Rana Mitter's new book explores Japan's historical role in shaping modern Chinaby Isabel Hilton / June 19, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
China’s War With Japan
by Rana Mitter (Allen Lane, £25)
China’s conflict with Japan seems never-ending. Its modern phase began in 1895 when an ailing China was soundly beaten by a modernised and expansionist Japan in the contest for dominance in Korea. War in Manchuria and the Japanese occupation of much of China followed in the 20th century.
This new book by Rana Mitter, the broadcaster and Oxford historian, focuses on the Second Sino-Japanese War, which began in 1937 and lasted until 1945. This is a story told mainly from the Chinese perspective, in all its horror. Drawing on a wide range of sources, Mitter pulls together a rich and complex narrative without losing the drama of China’s fight for survival and the individuals who played a part in it.
The contemporary interest of Mitter’s story lies in Japan’s role in shaping modern China. In the 19th century, Japan was a model of rapid and effective industrialisation, while in the 20th century it was an enemy, which focused nationalist feeling in a fragmented post-imperial China. The outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese war saved the Chinese Communists from possible annihilation at the hands of their Nationalist rivals, and today Japan is cast as the most resented of China’s old enemies, its wartime atrocities commemorated in dozens of museums. These tensions still flare up in sporadic anti-Japanese demonstrations and provocations over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. This rivalry is key to the contemporary environment in east Asia and Mitter’s lively account is a comprehensive guide to its origins….