In a Sea of Bitterness: Refugees during the Sino-Japanese War

By Liang, Kan | The China Journal, January 2013 | Go to article overview

In a Sea of Bitterness: Refugees during the Sino-Japanese War


Liang, Kan, The China Journal


In a Sea of Bitterness: Refugees During the Sino-Japanese War, by R. Keith Schoppa. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2011. 346 pp. US$35.00 (hardcover).

No one has written more extensively about Zhejiang Province than Keith Schoppa. From his early work on Zhejiang élites and political change, to his nine-century history of Xiang Lake, to his award-winning Blood Road, the topics which Schoppas works have addressed have been broad, and his research has been of great depth. This new book, In a Sea of Bitterness, deals with a completely new subject, the Sino-Japanese War between 1937 and 1945. Very many studies have been written on the war, and yet the topic of refugees is new. Based upon a large number of personal accounts and other sources, this book helps readers to understand vividly what the war meant to millions of ordinary Chinese.

The book is divided into 12 chapters, in addition to the Introduction and Conclusion. Chapter 1 provides the big picture of Zhejiang's refugee situation during the war, and discusses people's survival strategies. Chapter 2 describes the Chinese government's response to the refugee crisis. The third chapter offers a narration of the refugee experience of the famous artist Feng Zikai and his family. The chapter that follows is based upon three diaries by less-known authors, while Chapter 5 recounts stories of Chinese citizens who were kidnapped by the Japanese military. Chapter 6 is about the movement of the provincial government from the wealthy city of Hangzhou to isolated, remote and mountainous Yunhe County; this is followed by stories about county magistrates and how they survived under enemy pressure while still functioning as local officials. Chapter 8, "Guerrilla Education", tells extraordinary stories of how schools were moved away from the war zone, some even between four and eight times within localities in the province. The next chapter deals with the move of factories and businesses towards inland areas. Hundreds of businesses, from heavy plants to light industry, were moved out of their original sites at huge cost, and many survived. Chapter 10 analyzes the socalled "scorched-earth" strategy aimed at destroying factories and establishments to prevent them from falling into enemy hands, including such extreme actions as blowing up power plants, demolishing river bridges and destroying air bases. "Trading and Smuggling" is the title of Chapter 11, which discusses how commodities were exchanged between Shanghai and Zhejiang through different routes, a rather complicated system involving merchants, local strongmen, military leaders and government officials. The final chapter, "Bubonic Bombs", surveys the horrible effects of Japanese biological warfare in three different areas.

As a whole, this is a bitter story to tell, a story of human suffering by hundreds and thousands of Chinese people, of displacement, starvation and death, which offers many details on "how Chinese elites and nonelites strategized about their wartime choices, what choices they made, what expected and unexpected difficulties Chinese faced, and what buoyed them in time of suffering to make it possible for them to survive" (p.

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