Forgotten Ally

China's World War II, 1937-1945

Rana Mitter, 2013

An interesting book about a complex subject. What does a war history have to do with Server Sky?

This book is primarily about Nationalist China's war, led by Chiang Kai-shek, pitched battles by large armies against the more modern and better equipped Japanese. Chiang was flawed - like many WW II leaders, his personality was larger than his skills, and he made many mistakes and permitted many others. Chiang is contrasted with Nationalist defector Wang Jingwei, who defected to the Japanese and formed a puppet government in Shanghai in 1939, and of course Mao Zedong.

While many of Chiang's mistakes are mentioned in the book, one stands out. The Nationalist capital was Nanking - the government fled to Wuhan before that city was taken. The Japanese were moving swiftly towards Wuhan, across the Yellow River, and could have reconstructed the sabotaged rail bridge over the river if they got to it. Chiang decided (based on advice from German advisors) to blow a hole in the dike at the south edge of the river, flooding 54000 sq km of countryside in Henan, Anhui, and Jiangsu provinces) and slowing the Japanese advance by 6 months. On the night of June 8, 1938, Commander Xiong Xianyu of the 8th division offered 2000 yuan (QUESTION: How much was that worth, years of salary or months of rice or?) to 2000 workers if they could dig a break in the dike near Huayuankao by midnight, which they did. This did slow the Japanese advance by 6 months, but it killed 844 thousand peasants, and 4.8 million more became refugees. Wuhan was evacuated to Chongqing, and quick surrender was avoided, but the long term damage destroyed the Nationalists. Could the Nationalists have evacuated faster? If the Japanese advanced faster, could they be killed faster, farther from their supply base? I would like to think there was another way.

Less is said in this book about Mao Zedong (perhaps more in Mitter's "A Bitter Harvest"), taking control of the Chinese Communist Party and its guerilla network in Northern China. This book is focused on bringing obscure but important facts about the Nationalist struggle to light.

The book implies that the CCP armies were not expended in battle the way the Nationalists were. Instead of throwing waves of soldiers and large weapons at the Japanese, the CCP used guerilla warfare to confine the Japanese to camps, cities, and the railroads that connected them. The CCP could operate far more autonomously, and did not rely on supplies of weapons and materiel from the Russians and Americans as Chiang's Nationalists did. Both strategies, plus the American strategy of technological warfare against Japan and the Russian attack through Manchuria, were all needed to stop the Japanese war. However, the CCP came out of the war stronger, far more integrated with the people, while Chiang's war decimated army and people.

So, the strong CCP vanquished the fatally weakened Nationalists. Sadly, they almost erased the history of the Nationalist contribution. Fortunately, as China and the CCP have matured into a modern society, they are now preserving and glorifying the positive contributions of the Nationalists who, underneath all the corruption and bungling, were also working towards a modern China.

The west excoriated Nationalist China for weakness and corruption. General Joe Stilwell, an incompetent gloryhound who kept most of America's lend-lease material for his own projects, traded a tiny fraction of it for hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers to waste in futile battles. Vinegar Joe is the poster boy for American stupidity and the long term damage done to American/Chinese relations.


Modern China could have formed out of the Taiping Rebellion in the 1860s, but interference by the West, primarily the British, suppressed this revolution. China lost another half-century to the moribund Qing dynasty, while Japan modernized. The first Chinese Republic took power under Sun Yat Sen on February 12, 1912, years after Japan had begun its wars of territorial expansion. The Chinese were building railways, and factories, and beginning the long haul towards modernization, but were just getting going when the Japanese conquered Manchuria in 1931, and began the conquest of the rest of China in 1937.

China was attempting to make a leap from medieval feudalism to late 19th century technology, reforming government, technology, public education, public health ... a 400 year leap, which they might have made by 1950 without external interference. Nationalist China was still dominated by western traders, but was developing strong ties to Russia. Something like the modern synthesis of "communism with Chinese characteristics" might have emerged under the name of Chinese Nationalism by the 50s, growing into the modern "international China" 20 years earlier, and less dependent on strong-man rulers like Chiang and Mao. The Chinese still have not mastered pluralism (their new society is still too fragile), but I expect them to develop the world's most pluralistic society in a shorter timespan than the West needed to develop its multipolar systems. A pluralistic society requires a broadly educated and prosperous citizenry, and may be the natural consequence of that. When China focuses its attention on schools rather than export factories, it will grow into the light of the world - if India does not grow faster.

And this is why China matters for Server Sky. It would be totally inappropriate, not to mention stupid and tactically unwise, to attempt to impose or even offer to supply a western model for China. The model that China is developing itself may someday be more suitable for adoption by the west. What Server Sky can offer is the technology for the development of the Next China, better connected to the world, interchanging wisdom as a durable capital resource. In particular, it seems that western China is been left behind eastern coastal China, with its growing wealth, but also its smelly factories and strong ties to US corporations and global export. Perhaps western China can develop a different version of Chinese prosperity, less dependent on resource depletion, based instead on the enduring cultural values that have sustained China for millennia. Perhaps next-generation Chinese factories will be nanoscale, fit in a window box, powered by sunlight and rainfall, and connected to a solar system full of computation. Through clever invention, the next-generation Chinese will provide prosperity and wisdom for their children, and children worldwide. I have no idea how that will happen, but I can count on a billion smart Chinese to figure it out for me.

Some answered questions:

Some remaining questions:

ForgottenAlly (last edited 2015-02-02 21:37:20 by KeithLofstrom)