Modern Chinese Warfare, 1795-1989

By Cheng, Victor Shiu Chiang | The China Journal, January 2005 | Go to article overview

Modern Chinese Warfare, 1795-1989


Cheng, Victor Shiu Chiang, The China Journal


Modern Chinese Warfare, 1795-1989, by Bruce A. Elleman. London: Routledge, 2001. xii + 363 pp. £65.00/US$114.95 (hardcover), £19.99/US$34.95 (paperback).

Modern Chinese Warfare offers a concise survey of the military history of China in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The main themes of the book are: first, war is part of diplomacy for the Chinese; second, China is an imperialist country rather than a victimized nation; third, Chinese history has evolved in a recurring pattern of imperial decline, fall and revival. Bruce Elleman organizes the book according to these themes to explain what has led China into domestic and international conflicts over the past two centuries.

Part 1 (imperial decline) consists of four chapters and discusses secret societies, the decline of the Qing, the Opium War, the Taiping Rebellion, the Arrow War and the ethnic-minority uprisings. Part 2 (imperial fall) consists of five chapters that examine the Ili Crisis, the Sino-French War, the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), the Boxer Uprising and the fall of the Qing. This review focuses on Parts 3-5, as the parts of the book most relevant to readers of The China Journal.

Part 3 (imperial interregnum) consists of four chapters. Chapter 10 examines the Chinese civil war during the warlord era from 1911 to 1928. Chapter 11 assesses China's defeat by the USSR in the 1929 war in Manchuria over the ownership of the Chinese Eastern Railway, arguing that this defeat and the subsequent diplomatic failures of the Nationalist government actually "forced" Japan to invade China in order to counter Soviet expansion. Elleman's analysis of the crisis, however, suffers from a selective use of sources. According to Chinese sources, Zhang Xueliang gained the Nationalist government's tacit approval to negotiate with the Soviets. Elleman's claim that Zhang broke with Nanjing and independently opened negotiations with the Soviet government neglects a wealth of original materials that demonstrate that Nanjing wanted to regionalize rather than internationalize the conflict, contrary to what Elleman suggests.

Chapter 12 examines the Sino-Japanese War from 1937 to 1945. Elleman conceives of the war in terms of three phases, and contends that only in the first phase from 1937 to 1938 did the KMT and the CCP have a clear intention of defeating the Japanese on the battlefield. The subsequent stages of the war, he states, were actually civil war, with the two opposing Chinese sides focused on internal strife. The Nationalists initiated a "barbarian management" strategy to manipulate the US and the USSR into defeating Japan (p. 194). Elleman's claim is challenged by the fact that the Allies' victory over Japan depended in part on the efforts by the Chinese to bog down large numbers of Japanese troops in the China theater. Elleman clearly discounts the Nationalists' contributions-for example, the gritty battles fought by KMT armies in the third Changsha campaign in 1941-42, the operations in west Hunan, and the defense of Changde in Hubei Province in 1943.

Chapter 13 examines the Chinese civil war. Elleman is convincing in his discussion of the impact of the Sino-Soviet Friendship Treaty on the civil war, and he correctly emphasizes the role of Outer Mongolia in the tripartite relations between the USSR, KMT and CCP. …

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