The Sino-Japanese Wars: The History and Legacy of the Early 20th Century Conflicts that Made Japan the Dominant Power in Asia

Written by Charles River Editors
Category: · History

*Includes pictures
*Includes contemporary accounts
*Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading
*Includes a table of contents

For decades Korea existed as a protectorate of China, paying homage to the mighty Chinese dynasties while minding its own business as best it could. However, sensing weakness in the former regional power after being defeated by the Europeans during the Second Opium War, escalating tensions over Korea between the old power of China and the new power of Japan led to the First Sino-Japanese War. In its first modern war, the modernized Japanese empire went to war against the dominant power in the region, and though interested Western powers favored China, Japan won the day, claiming Korea as their conquest and permanently upsetting the balance of power in the region. The conflict paved the way for the future Empire of Japan and the collapse of the Qing Dynasty.

Though both nations modernized, and China far outweighed Japan in terms of men and materiel potential, the island nation handily won its first modern war. The conflict resulted in Japan’s short-term gains in the wake of victory, and the long term disaster for both sides’ new roles in Asia, for with the end of Chinese dominance in East Asia came a new era for the region as a whole, an era whose consequences and horrors would not be fully realized for several more decades.

Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931 resulted from a long, complex chain of historical events stretching back to the late 19th century. Approximately 380,000 square miles in extent, or 1.4 times the size of the American state of Texas, Manchuria came into Imperial Russia’s possession in 1900 due to the “Boxer Rebellion” in China, but the Russians held it only briefly; their defeat in the Russo-Japanese War shook loose their control from important parts of Manchuria by the end of 1905. Naturally, the Chinese also wanted their portion of the tempting Manchurian feast. Unable to go head to head with the organized, thoroughly militaristic Japanese, they sent some 6 million emigrant laborers and settlers into the area as a sort of “demographic occupation.” Nominally Chinese but subject to massive Japanese investment and military infiltration, filled with bandits and rival chieftains, Manchuria hovered on the brink of another conflict in the 1920s.

The Kwantung Army deliberately shoved it over that brink in 1931, and the Japanese invasion and occupation of Manchuria is sometimes described as the true beginning of World War II. At the very least, it marked the expansion of Japan’s imperial empire, its ongoing friction with China, and what would turn into a Chinese resistance campaign that would last nearly 15 years until the end of World War II. Given its importance, the invasion of Manchuria continues to be remembered as one of the seminal events of the 20th century.

In 1937, the Empire of Japan once more went to war with China, a nation broken into petty warlord fiefdoms and wracked by civil war. The most modern Asian nation enacted a brutal campaign over the fragmented realms that made up China, committing atrocities just as horrendous as their Axis ally in Europe. Despite this, the sheer size of China, coupled with Japan’s overextension, allowed the larger, less developed nation to endure. At the same time, China was experiencing an equally brutal civil war between Nationalist and Communist forces. This civil war became inextricably intertwined with the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II, and the sheer scale of the horrors of the conflict remain hard to believe today, even as action in that theater is often overlooked because of events in Europe.

The Sino-Japanese Wars: The History and Legacy of the Early 20th Century Conflicts that Made Japan the Dominant Power in Asia examines what brought about the wars, the most notorious events, and the important aftermath. Along with pictures, you will learn about the wars like never before.


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