chapter  7
19 Pages

Bombing, Japanese pan- Asianism and Chinese nationalism


An aspect of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-45 that has received little attention is the Japanese bombing of Chinese cities. Recent Chinese scholarship on the war has concentrated on the fighting of Nationalist ground forces especially in the first years of the war, in part to redress the suggestion of a previous generation of historians that the Nationalists made no sustained effort to resist the Japanese invasion. The Nanjing Massacre, the Japanese use of chemical weapons, and the exploitation of comfort women have also emerged as significant – and emotionally charged – topics over the last two decades that continue to have serious contemporary political significance for Sino-Japanese relations. These topics have overshadowed bombing, which in reality was a major aspect of the fighting and which featured prominently in the early reporting of the war. This chapter uses the case of Canton to examine the economic and social effects of bombing. The Canton case suggests that, if, as is well known, the Japanese were never able to consolidate their rule in China’s rural areas, the carnage caused by bombing also rendered it impossible for them to establish control over cities, let alone turn them into centres of prosperity exemplifying the benefits that would come from Japanese rule. It also examines the Japanese bombing of Shanghai during the first months of the war. This generated a wave of negative publicity for Japan portraying it as a militarist and barbaric country violating basic principles of civilized conduct. On the other hand, if only years before China was widely described as mired in civil warfare, wracked by famine, and ruled by an oppressive and corrupt elite, China became hailed as a plucky if still young nation fighting for civilization. Bombing helped to give rise to significant changes in perceptions of China and Japan. The chapter begins with an analysis of Japanese pan-Asianism, which needs to be taken more seriously than has been done, at least as the rhetoric that the Japanese chose to deploy to give meaning to their actions. Based on the idea that Asian cultures were bound by a set of core cultural values and shared a common destiny, it posited that Japan’s task was to eliminate Western imperialism from Asia. Both the social and economic havoc that Japanese bombing caused, as well as the changes in perception of China and Japan that it helped foster, undermined Japanese pan-Asian aspirations and strengthened respect for Chinese nationalism.