NEWS > Mainland
The shattering of Japan's imperial dream in China
2005-08-05 00:46:06 XinhuaEnglish

BEIJING, Aug. 5-- Standing amidst eye-catching photos and historical relics in the Chinese Museum of the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, a white marble wall covered in names stands silent and forgotten.

But every one of the names carved into the stone surface belongs to a senior officer or general from the armies led by both the Communist Party of China(CPC) and Kuomintang(KMT) government who gave their lives in China's fight against the invading Japanese.

Their ranks vary from admiral to major general, and they number more than 300.

Their sacrifice, and that of millions of other Chinese soldiers, broke the back of Japan's armies and made sure China would remain a sovereign state.

Battles in Shanghai

On the night of July 7, 1937, the Japanese army ignited the Lugouqiao(Marco Polo Bridge) Incident, signalling the start of its comprehensive invasion of China. Ten days later, Chiang Kai-shek(1887-1975), generalissimo of the KMT government, proclaimed that China would not give any more ground to the Japanese.

On August 3, Beiping, the then name of Beijing, and Tianjin were occupied by Japanese troops. China's armies were thrown into the counterattack to prevent the country being overrun.

The first pitched battle in this fight back took place in Shanghai, the economic centre of the East.

On August 13, Chinese troops attacked Japanese positions in the city, despite the fact the Japanese navy had moved from the Yangtze River to an area just off the coast and Japanese land forces were being massively reinforced by troops from Japan and Taiwan, then a colony of Japan. By August 10, Japan had 150,000 soldiers in the area.

About 50,000 KMT soldiers, or five divisions, under the leadership of general Zhang Zhizhong(1890-1969) on the left and general Zhang Fakui(1896-1980) on the right, were given the task of overcoming the Japanese positions.

"Unlike previous battles against Japanese armies where local warlords were the major fighting force, this time the central armies with the best weapons in China were put directly into action," said Zeng Jingzhong, a historian at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences'(CASS) Institute of Modern History.

Chinese troops threw themselves at Japanese defences in a hail of bullets.

Zhang Fakui recalled in his memoirs:"Chinese soldiers did not have artillery to destroy Japan's defence works. They had to charge again and again, with their fallen bodies providing shelter to later waves."

After several days of bitter fighting, Chinese soldiers had occupied some Japanese positions but were unable to drive the occupying force into the sea.

Winning that ground had cost China dearly, with record casualty figures filtering to the rear. Strafing, bombing and constant bombardment from Japanese warships anchored offshore meant there was no respite for Chinese troops.

"More than two thirds of my 15,000 soldiers died within the initial stages of the battle for Shanghai," recalled general Sun Yuanliang(1904-), commander of the 36th Division.

While the battle raged into the latter half of August, both countries continued to reinforce their positions. By early September, the number of Chinese soldiers in Shanghai and nearby regions surpassed 500,000, while Japanese troop strength stood at nearly 300,000. Before long, China had committed three quarters of a million troops to the area.

Many historians have tried to answer why commanders of the central armies chose Shanghai as the place to make a stand.

Wang Jiadian, a Nanjing-based historian, put forward a reason in his paper on the KMT's strategy in the early stages of the war. He explained that after Beiping and Tianjin were occupied, there was a dire need to attract major Japanese forces to battlefields away from important railway lines.

Otherwise, the Japanese, equipped with trucks, tanks, planes and cavalry, could use the railway network and roads of North China to move down into Central China, occupy Wuhan, the heart of China, and cut the country in two.

It was therefore natural to choose Shanghai, near the then capital Nanjing, and where the best equipped Chinese armies were situated, as the place to fight, Wang said.

Another goal was to pressure international powers whose interests were concentrated in Shanghai and other cities in China's rich East to intervene, according to Yu Zidao, a historian at Shanghai-based Fudan University.

But Chinese troops, with no prepared positions, had only collapsed houses, trees and the bodies of dead soldiers for shelter against Japanese bombing and the dense fire from their machine guns. Heavy casualties were inevitable.

Zeng from the CASS said that without the bloody battles in Shanghai, Japanese forces would have strolled into Nanjing along the Yangtze River.

He added that the Shanghai Defence Battle held another significance to give heart to Chinese people across the country and stiffen their resolve against the Japanese.

In his letter to US President Roosevelt, US captain Evans Carlson, who was Roosevelt's special envoy to Shanghai, wrote that he had never seen the Chinese so united and so brave in his 10 years in the country.

In mid September, Chinese forces were thrown onto the back foot and became defenders.

General Feng Yuxiang(1882-1948), chief commander of the Third War Zone covering Shanghai and nearby regions, said in his memoirs:"The whole Shanghai battlefield was like a big furnace, melting down division after division of our soldiers. Sometimes a division of 10,000 lost half its strength in just three hours."

Senior officers also perished in the battle for Shanghai, including generals Wu Keren(1894-1937), Cai Bingyan(1902-37), Pang Hanzhen(1899-1937), and Wu Jiguang(1903-1937).

On November 5, Chinese troops were forced to withdraw from the city after suffering 300,000 casualties. On November 12, Shanghai was occupied by the Japanese. They had suffered 60,000 casualties.

Wuhan Campaign

Although the Chinese fought bravely, they could not compete with the Japanese bombers, artillery and tanks. Nanjing was next to be occupied by the Japanese on December 12, after which the invaders immediately set about massacring 300,000 Chinese civilians and prisoners of war.

While the fight for Shanghai raged, Japanese troops in North China moved into Shanxi Province where KMT forces and CPC troops came together to hold off the invaders. On September 25, 1937, CPC forces ambushed a Japanese supply column in Pingxingguan, northeastern Shanxi, killing more than 1,000 Japanese.

But Japanese units overcame the Chinese defence line at the end of October and Shanxi's capital Taiyuan was occupied on November 12, 1937. The commander of the Ninth Army, general Hao Mengling(1898-1937), lost his life in the battle.

After the fall of Nanjing, Chinese troops won a partial victory in Tai'erzhuang, to the north of Jiangsu Province's Xuzhou, when more than 10,000 besieged Japanese troops were wiped out. But the Chinese forces were pushed back by strong Japanese counterattacks.

After Nanjing, the Japanese targeted Central China's Wuhan. In the Wuhan Campaign, which was launched in May 1938, 1.1 million Chinese troops were concentrated to defend the city from 400,000 Japanese invaders, whose weapons were far more sophisticated.

But having learnt from the failures in Shanghai, Taiyuan, Nanjing and Xuzhou, the Chinese forces adopted the principle of mobile war, which meant soldiers would not wait in their trenches for Japanese attacks.

In a speech made in February 1938, Chiang stressed Chinese resistance should be focused on using the vastness of the country to sap Japan's limited forces and resources.

On June 11, the Chinese destroyed a levee on the Yellow River in Henan Province, turning 50,000 square kilometres of land in Central China into marsh.

Eight hundred thousand Chinese civilians died because of the flooding, but Japanese tanks and trucks were stopped. They were forced to alter their attack from eastern China westwards along the Yangtze River.

And it was along the Yangtze that general Xue Yue(1896-1998) ordered his troops to build defences, predominantly in the mountainous areas of northern Jiangxi Province. With the help of their new mountain defences, Xue's forces held off the attacks of general Yasuji Okamura(1886-1966) for several months.

Bogged down, Okamura sent a division round the Chinese positions to hasten the advance to Wuhan.

But Xue second-guessed Okamura. Without orders from Chiang in Wuhan, Xue moved 100,000 Chinese troops to besiege the 20,000-strong Japanese army in Wanjialing, Jiangxi Province. On October 9, Chinese troops launched their final assault, annihilating nearly all the besieged Japanese forces. It was China's biggest victory in the war to that point.

The weak Chinese air force and navy also did their duty with bravery. Unable to stand against the superior Japanese warships, the Chinese navy scuttled their own vessels in the Yangtze River to disrupt shipping lanes.

By the end of October, however, most positions outside Wuhan had been lost to Japan. On October 24, Chinese forces began to withdraw. During the six-month campaign, China had lost hundreds of thousands of troops, but compared with previous battles, no single division was wiped out.

In addition, most of the industry in Wuhan and other major cities in Central China was successfully transported to Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, enabling the Chinese economy to sustain the country in the seven remaining years of the war, said Zeng.

Between the Shanghai battle and the end of the Wuhan Campaign, China's armies had shattered the Japanese dream of conquering China in three months, at a cost of more than a million soldiers.

"After the Wuhan Campaign, Japanese troops became so exhausted that they could not launch massive attacks to conquer China's hinterland. This enabled guerrillas most led by the CPC to fight in the rear of occupied areas. The blood of Chinese soldiers and generals eventually led to China's great victory over Japan in 1945," Zeng said.

(Source: China Daily)

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