# Harvard scholar: Nationalist government defeated Japan in 1945 | Politics | FOCUS TAIWAN - CNA ENGLISH NEWS

July 7, 2015

Harvard scholar: Nationalist government defeated Japan in 1945 from CNA (By H.H. Lu and Lillian Lin)
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2015/07/07 22:26:21

"Taipei, July 7 (CNA) A professor of China Studies at Harvard University said Tuesday at an international symposium in Taipei that it was China's Nationalist government and not the communists who fought the Japanese for eight years.

Giving an analysis on the ROC's eight-year (1937-1945) war of resistance against Japan and the wartime foundations of China's emergence as a great power, William C. Kirby said that the war cost the lives of millions of Chinese citizens and that of the soldiers who died in the fighting, more than 90 percent were Nationalist troops."

See Professor William C. Kirby's full speech below:

CHINA STANDS UP
THE WARTIME FOUNDATIONS OF CHINA’S EMERGENCE AS A GREAT POWER

William C. Kirby
Harvard University Keynote Speech for War in History and Memory.

An International Conference on the Seventieth Anniversary of
China’s Victory in the War of
Resistance against Japan
Academia Historica, Taipei, July 7-9, 2015

1.         Introduction.

Seventy years ago this summer, the Republic of China’s eight-year War of Resistance against Japan came to an end.  The Republic of China won. The Empire of Japan lost.  Japan was physically and economically destroyed.  Japan surrendered unconditionally.  Japan would later sign two peace treaties, first with the Republic of China in 1952, and then with the People’s Republic of China in 1978.

These are basic, indisputable historical facts.  But you might be forgiven for not knowing them if you were a young person raised on mainland China who was fed a menu of CCP dang shi and a diet of anti-Japanese soap operas.  A school group walking along China’s fuxing zhi lu (“road to restoration”) in Beijing’s remodeled National Museum, would learn of only one, historically problematic narrative, of the indispensible nature of the Chinese Communist Party’s role in China’s return to great power status.  Yet it was the National Government of China, not its difficult and ultimately disloyal Communist allies, who overwhelmingly fought the Japanese for eight years.  And it was Nationalist China that accepted Japan’s surrender and became—by courage and endurance, not by default—one of the permanent members of the Security Council of the new United Nations, of which it was a founding member.  If one compares the duration and outcome of the first and second Sino-Japanese wars, it is clear that China had “stood up” not first in 1949, but already by 1945.

In 1945, China was poised to lead East Asia and take its place as a leading power in the postwar order.  Because of civil war, revolution, and the madness of Maoist rule, that would not happen for decades to come.  Victory in the war would prove a precondition for China’s emergence of a great power.  At the same time, the war weakened its victor greatly, so that another party could take the spoils.

2.         The War and its Consequences

Like most wars, the war that began in full after July 7, 1937, had consequences for all belligerents that could not have been foreseen.  It would end Japan’s imperial ambitions and force the rebuilding of an eventually prosperous and democratic Japanese state.  The United States would become, as never before, a Pacific power, and would fight two more wars in Asia after this one.  At home, the United States erected military-industrial establishment that would never fully demobilize.

For China the consequences were enormous.  Let us recall the China of early 1937.  The Nanjing government enjoyed international recognition as the government of all China.  China has weathered, better than many parts of the world, the global depression.   A national currency had been established.  The government was gaining gradual but steady control of its “internal borders” in negotiations for tariff autonomy and the eventual end of extraterritoriality. Chinese higher education—a vibrant mix of public and private, Chinese and foreign institutions—was one of the most dynamic systems outside Europe and North America.  A modern central army was being trained with German advice and assistance, with the aim, in time, of resisting Japan and eventually regaining Manchuria.

The war destroyed much of this.  It led directly to an outcome that was simply inconceivable in 1937: the Communist seizure of power in 1949.

Economic consequences.  No one knows precisely the losses suffered by the Chinese economy as a result of the war of 1937-45.  No one doubts, however, that they were staggering.  Between fifteen and twenty million Chinese perished.  China's small industrial output was made smaller still.  In agriculture, the war intensified an already serious agrarian crisis.  China's currency became increasingly worthless.

Industrial losses have been most intensively measured, and it is clear that China's emerging modern sector was substantially worse off in 1946 than in 1937.  In Shanghai, the prewar center of China's modern economy, the war's first two years witnessed the destruction of over 50 percent of Chinese industries there.  In the Wuxi and Nanjing regions, the damage ranged from 64 to 80 percent.  When, in 1945-46, the National Government took control of nearly 70 percent of China's total industrial capital, it found that wartime damage or losses to these publicly-owned assets reached 55 percent of industrial and mining assets, 72 percent in shipping, and 96 percent in railroads.  In 1946, coal production in China (including Manchuria) was less than one-third its prewar peak and one-fifth the wartime peak production.  Mines had been looted, flooded, or destroyed toward the end of the war, and suffered from deferred maintenance.  Mining of antimony and tungsten, China's chief export metals and major revenue earners for prewar government industrial investment, had ceased altogether in 1944.  Total economic losses to Chinese mines, industries, transportation and communications were estimated at US$1.08 billion. Of a prewar foreign investment in China of ca. US$ 3.5 billion, an estimated US$800 million was lost during the first two years of the war. To this figure we must add wartime damage estimated at US$ 30 million to industries on Taiwan, and the stupendous theft of plant equipment valued at up to US$900 million in Manchuria in the war's immediate aftermath, with production loss and replacement costs estimated at US$ 2 billion.  To give specific examples: the Manchurian iron and steel industry was expected to produce only 30,000 tons of pig iron in 1947, in comparison to 2.5 million tons in the peak year under Japanese rule; of fifteen cement plants in northeast China, two were in working condition.

Damage to the agricultural sector, which in the prewar years had accounted for ca. 65 percent of China's total net domestic product, is more difficult to measure, but clearly was substantial.  The war was fought by farmers.  They and their families were its primary casualties.  Wartime conscription withdrew farmers from the fields, and permitted previously unthinkable labor shortages at planting and harvest time.  No one knows how many Chinese were under arms during the war.  Estimates for Nationalist-held territories alone range from 3.5 to over 6 million men at any one time.  Farmers also provided the vast majority of laborers conscripted for airfield, road and other construction, whose numbers must have totaled several million. In Sichuan, the fact that the farm labor costs rose more quickly than crop prices forced many farms to reduce the acreage sown.  Conscription was not limited to human beings, but included the requisition of livestock, tools, and the critical means of transporting harvests: farmers' carts.  When these conditions, together with increased grain taxes to feed the swollen armies, were combined with regional natural disasters, it meant starvation, as in the terrible Henan famine of 1942-43.   In large parts of China, crop yields remained lower in 1949 than they had been in 1937.

The war was a direct cause of the postwar crises in industry and agriculture.  In a similar fashion, it set the stage for total collapse of China's currency, in one of the great monetary inflations of world history.  The inflation grew severe in the territory under Nationalist rule, where retail prices rose more than 230 percent annually during the years 1942-45; in occupied east China it was even worse after 1943.  In both areas, it was spiraling out of control by the time the war ended in 1945.  Both during and after the war, inflation made hoarding and speculation more attractive than investment in productive activity.  Beyond its economic toll, however, the Chinese inflation of the 1940's had devastating political consequences for the National Government.  Its burdens were borne excessively by groups whose loyalty (or at a minimum, non-opposition) was essential to the government: its military, its bureaucracy, and its educational leaders.  The great inflation contributed as much as any other factor to the political malaise that undermined Nationalist rule in the immediate postwar years.

Psychological consequences.  Beyond the economic consequences there was something more elusive:  the psychological consequences of eight years of warfare:  an inuring to the violence and inhumanity of war.  Perhaps only in that context was a three-year civil war conceivable upon the end of the anti-Japanese struggle.  Perhaps only in such a context could one imagine the red terror of the early 1950’s.

The war let to a brutalization of life. It became a major war because of the ferocious resistance of Chinese troops around Shanghai.  Japanese aerial bombardment of civilian populations in Shanghai and other cities foreshadowed the terror bombing in other theaters of war.  This was the beginning of a large-scale terrorization that would reach in climax in Nanjing.

Nanjing was no stranger to war, having been destroyed twice during the Taiping Rebellion of the mid-19th century.    On December 12-13, 1937, it fell to the Japanese.  For Japan, this was to have been the decisive turning point in the war, the triumphant culmination of a half-year struggle against Chiang Kai-shek’s forces in the Yangtze valley.   For Chinese forces, whose heroic defense of Shanghai had finally failed, and whose best troops had suffered crippling casualties, the fall of Nanjing was a bitter, perhaps fatal defeat.

We now remember Nanjing as a turning point of a different sort.  For much of the world, the events in Nanjing defined evil and good in a far-off war.  In China, what happened within the walls of that old city stiffened Chiang Kai-shek’s determination to recover it.  The Chinese retreated, regrouped, and ultimately outlasted Japan in a war that ended eight years later.  In those eight years Japan would occupy Nanjing, setting up a government of Chinese collaborators; but it would never rule with legitimacy, and could never force China’s capitulation.

The Japanese sack of Nanjing, then the capital of China, was a horrific event.  The mass execution of soldiers and the slaughtering and raping of tens of thousands of civilians took place in contravention of all rules of warfare.  What is still stunning is that it was public rampage, designed to terrorize.  It was carried out in full view of, and largely irrespective of the views of, international observers such as John Rabe, a German citizen who recorded the atrocities in his diary.  It was not a temporary lapse of discipline, for it lasted seven weeks.

Because it was witnessed by so many foreign observers, it also turned world opinion against Japan in this struggle in a way that little else could have.  This would assure Japan's isolation in its China adventure --even though China would not get a full-fledged ally until 1942.

More than anything else, the events at Nanjing made Japan and Nazi Germany --who would only later become formal allies in the war, and not very good allies at that—what one might call moral co-conspirators, as violent aggressors, a perpetrators of what would later be labeled "crimes against humanity".

The poet W. H. Auden put it best, describing how the war in Asia, and the developing struggle in Europe, looked to a journalist covering the war from the outside, pointing to a map that shows troop movements and the like:

From Auden, Collected Shorter Poems

XII

Here war is harmless like a monument:

A telephone is talking to a man;

Flags on a map declare that troops were sent;

A boy brings milk in bowls.  There is a plan

For living men in terror of their lives,

Who thirst at nine who were to thirst at noon,

Who can be lost and are, who miss their wives

And, unlike an idea, can die too soon.

Yet ideas can be true, although men die:

For we have seen a myriad faces

Ecstatic from one lie,

And maps can really point to places

Where life is evil now.

Nanking.  Dachau

3.         The War and its Partners

China’s success—despite the enormous losses categorized above—in surviving and ultimately winning the war with Japan was predicated on several factors.  One is unmeasurable:  Chiang Kai-shek’s unbending refusal to surrender and his capacity to keep a very fractious political and military order more or less intact for eight years.   A second, which I shall now turn to, was an adaptable diplomacy that permitted China to receive aid from three of the world’s greatest powers in order to defend itself against the fourth, Japan.  The third factor, which I will discuss below, was the mobilization of a war economy that kept China in the war and carried within it the promise of post-war revival.

China had entered into its first cooperative relationships of modern international significance during the Nanjing decade of Nationalist rule that began in 1928.  The pursuit of international partnerships became for the first time an essential element of Chinese domestic and foreign policy.  China moved from an era when it was primarily an object of great power cooperation at China's expense, with no real Chinese participation in the alignments of world politics, to one in which it formed -- even from a position of military and economic weakness -- important economic or strategic associations with three of the world's most powerful nations, in order to defend itself against the fourth, Japan.

None of these relationships proved durable.  Yet each was important to the achievement of Chinese objectives.  Together they demonstrated China's ability to pursue broadly consistent goals through an extraordinarily diverse set of cooperative relationships within a short span of years.

It was with Germany that China entered its first cooperative relationship based upon both the principle and practice of equality and mutual benefit.  That relationship -- in many ways the most successful of the period -- was grounded in economic, military and ideological ties, and predicated in part on the lack of shared strategic concerns.  Common strategic interests were, however, primary determining actors in modern China's first power-political alignments of any real international importance, first with the Soviet Union and then with the United States.  In relations with all these powers, Nationalist China proved itself a capable player of international politics in a highly unstable, multipolar environment.

The onset of full-scale war with Japan before Chinese defense preparations were completed forced China to seek  for the first time military alliances with any nation (or group of nations)  willing to fight Japan.  Although this was not achieved until December 1941, China received various forms of assistance from the Soviet Union, the United States, Great Britain and, to a decreasing but still useful extent, Germany, while engaging with skill in global triangular politics between the Soviet Union, the Anglo-American powers and the emerging Axis/Tripartite bloc.  The Soviet Union succeeded Germany as China's chief economic and military provider during the years 1938-40, and was itself replaced in that capacity by the United States in 1940-41.  Although after Pearl Harbor China gained an ally whose commitment to fight Japan was now inescapable, it also signaled the end of a period of Chinese diplomatic freedom in global politics, and led to eventually unhealthy levels of reliance on China's most generous, and in some ways most disruptive partner.

Sino-German Relations.  Of the three major cooperative relationships entered into by the Nationalist government, that with Germany was the most cordial and mutually satisfactory.  It was also unique, in that it was based not on any common interests in global or regional power politics, but in good part on the lack of common strategic concerns.  The predominantly regional nature of each nation's security concerns, which meant that neither could likely threaten the basic interests of the other, and the fact that Germany possessed no extra-territorial rights in China insured that Sino-German economic, military and cultural ties would develop on their own merits, to common satisfaction, or not at all.  At the same time, the absence of coordination at the highest political levels provided the relationship with built-in insecurity:  essential to the survival of neither nation, Sino-German  ties were subject to moderation or cancellation with any rise of conflicting  strategic interests.

From 1928 to 1938, and particularly from 1933 to 1937, Chiang Kai-shek's regime had closer relations with Germany than with any other foreign power.  A German military mission trained an 80,000-man core of a new central army, and its leading members served as Chiang's personal political and economic advisers.  In the mid-1930's, Sino-German trading, credit and technical assistance agreements laid the foundation for China's nationalized industries.  At the same time, German industry subsidized the education of Chinese technical manpower, and returned students from Germany increasingly staffed Chinese agencies in control of industrial and military modernization.  All this was buttressed by a certain level of ideological affinity, especially as regards Chinese attitudes toward Germany as a model for specific aspects of Chinese economic and political development.

Chinese esteem for Germany was generally reciprocated by German military and industrial elites involved in Sino-German relations.  It was never a part of Hitler's thinking, however.  His unpopular attempt to forge a strategic relationship with Japan undermined the political foundations of Sino-German ties.  Uninvolved in German China policy before 1936, Hitler had little concern for China as an outlet for German manufacturers or as a storehouse of raw materials.  Mundane questions of markets and minerals could never compete with his overriding ambitions, and insofar as Asia played a part in his global strategy, Japan, not China, was his chosen -- if ultimately uncooperative -- partner after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war in July 1937.

Although German industrial and military interests, organized by 1937 as a strong German "China Lobby," succeeded in maintaining a surprising level of economic cooperation with their Chinese counterparts through 1939 -- including the signing of a new barter treaty in October 1938 -- the Soviet Union had by then replaced Germany as China's primary partner.

Sino-Soviet Relations.  The Guomindang had received its political tutelage and Leninist structure from the Soviet Union.  It had been a willing party to the Soviet Union's unprecedented role in Chinese domestic warfare in 1924-27.  However, the Nationalist government came into being as a result of the bloody rejection of the Soviet Union and its more loyal Chinese allies, the Chinese Communist Party, and for several years thereafter held that its former policy of lien Su rong Gong (alliance with the Soviet Union, toleration of the Communists) was both unacceptable and indivisible.

Persistent disputes which involved questions of ideology, Chinese internal politics and China's territorial integrity, ensured that the Sino-Soviet alignment of 1937-40 would not be based on the gradual development of trust and cooperative institutions, as in the Sino-German relationship, but on the  overcoming of basic differences to deal with a greater common threat.

If, despite a decade of distrust and the lack of what anything like normal political, cultural and economic relations, Nationalist China and the Soviet Union moved toward an alignment, the outlines of which were clear before the Xian Incident of December 1936, each did so as an extension of its  own defensive strategy against Japan, not primarily for the purposes of mutual  cooperation.  This limited the alignment in scope and also in time:  it ended effectively when one party (the Soviet Union) found other means of managing its relationship with Japan.  The alignment worked best to the degree that these limitations were understood by both parties.  The idealism, trust and camaraderie that had marked at least the first years of  Guomindang-Soviet cooperation in the period of the Nationalist revolution had  long disappeared.  The new alignment was unsentimental, and it worked better.

The Sino-Soviet nonaggression pact of 1937 -- essentially an accord not to provide any assistance to Japan in case of Sino-Japanese or Soviet-Japanese hostilities -- provided the diplomatic basis for Soviet aid short of war, which began even before the contractual basis for Soviet assistance was set with the credit agreement of March 1938.  That agreement, together with two  further accords in 1938-39, provided China with assistance three times in value that given by the Western democratic powers (the United States, Great Britain and France. Moreover, the Soviet Union provided what the democratic powers would not and what China, in the wake of Germany's withdrawal, most needed:  arms, in massive quantities, including over 900 aircraft and enough equipment to outfit 20 divisions.  Several hundred military advisers began to arrive even before the German mission had departed, and were supplemented by three thousand "military specialists" including aircraft pilots.  John Garver, who has written the most thorough study of Sino-Soviet wartime relations, credits Soviet assistance with reducing significantly Japan's edge in firepower, contributing decisively to the  Chinese victory at Taierzhuang (1938) and in general raising the combat  capabilities of the Chinese military.

Unencumbered by illusions, the Sino-Soviet alignment of 1937-40 served both sides well.  Until 1940, it provided Nationalist China with significant military assistance at time when there was no alternative source. Unlike the Americans, who came to China with little grasp of their capacity for disruption, the Soviets, this time at least, did not enter into a "crusade" in China.

The Sino-American Relationship. Of all of China's major international relationships in this period, that with the United States was the most ambitious, and it is still the most controversial.  It is also the most researched, so we will be brief here.  In the simplest terms, the Sino-American alliance that began in 1941 was a strategic, anti-Japanese alliance.  It had been several years in the making before Pearl Harbor suddenly confirmed it.  It would assist China enormously to achieve its central objective, victory over Japan.

When the alliance came into being, its partners had a long and generally successful history of interaction among non-state actors.  But, unlike the cases of Sino-German and Sino-Soviet relations, there was very little experience in mutual cooperation and conflict at the government level.  Nevertheless -- or perhaps because of ignorance of the potential for difficulties in official Sino-American cooperation -- the relationship was not limited, like the Sino-Soviet one, to shared strategic concerns.

Had it been possible to limit cooperation to the main area of common interest -- the military struggle against Japan -- the wartime Sino-American relationship might have worked to greater mutual satisfaction.   The propaganda and myth-making dictated by the pursuit of total war -- some of which came to be believed by policy makers -- served to obscure the limited degree to which the interests of the United States and Nationalist China ran parallel.  President Roosevelt's ambitions for a united, liberal China, whose foreign policy would be pro-American as a matter of reflex, bore no resemblance to the National Government or its historical foreign policy aims.  Roosevelt's belief that China should be treated as a great power was one factor in the negotiations by which the U.S. relinquished its extra-territorial rights in China in 1943.  The policies by which the Nationalist regime expected to attain great power status—for example with the growth of state control over the economy—would come be at some odds with American interests in the postwar years.

For example, the Five- and Ten-Year Plans for the postwar period drafted by the National Government in 1943-44, after it had negotiated the end of extraterritoriality, stressed state-led, military-related heavy industrial and communications development.  For this, foreign and particularly American investment was necessary, but had to be employed according to state plan.  All this made sense in the context of Nationalist experience and ambitions.  It was in tension with American plans for a postwar global "open door" for trade and investment and a large role for private U.S. firms in China.  These differences emerged during the difficult negotiations (1943-46) for a commercial accord to succeed the old treaty system -- the replacement of which was one of the earliest and most important of Nationalist foreign policy aims.  China’s success in regaining full economic sovereignty in the 1946 Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation with the United State was an extraordinary accomplishment of Chinese diplomacy.  In political terms it can be viewed as the first “equal” treaty between China and a Western power.

In sum:  before and during the war years, China had success in promoting its sovereignty, development and security through a series of bilateral relations with three of the world's four most powerful nations.  It is difficult to imagine three more diverse partners for China than the Germany, Soviet Union and United States of the interwar period.  This variety is a measure of both Nationalist pragmatism and the skill of multiple Chinese participants in the sphere of foreign relations.

4.  From War Economy to Postwar Planning

During the war China increased drastically the role of the state in the economy through a greatly enhanced effort at economic mobilization and control.  The overall management of economic policy was shifted to a new Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA). The National Resources Commission (NRC), which was transferred to the new ministry and became its core, was given a broad mandate to "develop, operate and control" the nation's basic industries, important mining enterprises, and "other enterprises as designated by the government."

Under wartime economic regulations promulgated in 1938, the NRC and MOEA were given power to nationalize pre-existing industrial, mining and electrical enterprises; to assume "direct control of enterprises or products affecting daily necessities"; to assume the management of firms that failed to "effect measures of technical or administrative reform as ordered by the government"; and to regulate the production, pricing and export of specific products. As the state nationalized or otherwise mobilized private industry for war production, Economics Minister Weng Wenhao argued that the dichotomy between state (guoyou) and private (minyou) enterprises was a false one, for "nationally owned industries in fact also belonged to the people."

The extension of government controls and the growth of the state industrial sector were intended to continue at an even greater pace in peacetime, and would affect areas of the economy that had been largely outside of government control before 1937, including light industry and foreign-owned enterprises. Whether one talked, as did NRC Vice-Chairman Qian Changzhao, of "following the socialist road," or of an economic policy that was, as Weng Wenhao put it, "close to socialism though not entirely identical," there was a broad consensus among Chinese planners on postwar economic directions.

In anticipation of the entire task of post-war construction, several thousand Chinese government engineers were sent to the U.S. for advanced technical training.     More than one thousand Chinese engineers, scientists, and managers pursued internships or training programs in American industries during the war.    American leaders came to support certain specific Chinese postwar plans, including the most ambitious of all, the vast Yangzi gorge dam and hydroelectric power project.    Led on the U.S. side by a "billion dollar engineer," John L. Savage, chief design engineer for the Boulder and Grand Coolie dams, the project was to end with the erection of the largest dam in the world in the Yangzi gorges at a (then staggering) cost of US\$ 800 million. Preliminary studies began in mid-1945.  Over the next three years, the Chinese government trained 40 engineers with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and researched potential dam sites near Yichang.

The Yangzi gorge project reflects better than any other the tremendous scope of Chinese ambitions for the postwar period.  Its demise in May 1947 was symptomatic of the fate of most Chinese plans in a more sober postwar world.

China's postwar plans have received little historical notice because they were never more than partly implemented.  They were based on at least four assumptions that proved incorrect: the existence of post-war political stability (or at a minimum, lack of military disruption of production); the early rehabilitation of Japanese-held industries with, at least for a transition period, Japanese personnel; reparations in the form of industrial plant and goods from Japan; and substantial credits from the American government.

The civil war with the Communists, the massive Soviet theft of industrial equipment from the Northeast, and the inability to realize any reparations from a prostrate Japan, and the American reluctance to fund Chinese dreams at a time of postwar austerity, collectively undid many of China’s postwar aspirations.  Then, of course, there was the war with the Communists.

Still, in important ways, however, plans that took shape during the war were carried out, and had a major impact on the Nationalist regime and on China's future.  At the war’s end, the Chinese state continued in the direction of increased economic control, and expanded the state sector and the planned economy at a rapid rate.  Following the nationalization of most Japanese and "puppet" enterprises, China’s state enterprises accounted for two-thirds of China's total industrial capital.

If one looks beyond the Chinese civil war to the legacy of the war economy to China's subsequent development under the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China on Taiwan, several points must be made.  First, the Nationalist wartime and postwar accumulation of state capital had laid the foundation for the PRC's state monopoly. The same could be said for the 18 state corporations on Taiwan that provided the industrial foundation of Nationalist rule in the early 1950's.  Second, pre-1949 trends in the direction of central economic planning anticipated both (in theory) the PRC's early approach to centralized planning and (in action) the less coercive setting of objectives that defined "guidance planning" on Taiwan.

Third, the most important legacy of the war economy was not the rudimentary industry it first promoted and then abandoned, but the human talent developed under it.  Nationalist economic and industrial planning personnel constituted much of the first staff of PRC state planning organizations.  Many of the most prominent individuals associated with Taiwan's economic "miracle" had roots from the war period, including the majority of the heads of Taiwan's state-run industries from the 1950’s to the 1980’s, and eight of the first fourteen post-1950 Ministers of Economic Affairs.

5.         Outcomes

The Second Sino-Japanese war devastated China’s landscape and its economy.  It cost the lives of millions of Chinese citizens.  Of the soldiers who died fighting, more than 90 percent died for the Nationalist-led cause of national resistance.  By having to fight a modern war from a pre-modern economic base in Western China, the Nationalist regime emerged much weaker, in political terms, than it had been going into the war.  Without the war, the Communist victory in the Civil War of 1947-49 is simply unthinkable.

Yet the Nationalist endurance and ultimate victory in this eight-year struggle assured the survival of China as a nation-state.  As a new country built on the foundation of an ancient civilization, the Republic of China founded in 1912 had faced a world of adversaries, internal and international.  With Imperial Japan it faced a death threat, or, at a minimum, the prospect of defeat, colonization, and long-term division.

To put it more directly:  without victory over Japan in 1945, China is not a great power today.  In “standing up,” from 1937 to 1945, to its greatest strategic threat, the Republic of China allowed later republics to make the same claim.

China not only survived the war, it won.  Compared to the brief and decisive conflict of 1894-95, this time Japan could not defeat China.  China could not defeat Japan alone.  But with enormous sacrifice on the part of its military; through a skillful set of partnerships, alignments or alliances with three other great powers that not only helped defend the country against Japan but also led to the resumption of full economic sovereignty at home; and with the government’s forceful wartime mobilization of the economy under its control, China could outlast Japan and accept its unconditional surrender.

In the process the Republic of China built the organizational infrastructure and trained the human capital for the developmental state that would thrive on Taiwan and, after initial success in the PRC of the First Five Year Plan, would return to the Chinese mainland after 1978.

If China is finally poised to lead today, it is in part because of the sacrifice of its citizens and of China’s government in a war of national survival.  The wartime militarization of state and society would be taken further—much too far at times—in the era of the People’s Republic, but today’s China and its political economy of authoritarian developmentalism owes much to its Nationalist predecessors.