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War and Revolution: Chinese Society during the 1940s* by Joseph W. Esherick The 1940s, and especially the Civil War era, have become one of the most under-studied periods of modern Chinese history. Not since Suzanne Pepper's seminal studyl has there been a major treatment of the Civil War. While RepubHcan history has experienced a significant revival in recent years, rescuing it from the theme of disintegration and verdict of failure,2 most of the key works have stopped short of the anti-Japanese war, with the new conventional terminal date being the outbreak of the War of Resistance in 1937.3 There have been important exceptions to this rule-especially in studies of students and workers, who were so active and important in the social movements of the late 1940s.4 But in general the reappraisal of the Republican era has focused on the prewar years-and the Guomindang's reputation for nation-building has, to a large de.. gree, been protected from any close scrutiny of its record in the 1940s. By breaking the study of the Republican era in 1937, this periodization suggests that the Japanese invasion marked the critical watershed in this stage of Chinese history. Few would question that conclusion, which was central to Chalmers Johnson's influential study of the Communist revolution.5 But this periodization now leaves us in an unenviable position, with most studies of the Republican era ending in 1937, while studies of the Communist revolution either focus on the wartime period or treat the PRC after 1949. In a sense, the Johnson thesis that the war decided the question of who would rule China has relegated Republican history after 1937 to historical oblivion-an era of no significance. The prewar modernist narrative is broken by the outbreak of war, while the new revolutionary narrative is pursued in the Communist areas. We need to reinte .. grate the 1940s into our understanding of twentieth-century China. This in- *An earlier version of this essay was first presented at the University of Ham.. burg, at a conference entitled "Was the Chinese Revolution really necessary? Interpreting fifty· years of the People's Republic of China," jointed sponsored by Hamburg's Institut fUr Asienkundeand the Institute for International Studies of the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. Their support and permission to publish are gratefully acknowledged. I would also like to thank the conference participants andan audience at Harvard University for helpful suggestions, and Paul Pickowicz for advice on 1940s movies Twentieth~Century China, Vol. 27, No.1 (November, 2001): 1-37. 2 Twentieth-Century China volves a recognition of the social impact and historical import of the Guomindang's rapid postwar collapse. It also involves recognizing certain basic socio-economic changes that took hold during the war, continued through the 1940s, and laid the foundation for the new society that would emerge after 1949. The Civil War can easily be treated as just an extension of historical trends of the War of Resistance. Indeed, much of this essay examines developments in what might be called the "long decade" of the 1940s, the war-tom years from 1937 to 1949. Warfare was virtually unceasing in this period, and the Chinese people suffered immeasurably from its consequences. Inflation, which began in the early years of ~he war, ran rampant in the postwar era and bankrupted the middle class, shrinking salaries and destroying savings. Disaffection with the Guomindang became pronounced with Japan's Ichigo Offensive in 1944 and spread rapidly during the Civil War. In the Communist areas, land reform accentuated the class-based revolutionary appeals which had gained prominence after the rectification campaigns of 1942-44. Throughout northern and northeastern China, the power and influence of the Communists' Eighth Route Army continued to grow at an accelerating pace. The military, economic and political factors which were so important in shaping social developments displayed great continuity from the wartime to Civil War period. Nonetheless, many Chinese in the summer of 1945 held high hopes for peace and prosperity as they celebrated Victory (Shengli) over Japan. For them, the very continuity of war, inflation and political unrest had important social implications. The expectation that the end of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5065
Print ISSN
1521-5385
Pages
pp. 1-37
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-25
Open Access
No
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