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  • The Battle for China: Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945
  • Ke-wen Wang
The Battle for China: Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945. Edited by Mark Peattie, Edward J. Drea, and Hans Van De Ven. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2011. 664 pp. $65.00 (cloth).

As editors of this volume suggest in their introduction, the military dimension of the Sino-Japanese War has been a sort of "elephant in the room" that historians of modern China usually ignore, or dismiss as inconsequential, in their study of this epic conflict. Indeed, the hindsight of the triumph of the Chinese Communists in the wake of the war has led Western research on the war to focus on the Revolution rather than the War itself. This volume, the product of an unprecedented international project, brings our attention back to the actual military contest by arguing convincingly, that "warfare drove much of what happened in the political, economic, social, and cultural spheres in China and Japan" during those years (p. xx). It thus fills a major gap in the historiography of the Sino-Japanese War and makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the modern experience of East Asia. Twenty well-researched essays by scholars from Great Britain, Japan, mainland China, Taiwan, and the United States provide solid treatments of not only most of the major campaigns in the war but also of military organization, strategy, morale, and command structure on both sides of the struggle. They are accompanied by useful maps, a brief chronology of events, and selected bibliographies of sources in English, Chinese, and Japanese. Historians should find this volume a much needed addition to their essential readings on "a conflict that reshaped the future of the Asian continent" (p. xx).

The essays are grouped into six parts and presented in accordance with the conventional periodization of the history of the war. Parts 1 and 2 set the stage of the conflict: an overview of the major campaigns, a historical background of Sino-Japanese relations prior to 1937, and an assessment of the Chinese and Japanese military on the eve of the war. Part 3 discusses the initial stage of the war, from the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in July 1937 to the fall of Wuhan in October 1938, with a focus on the battles along the Yangtze. Part 4 examines military activities during the "stalemate" between late 1938 and early 1944, including Japan's air campaigns (i.e., the bombing of Chinese civilians), the guerrilla war waged by the Chinese Communists, and foreign military assistance to China's war effort. Part 5 narrates the final stage of the war, especially Japan's Ichigo Offensive of April 1944-February 1945 and the Yunnan-Burma campaign. Part 6 concludes the study with three interpretive essays on the historical [End Page 469] meanings of the war from the perspectives of world history and military history.

While its call for recognition of the centrality of the military in the Sino-Japanese War is refreshing, the book's narrative and major findings largely confirm what historians have already accepted about this conflict. Most existing histories of modern East Asia, for instance, agree with the book that Japan was militarily unprepared for a long dragged-out conflict in China; that Chiang Kai-shek's early strategy of heavy investment in the Lower Yangtze campaigns proved costly to China; that the Chinese wartime military was much weaker in organization, equipment, command, and fighting capability than those of the Japanese; that the guerrilla warfare of the Chinese Communists was effective because of popular support; and that the Ichigo offensive was disastrous for China but in the end contributed little to Japan's overall war effort. Some of the essays do break new ground (at least for English-language works) or provide fresh insights. Stephen MacKinnon's bold analysis of the significance of the Battle of Wuhan (and the divergent lessons it gave to China's military and civilian leaders), Edna Tow's careful study of the resilience of Chongqing under the brutal air raids, and Kawano Hitoshi's fascinating look at...


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