Image by U.S. Army – United States Military Academy, West Point, Public Domain, Wikipedia
Ian Nish, “An overview of Relations Between China and Japan, 1895-1945,” The China Quarterly 124 (1990): 601-623.
Peter Duus, “Introduction, Japan’s Wartime Empire: Problems and Issues,” in The Japanese Wartime Empire, 1931-1945 (1996): xi-xlvii.
Rana Mitter, China’s War with Japan, 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival (2013), 1-118.
All three authors are presenting arguments about what led up to Japan’s invasion of China. Like LaFeber, Duus focuses primarily on the economic aspect of Japan’s invasion.
Nish promotes the idea that Japan’s expansion into China was strategic and was intended to create a buffer between Japan and the USSR. This point also comes up in Mitter’s work and is interesting because it paints the situation in the Pacific as a sort of preamble to later Cold War politics between the US and the USSR, which would also impact China and Japan by reversing their positions vis-à-vis Western powers. According to Mitter, the US’s preeminence in the region through Japan after the Pacific War would create lasting resentment in China.
Mitter examines the details of internal Chinese politics in an attempt to show that China was more than just a passive victim of Japanese aggression. LaFeber barely touched on China’s role in the war. Nish and Duus both present China as being weak and fragmented, consistently encouraging outside intervention into the conflict. Mitter clearly shows that Chinese nationalists took an active role in shaping China’s future, but internal conflict coupled with external aggression or indifference crippled the country. According to Mitter, China did not become truly unified until active hostilities with Japan broke out. Was the conflict with Japan really the creation of a new national identity based, or simply a convergence of interests among disparate parties? And does a national body have to be unified to be legitimate?
Duus brings up the point that the myth that GEACPS was legitimately for the good of Asia lives on in Japan because people are trying to reestablish a national identity. Guilt is shifted away from Japan onto external forces that supposedly made Japan’s actions necessary. How much of a role did Western colonialism and expansionism play in China’s weaknesses as a country and Japan’s drive to become economically self-reliant? Were there other options available to Japan and what factors prevented those paths from being explored?