War and Nationalism in China 1925-1945

By Hans J. Van De Van | Go to book overview
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The reason that I have criticised the Stilwell-White paradigm in this book is not simply because many of Stilwell's actions were badly designed and executed and general Allied strategy often detrimental to Chinese interests. I have suggested that this paradigm obscured that the Nationalists themselves opposed Japanese aggression and that they mobilised their own society to confront it. My aim has been to bring to the fore how they mobilised Chinese society themselves in the 1920s, then to resist Western imperialism, eliminate warlordism, and build a new nation, and how in the 1930s they turned to confront Japanese aggression and finally faced it on the battlefield. The consequence of the dominance of the Stilwell-White paradigm has been that these efforts were pressed to the sidelines by a version of events that I have hoped to have shown was of debatable historical accuracy.

I have presented the story not as an unambiguous triumph of Chinese nationalism. I have shown how during the Northern Expedition cultures of violence became entrenched and have stressed the harmful effects of factionalism within the KMT, debilitating struggles for power, the resort to intrigue, and the reach for nasty and illegitimate forms of violence. I have also stressed the destabilising effects of more or less autonomous militaries in the 1930s and during the War of Resistance itself, the brutalising effects of warlordism that the Nationalists found it difficult to bring under control, and Nationalist bureaucratic shambles and logistical incompetence.

Nonetheless, I have also suggested that the problems the Nationalist confronted were not subject to easy solutions and that the strategies they adopted after the Japanese occupation of Manchuria were not without promise. I have also argued that when war came in 1937, the Nationalists followed military strategies that were appropriate to the conditions they faced and that the Nationalists then mobilised their society in a war that would determine the future shape of Asia with considerable initial success. I have suggested that the Soviet withdrawal from the war in East Asia after the Battle of Nomonhan, the loss of critical grain and recruitment areas, and Allied strategic choices had enormous consequences for the Nationalists' military position.

Once we move away from a Stilwell and US or British centred analysis of the war, it becomes possible to develop a new understanding of the Second World War in East Asia, one in which domestic mobilisations against Japanese aggression take a central place. These mobilisations were rooted in longer struggles of local populations seeking to recapture ownership over their own societies and civilisations and refashioning them according to their own insights. These struggles in India, Burma, Malaysia, Vietnam,


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