In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section China and Japan

  • Introduction
  • Government Reports
  • Thinking Theoretically About Sino-Japanese Relations
  • Historical Relations until 1894
  • Sino-Japanese Relations in the East Asian International Order
  • Japanese Imperialism and Sino-Japanese Relations, 1894–1945
  • Contemporary Relations from 1945 Onward
  • Perceptions
  • Economic Relations
  • Sino-Japanese Reconciliation

International Relations China and Japan
Shogo Suzuki
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 May 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0070


The bilateral relations of China and Japan are of significant importance to the international politics of East Asia. As the region’s two most powerful actors (excluding the United States), stable relations between the two states are crucial for the stability of the Asia-Pacific, not to mention Northeast Asia. Historically, war and friction was not necessarily the “norm” between the two states. Until the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895, Japan and China had clashed only three times, in the 7th, 13th, and 16th centuries. Both Japan and China’s entry into the European international order in the late 19th century changed this relatively peaceful pattern of interaction. Japan colonized Taiwan in 1895 after defeating China, and starting in 1931, launched an invasion of China on a massive scale. These fifty years of war and conflict have, to a certain extent, set the tone of Sino-Japanese relations today. The two countries’ relations with each other can hardly be called friendly: indeed, the two seemed to be trapped in an almost endless cycle of “friction and friendship,” with close relations frequently punctuated by acrimony. Realist scholars would perhaps argue that such dynamics are inevitable in the context of a rising China: rising powers have always bred intense security in the international system, and China really is no exception. However, as noted above, there is an extra factor in Sino-Japanese relations that gives the two states’ relations that extra “edge”: that is, the “history” factor. Numerous war crimes were committed by the Japanese, and have left a painful mark in the Chinese psyche. This frequently results in highly emotional anti-Japanese outbursts and strong diplomatic reactions from Beijing whenever there are disputes with Tokyo. These dynamics will ensure that Sino-Japanese relations will continue to be rocky for some time, and it is thus crucial that researchers are able to gain an understanding of the various issues that bedevil the bilateral relationship. The selection of materials has therefore been organized in a broadly thematic manner. Because of the difficult political relations between the two countries, debates on the bilateral relationship have the potential to become highly politicized. Readers should therefore be mindful that Chinese scholars and authors must navigate this difficult political terrain within the context of an authoritarian government which continues to hold a monopoly on the “truth,” and their works may be influenced by the domestic political climate to a greater degree than works written by authors based in the West or Japan. The Chinese and Japanese-language sources selected here have therefore been chosen for their balanced analysis. One exception is the list of works on populist nationalism. However, given the closed nature of China’s political system, these can be useful, as they provide important windows to understand grass-roots perceptions in an authoritarian political system.

Digital Editions and Collections of Primary Texts

Given the regulated nature of the Chinese Internet and the relative political sensitivity of Sino-Japanese relations, there is still a dearth of Chinese online data available for researchers. Luckily, there are a number of extremely useful online databases hosted in Japan: however, knowledge of Chinese and/or Japanese is often required. Databases for Sino-Japanese relations before and after 1945 provide access to key diplomatic documents of their respective periods. For those interested in reconciliation, there are links to sources that were produced as part of attempts by China and Japan to overcome the “history issue.” Here, links are provided for the first official Sino-Japanese joint history research project, as well as Digital Archive for the Asian Women’s Fund. The latter was established to provide compensation and redress for the former “comfort women” who were forced to work for the Japanese military as sex slaves.

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