Sino-Japanese Wars

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Second Sino-Japanese War, 1937–45, conflict between Japanese and Chinese forces for control of the Chinese mainland. The war sapped the Nationalist government's strength while allowing the Communists to gain control over large areas through organization of guerrilla units. Thus, it was an important factor in the eventual Communist defeat of the Nationalist forces in 1949. In its early stage, the war was often called the China Incident.


Following the Manchurian Incident (Sept., 1931), the Japanese Kwantung army occupied Manchuria and established the puppet state of Manchukuo (Feb., 1932). Japan pressed China to recognize the independence of Manchukuo, suppress anti-Japanese activities, and form autonomous regional governments in N China. The Japanese were partially successful in 1933 and 1935 when they forced China to form two demilitarized autonomous zones bordering Manchuria.

Outbreak of War

Growing domestic opposition to the Nationalist government's policy of self-strengthening before counterattacking in N China and Manchuria led to the kidnapping of Chiang Kai-shek at Xi'an in Dec., 1936, by Chang Hsüeh-liang. Chiang was forced to agree to a united anti-Japanese front with the Communists as a condition for his release. The situation was tense, and in 1937 full war commenced. A clash (July, 1937) between soldiers of the Japanese garrison at Beijing and Chinese forces at the Marco Polo Bridge was the pretext for Japanese occupation at Beijing and Tianjin. Chiang Kai-shek refused to negotiate an end to hostilities on Japanese terms and placed crack troops outside the Japanese settlement at Shanghai. After a protracted struggle Shanghai and the national capital, Nanjing, fell to the Japanese. The Chinese broke the Huang He dikes (June, 1938) to slow the enemy advance. In late 1938, Hankou and Guangzhou were taken.

Japanese strategy was aimed at taking the cities, the roads, and the railroads, thereby gaining a net of control. Thus, although the Japanese by 1940 had swept over the eastern coastal area, guerrilla fighting still went on in the conquered regions. The Nationalist government, driven back to a temporary capital at Chongqing, struggled on with little help from outside. Chinese resources were inadequate, and the supplies sent over the Burma Road were far from sufficient. The Chinese cause continued to decline despite vast resistance and bloody fighting. Dubious of China's ability to sustain a protracted war, Wang Ching-wei broke with Chiang Kai-shek and established a collaborationist regime at Nanjing (1940).

World War II

The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war and merged the Sino-Japanese War into World War II as China declared war on Japan, Germany, and Italy. American and British loans and supplies, the establishment of military air bases in China, and the aid of an increasing number of U.S. and British advisers helped relieve China as Japan diverted armies elsewhere. Nevertheless, China's military position continued to deteriorate until Apr., 1945. In May the Chinese launched a successful offensive at Zhijiang (Chihkiang) that lasted until Japanese capitulation on Aug. 14. The Japanese troops in China formally surrendered Sept. 9, 1945. By the provisions of the Cairo Declaration, Manchuria, Taiwan, and the Pescadores were restored to China.


See H. Feis, The China Tangle (1953); F. C. Jones, Japan's New Order in East Asia (1954); D. J. Lu, From the Marco Polo Bridge to Pearl Harbor (1961); J. H. Boyle, China and Japan at War, 1937–1945 (1972); L. Li, The Japanese Army in North China (1975); C. A. Bayly and T. Harper, Forgotten Armies: Britain's Asian Empire and the War with Japan (2005) and Forgotten Wars: Freedom and Revolution in Southeast Asia (2007); E. Hotta, Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy (2013); R. Mitter, Forgotten Ally: China's World War II, 1937–1945 (2013).

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SINO-JAPANESE WAR. The eruption of war between China and Japan in 1894 did not directly involve the United States, but the resulting regional instability spurred the Cleveland administration to intervene diplomatically. Although it would not formulate the Open Door policy until 1899, Washington feared European powers would exploit for their own economic benefit the instability caused by the Sino-Japanese rivalry. Thus, the United States had rejected British overtures for foreign intervention to prevent the war. Once hostilities began, however, Washington advised Japan to moderate its ambitions in Asia or face international condemnation. In 1895 the Cleveland administration's efforts succeeded in bringing Japan and China to the peace table.


Beisner Robert L. From the Old Diplomacy to the New, 1865–1900. New York: Crowell, 1975.

McCormick, Thomas J. China Market: America's Quest for Informal Empire, 1893–1901. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1967.

Foster RheaDulles/a. g.

See alsoChina, Relations with ; Diplomatic Missions ; Japan, Relations with ; Trade, Foreign .

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First Sino-Japanese War, 1894–95, conflict between China and Japan for control of Korea in the late 19th cent. The Li-Ito Convention of 1885 provided for mutual troop withdrawals and advance notification of any new troop movements into Korea. Accordingly, when a Korean revolt erupted in 1894, both countries sent troops. However, after the insurrection had been suppressed, Japan refused to withdraw its troops and induced the Korean court to abrogate its agreement with China. The fighting that ensued between Chinese and Japanese forces ended with an easy victory for the more modern Japanese army.

The Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895) declared Korea independent and provided for the cession of Taiwan, the Pescadores, and the Liaodong peninsula by China to Japan. China also had to pay a large indemnity. Within a week of the treaty signing, however, the diplomatic intervention of Russia, France, and Germany forced Japan to return the Liaodong peninsula to China. Under a subsidiary commercial treaty (1896), China yielded to Japanese nationals the right to open factories and engage in manufacturing in the trade ports. This right was automatically extended to the Western maritime powers under the most-favored-nation clause.

See T. Takeuchi, War and Diplomacy in the Japanese Empire (1935, repr. 1966); F. H. Conroy, The Japanese Seizure of Korea,1868–1910 (1960).

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Sino-Japanese Wars Two wars between China and Japan, marking the beginning and end of Japanese imperial expansion on the Asian mainland. The first (1894–95) arose from rivalry for control of Korea. In 1894, Japanese influence helped to provoke a rebellion in Korea. Both states intervened, and Japanese troops swiftly defeated the Chinese. China was forced to accept Korean independence, and ceded territory including Taiwan and the Liaotung peninsula. The latter was returned after European pressure. The second war (1937–45) developed from Japan's seizure of Manchuria (1931), where it set up the puppet state of Manchukuo. Further Japanese aggression led to war, in which the Japanese swiftly conquered e China, driving the government out of Peking (Beijing). The US and UK despatched aid to China (1938), and the conflict merged into World War 2, ending with the final defeat of Japan in 1945.