Editions available in the Chinese mainland (left), the United States (center) and Britain (COURTESY OF NEW WORLD PRESS )
Seventy years after the end of World War II (WWII), many people outside China remain uninformed about the country's role in the conflict and the sacrifices its people made in resisting Japanese invaders. Redressing this imbalance in overseas academia, however, are a small number of scholars, including Rana Mitter
, a British historian whose Forgotten Ally: China's World War II, 1937-1945
made its way onto bookshelves across the globe in 2013. The book has so far been met with favorable reception. Here, Beijing Review
solicits the opinions of Pan Hong, Editor in Chief of Military History
magazine published by the Academy of Military Science of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, on the book.
Amid activities commemorating the 70th anniversary of the victory of the world's anti-fascist war, books on World War II (WWII) history are enjoying a boost in popularity. Among them, Forgotten Ally: China's World War II, 1937-1945 by Rana Mitter, Director of Oxford University's China Center, depicts the history of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. The book has been published in five different editions worldwide, including the simplified Chinese version presented by Beijing-based New World Press.
Despite the fact that the Chinese people's war of resistance against Japanese aggression is a well-covered topic domestically, the same cannot be said abroad, and thus, the author has managed to carve out an academic niche internationally through his research in this area. Mitter said that he focuses on this topic because it is the last area of WWII history that Western historians have not satisfactorily explored. Though many books exist on the role of the United States or Britain or even Japan in the conflict, seldom can books on China's part in the war be found on bookshop shelves.
Mitter attributes Western ignorance of China's role in WWII to the quick advent of the Cold War following the conflict, among other factors. Soon after the war's conclusion, China turned from a wartime ally of the United States and major European powers into part of their opposing bloc in the Cold War. At the time, it was difficult for Western historians to meet their Chinese counterparts and discuss the history of the Chinese resistance within the framework of global history.
Forgotten Ally defines China's contribution in WWII as follows: the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China (CPC) were the only two political groupings in East Asia that maintained a consistent opposition to imperial Japan from 1937-45; more than 4 million Kuomintang-led troops tied down a 500,000-strong Japanese army in the Chinese theater and stopped them from being transferred to other battlefields; and the CPC-led guerrilla warfare prevented Japanese troops from obtaining full control of north China and tied down their troops and resources. More than 14 million Chinese people died in the war and up to 100 million people became refugees. Had China surrendered in 1938, the probability that Japan would conquer the whole of Asia would have been much higher.
In the book, the author demonstrates his sympathy toward the Chinese nation for the misery it encountered and the painful choices it had to make in WWII. The book casts light on how a growing China should look back to the kind of humiliation it used to endure amid present regional tensions. It constitutes a meditation on how the international community can predict the future of China by delving deep into its history and how more can be learned about the country.
As one of a new breed of China scholar, Mitter has accrued an impressive array of materials and information by traveling to many countries, and referred numerous times to historical files in Chinese from libraries and archives in China's mainland and Taiwan.
The information presented in the book pertains to treaties among countries involved in the conflict, documents from different political factions existent at the time in those countries, foreign ambassadors to China, foreigners staying in China during that era, reports at both the central and local levels in China, officially-compiled history books, scholars' studies, private letters, and literary works. The book took almost 10 years to complete, drawing upon approximately 320 items of research material to tell its story. The author has tried to round up native research on China's resistance, and put it in an international context. He also refuses to take at face value the biased comments of either Chinese or Japanese nationalists.
Forgotten Ally is divided into 19 chapters in four parts, analyzing seismic events such as the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937, the Nanjing Massacre from December 1937 to January 1938, the Chongqing Bombardment from February 1938 to August 1943, the disastrous famine in central China's Henan Province in 1942-43, and the Cairo Conference in 1943. What is new and unprecedented in this book is that the analysis of the war in China centers on the country's three important political figures during the war period—Mao Zedong of the CPC, Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek and Wang Jingwei, head of the Japanese-installed puppet regime, highlighting their influences on China's post-war political and social transformations. The author believes that the war between China and Japan was an accident in the inevitable process of China's modernization.
I believe the author's deep analysis of the national character of the Chinese people will strike a chord for domestic readers. Even 70 years on from the war, related sentiments still exert influence over the bilateral relationship between Japan and China. Mitter has a definite standpoint and builds a bridge between latter-day history and modern-day political reality by pointing out the relevance of China's modernization to the war against Japanese invasion.
Notably, the book points the way for the future peaceful development of the interdependent international community. In the past few decades, WWII has been seen by many people in Western countries as a bloody war between the Allies, primarily the United States, the Soviet Union and Britain, against Nazi Germany. Unconstrained by a limited Western-centric viewpoint, Mitter instead tries to understand the war through the filter of China's national conditions, demonstrating in the process a thorough understanding of the complexity and hardship of the war against Japanese invasion. He believes China, which suffered huge sacrifices in WWII, should not be neglected or even forgotten in studies of the conflict. Forgotten Ally maintains that all concerned countries should learn from WWII and try to properly address the current China-Japan and China-U.S. relationships. It is stressed in the book that the antagonistic "zero-sum" mindset was one of the factors that inspired Japanese imperialists to start the war. However, in an era of peace and development, this mindset is obsolete.
Copyedited by Eric Daly