By Pat Welsh, contributor
With the seizure of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Nanjing in 1937, the undeclared war with Japan was under way. After the fall of Shanghai, the Japanese high command had not intended to capture Nanjing. Their priorities centered on consolidating their position in northern China, hoping this would put an end to China’s will to resist their future demands. Instead, Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) decision to widen the war by establishing a front in the Yangtze River valley forced Japan to rethink their strategy in China.
In November 1937, Chiang moved his command center to Wuhan. By January 1938, Wuhan seemed vulnerable, causing Chiang to change his military strategy as he recognized that conventional military tactics would be suicidal against Japan.
On Jan. 11, 1938, the Japanese Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoye (近衞 文麿) gave an ultimatum to Chiang for more concessions that included putting north China under Japanese control and a payment of reparations to Japan. Chiang was expected to agree to this proclamation in 72 hours. Chiang refused these demands and Japan ended its recognition of the Kuomintang government and sought to destroy it.
At the end of January 1938, Chiang summoned a military conference where he outlined a strategy to defend Xuzhou, a railroad terminus located 500 kilometers north of Wuhan. On Feb. 9, 1938, the Japanese seized Bengbu, which was 400 kilometers northeast of Wuhan. This seizure gave Japan control over areas north of the Huai River. This action was followed up with two lines of Japanese troops advancing southward along the Jinpu railway. Until March 1938, north and northeast of Xuzhou the Japanese were unable to scatter Chiang’s defenses.
In late March and early April, the Chinese were able to experience their first victory at Taierzhuang located northeast of Xuzhou where their forces wore down a Japanese attack. This showed the Chinese that Japan was stoppable. Unfortunately, after a few days of celebration, the parochialism of Chiang’s forces once again reared its ugly head and made Chiang’s efforts to resist Japan more difficult.
The Japanese commanders learned from their defeat at Taierzhuang. They reinforced their armies and moved their forces southward to squeeze Xuzhou in a vice. To avoid encirclement and utter destruction, Chiang ordered a retreat from Xuzhou. On May 18, helped by a sandstorm and fog, about 40 KMT divisions managed to slip past the Japanese and regroup to fight another day.
To slow the Japanese advance into central China, Chiang destroyed the flood dykes of the Yellow River at Huayuankou on June 6. He hoped to stop the Japanese army from moving onto Zhengzhou, a rail center whose capture threatened both Xian to the west and Wuhan to the south. This flooding gave Chiang five months to move his main forces from Wuhan toward Chongqing. Unfortunately, by doing this, Chiang had flooded much of central China at the cost of an estimated 500,000 Chinese deaths and family displacements.
No longer able to approach Wuhan from the north, in August 1938, the Japanese navy along with 9,000 soldiers approached Wuhan from the east along the Yangtze River. On Oct. 25, surrounded by Japanese, Wuhan fell. The eastern side of China was lost and Chiang’s idea of “Free China” now meant mostly Sichuan, Hunan and Henan provinces. In the north around Yenan, Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) tactics made it impossible for the Japanese to hold the countryside, but they were unable to defeat the Japanese near the rail lines.
Between late 1938 and December 1941, any appearance of a stalemated situation might be considered deceptive. Both Mao and Chiang settled in for a long war. Mao was strongest in China’s northern countryside. Chiang was strongest in the west and southwest. Japan held the eastern and northeastern provinces. The nature of the warfare became more defensive by all three parties.
The Nationalists settled into Chongqing in 1938. In the spring of 1939 when the winter fogs had lifted from Chongqing, Japanese air raids began. Lacking adequate air-raid defenses, Chiang’s wife Soong Meiling (宋美齡) recruited a retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Claire Lee Chennault to take over the training of China’s tiny air force. Chennault also recruited pilots from the United States to take on the Japanese fighter aircraft and bombers. The official name of this group was the American Volunteer Group but later it became better known as the “Flying Tigers.” The activities of this group raised the morale of the government in Chongqing even though they alone could not stop the Japanese bombing raids.
In the east, the Japanese were poorly prepared for the responsibilities of occupation. Japan had the idea that their conquered territories would pay for themselves and even provide revenue for their efforts. Yet this strategy proved to be more successful in Manchukuo than in eastern China where banditry and small unit resistance broke out in the countryside while criminal activities and various disorders were common in the cities.
On March 28, 1938, the Japanese established the “Great Way Government (大道政府) which lasted only one month. On that same March day, the Japanese established its Reformed Government of China (中華民國維新政府) at the Great Hall of the National Government in Nanjing. It was to be headed by Liang Hongzhi (梁鴻志) who had been prominent in military politics in the 1910s and 1920s but whose role had diminished under the Kuomintang. Once established, Liang and his government returned to the New Asia Hotel in Shanghai where they operated for two years.
Meanwhile the foreign concessions in Shanghai continued to operate but were forced to accommodate thousands of refugees. Problems with food, water and sanitation plagued these concessions until they were closed.
In Yenan, abandoning suicidal positional warfare, Mao’s tactics of small unit mobile guerilla warfare showed some success where he headed a well-disciplined army of soldiers and social work cadres. At the beginning of the war, he had 30,000 men whom he reorganized into the Eighth Route Army (八路軍). This number expanded into three divisions of 80,000 by the end of August 1938. In addition, 12,000 more men were formed into the New Fourth Army that operated in central China.
The loss of China’s major cities in the east to the Japanese strengthened Mao’s argument that the communist movement should move from the countryside into the cities, not vice versa as most of Mao’s challengers had asserted. The result was an immigration of some 100,000 migrants, most were well educated, who believed Mao, not Chiang, had the best ideas for a new China. Mao’s armies grew to over 763, 400 by 1941. With Yenan being outside of the international spotlight, Mao had a better opportunity to create a new social order. Not ready to confiscate and redistribute land, Mao chose to supervise the private economy while imposing rent reductions and the reduction of tax burdens.
On Nov. 26, 1938, Zhou Fohai (周佛海) and his aide Mei Siping (梅思平) called for a secret meeting at the home of Wang Jingwei (汪精衛) in Chongqing. A former rival of Chiang, Wang had been pacified by Chiang who assigned Wang to key defense posts and making him a vice-chairman of the Kuomintang movement. Mei himself had come from secret meetings with senior Japanese military figures in Shanghai. Mei and Zhou urged Wang to defect and establish puppet government in Japanese-occupied eastern China. Wang had been seeking a negotiated peace deal with the Japanese. Fearing the total humiliation and destruction of China by Japan, after a few weeks of wavering, Wang decided to flee and defect. Now he hoped that his position with the Japanese would enable him to act as an intermediary between Chiang and the Japanese military.
Once back in Shanghai, Wang began collaborating and seeking peace terms with the Japanese. On March 30, 1940, Wang established the Nanjing Nationalist Government (南京國民政府), also known as the Reorganized National Government of China, a collaborative government based in Nanjing. There, Wang was named as the president of the Executive Yuan and Chairman of the pro-Japanese Nationalist Government (行政院長兼國民政府). Using terror tactics, Wang had control over the city streets, but otherwise, the legitimacy of his state weakened in the eyes of those around him.
After Pearl Harbor in 1941, Chiang had two mighty Western nations supporting him and there was no longer any real need for a collaborating Chinese government to act as a bridge between Chiang and Tokyo.
About Pat Welsh
In 2009 while teaching English at Sichuan University, Welsh was asked to give a speech where he was introduced to the audience as a “pioneer of Chinese American relations” as a result of his cooperative work in international banking during the Deng Xiaoping era. For more than 65 years, Welsh has been learning Chinese and has used this knowledge both professionally and personally to enhance his understanding of Chinese and Asian affairs. Now fully retired, he currently resides in Georgia where he used to lecture on China to a number of classes at Dunwoody High School.
By Pat Welsh, contributor
In previous articles, I had mentioned that the decentralization of the Qing Dynasty’s military after the Taiping Rebellion had paved the way for the emergence of local warlords throughout China. The Xinhai Revolution (辛亥革命) of 1911 did put an end to the Qing Dynasty, but it also produced a power vacuum because of a weakly centralized control of China’s military. For example, one reason President Yuan Shikai (袁世凱) could not agree to Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) and the Nationalists’ request to establish his government in Nanjing 1912 was because he depended on the support of his Beiyang military (北洋軍) located in the north.
By 1913, several provincial warlords had already tried to rebel against Yuan. Yuan had made an amendment to the Constitution of 1912 designed strengthen his power and limit the power placed in the hands of the revolutionaries loyal to Sun and the other political parties. In November 1913, Yuan outlawed the Kuomintang (國民黨). Then, to strengthen his Beiyang armies, Yuan borrowed money from Japan.
By Pat Welsh, contributor
In my previous offering I discussed major events after the death of Yuan Shikai (袁世凱) in 1916 and Cai Yuanpei’s (蔡元培) changes in the make-up of the student and faculty and their activities at the Beijing National University. I hope the reader will get a feel for the situation in Beijing leading up to the May Fourth Movement in 1919.
China’s failure at the Paris Peace Conference to prevent Japan from gaining Germany’s place in Shandong Province was the event that sparked the May 4 Incident. The news of this failure, coupled with memories of Japan’s 21 Demands made in 1915, motivated student organizations to hold a meeting on May 1 and 3 wherein they resolved to hold mass demonstrations against the Beijing government on May 7, the fourth anniversary of Japan’s ultimatum in her 21 Demands.
By Pat Welsh, contirbutor
The formal end of the Boxer Rebellion occurred on Sept. 7, 1901, when the Boxer Protocol (辛丑各國和約) was signed. This Boxer Protocol and the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion in Beijing the previous year, which left behind very unpleasant consequences for the aging Dowager Empress Cixi (慈禧太后), the Chinese civilians in north and northeastern China, the Qing Manchu Court and China in particular.
For Cixi, as the western forces were entering Beijing, she was forced to abandon her luxurious palace in Beijing’s Forbidden City, dress as an ordinary farm woman and flee to Xian in three wooden oxcarts along with a personal attendant, a retinue of Gansu Guards and the previously imprisoned Guangxü Emperor (光緒帝) in tow. There Cixi was forced to suffer a humiliating rebuke from the emperor who had briefly felt empowered by the events at that time. Recall that he had favored the reforms that Cixi had overturned once her 1898 coup d’ etat had succeeded. Her flight was explained as being a tour of inspection but this explanation fooled no one.
By Pat Welsh, contributor
Last month I mentioned how the stage was set for the Boxer Rebellion to occur. You may recall that the movement had its origin with the “Big Sword Society” (大刀會) and its goal of removing foreigners and their influence from China.
In greater detail, let’s backtrack to 1895 when Li Bingheng (李秉衡) was the governor of Shandong Province. He harbored similar anti-foreign sentiments and had encouraged the activities of the Big Sword Society led by its founder, Liu Shiduan (劉士端). In an odd quirk of fate, after disorders caused by the Big Sword Society, Yü Xian (魚線) who had also been sympathetic to anti-foreign sentiments, was appointed as Shandong judicial commissioner and charged with suppressing the Big Sword Society. He arrested and executed Liu Shiduan and his main lieutenant Cao Deli (曹得禮). Liu was replaced by Zhu Hengdeng (朱紅燈) who selected a new name for the society, Yihe Quan (義和拳, which translates into Righteous and Harmonious Fists) and set up its new slogan as “Protect the Qing and annihilate the foreigners” (扶清滅洋).
By Pat Welsh, contributor
The empress dowager Cixi (慈禧太后) successfully engineered a coup d’état in September 1898. On Sept. 21 she attended court to redirect the government. With this, the reactionary period began. She dismissed all of the officials who had participated in the reform movement and executed six major players who thereafter became known as the “Six Martyrs.” Two others, Kang Youwei (康有為) and Liang Qichao (梁啟超) escaped abroad to stir up trouble for the dynasty later. The removed officials were replaced by her own personal favorites thereby consolidating her power in the center of government.
This was immediately followed by rescinding almost all of the innovations announced during the Hundred Day’s Reform (戊戌變法 or 百日維新). Among the most damaging was the prohibition of all scholars to memorialize to the throne about affairs of state. Also undone was the transformation of academies into modern schools. It was as if China were attempting to return to what it was in previous centuries. In early 1899, a newly appointed governor of Hubei Province did memorialize to the throne requesting the cancellation of Cixi’s reactionary orders, but the end result of this was his dismissal from office and his inability to obtain any new employment by the government. Thereafter, no one else dared attempt to save any of the reforms.
By Pat Welsh, contributor
In 1898 the Chinese government experienced a short period of attempted reforms called the Hundred Day Reform Movement (百日維新 or 戊戌變法). This reform movement was instigated by Kang Youwei (康有為) who had the support of Xu Zhijing (徐致靖), Yang Shenxiu (楊深秀) and Yang Rui (楊銳). The reformers held that China needed more than "self-strengthening" and that innovation must be accompanied by institutional and ideological change.
Yang Rui had persuaded the supervising censor, Gao Xiezeng (高夑曾), to submit a memorial to the Qing throne recommending the four reformers very highly. The outcome was an imperial decree to the princes and high ministers to summon Kang to the Tsungli Yamen (總理衙門), China’s office of foreign affairs, to ask him about the reforms. The high ministers and the princes submitted Kang’s letter. Remembering how the last Ming emperor was forced into committing suicide and recognizing Kang’s audacity, the Guangxu emperor (光绪皇帝) instructed his grand councilors to forward to him any memorials that Kang might present in the future immediately. The Guangxu emperor also requested Kang’s books dealing with the Meiji Restoration in Japan and a biography of Peter the Great of Russia.
By Pat Welsh, contributor
The natural course for me to take this series would be to discuss the May 4 incident and what would later be called the May Fourth Period. As I examined this incident and the surrounding events, I cannot help but conclude that this incident was itself a result of events that preceded it.
From 1911 to about 1925, China was floundering in a confusing and chaotic morass. While pro-Qing and pro-monarchists were gradually losing their support among the population, the liberal and the left-wing movements were themselves not a completely cohesive force. The emergence of regional warlords who governed locally from 1916 to 1925 had no loyalties other than to those who might support their positions. In May 1915, Japan presented the infamous 21 demands, which, if accepted, would have placed China under a virtual Japanese protectorate status and extinguish China’s independence. Yuan Shikai (袁世凱) accepted some of these demands. After Yuan had himself proclaimed emperor on December 12, 1915, the remote southern province of Yunnan rose in revolt two weeks later. Other garrisons then joined in the revolt and by March 1916, it became obvious that any further attempts to continue Yuan’s monarchy would produce a widespread civil war.