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Mark Peattie, Edward J. Drea, and Hans Van De Ven, Editors. the Battle for China: Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945

By McCord, Edward A. | China Review International, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

Mark Peattie, Edward J. Drea, and Hans Van De Ven, Editors. the Battle for China: Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945


McCord, Edward A., China Review International


Mark Peattie, Edward J. Drea, and Hans van de Ven, editors. The Battle for China: Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011. xxv, 614 pp. Hardcover $65.00, ISBN 978-0-8047-6206-9.

This book is the fruit of a collaborative international project initiated by Ezra Vogel, the purpose of which was to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) beyond the often narrow perspectives of past Western historiography. The first product of this project was a 2007 book, edited by Vogel along with Diana Lary and Stephen MacKinnon, that brought together studies by Chinese, Japanese, and Western scholars to examine the war in its regional contexts. (1) This volume performs a broader service by gathering another set of international scholars (divided almost evenly among Chinese, Japanese, and Western contributors) to provide a comprehensive history focusing specifically on the military operations of the war.

The need for such a book is obvious. As noted by Hans van de Ven in a concluding essay (pp. 448-449), past Western approaches largely followed a narrative, popularized by Barbara Tuchman's Stillwell and the American Experience in China, that emphasizes Chinese failures in the Sino-Japanense War. (2) While these failures are largely blamed on the corruption and incompetence of Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist regime, Chiang is also portrayed, based largely on late war perspectives, as having avoided major conflicts with the Japanese in order to preserve his military power for postwar political struggles. The result is a collapsed view of the war as an uncomplicated series of Chinese defeats and retreats that favors more focus on diplomacy and politics than on military operations. Some studies have looked beyond this conventional narrative to more specialized topics, including, for example, a large number of works that examine the wartime mobilization carried out by the Chinese Communist Party and a growing interest in issues of collaboration and resistance in occupied areas. Such works are still hobbled, however, by the lack of foundational studies of the war, including, most importantly, the military operations that determined its course. This volume goes a long way in remedying this deficiency.

For an edited collection, this book is remarkably well organized. The central core of the book is divided into three main sections. The first of these sections looks at the early period of the war up to the fall of Wuhan in 1938, the second examines the middle years, and the last focuses on the final Japanese offensives. This core is bookended, however, by a number of useful essays that first set the stage for, and then draw broader conclusions from, the central chapters.

The introductory bookend sections begin with a straightforward overview of the main campaigns of the war by editors Edward Drea and Hans van de Ven, paired with a useful chronology. This is followed by a chapter by editor Mark Peattie on the origins of the war. While his view that Japanese field officers were important in provoking the incidents that ultimately set off the war is nothing new, he balances this with an understanding of how accumulating Chinese resentments also propelled the two countries into conflict, even as, Peattie suggests, the Japanese government was beginning to consider scaling down the hostility and reducing the provocations that had characterized its relations with China. These introductory essays are rounded out by chapters, by Chang Jui-te and Edward Drea, respectively, that summarize the organizational and technical capabilities of the Chinese and Japanese armies on the eve of the war. While usefully outlined, the comparative weakness of China's army and the strength of the Japanese shown in these two chapters will come as little surprise to most readers. Of more importance, though, is seeing how the two armies derived different strategic and tactical conclusions from their comparative positions.

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