In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945)

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Document Collections and Reference Works
  • Research Guides, Bibliographies, and Historiography
  • Japan’s Military
  • Japan’s Empire and Manchuria in the 1930s
  • The Nationalists at War
  • First-Person Accounts of the Communists’ War
  • Scholars’ Studies of the CCP
  • Chinese Society during Wartime
  • Collaboration and Occupied China
  • Shanghai
  • Sino-American Relations
  • America’s War in China
  • Nanjing Massacre
  • War’s End and Aftermath

International Relations The Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945)
Steve Phillips
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0141


The Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), what the Chinese often refer to as the Eight Year War of Anti-Japanese Resistance, began with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident of July 1937 and ended with Japan’s surrender in September 1945. This conflict marked the culmination of almost a half-century of growing Japanese aggression toward China. In 1895, Japan took the island of Taiwan from China’s ailing Qing Dynasty after the First Sino-Japanese War, and in 1931 the Japanese Army occupied Manchuria, China’s three northeastern provinces. Despite the superiority of Japan’s military, by 1937 no Chinese government could accept further territorial losses while maintaining legitimacy with the Chinese people. Japan’s all-out invasion and Chinese resistance would be second only to the clash between Germany and the Soviet Union in terms of destruction and the number of dead. Early scholarship focused on the battlefield. Experts placed the 1937 to 1945 period into different contexts—a China-centered War of Resistance, a regionally based Second Sino-Japanese War or Pacific War, or a global war. One controversial issue is how much Chinese resistance figured in the ultimate defeat of the Japanese. If China’s role was limited, what factors hampered the resistance effort? Later, scholars examined the political aspects of the war. Debate over the nature and effectiveness of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government dominates much of the English-language material. Did the Nationalists vigorously prosecute the war against the Japanese? Could the United States have done more to assist Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist government? The legacy of Communist victory in China’s civil war is another issue confronting those who research Sino-Japanese conflict. Memoirs, oral histories, and the secondary literature on the 1937–1945 period often present the war as a prelude to Communist victory, or as a case study in Nationalist defects that would lead to the regime’s collapse in 1949. As Steven Levine writes in China’s Bitter Victory, “If not for the Sino-Japanese War, it is doubtful whether the Chinese Communist party would ever have come to power.” (Hsiung and Levine 1992, p. xvii; cited under General Overviews) In the past few decades, scholars expanded from military or state-centric topics to issues of collaboration and the impact of war on Chinese society. Japanese atrocities, such as the Nanjing Massacre, and postwar reconciliation also have received more attention from researchers in recent years.

General Overviews

The volume of historical literature on Sino-Japanese conflict is less than that devoted to Japan’s war against the United States or to the war in Europe. There do exist, however, several comprehensive histories of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The famous and well-written Calvocoressi, et al. 1989 places the China war into a global context. Spector 1985 examines Japan’s war in China as it impacted upon the struggle between Japan and the United States in the Pacific. It focuses on the debates and conflicts among military leaders on each side. Hattori 1953 offers the perspective of a Japanese Army officer. By far the most comprehensive volume on military conflict in China comes from Peattie, et al. 2010. This multiauthor collection covers all major campaigns from 1937 to 1945 from Japanese and Chinese perspectives. For a perspective generally favorable to Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists’ war effort, see Hsu and Chang 1971. MacKinnon 2007 includes essays by some of the best scholars from the West, Japan, and China. A particular strength of this book is its examination of wartime state-building efforts by the Japanese, puppet regimes, and the Nationalists. Dorn 1974, written by an American military officer in China, covers the first four years of war from the battlefield. Hsiung and Levine 1992 reviews military action and introduces a variety of important topics including economics, art, and science during wartime.

  • Calvocoressi, Peter, Guy Wint, and John Pritchard. Total War: The Causes and Course of the Second World War. 2d rev. ed. New York: Pantheon, 1989.

    Massive history of the war in Europe (Volume 1) and Asia (Volume 2) based mainly upon secondary sources. First published in 1972, Total War includes wonderful maps and a useful annotated bibliography. This volume is the best starting point for examining how the Europe-first strategy of the Americans and British impacted the war in China.

  • Dorn, Frank. The Sino-Japanese War, 1937–1941: From Marco Polo Bridge to Pearl Harbor. New York: Macmillan, 1974.

    Dorn, who served with the US Army in China during the war, wrote one of the most well-known first-person accounts of the 1937–1941 period. Dorn assesses Nationalist military prowess and emphasizes the defects in Chiang’s overall strategy: such as the attempt to concentrate forces in the Lower Yangtze region, and more systemic deficiencies of the regime. This book includes Chinese and Japanese orders of battle in an appendix.

  • Hattori, Takushiro. The Complete History of the Greater East Asia War. Tokyo: Headquarters 500th Military Intelligence Service Group, 1953.

    The four-volume history translated by the Military History Division Headquarters, United States Army Forces Far East. This is a Japanese interpretation of the 1931–1945 period. The author headed the Operations Section of the Imperial General Army Headquarters, and was thus involved in the planning in many of the campaigns discussed in this work.

  • Hsiung, James C., and Steven I. Levine, eds. China’s Bitter Victory. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1992.

    Wide-ranging series of essays on various aspects of the war. This volume highlights the ways in which China, although victorious in the war, was left weaker and more divided than when the conflict began. The final chapters of the volume offer some of the best introductions to topics not usually covered by scholars, including economics, science, and China’s legal system—all of which suffered under the strains of war.

  • Hsu Lung-hsuan and Chang Ming-k’ai. History of the Sino-Japanese War, 1937–1945. Translated by Wen Ha-hsiung. Taipei: Chung Wu, 1971.

    Translation from a Chinese history of the same title that is among the most detailed accounts based on the Nationalists’ interpretation of the war and its campaigns. This volume was produced by the History Bureau of the ROC Ministry of Defense. While the Communists and many American scholars were highly critical of Chiang’s willingness and ability to fight the Japanese, this volume highlights Nationalist leadership and sacrifice.

  • MacKinnon, Stephen R., ed. China at War: Regions of China, 1937–1945. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007.

    This volume grew from an international conference of American, European, Japanese, and Chinese scholars. It contains useful essays that illustrate the complexity of wartime experiences from Manchuria to Taiwan to Guangxi. The volume also includes comparative articles by Chinese and Japanese scholars on labor conscription. It also offers comparisons of wartime state building efforts by the Japanese, puppet regimes, and the Nationalists.

  • Peattie, Mark, Edward Drea, and Hans van de Ven, eds. Battle for China: Essays in the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937–1945. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010.

    Best volume on the military history of the war by prominent American, British, Chinese, and Japanese scholars. It includes descriptions of major campaigns and valuable essays that place the China conflict into the larger context of World War II. This volume offers the most current mainland scholarship available in English, and contains a relatively positive assessment of Chiang and the Nationalists’ contributions to anti-Japanese resistance.

  • Spector, Ronald. The Eagle and the Sun: The American War with Japan. New York: Macmillan, 1985.

    Best volume on Japanese-American conflict. Spector writes an excellent overview of the China conflict in the context of the larger war. He focuses on military leadership, strategy, and resources, and conflicts within the Japanese and the Allied ranks. This volume suggests that the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater did not play a major role in causing Japan’s defeat.

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