Learn about China’s World War II history

Chinese Culture

Learn about China's involvement in World War II

Learn about China’s involvement in World War II in our 70th anniversary in 70 seconds videos. 

In this episode of “70 seconds, 70 years” we focus on the Tokyo Trials, an international military tribunal aiming to indict the leaders of Japanese war crimes.

The tribunal was established to implement the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Declaration, the Moscow Conference and the Instrument of Surrender.

In December 1945, 11 countries, including China, decided to participate in the Military Tribunal for the Far East. With each country choosing its own judge and prosecutor, China’s Mei Ju-ao and Hsiang Che-chun, were elected as judge and prosecutor at the Tribunal.

During the more than two-and-a-half-year tribunal, though China initially formulated a list of war criminals consisting of 33 people, 28 Japanese military and political leaders were charged “Class A” crimes of participating in a joint conspiracy to start and wage war, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Japanese Emperor Hirohito, who some observers thought should have been tried for his tacit approval of the Japanese policy during the war, was not prosecuted.

On September 2, 1945, the years of war and struggle all ended on an American battleship called the USS Missouri. Representatives of Japan and the Allies came face to face on the deck of the American naval ship.

At 9 a.m., General Douglas MacArthur announced that representatives from Japan would sign a document to officially surrender. After Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu put his name on the paper, General Xu Yongchang from China, also signed the paper, with other representatives from the Allies. That officially marked the end of the World War Two.

The eight-year War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, cost more than 21 million Chinese lives, finally ended. Japan’s death toll reached around two million.

August 15, 1945 is a date that will never be forgotten in history. It is the date when Japanese Emperor Hirohito announced over the radio that the country would lay down its arms and end the war.

This didn’t come easy. After years of war, the Allies delivered the Potsdam Declaration, requiring the Axis to surrender. To press Japan, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed more than 240,000 people within the first four months. On August 14th, Japan decided to give up and accept all terms in the Potsdam Declaration. 

The declaration was jointly issued by the US, UK and China on July 26, 1945, during the Potsdam Conference, calling for Japan to surrender. The terms included the elimination “for all time of the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest”.

The official response of the Japanese side was that of “mokusatsu”, which was interpreted as “to kill with silence” by the Allies. Only after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did Japan announced its surrender and accept the terms mentioned in the Potsdam Declaration. This signaled the victory in the war against fascism around the world.

During the war, Japanese troops had to rely on robbing Chinese people for military supply. And to stop the Japanese from looting, rural residents in Shandong Province in north China came up with the landmine warfare due to lack of weapons.

When Japanese troops launched a mop-up campaign, Chinese villagers would set landmines in the road, so when invaders came, they would be bombed. As enemies became sneaky, villagers and guerrillas invented different kinds of landmines to attack them. For instance, if the Japanese made villagers walk before them, guerrillas would hide and trigger the landmines after the villagers passed.

This had cut the Japanese army’s supply and harmed their morale, and greatly boosted local people’s courage to fight.

In today’s 70 Seconds, 70 Years, we will look back at the Cairo Conference of November 1943 and the Cairo Declaration, by which China, the United States and Great Britain told the world that they would not stop fighting until Japan’s unconditional surrender.After the five-day meeting, Chiang Kai-shek, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, the leaders of the Three Great Allies, vowed in the Cairo Declaration that Japan would be expelled from all territories it had taken with violence and greed.

The Three Allies demanded in the Declaration that Japan must return “all territories stolen from China,” including three northeast provinces, Taiwan and Penghu. The Cairo Declaration is also included in the Potsdam Declaration, which later became a guiding document whereby the territorial issues between China and Japan was handled.

In 1943, the Japanese troops tried to capture strategic areas such as Shipai village and the city of Chongqing.

They launched major offensives in Hubei Province with more than 100,000 troops and air force, and took over places of Hubei Province such as Shishou, Huarong and Anxiang counties.

With China’s air force participating in the battle, and with the help of the US air force, China launched a full-scale counter-attack forcing Japanese troops to retreat.

Dai Anlan was born to a poor countryside family in 1904, and he joined the army when he was 20 years old. Dai took part in various conflicts, such as the July 7th conflict. Because of his military successes, he was promoted and led the 200th Division, the first mechanized division in China.

After the Pacific War broke out, China organized an expeditionary force to Myanmar to resist the Japanese offensive in 1942. Dai, who was in charge there, told his troops to “fight, till the last man.” He then wrote a letter to his wife, expressing his determination.

Recalling his heroics, a Japanese captain wrote in his memoir, “Dai Anlan’s troops were the toughest soldiers I had ever seen in the Burma battles.”

Weeks later, the Japanese organized the second attack. Dai was ordered to carry out a troop withdrawal during the onslaught. Although the mission was successful, it cost Dai his life. He was just 38 years old.

The Burma-Yunnan Road was a strategic international route for China to transport military needs.

At the end of 1941, Japan launched an offensive into Burma, dealing a blow to China’s British ally and cutting off the sole surviving international route to China.

When Rangoon fell into Japanese hands on March 7, 1942, the Chinese government, at Britain’s request, dispatched the 5th and 6th Armies to cover for the British army’s retreat.

Chinese soldiers fought fiercely against Japan, killing more than 5,000 Japanese troops.

In April, China’s expeditionary force fought heroically. Led by General Sun Liren, China’s 38th Division covered more than 7,000 British troops, allowing them to retreat to India. But on May 8, Myitkyina in Burma was taken by the Japanese, cutting off the Burma-Yunnan Road and opening the gate for the Japanese to invade India.

China’s major forces retreated back to Yunnan. But the 22nd and 28th divisions encountered great difficulties such as hunger, disease and getting lost in the Hukawng Valley, a dense jungle near the border.

Claire Lee Chennault was born in Texas in 1893 and learned to fly in the Army Air Service during World War I.

He founded the American Volunteer Group, nicknamed the Flying Tigers, in 1941. The Flying Tigers were soon stationed in China to help fight against the Japanese during World War II.

The Flying Tigers took part in more than 100 conflict situations, shooting down 272 enemy aircraft and destroying another 225 on the ground.

On this episode of 70 seconds, 70 years, we take a look at General Zhang Zizhong, a legendary hero who fought against the Japanese invasion and is regarded by his enemy as one of the most valiant and respectable Chinese generals of the war.

After fighting for seven days and nights in the 1938 battle of Linyi, Zhang and his army won victory, ending Japan’s plan to send more troops to the frontlines of Taierzhuang, where one of the biggest strategic battles took place.

In May, 1940, Zhang and his team fought at the frontlines of the Battle of Zaoyang–Yichang. It was there that he lost his life after becoming seriously injured.

Now general Zhang’s mausoleum is situated in Beibei District of Chongqing Municipality and there are several roads named after him in Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin.

General Zhang Zizhong

On this episode of 70 seconds, 70 years, we take a look at General Zhang Zizhong, a legendary hero who fought against the Japanese invasion and is regarded by his enemy as one of the most valiant and respectable Chinese generals of the war.

The Hundred Regiments Battle was the biggest attack led by the Communist Party of China in WWII to cripple Japanese army’s movement around north China. After taking control of the railway network in north China, the Japanese military sought to “mop up” the resistance force around the area.

The CPC had decided to act first, assembling over a hundred of regiments in a massive assault on Japanese controlled transportation system and military strongholds. Starting from mid-August 1940 and during the following four months, 400,000 Chinese soldiers greatly slowed down the Japanese offensive. A major coal mine in Japanese control was rendered inoperative for six months. The victory offered great support to the nationwide defense.

During WWII, Japan occupied most ports in China. The only passage for goods to get to China was a road from Myanmar to Yunnan. Bai Xueqiao joined a contingent of over 3,000 overseas Chinese volunteers from Malaysia, who set sail to China to join the anti-Japanese war.

These patriotic drivers delivered nearly half of the goods that were transported along the Myanmar-Yunnan road, even though Japanese airplanes bombed the road nearly everyday.

During this time, Bai, together with three other female drivers, repeatedly volunteered to fight on the frontlines, but were kindly refused. Later, she agreed to promote the cause of the anti-Japanese war while on college tours overseas.

Bethune was born to a religious family in Gravenhurst, Ontario in 1890. He graduated from the Toronto School of Medicine in 1916.

In November 1935, he joined the Communist Party of Canada. Three years later, Dr. Bethune led a medical unit of Canadian and American doctors to Yan’an, base of the 8th Route Army in Northwest China, to provide medical services.

During his stay in China, he saved lives by performing emergency surgeries on the battlefield. He once conducted a record of 71 operations in 40 hours and saved 115 lives in 69 hours.

Bethune died on November 12, 1939, of blood poisoning from a cut he received when performing a surgery.

At the news of Bethune’s death, late Chairman Mao Zedong mourned the loss of the great doctor and internationalist saying that this foreigner made light of traveling thousands of miles to help us, selflessly adopted the liberation cause of the Chinese people as his own.

This edition of 70 Seconds, 70 Years brings back the memory of the Battle of Xuzhou which marks the beginning of China’s attrition strategy. In order to take control of the railway from north to south China, 240,000 Japanese troops were directed towards Xuzhou, in China’s Jiangsu Province in early 1938.

The Chinese military assembled 64 divisions, around 600,000 soldiers, to defend the area. After losing Shanghai and Nanjing, Chinese top brass realized that huge disadvantage in equipment rendered unwise the head-on defense strategy. Accordingly, China began gradually adopting the warfare of attrition during the Battle of Xuzhou.

The Chinese army managed to hold back its lines for months until May 1938. As a result, valuable time was saved for the preparation of Wuhan Defense in south China’s Hubei Province which completely frustrated Japan’s ambition to perish China rapidly.

The Battle of Xuzhou

This edition of 70 Seconds, 70 Years brings back the memory of the Battle of Xuzhou which marks the beginning of China’s attrition strategy.

In March 1938, around 50,000 Japanese troops set out to seize Taierzhuang, a strategically important post in east China’s Shandong Province. Succeeding in besieging the post, they failed to take control due to the determined resistance from Chinese soldiers.

It was too late for the Japanese commanding officers realized that the tables had been turned. It was now them being surrounded by Chinese troops coming to the rescue. In mid-April, mounting causalities forced Japanese to withdraw from the battlefield. Its aim of seizing the post failed painfully.

This was not only the first major Chinese victory during the Anti-Japanese War, but also provoked a rift in Tokyo over Japan’s invasion strategy.

In 1938, the Japanese military decided to destroy Chinese people’s morale by conducting air raids on the Kuomintang government’s provisional capital, Chongqing in southwestern China. In the days that followed, for the residents of Chongqing, rushing into a shelter at the sound of the alarm became a daily routine, no matter whether they were eating, sleeping or walking on the street, given the intensity of the bombings. However, even shelter was not a safe space, given that the lengthy raids resulted in hundreds dying of suffocation in the shelters. Over 16,000 people lost their lives in the attacks on the city at the time. By all means, Chongqing was nearly wiped off the map, if not for the strength of the people there to persevere and rebuild.

On July 7,1937, Japanese troops marched across Lugou Bridge at the outskirts of Beijing, and started a massive military aggression against China. The day is now widely considered by Chinese to mark the beginning of the country’s eight-year War of Resistance against Japan.
The war, among the longest and bloodiest in Chinese history, began more than two years ahead of the Nazi invasion of Poland. China became one of the first countries caught up in WWII, and suffered the most losses.

Lugou Bridge incident marks start of Japan's invasion of Chinaion of China

On July 7, 1937, Japanese troops marched across Lugou Bridge, and into Beijing. The attack on the crossing, which is also known as Marco Polo Bridge, is seen by historians as signalling the beginning of Japan’s full-scale invasion of China.

After Japan invaded northeastern China in 1931, it moved towards the west. In historical Suiyuan province in northern China, Japan founded a puppet Mongolian government and military.
To regain the control of Bailingmiao, a small town on the border of Mongolia and China, the Chinese military fought with Mongolian troopers with the help of armored vehicles.
After a tough battle, the Chinese military successfully recovered Bailingmiao, and killed and captured many Mongolian soldiers and Japanese spies.

Victory at Bailingmiao was morale boost for Chinese during WWII

To regain the control of Bailingmiao, a small town on the boarder of Mongolia and China, the Chinese military fought against Japanese-trained Mongolian troops who had been attacking the town. Japanese reinforcements didn't come for the Mongolian army, and Chinese forces were able to successfully push back the Mongolian troops and recovered Bailingmiao.

General Zuo Quan who is a hero whose gallant deeds were honored by a county being named after him. Zuo took part in his first major campaign in 1933, as one of the troops in the historic Long March was making a strategic retreat from the Kuomintang army, that crossed more than 9,000 kilometers of tough terrain.

However, he earned his fame for his role in aiding Commander Peng Dehuai in the “Hundred-Regiments Campaign” in 1940 that the biggest attack led by the Chinese Communist Party against the Japanese army during the war.

One year later, he led the Battle of Huangya Cave to protect an arsenal, defeating Japanese troops with fewer forces.

Zuo was injured in a Japanese airstrike in 1942 and died soon after. His legacy, however, was cemented with Liao County in Shanxi Province being renamed as Zuoquan County in 1942.

Although not as well-known as the “Flying Tigers” from the US, the Soviet Union’s air squadron was the first international force to join China’s War against Japanese Aggression in 1937.

More than 2,000 Russian pilots and 1,000 aircraft joined the volunteer forces in China, and more than 200 of them sacrificed their lives.

Among those brave pilots was Gregory Kulishenko, the captain of the squadron.

In the heat of the battle, Kulishenko shot down six enemy aircraft; but had to take cover after one of the engines of his plane was hit.

Following that, he guided the plane to land on a tiny islet on the Yangtze River, where two of his crewmates managed to get off and swim to shore.

Kulishenko, unfortunately, could not escape, and went down with the plane in the river.

In this episode of ’70 seconds, 70 years,’ let’s turn to the Songhu Battle – one of the bloodiest conflicts during Japan’s invasion of China.

In order to reach Nanjing, former capital and economic center of China, the Japanese army had planned to first surround and take control of Nanjing’s neighbor, Shanghai.

China tenaciously fought against Japan by bombarding Japan’s military bases during the 1937 battle.

For months, the Chinese army sought to defend strategic regions with 700 thousand soldiers, 40 naval vessels and 250 planes, fighting against 300 thousand Japanese soldiers using highly advanced weaponry.

While countless lives were lost in the defense of towns and cities during the three-month battle, the resilience shown by Chinese soldiers not only gave others the opportunity to escape, but also embodies the Chinese people’s spirit towards protecting their nation.

The Songhu Battle

In this episode of ’70 seconds, 70 years,’ let’s turn to the Songhu Battle - one of the bloodiest conflicts during Japan’s invasion of China.

This is a warfare widely used in the North China Plain during the war against Japanese invaders. In rural areas, households and villages were connected through tunnels, which gave local residents and guerrillas time and place to hide when enemies launched a mop-up campaign. Local residents could go into the tunnels from their homes, and these tunnels could prevent fire burns and flooding. What’s more, there’re little holes left for local residents to shoot at enemies. Deadly bullets came from unexpected places.

During the hard times, the tunnel warfare greatly protected local villagers from Japanese invaders, and made the North China Plain an important battlefield to fight Japanese troops.

Zhao Yiman was born into a rich family in southwest China’s Sichuan Province and traveled to study at the Sun Yat-sen University in Moscow. In the winter of 1928, she returned to China and engaged in underground revolutionary work in Shanghai and Jiangxi Province. Zhao was sent to northeast China to carry forward the fight against Japanese aggression and lost her life after months of torture in 1935.

General Ji Hongchang is considered a hero in the war against the Japanese invaders. He refused his superior’s command to attack the Red Army, which was led by the Communist Party of China, because he believed the whole country was threatened by the Japanese military.
He formed an army, using his own money, to fight against Japanese troops. He also founded an alliance to help combat fascism.

General Ji Hongchang, a hero in WWII against Japanese

General Ji Hongchang is a hero in the war against Japanese invaders.

September 18, 1931 is a day that will never be forgotten by the Chinese people. It marked the beginning of the darkest period in China’s modern history. The Japanese army occupied part of northeastern China since the Sino-Japanese War. But on that day, they bombed a bridge at a Japanese-owned and operated railroad crossing. The Japanese then blamed the attack on Chinese rebels.

This action was used as a pretext for the Japanese army to begin its invasion of China. The incident was also followed by Japan’s full-scale invasion of China and the rest of Asia. The brutal invasion plunged China into an unprecedented disaster. Half of its territory was enveloped in the fire of war. More than 35 million soldiers and civilians were killed.

Snow arrived in China in 1928. He visited the revolutionary areas in northwest China in 1936 and interviewed a number of top Party leaders, including Mao Zedong.

“Red Star over China”, completed in 1937, is regarded as one of Snow’s most important works. John K. Fairbank, who wrote the introduction, remarked that the book not only provided the first connected history of Chairman Mao and his colleagues and where they had come from, but it also outlined the nation’s future prospects.

Snow’s works have contributed to the revolution and construction of the new China. What’s more, they helped people in the US gain a better understanding of China.

Snow eventually died in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1972. To honour his last wish, part of his ashes were buried in a tomb situated across the Weiming Lake in Peking University. The epitaph on his tombstone, carved in both English and Chinese, reads “Edgar Snow, American friend of the Chinese people.”