In This Article Sino-Japanese Relations Since 1945

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Archives
  • Bibliographies and Handbooks
  • Collections of Source Materials and Dictionaries
  • Journals and E-journals

Chinese Studies Sino-Japanese Relations Since 1945
Caroline Rose
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0036


The study of Sino-Japanese relations since 1945 can be divided into three main periods in which dominant themes have emerged. The prenormalization period (1949–1972) is marked by the lack of diplomatic relations, but there are nonetheless important things to say about informal diplomacy and the ways the two sides maintained channels of communication. Thus the importance of key individuals with an interest in reviving China-Japan relations, the role of the private sector in Japan, and the role of China’s people’s diplomacy help shed light on the internal dynamics and structural underpinnings of the relationship as it adjusted to a Cold War environment in which both sides were constrained by the foreign policies and demands of the superpowers. The postnormalization period (1972 to the late 1980s) brought about a boom in China-Japan relations buoyed by Japan’s economic prowess and China’s reform and opening up policies. Literature on this period offers an insight into Chinese and Japanese foreign policymaking, the role of Japanese aid in China’s development, the emergence of the history problem, and a burgeoning tension between complementarity and competition in economic relations. The end of the Cold War, the rise of China, and the relative decline of Japan usher in the third period of Sino-Japanese studies, in which rivalry (political, economic, and military) becomes a recurring theme in the literature. The legacy of Japan’s aggression in China during the war and questions over Japan’s willingness to acknowledge its war responsibility have provoked emotional and recurring controversies. Thus the history problem in China-Japan relations remains a rich area of study as a means of attempting to understand the obstacles to reconciliation. Studies of traditional and nontraditional security issues have also come to the fore since the 1990s, reflecting the various tensions between China and Japan over their unresolved territorial dispute, energy security, Taiwan, the nature of the US-Japan alliance, jostling for regional leadership, and so forth. Here again, competition and cooperation are the two axes around which much of the debate is focused. This article provides an overview of selected English-, Chinese-, and Japanese-language sources on the various aspects of the relationship, highlighting the debates and dominant approaches as they have evolved since the early postwar period.

General Overviews

A full understanding of China-Japan relations after World War II requires knowledge of the nature of the relationship as it developed from the late 19th century (late Qing dynasty in China, early Meiji period in Japan) through the tumultuous events of the early 20th century, before the descent into a bitter war of attrition between the two countries from 1937 to 1945. Thus Coox and Conroy 1978 and Jansen 1975 provide richly detailed accounts of the pre–World War II period, and Iriye 1992 is a concise and masterful guide to the key determinants of one hundred years of China-Japan relations from the 1880s onward. Tanaka 1991 is a compact but informative overview that deftly combines analysis of the international environment and domestic political developments. Jin 2002 takes a similar approach, though the focus is limited to relations since 1972. Whiting 1989 continues to be widely cited for its considered analysis of the role of mutual images and the patterns of behavior in China-Japan relations up to the 1980s. Söderberg 2003 is essential reading for undergraduate students and covers the main issues in post–Cold War relations. Wan 2006 offers a more holistic view of the main determinants of the relationship.

  • Coox, Alvin D., and Hilary Conroy, eds. China and Japan: A Search for Balance since World War I. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1978.

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    Deals mainly with the pre–World War II period but has some useful chapters focusing on the run-up to normalization in 1972 and remains a solid, accessible history of the key developments in China-Japan relations flagging some of the controversial debates, for example, about Japan’s war responsibility.

  • Iriye, Akira. China and Japan in the Global Setting. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

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    A compact but enlightening overview of China-Japan relations from the 1880s into the post-1945 period up to the late 1980s. Organized thematically by the three main dimensions of power, culture, and economics.

  • Jansen, Marius B. Japan and China: From War to Peace, 1894–1972. Rand McNally History. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1975.

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    A comprehensive and highly readable history of the vicissitudes of China-Japan relations, including a final chapter on the early post–World War II period up to 1972.

  • Jin Xide 金熙德. Zhong Ri guanxi: Fujiao 30 zhounian de sikao (中日关系:复交30周年的思考). Beijing: Shijie zhishi chubanshe, 2002.

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    Representative of a number of publications that marked the thirtieth anniversary of Sino-Japanese relations after normalization. Jin takes a thematic approach and considers the prospects for China-Japan relations in the 21st century in light of the relative power of each country.

  • Söderberg, Marie, ed. Chinese-Japanese Relations in the Twenty-First Century: Complementarity and Conflict. European Institute of Japanese Studies: East Asian Economics and Business Studies 2. London: Routledge, 2003.

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    Essential reading for an understanding of the nature of political, economic, and strategic aspects of Sino-Japanese relations after the Cold War. Highly informed and informative contributions from long-term observers of China-Japan relations, such as Jin Xide, Yang Daqing, Zhao Quansheng, Marie Söderberg, Reinhard Drifte, and Phil Deans.

  • Tanaka Akihiko 田中明彦. Nitchū kankei 1945–1990 (日中関係 1945–1990). UP Sensho. Tokyo: Tokyo daigaku shuppankai, 1991.

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    This is a general overview of Japan-China relations from 1945 to 1990, and it remains a solid, relevant, and well-balanced study that underscores the complexities of Sino-Japanese relations, including domestic political forces in both countries and the influence of the international environment.

  • Wan, Ming. Sino-Japanese Relations: Interaction, Logic, and Transformation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006.

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    Seeks to provide a systematic and holistic explanation of the structure and patterns of Sino-Japanese relations since 1989 through case studies of Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro’s Yasukuni Shrine visits, Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA), the Shenyang incident of 2002, and the redress movement; provides a balanced account of the multiple factors influencing China-Japan relations.

  • Whiting, Allen S. China Eyes Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

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    Pioneering study focusing on mutual images in China and Japan with an emphasis on the evolution of China’s Japan policy, the role of the media in China, the influence of student protests, and so forth. Useful case studies of the events of the mid-1980s, especially Nakasone’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine visit and the anti-Japanese protests in China.

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