China and Japan, 1919-1945

China and Japan, 1919-1945

The May Fourth Movement, 1919

  • Following the Treaty of Versailles, the significant May Fourth Movement occurs in China. The Chinese are outraged at the ceding of German-controlled Shandong to Japan rather than returning it to China.
  • This nationalist protest movement advocates a shift from Confucianism towards more modern ideologies, particularly socialism and democracy.

The Guomindang and the Chinese Civil War

  • Sun Yat-sen reorganises his Kuomintang Party (Guomindang or KMT), seeking to unify China.
  • Following Sun’s death, Chiang Kai-shek takes over the KMT leadership in 1925, increasingly shifting towards right-wing policies.
  • A split forms between the left-wing CCP (Chinese Communist Party) and the KMT, leading to the Chinese Civil War.

Sino-Japanese Relations

  • Following the Manchurian Incident (1931), Japan invades Manchuria, creating a puppet state, Manchukuo.
  • The League of Nations condemns the invasion but does not take effective action. Japan withdraws from the League but keeps Manchuria.
  • In 1937, the Marco Polo Bridge Incident sparks full-blown invasion by Japan. The Second Sino-Japanese War begins, with widespread Japanese aggression and atrocities, such as the Nanjing Massacre.

World War II in Asia

  • Japan forms the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere to gain resources, promoting anti-Western sentiment and the supposed primacy of the Asian “race”.
  • Japan attacks Pearl Harbor in 1941, bringing the United States (US) into World War II. The US supports China against Japan.
  • Japan’s initial success is followed by a series of defeats against the Allies from Midway (1942) onwards.
  • In 1945, following atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US, Japan surrenders unconditionally, ending World War II in Asia.

Impact and Aftermath

  • The Cairo Declaration (1943) stated that Taiwan should be returned to China after the Japanese surrender.
  • The Civil War between the KMT and CCP reignites with increased intensity after Japanese defeat.
  • The USSR’s late entry into the war against Japan results in the occupation of Manchuria, creating a base for Communist expansion in China.
  • The Cold War begins to take shape, with China and the Asian continent becoming a significant front.