The Japanese invaded northern China in 1931 and occupied parts of the coastal region from 1937 onward. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 marking the start of World War II for the United States. Already occupying most of the coastal region, the Japanese found it difficult to invade the interior sections of China. It was a rugged terrain presenting tremendous difficulties for the advancing Japanese army. The Japanese army found the stubborn Chinese peasants were a tough match and determined to eject them from their territory.
In China, the Communists and Nationalists reluctantly became allies against the Japanese empire. Chiang Kia-shek and his Nationalists occupied one part of northern China. Mao Zedong and his Communist troops occupied the central part of China before and during the war. The region under Communist control was approximately 100 million people. After receiving much political pressure, the Nationalists under Chiang Kia-shek formed a shaky United Front with the Communists.
China’s refusal to submit to the savagery and brutality of Japanese forces during the war proved to be a huge factor in the outcome of the war in that region of the world. Overall an estimated 20 million people died at the hands of the Japanese during World War II. 10 million were believed to be in China alone. China maintains that 35 million Chinese were killed or wounded by the Japanese from 1931 to the end of World War II. There were even “secret pacification programs” which had the objective to remove and/or kill all Chinese males of military age.
Nationalists Role During the War
The Chinese Nationalists under Chiang Kia-shek were stationed in the city of Chongqing. Despite entering into an agreement with the Allied Forces, Kia-shek’s primary interest during the war was to preserve his troops for future battles against the Communists which he was sure was coming. He did little to oust the Japanese army. Kia-shek chose Chongqing as his capital mainly because it was safe from Japanese bombers as it was too far inland for the Japanese planes to reach.
Since the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 anxieties ran high. The Japanese tried to establish a state in northern China under the name Manchukuo. The Japanese then invaded further into northern China in an attempt to gain raw materials to use for industrial purposes. The League of Nations condemned the move which then caused Japan to put out of the alliance. The Kuomintang government of China agreed to a cease-fire with Japan but dismissed the idea of recognizing the Japanese Manchukuo State. From 1931-1933 there were armed clashes between the two armies. Many believe that the 2nd World War actually began at the Marco Polo Bridge in 1937.
On the night of July 7, 1937, everything changed. The Japanese army attempted to cross the border and met the resistance of the Nationalist army on the other side. The shooting began at approximately 11 pm. The cause is uncertain. The war between the Chinese and Japanese only escalated from there. This is the point where the Pacific region is considered to have entered World War II.
Communist Impact on the War
Since October 1935, the Communist army under the control of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai were stationed in the Shaanxi and Jiangxi Regions of China. The 1937 Marco Polo Bridge incident was thought by some to have been set up by the Communist army in an attempt to create a war of attrition between the occupying Japanese army and the Chinese Nationalist Army under Chiang Kia-shek.
Either way, the Communists under Zedong eventually went on to defeat the Nationalist Chinese Army and take full power in 1949. The Communists were obviously in no hurry to get into a large war with the Japanese. The Communist leader Mao Zedong stated his efforts during the war as 70 percent effort for self-expansion, 20 percent effort for temporization and 10 percent effort for fighting the Japanese.
During the height of World War II (1941-1946) the United States and their allies helped recruit nearly 1 million troops to fight under the Communists. American General Stilwell stated: “We must get arms to the Communists, who are willing to fight.” Chinese peasants comprised 90 percent of the Communist army. At the close of the war, the Communists were a much stronger power and influence in the nation and the world than at the beginning of the war.