SINO-JAPANESE WAR (1937—1945) - The Dictionary

Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

The Dictionary

SINO-JAPANESE WAR (1937—1945). In the 19th century while the Qing dynasty was deeply mired in its domestic and international problems, Japan was strengthening its modernization project and expanding its imperial army. By the end of the century, it had become the most powerful nation in Asia. Following the examples of Western colonial powers, Japan set out to conquer China and the rest of Asia in an effort to fulfill its own imperial ambitions. When the Europeans marched into China after the Boxer Rebellion and proceeded to carve up the country and divide the bounty among them, Japan was an active participant. Having been defeated in the first Sino-Japanese War (1894—1895), the Qing was forced to cede Taiwan to Japan. After the Russo-Japanese War (1904—1905), Japan replaced Russia as the dominant force in southern Manchuria. When World War I (1914—1918) ended, Japan took control of Qingdao, in the Shandong peninsula, from Germany. In addition to these territories, Japan acquired concessions in Tianjin and Shanghai.

In 1931, the Manchurian Incident or Mukden Incident, which involved the bombing of the Japanese-controlled railroad near Shenyang (then known as Mukden), gave Japan the pretext to set up a puppet government, called Manchukuo, headed by Puyi, the deposed last emperor of the Qing. Japan then pressured Chiang Kai-shek’s government to recognize Manchuria as an autonomous entity. Preoccupied with consolidating his power, Chiang Kai-shek was initially reluctant to engage the Japanese in military confrontations, and Japan, using the security of Manchukuo as justification, soon moved in to occupy Rehe (Jehol), Chahar, and the areas surrounding Beijing. Growing anti-Japanese sentiments in the country led to Chiang’s kidnapping in Xi’an by General Zhang Xueliang in December 1936, forcing Chiang to form a coalition with the Communists. In 1937, the Japanese army pushed toward Beijing and was met with resistance from the Nationalist army at what is known as the Marco Polo Bridge in the southern suburb of Beijing. The Marco Polo Bridge Incident marked the beginning of a full-scale war between China and Japan. In no time, large Chinese territories fell into Japanese hands, and the Nationalist government was forced to retreat to Chongqiing, where they set up the war capital. From 1937 to 1941, China fought the Japanese alone. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Sino-Japanese conflict folded into the larger theater of World War II and the Chinese military began to receive aid from the Allied forces.

The full-scale Sino-Japanese War lasted for eight years, costing immeasurable human and economic loss. It also changed the political landscape of China, leaving a lasting impact on the future of the country. Faced with an outside enemy, the ruling Nationalist Party and the Communists put aside their differences and built a united front against the Japanese. By the end of the war, the Communists had gained enough strength to pose a real threat to the Nationalists. The ink of the peace treaty was barely dry before the two sides plunged into a civil war that would continue for four years.

During the Sino-Japanese War, literary production reached an all-time high, both at the battlefront and in the Japanese-occupied territories. The antiwar sentiments merged into the leftist movement and became the mainstream of Chinese literature. Writers such as Xiao Hong, Xiao Jun, and Duanmu Hongliang, refugees from war-torn Manchuria, and Communist writers such as Zhao Shuli, emerged as new stars. The “national defense literature” (guofang wenxue), so termed by Zhou Yang and Zhou Libo to highlight the patriotic spirit, spread to film and theater, which were nearly taken over by the left-wing camp spearheaded by Tian Han, Xia Yan, Ouyang Yuqian, Yang Hansheng, and others. At the other end of the spectrum, writers in the Japanese-occupied territories such as Zhang Ailing, Su Qing, Mei Niang, and others pursued a path separate from the mainstream by focusing on the self, the family, romantic love, and social mores.