise attack of the Imperial Japanese Navy against Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. From the viewpoint of Western Europe, the significant date was September 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland.

In China and Asia, the nightmare began years before, on September 18, 1931. That’s when the Kwantung Army of Imperial Japan invaded Manchuria, which resulted in a puppet state and an occupation that would endure through the entire war.

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It was the appeasement of the Imperial Japan in the West that crushed the credibility of the League of Nations. This, too, led Hitler, Mussolini and Franco to conclude that aggression could reap rewards.

China, the ‘forgotten ally’

More than 35 million Chinese were killed or injured during the years of anti-Japanese resistance and war. In the 1937 Nanjing Massacre alone, Japanese troops slaughtered an estimated 300,000 Chinese.

It is this triumph of Chinese resistance that, in February 2014, led China’s legislature to pass a resolution creating two new national observances. “Victory Day” on September 3 will commemorate Japan’s surrender in World War II; and December 13, for the Nanjing Massacre. As President Xi Jinping said recently: “The great contributions made by the Chinese people to the world anti-Fascist war should be remembered.”

During the “July 7 Incident” in 1937, Japanese troops attacked the Lugou Bridge, a critical access point to Beijing, marking Imperial Japan’s full-scale invasion and the beginning of the full-scale war of resistance of the Chinese people against the Japanese aggression (1937-45).

However, history is written by the victors. And until recently, conventional wisdom about WWII was based on a Western narrative dictated by the geopolitical exigencies of the Cold War rather than wartime realities. Essentially, that narrative sprang from Washington’s question: “Who lost China (to Communism)?”

However, the real question should be: Why did the West look the other way when Japan invaded China and thus undermined its own peace and future?

It is a sad fact that, in the major advanced nations, the massive Chinese sacrifice is barely known, often ignored and generally downplayed.

In one history of China’s role in the World War II, 1937-1945, Oxford historian Rana Mitter argues that even “those who are aware of China’s involvement often dismiss it as a secondary theater.” Perhaps that’s why he entitled his work Forgotten Ally.

Instead of a decisive response against Japanese aggression, international community opted for the policy of appeasement.

Unresolved legacies and historical revisionism

It was silence that paved the way for many Nazi and Japanese crimes against humanity.

This included biological and chemical warfare Japan undertook through the notorious Unit 731 that experimented with germ warfare attacks, frostbite testing, rape, syphilis and forced pregnancies, weapons testing (flame throwers on humans) and biological warfare. Like their Nazi counterparts, the Japanese “doctors” effectively de-humanized their victims who were subjected to vivisection – removal of organs, including parts of the brain, lungs, and liver – without anesthesia.

Some of the butchers of the Unit 731 and other units were prosecuted by the Soviets, but many were granted immunity by the U.S. They were not the only war criminals to be whitewashed, as documented by Eric Lichtbau’s The Nazis Next Door. In the decades following the end of World War II, the U.S. became safe haven for over 1,000 Nazis who were regarded as “assets.”

It all was only part of the far broader policy reversal in which WWII memories were suspended in the name of the Cold War; China became America’s “forgotten ally” and Japan provided an American foothold in Asia.

The message did not go unnoticed. For decades, Japan’s political leaders have visited the Yasukuni Shrine commemorating those who died in service of the Japanese Empire. In addition to 2.5 million men, women and children, the shrine honors almost 1,100 recognized war criminals, including an A-Class illegitimate elite.

Today these visits are a part of domestic politics, as evidenced by the campaign of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2001, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2013.

In contemporary Europe, such actions would be unthinkable. Imagine how England and France would respond if Chancellor Angela Merkel would court German nationalists by visiting SS and Nazi cemeteries, in the name of patriotism and remembrance?

In the past, historical revisionism in Japan reflected fringe politics. Today, it is about to go mainstream, even though most Japanese do not support it. In July, Prime Minister Abe’s government overrode objections from opposition parties to pass legislation permitting collective self-defense, which is part of efforts to dismantle the postwar settlement.

It reflects the eclipse of Japan’s “Peace Constitution,” an attempt to reverse previous war apologies; and a rebuttal of the forced prostitution of “comfort women” by the Imperial Army.

However, the government’s military revisionism risks undermining Japan’s economic progress and escalating regional tension.

Amnesia not an option

However, what if the Western powers had responded to Japan’s aggression in 1931? What if, instead of appeasement, they had upheld their supposed ideals? What if they had taken steps to punish aggression against China?

Perhaps the world might have avoided at least a part of a global nightmare.

Historical counterfactuals are always wisdom about hindsight. Nevertheless, these “what if” questions can make us more attuned to the missed opportunities of history.
Appeasement should never again be an option.

Dr Dan Steinbock is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/DanSteinbock.htm

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors

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71 COMMENTS

  1. There is no Chinese vote or ballots. There is only one name on over 80″% of the ballots and so only one person can win. The Chinese Communist Party learned how to rig and win elections early on. It was, and is, a totally totalitarian fascist-style government, regardless of its so-called political ideology.

  2. John, too much pretense. First of all, you missed the big point as to where I am. You totally lacking it in ur brain. A place with the highest incarceration rate is a free world in name only, if it can be called a free world at all. People from US living in china ~many of them found that in many aspects, China has more freedom~this I read on internet posted messages posted by Americans.

  3. I agreed that US provided most significant assistance to China during WWII against the Japanese. This is a result after 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and the Declaration of War. Why China was awarded the seat on the UN Security Consult? Here is why, “Military Historian Richard B. Frank’s research posits that by locking down Japanese troops in an 8 year war, the Chinese Military kept 800,000 to 1,000,000 Japanese troops tied down so they could not be used in battles against the Allied forces… Mr. Frank views this Chinese tenacity as consequentially affecting the outcome of the war by keeping nearly a million Japanese military tied up with fighting in China and therefore out of the war in the Pacific or attacking the West Coast of the United States. “

  4. Exactly– the commies sat on their hands and let the Nationalist government take the brunt of the fighting, when they weren’t themselves attacking the Chinese government.

  5. Exactly what actions did the Chinese Communist Party take against the Japanese? Or were they more interested in fighting the Kuomintang government? Were they ordered to sit on their hands by a foreign power (the USSR) to prevent conflicts between the USSR and Japan after Germany attacked Russia? No mention of the fact that China was granted a seat on the security council– the only non-white power so invited- only because of the United States. No mention either that Japan decided to attack the US in 1941 primarily because of an oil embargo organized by the US to assist China. What was the only country to supply China with significant quantities of arms and which sent equipment and volunteers to provide China with an air force? The United States. There seems to be a lot of peculiarly one-sided amnesia in this article.

  6. China fought Japan alone for 4 years (1937-1941) before Pearl Harbor while the rest of the world looked on. In 8 years of war of resistance (1937-1945) the Chinese people endured atrocities and sufferings unprecedented in human history. We must remember that Japan was the aggressor and victimizer, not the victim of the war. They got what they deserved in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Thank you Dr. Steinbok for setting the records straight!

  7. “Why did the West look the other way when Japan invaded China”.

    Kinda like the U.S. did with the slaughter in Rwanda under Bill Clinton, or more recently the invasion of the Ukraine by Russia (ignored by the weakling Obama).

  8. Anyone here defending the CCP, please use that hungry and limited mind to relearn your history for the sake of all your ancestors who were systematically murdered by those who have given you this limited and misguided education you display here. Americans believe once you do, you will be enlightened and your critical thinking skills will begin to mature. Think for your self. Learn why the world does not respect the CCP.

  9. Some people seem to have forgotten that the West’s ambivalence towards the Sino-Japanese conflict during the ’30s had as much to do with the overall growing divide throughout the world between Fascism and Communism. Given how bloody Stalin’s regime was at the time, Japanese imperialism wasn’t considered much worse and even thought by some as a neutralizer to Communist expansion in Asia.

  10. Surprise surprise. More pro-China and/or pro-Russia rhetoric from ValueWalk… It makes me almost want to read The Onion for all my world news.

  11. Clueless? You are the clueless one. Do you think land just sits there when it’s lost to an enemy country? No, it gets used and China lost a lot of land to Japan. Your one million troops didn’t mean anything when they were fighting with makeshift weapons and poor training.

    You should learn some real history and drop the nationalist act.

  12. War heroes? China was decimated by Japan in WWII. I don’t pay attention to “western media” I pay attention to history. China lost badly and their resources fueled Japan.

  13. That’s bullshit. Read some Japanese history books please, if you don’t agree with the Chinese ones. Just as the Nazis spelled their defeat in USSR, so did the Japanese in China. Most of the Japanese forces were fighting in China, most of the casualties there as well, so as the most atrocities. Yes the US was the deciding factor with the A bombs, but Japan was already in a no-win situation in China, and that’s why the Japanese Navy ventured with Pearl Harbour, to open a new front and boost moral back home.

  14. China was already consumed by its own Civil War when the Japanese attacked. Both sides eventually gradually paused openly fighting against each other to take on the Japanese, but then the war continued until after the war with the illegal communist government of Mao taking over mainland China and the last remnants of the Chinese government fleeing to what is now Taiwan. Mao then proceeded to kill as many as 80 million of his own people. not content with that Chinese forces invaded North Korea to save N.K. from U.N. forces and have supported this regime since then. They also invaded Tibet and proceeded to kill off the native population and religion. They also had border skirmishes with Soviet Union who nearly nuked them, but backed off due to U.S. pressure. They also fought a war with Viet Nam and had border skirmishes with India.

  15. 1. Western potencies, including the US, raped China since the 19th century, so it was business as usual for all to see Japan doing the same. 2. The usual double standard applied by the US through its history was re-used again Japan only when it was perceived that Japan would be able to become a true regional power in Asia, jeopardizing US domination interests. 3. Therefore the US tried to axfistiate Japan’s economy for the sake of its own usual hegemonic interests. 4. Legitimately Japan was forced to enter the war due to thaf economic agression that was taking Japan to the verge of collapse. 5. Of course, the propanganda machinery portraited the US as the victim…again as usual! How do the US agressions begin? By having its power projection arm “attacked”, no matter if some of those attacks have been staged by the US, American people is fool enough to follow the herder: The Main incident, Pearl Harbour, Tonking Gulf, Panama(the victim was a Navy’s guy!). Now, the US is cooking another war, demonizing Russia and Putin with the help of the media, in fact the agressor in this case is the US and Germany.

  16. Right….I think you completely missed the point. No worries! By the way next time you are in the free world again, go to a library and pick up a book and read. Or go to the National palace museum in Taiwan where the real treasures of China are stored, You may learn something.

  17. Thanks Tony, it is true the Chinese were literally fighting with guns from WWI era. My grandfather, who also fought against imperial Japan in China used to talk about entire divisions being wiped out by superior japanese tanks and planes.

    Actually the nationalist govt that ruled China at the time did thank US greatly for helping to fight the Japs, and continue to do so today in Taiwan. But the commies who took over the mainland in ’49 have chosen to change history for their propaganda purposes and so the newer generations in China never got to learn the real history.

  18. Yeah but let’s not forget why. The Chinese had captured and tortured and murdered some French and British diplomats when they went there to negotiate some economic agreements. That’s why they were attacked.

  19. Stay out of New York, LA, Detroit Peter. We don’t want your kind in the US. Get back on a plane and go back to rice country.

  20. Ah yes both impressive buildings from the Ming dynasty but like most things in China today, impressive on the outside but hollow on the inside (most of the original artefacts also gone).

    No need to describe NY or LA, i’ve been there. Detroit not interested.

  21. Before we Google, mind telling us if you are a pinoy, an Uighur extremist? if you are, should we Google about the terrorist acts that kill innocent people on the streets, and if you are pinoy, should we Google about pinoy national coast guard kill unarmed Taiwan fishermen instead?

  22. What a garbage article. China succeeded in being a punching bag for Japan. They were decimated and ran away to western China. There, the US helped resupply them, embedded military advisers in the Chinese ranks, and the US Air Force Flying Tigers Division provided air support as the Chinese went back in to take their own country back.

    Without the US, there would be no China today. My grandfather flew with the Flying Tigers. They relentlessly bombed the japps IN CHINA. The Chinese had no weapons. Some were fighting with shovels until the US supplied them. Chinese do not thank America enough and take far too much credit. We flew our sorties out of ChongChing for years as we bombed the Japanese in China and on mainland Japan.

  23. You are incorrect. 70% of the Japanese military was NOT fighting in China. Before the war that was true. At the height of WW2, no more than 25% of the Japanese Army was in China. As for Japanese casualties, lets not forget that the Chinese were aided by the US and many of those casualties took place from US bombs; not from Chinese.

  24. China merely had a few hundreds million of population in 1949. If 100 million (20-30% of a few hundred million) were killed, you would see a drastic decline of Chinese population, but instead we see a population explosion in China, so dramatic that she had to adopt a One Child policy. With the population explosion, China’s population has tripled to 1.5 billion now. After 1949, people’s life expectancy doubled with extremely limited medical resources, which in fact makes the death from the famine greatly discounted as a factor upon population change, directly contributed to a rapid population explosion!

    The fact we can all clearly observe: a nation with almost one and half billion people! A lot died from a famine that was exacerbated by aggressive economic policy, but 100 million people were never killed.

    People’s mind simply got washed by cold war propaganda and believe in everything that propaganda has been feeding over half a century although it makes no sense!

  25. Wong, he is right. And we do read CHinese history, but from good sources, people who have LEFT China. Why would you read history in a country that does not have freedom to write whatever they want? Kind of takes away their credibility don’t you think?

    There may be war heroes of people who stood up to Japan, but Lopez is right, Japan whipped the Chinese.

  26. Peter, you do not know history. One, World War 2 ended in 1945 and the Korean War started in 1950. That is five years later. 5 years does not equal decades. Next, North Korea attacked South Korea, so of course the UN counterattacked. The Chinese were NOT facing an invasion. Mao specifically said “we must help our communist brothers” and the Soviets encouraged it. AFTER China got involved US military wanted to invade China but were held back by US politicians.

  27. Rex there’s no anger, just as readers we appreciate a balanced undistorted presentation of history where possible. Not fiction presented as facts to serve the agenda of anyone, east or west.

  28. Uh, no one really thinks 100 million were killed. But around 40 million died in the ensuing famines and disastrous economic policies. A few million were killed for being against Mao and his communists. Mao himself admitted this and even bragged about it. That’s alot of people. What makes people attribute the famines as equivalent to murder is that Mao actually didn’t care and stated that “some people just need to die so that others can live better.” That is akin to murder. Plus the fact it was covered up extensively and still is to this day. The Chinese deny these crimes against humanity just like Shinzo Abe tries to deny Japanese aggression. So overall, Mao was responsible for around 40 million deaths, directly or indirectly, which makes him the biggest mass murderer in the history of the world.

  29. H Hope, 1.5 billion is today, the result of population explosion, that is more than tripled population than 1949!

    What are you talking about! China never said about 3 nuke bombs!

    Could you jump out of your brain that is restrained in the box of your propaganda immersed neurons!

  30. Hi Peter, 1.5 billions Red Chinese and how can you to control that population ? 100 millions Chinese death is nothing, nothing. You should learn China/Japan WW-2 history. Btw China Govt said there is 3 Nuke bombs on Japan during WW-2, can you figure it out the 3rd ?

  31. From reading comments, I wonder why people cling to cold war propaganda, rather than face facts when facts are clearly presented to them by scholars, like in this article!

    There are people that believe that China killed 100 million people kind of BS. Read this what I wrote earlier:

    China merely had a few hundreds million of population in 1949. If 100 million (20-30% of a few hundred million) were killed, you would see a drastic decline of Chinese population, but instead we see a population explosion in China, so dramatic that she had to adopt a One Child policy. After 1949, people’s life expectancy doubled with extremely limited medical resources, which in fact makes the death from the famine greatly discounted as a factor upon population change, directly contributed to a rapid population explosion!

    The fact we can all clearly observe: a nation with almost one and half billion people! A lot died from a famine that was exacerbated by aggressive economic policy, but 100 million people were never killed.

    People’s mind simply got washed by cold war propaganda and believe in everything that propaganda has been feeding over half a century although it makes no sense!

  32. there is so much china war heroes against the Japanese during the war,
    read some china history instead of western media if you wan to comment anything thx

  33. how can we get some people some senses before they start to talk about history! WWII was decades before that! Besides, it was the UN forces that fought all the way to the North Korea/China border! what do you expect China to do when facing invasion!

  34. H Hope, you are a complete victim of some BS propaganda. China merely had a few hundreds million of population in 1949. If 100 million were killed, you would see a drastic decline of Chinese population, but instead we see a population explosion in China, so dramatic that she had to adopt a One Child policy. After 1949, people’s life expectancy doubled with extremely limited medical resources, which in fact makes the death from the famine greatly discounted as a factor upon population change, directly contributed to a rapid population explosion!

    The fact we can all clearly observe: a nation with almost one and half billion people! A lot died from a famine that was exacerbated by aggressive economic policy, but 100 million people were never killed. Stop that lie!

  35. The KMT kept retreating b/c they got their asses kicked but at least they put up a fight. Which set piece battles did the worthless CCP engage the Japanese in? They were at best a guerilla nuisance that didn’t fight any real battles. Both Mao and Chiang were hording and thinking of the end game to fight each other. The difference is that Chiang was stupid (manly) enough to use his forces to fight the japanese while mao was smart (cowardly) enough to hide and rebuild

  36. Many Taiwanese were in the service of imperial Japanese troops during WWII.

    Communist or Nationalist, they are both Chinese. Although I agree that the CCP is trying to take way more credit than they deserve, you just can’t simply credit American’s role in WWII to only democrats or Republicans based on who was in charge… can you??? They were all present a nation. Now this article is talking about “China’s role” in WWII, not “CCP’s role”.

  37. Half the Japanese casualty in WWII took place in China.
    70% of Japanese military were fighting in China.
    Total 21 major campaigns took place in China involved total over one million troops from both sides.

    You are a fool to broadcast that “I am a fool who knows nothing!”
    Next time try to keep quiet when you are clueless.

  38. How can china be an ally when they fought against the allied forces of UN lead by America during the Korean war.Therefore it can not be termed as the forgotten ally.

  39. China did nothing but lose in WWII they were not crucial to victory in any stretch of the imagination. If anything, the occupation of China by Japan was to the benefit of Japan.

  40. Who wrote this article? Sounded like it came straight from the Chinese communist propaganda machine. Even more informed Chinese people wouldn’t buy it.

  41. It turns out the Red China Hammer/Sickle that kills 100 millions Chinese more than the Japan Colonizer for entire ASEAN at that time. Sicko Mao Tse Dung

  42. This article is pure nonesense. Why did the U.S. not help China when Japan invaded Manchuria? The U.S. Was in a depression up to that time and actually WWII brought it out. Why all the talk about WWII by the Chinese ? Simple, it is nationalism. The CCP wants to rally their people against the West. This is an old trick to distract the people from internal problems.the CCP is just like Hitler and other dictators as a small group uses fear and intimidation against their people to keep them down.

  43. What a gibberish of an article. Where’s the balance research?

    Truth is it was only forgotten because after Mao taking over China after WWII, the communists wiped everything clean, it chose to destroy or distort all previous history china – thousands of years of precious history and culture of the Chinese people which didn’t fit their story or agenda. Mao knew full well that without the Japanese invasion, the commies will still be hidden in caves to this day!

    Ironically to experience real traditional Chinese culture and values today you need to go to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, or even San Fran! You will only ever find a sterilized version in Beijing.

  44. Jerry, Brian X has some good points, many western nations were “sharing” (plundering ) China in those times, especially Britain, which started with Hong Kong & expanded into Shanghai, which they held until the Japanese took them prisoners. Imperial Germany occupied an area, Russia had taken much of Northern China, Colonialism was in its final “flower”, (but didn’t know it yet), in fact Churchill expected it to resume as soon as WW2 was over. But, at least the U.S. wasn’t actively involved (being itself a former colony). However, much was written about the atrocities, such as the Japanese massacres in China.
    Is it any wonder that China today, (no longer weak) is very sensitive about defending its territory & the Japanese rearming. Many Chinese remember, or were told by relatives, who lived through those horrors, about the Japanese occupation & conquest of Chinese territory . I know this because my Chinese Father-in-law , narrowly escaped, with his life. Many American families have relatives who suffered under Japanese WW2 atrocities. Be careful about arming nations that have at their root (religion) a war culture .

  45. Jerry, Marley , your idea of history is totally reversed, the American General, in charge of American war efforts in China, reported that the Communist army of Mao, put up the stiffest resistance to the invading Japanese. The so called “Nationalist army of Chiang Kai Shek , simply kept retreating & moving the capital away from the invading Japanese. Chiang was more interested in fighting against Mao, than the Japanese.
    To the disgrace of the post war U.S. government, they ignored the reports of the U.S. field generals in China, & gave Chiang credit he didn’t deserve. Why? Simple, Chiang was “fighting communism”, which was a “crusade” in Washington in those times. Madame Chiang, (a real charmer) kept coming to Washington & asking for guns & tanks, to fight the “communists” & got them right up to the time Chiang fled to Formosa, (Taiwan). Chiang’s corrupt generals sold much of the armaments they got from the U.S., to Mao’s army. Mao’s army had the support of most of the Chinese people, & Chiang fled to Taiwan, taking much of the treasures of China with him.

  46. You shall read more history before making comment, fact is fact, just like this article which is rare for US media to tell the truth. Communist did not involve as much as Taiwan ROC at the beginning, since ROC controlled China at that time, with all the budget and military which was more than 2 MM soldiers. Communist did involve the war and organized into joint forces under ROC leadership.

  47. communist china did not have any involvement in the ww2, they were out in the mountain hiding it was the ROC TAIWAN WHO DID FIGHT AGAINST THE JAPANESE.
    after the war, the communist chinese successively attack the ROC soldier who were still exhausted, disorganized, disoriented, thats the reason they evacuated to FORMOSA, Taiwan to the present. they did not surrender their sovereign rights as the govt of china. the communist china have no rights to take the credit away from ROC as part of the allied during the ww2.

  48. This story is attributed to Dr. Dan Steinbock, an American-enough sounding name.
    So why the errors in English syntax ?
    .
    I presume this article was reviewed and approved by Chinese government censors.
    Nothing wrong with that, as long as there is appropriate disclosure.
    .
    So, how is it that the history of Sino-American relations started when Japan invaded Manchuria (Goguryeo) in September 1931 ?
    Did anything significant happen in June 1900 in Peking, for example ?
    Americans get most of their “history” via Hollywood.
    What was Steve McQueen doing in China in 1926 in “The Sand Pebbles ?”
    .
    I appreciate the perspective offered here,
    but it needs more context.
    .

    “… what if the Western powers had responded to Japan’s aggression in 1931 ?
    “What if, instead of appeasement, they had upheld their supposed ideals ?
    “What if they had taken steps to punish aggression against China ?”

    These questions seem to not understand that context,

    in which Chinese Communists, Nationalists and holdovers from the Qing feudal lords

    we ALL trying to rid the country of foreigners.

    In 1931, Western powers themselves were trying to assert their own imperial ambitions on the Chinese people.

    Western powers didn’t view Japanese aggression in China as something bad, to be appeased. They viewed it as competition for the same resources and power. They would have done the same thing, if they thought that they could pull it off.

    .
    It was a different world.

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