By Ryan Daniels
“Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II 1937-1945” is the unforgettable story of China’s life or death struggle against the Japanese Empire. Told in narrative format by Rana Mitter, he weaves together the complex nature of China’s struggle for freedom and global recognition before and during the Second World War.
Mitter divides his book into different sections to give the reader a better understanding of China’s role in the conflict. The first section deals with the relationship between Japan and China over the latter half of the 19th century; and how their modernization plans were often interconnected and even sometimes cooperative in the areas of education, military and infrastructure. Also how they eventually turned against one another in the goal for Asian supremacy.
Early chapters detail the Chinese’s desperate fight and string of defeats from the summer of 1937 conflict at the Marco Polo Bridge to the battle of Wuhan in 1938. As well as a much needed victory at the battle of Taierzhuang in 1938, after the loss of the capital Nanjing.
Of particular interest to the reader is the complex and often impossible situation that the Chinese leader Chiang Kai Shek found himself in during the long struggle. Often at odds with his generals, warlords, (and later his allies Britain, and America) that he was forced to rely on for questionably unreliable support in some battles against the Japanese. His frustration in this area is painstakingly recorded in his personal diary and used to good effect in the book to give the reader some idea of his thoughts during this difficult time.
The two other major Chinese figures that are discussed in the book are the Communist leader Mao Zedong, and the defector Wang Jingwei. It is interesting that the author explores their various motives for acting in the ways that they did, and also their visions for a future China.
Other topics that are discussed are the U.S. and Britain’s involvement in the war effort against Japan, and the frequent arguments between Gen. Joseph Stilwell and Chiang. Also these internal squabbles came to the surface internationally and affected US-Sino relations for generations afterwards.
Mitter takes a refreshingly objective stance throughout the book, considering the sensitive nature of many of the political and historical conundrums that a student of modern Chinese history is likely to encounter. He uses many reliable records and sources to back up his research; these also provide many other avenues of research for the interested reader.
In summary, military historians of the Second World War will definitely want to pick up this work, as it will gracefully complement your general knowledge of that conflict and expand into areas previously lost to history; as well as the impacts we are still feeling in today’s Asian geopolitical theater.