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  • China is a huge country, full of important  resources and extensive farmlands,  

  • a huge population, and an important strategic  and commercial position. This made it a desirable  

  • objective for expansion to European colonial  powers, but also, to the rising Japanese Empire.  

  • Within China itself, revolutions, civil wars  and warlordism plagued the nation as different  

  • factions fought to become the ultimate ruler of  the country. So today, we return to East Asia to  

  • cover the divided state of the Chinese people  and the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War.

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  • By the end of the 18th Century, the powerful Qing  Empire that controlled the vast lands of China  

  • was at its zenith, expanding into Central  Asia , increasing in population and becoming  

  • the largest economy in the worldBut when the 19th Century ended,  

  • the golden years of the Qing were long goneSuffering from military weakness, social unrest,  

  • foreign interventions and economic problems, the  Chinese Empire had become a sick state in Asia.  

  • At the start of the 20th Century, as young  officers and scholars debated the overthrow  

  • of the failing dynasty, a military uprising ended  with the proclamation of the Republic of China on  

  • January 1, 1912. Dictatorially led by Yuan Shikaiwho controlled the modernized Beiyang Army,  

  • the new Chinese Republic was held infragile balance between the Nationalists  

  • and the Republicans . With an iron fist, Yuan  managed to keep the country together, but his  

  • methods severely antagonized the Kuomintang  revolutionaries, eventually dissolving the  

  • Nationalist party and declaring himself Emperor  of China in 1915. This attempt caused widespread  

  • rebellions in numerous provinces, leading to the  establishment of Warlord states throughout China  

  • after the death of Yuan. Meanwhile, Kuomintang  loyalists retreated to the south and established  

  • a government led by Sun Yat-sen with the  objective of reuniting the fragmented nation

  • After the end of the Great War, massive popular  demonstrations and manifestations occurred against  

  • Japanese interests in the country and against the  government of the Beiyang Warlords , ushering in  

  • the creation of the Chinese Communist Party and  its alliance with the Kuomintang. As the Warlords  

  • continued to fight among themselves  for the ultimate control of Beijing,  

  • Chiang Kai-Shek would succeed Sun Yat-sen  as leader of the Kuomintang after his death,  

  • quickly setting out to prepare for a military  campaign against the northern Warlords.  

  • With the success of the Northern Expeditionhalf of China would be under the control of the  

  • Nationalists by 1927; but Chiang's own purging  of communists within the Kuomintang would  

  • unexpectedly lead to the creation of the Red Army  and the start of the civil war between Communists  

  • and Nationalists. By the end of 1928, Chiang's  Northern Expedition ended in complete success,  

  • finally conquering Beijing and bringing the  whole of China under the nominal control of the  

  • Kuomintang. Although some Warlords still ruled  in semi-autonomous states, Chiang's government  

  • in Nanking received international recognition  and legitimately reformed the Chinese Republic.  

  • Meanwhile, the Communists continued to resist  against Nationalist encirclement campaigns  

  • and, in the north, the Mukden Incident sparked  a full-blown Japanese Invasion of Manchuria  

  • against which Chiang simply couldn't resist. Nonetheless, the Nanking Decade was a time of  

  • consolidation for the Nationalists. Thus, Chiang's  regime would embark on a modernization effort,  

  • successfully improving its economy and  renegotiating some of the foreign concessions,  

  • and also starting the training of loyal and  elite divisions with the aid of German advisors.  

  • Eventually, the Communists would be finally routed  at Jiangxi in 1934, but the Red Army would manage  

  • to break through the Kuomintang encirclementstarting the Long March to the northwest. Led  

  • by Mao Zedong, the main column would successfully  avoid the pursuit of Kuomintang forces and would  

  • march for an entire year through more than 9000  km until arriving at Shaanxi, where Mao became  

  • the undisputed leader of the Party. From their new  base at Yan'an, the Communists would continue to  

  • resist Chiang's attacks for the next few yearsThis period would also see increased Japanese  

  • aggression in the north, rapidly expanding their  puppet states into the Chahar and Jehol provinces,  

  • and threatening the important city of BeijingBut Chiang took a passive position against Japan  

  • and considered the Communists to be a greater  danger to the Chinese Republic, stating that  

  • communism was cancer while the Japanese only  represented a superficial wound”. This policy  

  • of compromise was very unpopular in China and  within the Kuomintang itself, which prompted  

  • some disgruntled Nationalist generals to conspire  with the Communists to capture Chiang and force  

  • him into a truce with the CCP. Meanwhile, the  Suiyuan Campaign of Prince Demchugdongrub failed  

  • miserably and General Fu Zuoyi managed to inflict  heavy casualties on the Inner Mongolian army,  

  • alerting the conspirators that this was the time  to act while morale was high against the Japanese

  • So, on December 12, 1936, Chiang was detained  in the Xi'an Incident and had to negotiate  

  • with the Communists for two weeks, finally  deciding to cease hostilities against them,  

  • to prepare for an impending war with Japan and to  form a Second United Front against the Japanese.  

  • By 1937, the Chinese had assembled  a large army of 1,700,000 regulars  

  • and 557,000 reservists in preparation for the warbut the loyalty of great sections of the army was  

  • questionable, it had a low supply of guns  and artillery, and it only counted with two  

  • armoured units . Unlike China, the Japanese were  prepared for total war, with the IJA counting with  

  • 1015000 regulars destined to fight in China and  around 78000 soldiers from their puppet states.  

  • The 28 divisions assigned for the war were fully  trained, equipped and experienced, giving them a  

  • clear advantage in fighting strength against the  Chinese. During the year 1937, a series of border  

  • clashes occurred between Chinese and Japanese  forces, usually ending with the Chinese writing  

  • a humiliating apology. But on July 7, the Marco  Polo Bridge Incident to the west of Beijing would  

  • ignite a full-scale war between the two countriesas a fire exchange quickly escalated into the  

  • Japanese occupation of Tientsin and Beijing by  August 8. Tokyo was very happy with the outcome  

  • of the campaign, but it was reluctant to declare  war on the Chinese, as the Japanese didn't want  

  • to divert forces from the Manchurian border with  the Soviet Union, where several border conflicts  

  • had been happening in the last few years. But  Chiang had had enough, and he consequently  

  • mobilized his entire forces to fight against  Japan's aggression. The war had thus begun

  • Meanwhile, in Shanghai, fighting broke out  between Chinese troops , under Zhang Zhizhong,  

  • and the 4000-strong Japanese marines that defended  30000 Japanese civilians. Tokyo quickly reinforced  

  • the Shanghai defenders with 20000 more marines  , commanded by General Matsui Iwane, and also  

  • ordered the Third Fleet to open fire on Chinese  positions. Shanghai was of utmost importance for  

  • Chiang's regime, so he sent his most loyal men  to have numerical superiority in the struggle.  

  • Chinese air operations also managed to  inflict severe damage over the Third Fleet  

  • with their advanced biplane and monoplane designs  . The Battle of Shanghai was brutal, with heavy  

  • losses on each side but to no effect, as in the  urban center, the fighting reached a stalemate.  

  • Furthermore, Japanese naval landings to the north  forced the Chinese to disperse their forces along  

  • a frontline that spanned from the Huangpu River  to the coast north of Shanghai. At the same time,  

  • an Expeditionary Force of the Kwantung Army  advanced southwards through Inner Mongolia,  

  • crushing the Chinese at the Battles of NankouHuailai and Kalgan with the superior firepower  

  • of their tanks. These forces would  then advance to Shanxi, taking Taiyuan  

  • and completing the conquest of  Inner Mongolia by November 7,  

  • while from Beijing, the Japanese would advance  to occupy the North China Plain. On the seas,  

  • the IJN would also start a naval blockade all  around China, hoping to prevent foreign aid from  

  • reaching the nation, as the Western powers  strongly condemned the Japanese invasion

  • In September and October, as Matsui's forces  managed to capture Luodian and Liuhang, more  

  • Japanese reinforcements arrived that successfully  wrestled control of the critical position at  

  • Dachang. With Dachang lost, the Chinese forces  started to withdraw from Shanghai on November 7,  

  • but the retreat quickly turned into a rout and  Chiang lost most of his loyal and elite men.  

  • Overall, the Chinese suffered more  than 250000 casualties in the struggle,  

  • while the Japanese only suffered around 90000  casualties. Weakened by the defeat at Shanghai,  

  • disparate Chinese units established defenses  around their capital, led by Commander Tang  

  • Shenzhi. At the same time, Matsui started a pincer  movement directed towards Nanking, defeating the  

  • already battered Chinese soldiers and reaching  the Chinese capital with haste by December 9.  

  • What followed was a bloody struggle on the  outskirts of Nanking ; one in which superior  

  • Japanese firepower would win the day yet againeven despite the fierce resistance of Tang's men.  

  • As the Chinese defenses were collapsing  and the Japanese encircled the city,  

  • Chiang ordered the abandonment of Nanking on  December 11, but only a small force led by  

  • Tang himself could break out of the Japanese  encirclement on December 13. The rest of the  

  • defenders, along with some 200000 civilianswere slaughtered during the Nanking Massacre.  

  • The Nanking population was also subjected to  rape, looting and arson by the Japanese soldiers,  

  • in what the West came to describe as the Rape  of Nanking. By the end of the year, Japanese  

  • successes thus far would allow them to establish  collaborationist governments in Beijing , Shanghai  

  • and Nanking , and to reform its Inner Mongolian  puppet into the new Mengjiang government

  • At this point, Tokyo was expecting that the  Chinese would capitulate after the fall of  

  • their capital, as they were eager to end the war  and to further prepare for a confrontation with  

  • the Soviet Union. But Chiang would continue  to reject the harsh demands of the invaders,  

  • thus moving the capital to the industrial  center of Hankow. Moreover, the Japanese forces,  

  • encouraged by the many victories achievedcontinued to escalate the war in China and  

  • tried to establish a connection between Beijing  and Nanking. Already in the early months of 1938,  

  • naval landings in Tsingtao culminated with  the occupation of northern Shandong by March,  

  • although the Japanese advance would be stopped for  the first time in the Battle of Taierzhuang . This  

  • was a huge morale booster for the Chinese and, as  the leader of the battle was Warlord Li Zongren,  

  • there would be much more unity among the  Warlord and Kuomintang forces after this battle.  

  • Nonetheless, the Japanese would manage to encircle  the major crossroads of Hsuchow, which protected  

  • the new capital at Hankow. Chiang recognized  that the defense of the town was futile, so he  

  • ordered his forces to withdraw and to demolish  the dykes holding back the Yellow River, trying  

  • to slow down the Japanese advance. The resulting  Yellow River flood inflicted heavy casualties  

  • on the Japanese and forced them to move up the  Yangtze River, but it also caused incalculable  

  • destruction on the area and killed almost 500000  civilians. Most of the Chinese soldiers, however,  

  • managed to retreat and establish solid defenses  around Hankow. At the same time, the Japanese  

  • successfully invaded Amoy Island to prepare for  more naval invasions and they also started bombing  

  • operations over Hankow and the Sichuan region. But the main objective of the Japanese advance was  

  • now the city of Hankow, and Tokyo finally destined  most of their resources for this campaign.  

  • On June 15, the battle for Hankow started  with the Japanese naval invasion of Anqing,  

  • followed by a string of successful naval  invasions along the coast, an attack along  

  • the southern shore of the Yangtze River, andtwo-pronged assault through the Dabie Mountains.  

  • The success of these operations meant that, by  October, the Chinese defenses on the provinces  

  • of Henan, Jiangxi and Hubei were in a difficult  position , leaving the way open to attack Hankow.  

  • Yet the Chinese would also succeed at stopping  the Japanese advance through Wanjialing  

  • and managed to mount a counterattack north of the  Yangtze towards Taihu and Susong. But despite the  

  • fierce resistance of the Chinese, on October  21, the Japanese naval invasion of Guangzhou  

  • ended in complete success, occupying the main  port on which foreign aid was flowing and  

  • completing the encirclement of Hankow. With  the fall of Guangzhou, the Chinese had no