The Anti-Japanese War 抗日战争 (kangRi zhanzheng), or the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japan 中国人民抗日战争 (Zhongguo renmin kangRi zhanzheng), dates from July 1937 to 1945 (or in some interpretations the war dates from the so-called Manchurian Incident of 18 September 1931) and was the most bitter and destructive war the region had experienced. Millions of Chinese soldiers and civilians were killed or injured during the Japanese invasion and occupation, and millions more became refugees for the duration of the conflict. The failure to fully reconcile the legacy of the war has led to ongoing tensions and diplomatic wrangles between China and Japan over different interpretations of the past and continues to de-stabilize East Asia. The subject of the Anti-Japanese War has long been the focus of academic attention but has benefited in particular in the last two decades from the opening of archives, declassification of documents, and publication of memoirs, letters, and diaries: this, in turn, has produced a much richer understanding of an increasingly wider spectrum of topics including the role of women, cities at war, visual and popular cultural studies, among others. Despite the depth and breadth of scholarly engagement with the topic, the Anti-Japanese War continues to be a contested and sometimes emotive field of study (particularly in relation to war responsibility and the difficulties surrounding reconciliation), and the field would benefit from further collaborative efforts to address some of these issues.
Given the formidability of the task, there are few studies that cover the many different aspects of the war from the varied perspectives. Instead, there are a number of excellent works devoted to specific foci. Hsiung and Levine 1992, Bu and Rong 2011, Zhang 2015, Zarrow 2005, and Mitter 2013 cover Chinese perspectives; Hata 2011 focuses more on the details of Japanese strategy and policy, while Iriye 1987 and Paine 2012 provide a greater contextual and historical overview of the conflict.
Bu Ping (步平) and Rong Weimu (荣维木), eds. Zhonghua minzu kangRi zhanzheng quanshi 中华民族抗日战争全史. Beijing: Zhongguo Qingnian Chubanshe, 2011.
An accessible but systematic overview of the war, based on multi-archive and multi-lingual sources, and edited by two of China’s leading historians of the Anti-Japanese War.
Hata Ikuhiko (秦 郁彦). Nitchū sensō shi 日中戦争史. Tokyo: Kawade Shobō Shinsha, 2011.
Considered a classic Japanese-language text by one of Japan’s leading historians.
Hsiung, James C., and Steven I. Levine. China’s Bitter Victory: The War with Japan 1937–1945. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1992.
An accessible and important collection of essays covering not only the military dimensions of the war but also such topics as domestic politics and divisions, the economy, foreign policy, science, art, and literature.
Iriye, Akira. The Origins of the Second World War in Asia and the Pacific (Origins Of Modern Wars). London: Routledge, 1987.
A compact but highly detailed account of Japan’s descent into war. Chapters 2 and 3 deal with Japan’s invasion of China with a focus on diplomatic history.
Mitter, Rana. China’s War with Japan, 1937–1945: The Struggle for Survival. London: Allen Lane, 2013.
A major work and essential reading. Covers the path to war from the 1920s, the outbreak of war in 1937, and the ensuing battles and atrocities. Deftly narrates the chaos, suffering, and domestic political complexities of the war, alongside the resistance efforts and eventual defeat of the Japanese with US assistance.
Paine, S. C. M. The Wars for Asia 1911–1949. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
As the title suggests, this book covers the broad sweep of events from 1911, but two chapters in particular are relevant here. Chapter 6, “The Second Sino-Japanese War,” dates the beginning of the war to 1931, with events of 1937 marking an escalation. Chapter 7, “The Global War: World War II,’’ discusses the expansion of the theater of war and the role of the United States.
Zarrow, Peter. China in War and Revolution, 1895–1949. London and New York: Routledge, 2005.
Focus is on China’s domestic situation with useful background on the run up to conflict in 1937. Chapter 15 deals specifically with the war of resistance and gives a succinct explanation of the internal divisions in China.
Zhang Xianwen (张宪文). KangRi zhanzheng zhengmian zhanchang抗日战争正面战场. Beijing: Shijie tushu chuban, 2015.
English translation of title is “The frontline battlefield of the War of Resistance against Japan.”A classic military history account, originally published in 1987 and reprinted in 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war. This is an accessible single-volume study of the major engagements of the conflict based on archival materials.
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