In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sino-Japanese Wars, 1895-1945

  • Introduction
  • Boxer War, 1899–1901

Military History Sino-Japanese Wars, 1895-1945
S.C.M. Paine
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 March 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0027


The First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) shattered the traditional Confucian order in East Asia and produced a historically anomalous situation with Japan, not China, the dominant regional power. The Second Sino-Japanese War (1931–1945) marked Japan’s failed attempt to carve out an empire on the Asia mainland sufficient to practice autarky amidst the Great Depression. These were also two of Japan’s three wars aimed at Russian containment. (The third was the intervening Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905.) The literature mainly vilifies Japanese militarism and presents China as the victim. Coverage in the English language is limited but growing. In Taiwan, and particularly China, there is a burgeoning literature that tends to focus on the Chinese side. In Japan, the literature is not as extensive and it tends to focus on the Japanese side. Yet, understanding these wars requires analyses of both sides and of their geographical neighbors, as Russia figured prominently in both Chinese and Japanese strategic thinking. Articles are a particularly useful way to bypass the polemics and focus on specific topics.

General Overviews

There are a number of works providing an overview of the entire period. They tend to highlight either China or Japan. Rather than presenting sweeping interpretations, these works focus on assembling basic facts. This turns out to be a difficult task given that access to the archives in China, Taiwan, and Japan has long been restricted, and given that so much documentation was destroyed during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Dreyer 1995, Elleman 2001, Liu 1972, and van de Ven 2003 put China at the center of their analyses, while Iriye 1997, Iriye 1989, Jansen 1975, Peattie 1988, and Tadokoro 2007 examine Japan.

  • Dreyer, Edward L. China at War, 1901–1949. London: Longman, 1995.

    Excellent standard work on the topic, focusing on the Chinese side.

  • Elleman, Bruce A. Modern Chinese Warfare, 1795–1989. London: Routledge, 2001.

    Excellent standard work on the topic, focusing on the Chinese side but with attention to Russia.

  • Iriye, Akira. “Japan’s Drive to Great Power Status.” In The Cambridge History of Japan. Vol. 5. Edited by Marius B. Jansen, 721–782. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521223560

    This and the following title (Iriye 1997) deftly set the diplomatic backdrop for Japan’s wars in China.

  • Iriye, Akira. Japan and the Wider World. London: Longman, 1997.

    This little book provides a remarkably complete overview of Japanese foreign relations from the Meiji period through the 20th century.

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

    Jansen was among the United States’ foremost Japan experts. His excellent text puts military history in the greater context of Japanese political, economic, and social history.

  • Liu, F. F. A Military History of Modern China 1924–1949. 2d ed. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat, 1972.

    Nationalist historian focusing on the Nationalist side (originally published 1956).

  • Peattie, Mark R. “The Japanese Colonial Empire, 1895–1945.” In The Cambridge History of Japan. Edited by John W. Hall, Marius B. Jansen, Madoka Kanai, and Denis Twitchett. Vol. 6. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

    Excellent overview of Japanese foreign policy. See pp. 217–270.

  • Tadokoro, Masauki. “Why Did Japan Fail to Become the ‘Britain’ of Asia.” In The Russo-Japanese War in Global Perspective: World War Zero. Vol. 2. Edited by David Wolff, Steven G. Marks, Bruce W. Menning, David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, John W. Steinberg, and Yokote Shinji, 295–324. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004154162.i-583

    Explanation for Japan’s highly interventionist approach to foreign policy.

  • van de Ven, Hans J. War and Nationalism in China 1925–1945. London: Routledge, 2003.

    Excellent overview focusing on the Chinese side.

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