Japan started its militarist expansion after the Meiji Restoration. For a long-term plan to invade China, Japan devised the “Continental Policy” which targeted China as the first country to be conquered before Japan moved to dominate the world.
On the evening of September 18, 1931, the Japanese Guandong (Kwantung) Army, which had been stationed along the railway in northeast China since 1905, blew up a section of their own South Manchurian Railroad near Liutiao Lake in Shenyang and falsely accused the Chinese of the act. Shortly thereafter, the Japanese army launched an attack on the Chinese Northeast Army garrison and the city of Shenyang. This event is called the “Mukden (Shenyang) Incident.” Because the Chinese Nationalist government had adopted a non-resistance policy, the Japanese proceeded to occupy all of northeastern China by February of the next year.
On July 7, 1937, under the pretense of searching for a missing soldier, the Japanese attacked the Marco Polo Bridge on the outskirts of Beijing. This incident, known as the “July Seventh Incident,” ushered in a full-scale war between China and Japan. Ten days later, Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975) announced in a speech delivered at Lushan (Mount Lu): “[that] every Chinese person, whether from the north or the south, old or young, rich or poor, is obliged to defend his country.” The Communist Red Army was soon incorporated into the national military structure and renamed the “Eighth Route Army” and the “New Fourth Army;” together they formed the “United Front against Japanese Aggression.”
On September 25, 1937, the 115th Division of the Eighth Route Army ambushed the Japanese around Pingxingguan (Pingxing Pass) in Shanxi province and scored the first major victory since the outbreak of the war of resistance. Having shattered the legend of the Japanese army’s invincibility, the Chinese were invigorated and a series of triumphs followed. The Battle of Tai’erzhuang which lasted from March to April, 1938 and was directed by Li Zongren (1891–1969), commander in chief of the fifth war zone, was another large success for the Chinese army. Chiang Kai-shek’s personal supervision during the campaign greatly heightened the soldiers’ morale.
Japanese troops attacked Nanjing on December 8, 1937. After fierce resistance, the Chinese army retreated under order of Chiang Kai-shek. When Nanjing fell on December 13, the Japanese promptly indulged in a rabid and beastly competition of massacre, rape, plunder, and arson. The six-week atrocity, which resulted in the slaughter of more than 300,000 Chinese people and the rape of over 20,000 Chinese women, was one of the ghastliest crimes ever known in human history.
After seizing Guangzhou and Wuhan in October 1938, the Japanese, exhausted by their overstretched front lines, were unable to launch new attacks. With the Nationalist government forces attacking their front, and the Communist guerrillas harrying their rear, Japan was in dire need of more troops and provisions. As the war of resistance intensified, the Chinese continued to make new breakthroughs, such as the well-known victories at the Battle of Kunlunguan (Kunlun Pass) by the Nationalist government army in Guangxi and the One Hundred Regiments Campaign by the Eighth Route Army in northern China.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked the U. S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor and triggered the Pacific War. The United States and many other countries successively declared war against Japan. On December 9, 1942, China joined the international anti-fascist allies by declaring war against Japan, Germany, and Italy.
In 1944, the tide of war turned. The Chinese armies launched counterattacks on Japan as international forces continued to defeat Japanese troops on battlefields in other parts of the world. With the United States bombing the Japanese mainland and the Soviet Union’s reinforcements to northeast China, Japan’s defeat was inevitable. On August 15, 1945, the Japanese emperor announced unconditional surrender, marking the victory of China’s eight-year War of Resistance against Japan.
The Chinese people made great sacrifices during the eight years’ resistance. The death toll amounted to tens of millions, with millions of Chinese soldiers slain, including over two hundred high-ranking military officers. History shall remember the monumental struggle of the Chinese people.