Forgotten Ally: China's World War II, 1937-1945
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A Financial Times Book of the Year
“A book that has long cried out to be written.” — Observer (UK), Books of the Year
In 1937, two years before Hitler invaded Poland, Chinese troops clashed with Japanese occupiers in the first battle of World War II. Joining with the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain, China became the fourth great ally in a devastating struggle for its very survival.
Prizewinning historian Rana Mitter unfurls China’s drama of invasion, resistance, slaughter, and political intrigue as never before. Based on groundbreaking research, this gripping narrative focuses on a handful of unforgettable characters, including Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Zedong, and Chiang’s American chief of staff, “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell. Mitter also recounts the sacrifice and resilience of everyday Chinese people through the horrors of bombings, famines, and the infamous Rape of Nanking.
More than any other twentieth-century event, World War II was crucial in shaping China’s worldview, making Forgotten Ally both a definitive work of history and an indispensable guide to today’s China and its relationship with the West.
“In the manner of David McCullough, [Mitter] creates a complex history that is urgently alive.” — Kirkus Reviews
personalized instrument of enforcement by means both legal and otherwise. Mere mention of the MSB and its headquarters at Wanglongmen in south Chongqing was enough to terrify most ordinary citizens in wartime Chongqing. The phrase “I’m with Wanglongmen” could open the door to everything from free train rides to gratis brothel visits. For anyone foolish enough to cross an MSB agent, or to voice a political opinion that was judged subversive, the punishment could be a visit to a jail where the
way back from Cairo, where he spoke to General Zheng Dongguo and inspected the 33,000 men of the Chinese Army in India (X Force), based at Ramgarh in Bihar province. “Stilwell was treating Zheng as a puppet,” Chiang lamented, “and would not give him any real command power, or allow him to command the frontline at Ledo. There are many incidents like that—it’s truly painful.” Yet Chiang was not blind to the problems of developing officers of high quality. “My commanders” spirit, body, and
banter with their senior officer. At one point, the men claimed, Chi had given them “the secret of war”: “when you get food, eat it; when you can sleep, take it.” These sorts of familiar, slightly glib-sounding truths were much more resonant when the Nationalist forces had shown that they were capable of more than retreat. The victors may have described the battle in terms of glorious success, but they did not forget that their enemies were human. Chi recalled one scene he came across: he
in the river: “To give ourselves enough time, Huayuankou would be best.”8 At first, the soldiers regarded their task as purely an assignment in military engineering, and, in Xiong’s word, an “exciting” one. Xiong and Wei Rulin made their first inspection of the site after dark, late on June 6. The surroundings lent a deceptive calm to the proceedings. “The wind blew softly,” recalled Xiong, “and the river water trickled pleasantly.” But it was hard to gauge the water level, and they were not
The world’s sympathy for China’s case was growing, Chiang assured his listeners, and as people became aware of Japanese atrocities, the invaders’ reputation would suffer. However, Chiang was deeply concerned about the behavior of the Chinese troops. Men were not under the control of their officers; this was “the suicidal act of a doomed country.” Raiding the population would destroy the trust between citizens and the military. “Not only should you not steal,” Chiang declared, “you should be