The Endangered Asian Century
America, China, and the Perils of Confrontation
IT WILL soon be a year and a half since a skirmish just outside Peiping, on the left bank of the Hun River, led to armed conflict between Japan and China -- a conflict which seems further from adjustment on fair terms today than it has ever been. At least three million armed men, regulars and irregulars, have at times been engaged in major and minor encounters over a territory of more than a million square miles. At least a million combatants and bystanders have lost their lives; great cities have been reduced to heaps of rubbish and huge tracts of country have been swept bare of life; there have been mass migrations of hundreds of thousands from their ancestral homes. Yet most of the correspondents in the Orient still refrain from calling these evidences of misunderstanding a war; it is still "the undeclared war in China." Japanese official spokesmen and the whole Japanese press are even more meticulously consistent in their references to the most desperate struggle in which their nation has ever been involved: they never call it anything but "the China incident." Laboring under their usual inhibitions, Occidental statesmen recognize the existence of nothing more than "a state of war" in China. But this is a war if there ever was one. It is the most businesslike war on Chinese soil since the Manchu conquest in the seventeenth century. And if this is an "incident" to Japan, the Russo-Japanese War was just a bit of slap-stick pleasantry, unworthy of more than casual notice in Japan's turbulent annals. Therefore to avoid circumlocution and compromise with make-believe, I shall henceforth call this the Sino-Japanese war.
As I look back through Chinese English-language publications which appeared during the months immediately preceding the clash, it seems to me that China was just as fretful for an excuse for a showdown, for an incident that would force Chiang Kai-shek to defy Japan's ultimata and to brace himself for a collision, as the Japanese army was. So I have never been able to attach the slightest importance to the Chinese claim that the Japanese deliberately provoked the Marco Polo clash, or to the Japanese claim that their diplomats made every effort to dispose of that clash as a local affair and that the settlement they proposed was conditioned upon no exorbitant demands. If nothing had happened on the Hun River to satisfy the craving of the Chinese public and the Japanese army for a finish fight over the question of China's administrative and territorial integrity, it would have happened elsewhere within that summer. And if Tokyo and Nanking had localized and settled that incident on fair terms, the settlement would have been so disappointing to both the Chinese people and the Japanese army that one or the other would have precipitated a more serious casus belli before snow had fallen.
The war began as a desperate Chinese effort to insure the survival of an independent Chinese nation. Though it continues to be that, it has also become a determined effort to break Japan. On the part of Japan it began as an effort by the army to make short work of China's independence. It continued, first as an effort to insure Japan's survival as a great military power, then as any kind of a power; and it now goes on, in so far as it is in Japan's power to say when it shall end, as an attempt to insure the survival of Japan as a nation.
It would be foolish to pretend to any exact knowledge of what either Japan or China had in readiness for this conflict when the skirmish on July 7, 1937, started it. Including perhaps 100,000 Communist guerrillas (they claimed 300,000), a million provincials under officers with elementary training, and half a million well-equipped regulars under officers who had indirect training from the Soviet and German missions, China probably had 2,500,000 men under arms of some sort. Despite strenuous efforts to build up her air force and to train fliers during the two years previous to the conflict, China's air fleet was a heterogeneous collection of craft of all types and ages; and those fit for combat or bombing were certainly outnumbered ten to one by Japan's combined army and navy fleets. Well back in the interior, China had at least 20 small arsenals equipped to manufacture small arms, machine guns, trench mortars and ammunition. She had no more than three plants equipped to turn out and repair 75-mm. artillery; and those prepared to manufacture high explosives in comforting quantities certainly did not exceed that number. Japan is said to have had at least 150,000 men in fully mechanized units in Korea, Manchuria and Jehol, 20,000 inside the Great Wall between Shanhaikwan and Peiping, a small detachment of marines ashore in Shanghai and 3,000 sailors and marines on board ship in various Chinese ports but available for landing parties. The Japanese would undoubtedly say that these estimates greatly overstate their strength in China in the summer of 1937, while the Chinese would denounce them as an understatement.
I find two equally authoritative estimates of the Japanese army's and navy's reserve stores, including everything from food, clothing and small arms ammunition, through high explosives, to transport equipment, coal and gasoline. One of these gives the Japanese enough ("without the expenditure of one sen") to wage war for one year on the mainland with a major Power (contemplating a Russo-Japanese conflict, no doubt). The other estimate credits them with enough, including raw materials this time, for two years. Since no figures of any kind are quoted, these estimates may be nothing more than measures of the optimism of army publicists; but I think we can safely assume that, except for motor transport and machine tools for converted industries, the Japanese army was prepared for at least a year's war with Russia -- with, let us say, 1,800,000 men in the field -- in the summer of 1937 and that most of the gold shipped abroad since then has been spent to make good these deficiencies in transport and machinery. When Finance Minister Takahashi declared that Japan could not finance a full-dress war for more than six months he probably had no idea what the army and navy had in reserve, for it must always have been the particular business of their lobbyists to convince the civil authorities of their desperate poverty. Thus, the army and navy were certainly equipped for at least a year's big-scale warfare with Soviet Russia when they started what they thought was just a muscle-limbering campaign in China. Their equipment and the training of their personnel were therefore infinitely superior to China's at the outset.
These advantages certainly seemed overwhelming during the first six months of the war in North China. After twenty days of dickering about the rights and wrongs of the Lukouchiao incident, it became clear enough to both the Japanese commanders and the browbeaten Chinese officials that Chiang Kai-shek would rather go to war than abide by any local adjustment detrimental to China's sovereignty in the five foredoomed provinces; so the Japanese started moving troops up the railroad from Tientsin towards Peiping. Although a garrison revolt in Tientsin and a massacre of Japanese in Tungchow, 11 miles east of Peiping, were ominous notices to Japan that her further advances would be over many dead bodies, there was no effective resistance to the Japanese occupation of Peiping. Before the end of July they were in full possession of North China's only important port, Tientsin, were pushing cautiously southward along the Tientsin-Pukow (Nanking) Railway, held Peiping and were routing the old capital's garrison divisions out of the western hills and pursuing them in two directions. One was down the Peiping-Hankow Line, southwestward, where bad weather, bad roads and some poorly organized but obstinate resistance kept them busy for some weeks. The other was northwestward to the Nankow Pass (20 miles from Peiping) which covered China's readiest trans-desert communications with Outer Mongolia and Soviet Russia, and where the Chinese had geographical advantages which should have made the capture of the pass ruinously expensive to Japan.
Actually, the pass was cleared by August 12, 1937, by one of the few brilliant Japanese ventures that have taken place in this war away from railway roadbeds. It was outflanked, and after that achievement the progress of Japan's several expeditionary forces into the northwest -- southwestward to Shansi's eastern gate and northwestward to Shansi's northern gate -- entailed more conflicts with bad roads and inadequate railroad stock than with Chinese armies. By the middle of October 1937, the Japanese had been through Suiyuan and had reached the end of rail communications by taking Paotouchen, jumping-off place for Central Asiatic caravans and adventures. By October they had set up and left to its own devices a puppet Mongol Empire in those parts, which has since taken care of itself, and had come part way back towards Peiping for a drive from the north on Taiyuanfu, capital of Shansi (one of the five doomed provinces), while a rival Japanese expedition was romping towards Taiyuanfu through the mountain passes on the east. Both forces got there on or about November 9, 1937, and hilarious Nipponese raiding parties went out westward and southwestward through every mountain gully to find the Communists of the northwest who had sworn to be all over the North China plain whenever Japan started things. By midwinter they had penetrated to the Yellow River on the west and south, through every negotiable valley; but there they are now and no further, wasting ammunition on real or imaginary concentrations of Reds at various points across the river, cursing effective guerrilla operations against their lines of communication, and sending back to Nippon great consignments of those little white boxes in which the ashes of Japanese heroes travel. Shansi was the end of one of those long limbs along which Japan climbed at more cost than profit. There are many others.
During this same period -- that is, between the Japanese capture of Nankow Pass on August 12 and the capture of Taiyuanfu on November 9, 1937 -- a far more spectacular and important struggle had been going on in and about Shanghai. There were no Japanese land forces in the vicinity of Shanghai at the outset of this struggle. The army's self-appointed job was to conquer and control the five northern provinces and it was confining itself to that. The navy had some marines ashore in Hongkew, the quarter of the International Settlement in which Japanese residents are most numerous and their investments heaviest. After fighting spread from Tientsin and Peiping to the interior in the north, the Japanese Government, believing that other ports as well as Yangtze valley settlements were indefensible by gunboats against Chinese artillery, ordered the evacuation of all Japanese residents and mobile wealth to Shanghai. As this progressed there was a heavy concentration of Japanese war craft, big and little, in the vicinity of China's commercial metropolis. It was stipulated in the peace agreement of 1932 that no Chinese military units were to be quartered in the environs of Shanghai. But as the Japanese naval units assembled there, Chiang Kai-shek's best infantry units closed in on the city.
There was a prelude of provocative little incidents, each productive of much ill-will but none calling for more than inquiry, arbitration and adjustment. But the infiltration of big bodies of Chinese troops (15,000 prior to August 12, it is claimed) into Greater Shanghai prompted the Japanese to land more marines and sailors in Hongkew and to prepare for that district's defense -- or it may have been the other way 'round, as the Chinese claimed. Here again the "war guilt" problem has had much more attention than it merits. This is because there was much resentment against Chiang Kai-shek in the Occidental community for bringing a most destructive war onto Shanghai's doorstep in the obvious hope of involving one or all of the Western powers in his feud with the Japanese, when he could just as well have forced them to meet him elsewhere. Apart from this consideration, there was no reason why Chiang Kai-shek should not move against the Japanese in Shanghai and force the Japanese army to meet him there, instead of sending his crack units into North China to support a cause that was already lost there. At any rate, proximity brought the unavoidable collisions on August 13 and 14, and the Japanese navy's landing parties were immediately in such hot water that there was nothing for the Japanese army to do but prepare for a big-scale Yangtze campaign.
During the second half of August, the battle was largely between ever-increasing Chinese forces, with all the modern equipment in Chiang Kai-shek's possession, and the Japanese naval forces supported by the guns and planes of the war vessels that lay in the Whangpoo River and off its mouth. There were times when the weight of Chiang Kai-shek's numbers all but carried the Japanese marines and sailors into the Whangpoo and if the Chinese had made effective use of their planes and guns the withdrawal of the Japanese fighting craft, and their landing parties with them, would have been forced within a few days. The very poor marksmanship of the Chinese planes and guns made it possible for the Japanese naval gunners and fliers to support the defense of Hongkew and Yangtzepoo, then to cover the first landings of regular army units at the mouth of the Whangpoo and at points on the Yangtze where they were at once a threat to the Chinese flank, and then to go on contributing heavily to the punishment which the Chinese infantry took throughout September, October and the early days of November when the retreat towards the over-advertised "Hindenburg line" began. Even after the Chinese had succeeded in planting batteries of six-inch howitzers in Pootung, across the river from Shanghai, which had several dozen Japanese craft of various kinds within easy range, the Chinese artillery added very little to the discomfiture of Japan's forces and it has played no important part in the several great battles in which the Chinese infantry, in man to man fighting, showed itself superior to the Japanese.
Although the Chinese finally had to give way at Shanghai before superior equipment and more skillful use of guns and planes, and though they failed to make another determined stand in defense of their capital at Nanking, they displayed qualities as fighting men which they had so rarely exhibited in their civil wars that their existence was not suspected by China's best friends. Their prowess came as unpleasant and often mortifying surprises to the Japanese militarists. First of all, Chinese officers, nearly always the first to run in their internecine feuds, showed no such inclination in this conflict and had the complete confidence of their men. Under bombardment the men showed a gay fortitude and, in hand-to-hand conflict, such individual dash and ingenuity as made the doggedly brave but unimaginative Japanese conscripts look like wooden soldiers. And finally, when they came to yield their positions, the whole Chinese force, almost without exception, showed that Chinese soldiers could retreat, without shedding arms and equipment and making full speed for the hinterland and without yielding to panic. For an orderly retreat there were almost no precedents in modern Chinese history prior to this withdrawal from Shanghai, but there have been no disorderly flights of big bodies of troops since then.
When the Japanese entered upon this war and predicted that it would be won and settled within a few months they counted heavily on the demoralizing effect of a few overwhelming victories. They have had their victories but none that has prompted any great numbers of Chinese to abandon the struggle and none that has brought suitors for peace on Japan's terms from among the Chinese commanders. Nor have there been any wholesale surrenders. After each such conspicuous achievement as the capture of Shanghai, Nanking, Suchow, Kiukiang, Canton and Hankow, the Japanese have proclaimed that they were surrounding and were about to capture tens of thousands of the scattered and broken-spirited enemy. They never did. These either slipped through the Japanese net to rejoin their main bodies or simply went inland from the railroads for a few miles, to remain there, harass Japanese communications and force the invaders to use fully as many men keeping their lines open as were engaged in frontal attacks. China's poverty in good modern roads and Japan's shortage of motor transport have combined to limit Japanese operations to the web of railroads and navigable waterways. Departure from these has meant irregular supplies and many minor disasters.
But to get back to the sequence of events: China's loss of Shanghai was followed within a few weeks by the loss of Nanking (on December 13, 1937) and almost simultaneously by the loss of Wuhu. Chiang Kai-shek's army had undoubtedly overstayed its time at Shanghai. The stock of ammunition immediately available was about exhausted. Great numbers of the best-schooled officers had been killed, the best-trained units had been decimated and the men were tired. Many Occidental military observers felt that the Chinese should not have challenged the Japanese to formal combat where the latter's transports could land reinforcements and unlimited supplies within a mile or so of their front lines. It has been frequently said that Chiang Kai-shek's German advisers were of this opinion and that they counselled a withdrawal to a line fifty miles back where lakes, canals and hills provided natural defenses, as soon as the superiority of Japanese naval guns, artillery and planes made further Chinese resistance an expensive show of bravado. Whatever chagrin the stout resistance at Shanghai had caused the Japanese gave way to exultation in General Matsui's camp and in Tokyo when Chiang Kai-shek failed to make an effective defense of his capital. But since Wuhu was the end of rail transport up the Yangtze valley, it was also the end of Japanese operations in the direction of Hankow until the late spring of 1938. For scarcely had Nanking fallen than the Chinese retired to Suchow, far from waterborne transport this time, and challenged the Japanese to take it.
While the Occident's whole attention and most of Japan's interest were concentrated upon the capture of Shanghai and Nanking, the small Japanese expeditionary forces that were following the several railroads in North China had plodded cautiously along the Tientsin-Pukow line southward from Tientsin, along the Peiping-Hankow line southwestward from Peiping and along a narrow-gauge line running southwestward from Taiyuanfu, until all had reached, or were within striking distances of, the same obstacle, the Yellow River. At all the western points on the river the Chinese defenders had made it impassable, and the Japanese let it go at that. But immediately after the fall of Nanking General Matsui's army crossed the Yangtze River and pushed a little way up the Tientsin line; it then became incumbent upon Count Terauchi in the north to get his forces across the Yellow River on the same line and move to meet his colleague in the south. At the same time a small force was transported from Tientsin to the port of Tsingtao, from which the former German railroad runs westward through Shantung province to Tsinan, its capital, on this same Tientsin-Pukow railroad. Although the Tsingtao garrison destroyed all Japanese industrial establishments in the port before it retreated, it did retreat without doing battle with the invader. And when the southward-moving Japanese force on the Tientsin-Pukow line crossed the Yellow River at several points and converged on Tsinan, Governor General Han Fu-chu and his armies withdrew and left all of Shantung but the extreme south for the Japanese to occupy at their leisure. For this he was subsequently shot; because, had the Japanese been fully aware of Chiang Kai-shek's plan to make Suchow the base for a big defensive struggle, they might have descended on that city before the armies which were sent there from all quarters of China had time to reach it. As it happened, the Chinese were well enough prepared by the time Terauchi's vanguards reached the fringes of Suchow's defenses in southern Shantung, to inflict upon them the most thorough and humiliating defeat a Japanese army has suffered on any field.
The series of reverses suffered early in April by Japanese columns in the Taierchwang area of southern Shantung, where they had rashly ventured away from the railway lightly equipped in their haste to get to the east of Suchow on the Lung-Hai line, showed what a similarly equipped Chinese force could do to a detached and unsupported Japanese force. This experience not only instilled into the Japanese a new respect for the resistance they were meeting and forced them to revise their appraisal of the job they had taken on, but brought their whole campaign to a standstill for some weeks. General Matsui, whose troops had made almost no headway after they crossed the Yangtze at Nanking, was recalled. Heavy replacements and reinforcements were sent into Shantung from the north. The armies in occupation of Shansi and of the northern half of the Peiping-Hankow line were reduced to skeleton police forces and Japan put into the Suchow campaign an army of perhaps 300,000 men with all the artillery, tanks, armored cars and trains that the transportation facilities permitted. The Chinese also mustered all they had within reach and were at the time believed to have had 750,000 men operating within fifty miles north, south and east of Suchow when the Japanese closed in at the end of May. The struggle ended with a Chinese evacuation that was dangerously near a collapse, it being subsequently rumored that the commanders lost their nerve at the end and led rather than ordered the retreat. The majority of the defeated troops moved westward along the Lung-Hai line towards its junction with the Peiping-Hankow line at Chengchow. They were followed so hotly by the Japanese in three parallel columns that though they fought back, they had no opportunity to organize a united stand and seemed about to give the Japanese army access to the Peiping-Hankow railway and a fair start towards Hankow, when the swollen Yellow River broke through its dikes at several points in the path of the Japanese columns. Rolling southeastward in an old bed, the river put an end for many months to the Japanese movement on Hankow from the north. Whether this break was the Dragon King's timely intervention on behalf of the Chinese army, as the latter claimed, or whether the soldiery deliberately cut the banks, as their spokesmen vigorously denied, is not yet clear. But the results were immediately appreciated in Japan where it caused much consternation. The end of the war looked further away in the middle of June than it had in January and the high hope of a whirlwind finish, which the rapid advance after Suchow had engendered, was dead.
The only course left open to Hankow was straight up the swampy, malarial, all but roadless and tropically hot Yangtze valley. With summer coming on a Yangtze campaign was anything but a pleasant outlook for the army; and the navy had every reason to doubt that it could cover forces advancing along the river banks if the Chinese made even halfway efficient use of their land batteries. There was a pause of several weeks, during which the Japanese commanders were evidently pondering these unpleasant facts, during which the Chinese were too busy reassembling their scattered army on their side of the Yellow River flood to issue bulletins on their own prospects, but during which the guerrillas, probably because their forces were augmented by stray units of regulars who could not rejoin the main body and by farmers who had picked up abandoned equipment after the great battles in the Suchow area, became exceedingly active from northern Shansi to Hangchow Bay. As reinforcements were later needed to support Japan's Yangtze campaign, guerrilla operations forced all Japanese forces in North China to stick to the railway zones. This situation has not greatly changed since then.
The Yangtze campaign began with an advance early in June from Wuhu to Anking by a small force with a small naval escort; but the surprising ease with which the capital of Anhwei province was taken and held, emboldened the Japanese to carry on after the Yellow River flood and to risk more men on the venture. Their objective was Hukow, an old fortified town commanding the entrance to Poyang Lake, which stands on the first patch of high, dry land above Anking. To get there they had to traverse 70 miles of valley in which the dikes provide the only roadways though a country which, on both sides of the river, is a maze of waterways, lakes, swamps and flooded rice fields. Throughout this land a great variety of diseases are endemic. Despite the terrain and the climate and because the Chinese high command at Hankow made no effort worth mentioning to stop them, the Japanese took Hukow in three weeks and were in command of one bank of the narrow passage through which Poyang Lake empties into the Yangtze. The opposite side of the passage was guarded by high hills on one of which, Lion Hill, the Chinese had made preparations to dispute the capture of the city of Kiukiang. Here again, however, Chinese artillery proved no obstacle to Japanese naval manœuvres, and all the vantage points between Hukow and Kiukiang were cleared of Chinese defenders by naval gunfire and aërial bombing in a few days. The capture of Kiukiang was, however, the last spectacular Japanese achievement between the third week in July 1938, and the all but unopposed occupation of Canton in the third week of October.
By the time the Japanese began to move on from Kiukiang the Chinese were ready for them. Upriver from that city the banks were again flanked by so much flooded marsh land that no advance was possible with anything but the lightest equipment -- and the Chinese had no difficulty in stopping lightly equipped troops. A Japanese force that crossed the Yangtze with the idea of following the north bank had to go 20 miles inland before it found firm footing. A force that entered Poyang Lake with the idea of landing on its west shore and cutting the railroad between Kiukiang and Nanchang was at once mired and became a target for Chinese forces on high ground to the westward. The major drive up the south bank of the Yangtze had to depart from the river and push straight westward, with a point on the Canton-Hankow railway, 70 miles southwest of Hankow instead of the city itself, as its objective. A fifth expedition had meanwhile set out through Anhwei and was following the north slope of the Yangtze-Yellow River watershed westward towards the Peiping-Hankow line, but this caused no serious diversion of Chiang Kaishek's attention from the major scene of action.
Throughout August and September the Japanese advances were so inconsequential that it began to be doubtful whether they would ever reach Hankow. Sickness and effective Chinese resistance decimated their ranks on all fronts, and there was a constant parade of Japanese transports up the river, bringing reinforcements and supplies and taking out the casualties. Foreign observers at Kiukiang have expressed the belief that the killed, wounded and sick totalled 400,000. This seems like a fantastic figure; but the losses were undoubtedly heavy, for officers returning to Japan on sick leave testified eloquently to the effect of heat and sickness on the spirits of the troops. Official Japanese comments on the progress of the war were exceedingly modest. Rumors of peace negotiations were constantly current and Japanese military spokesmen in Shanghai were of the opinion, for publication, that when the army took Hankow it would be content to leave the rest of China to Chiang Kai-shek, consolidate its gains within the network of railways that it controlled and hasten demobilization of as many of the reservists as possible.
It was during this period also that the army spokesmen became most outspokenly resentful of the assistance which China was getting from abroad through Hong Kong in the form of munitions and supplies. Up until it became clear to the whole world, in the latter part of September, that the governments of Great Britain and France prized peace far above prestige, the Japanese thought they could do nothing about this constant flow of comfort from Hong Kong to Central China, except to cut the line of communications at some point between Canton and Hankow. It was feared that Britain would be bitterly and perhaps dangerously resentful of Japanese operations in the vicinity of Hong Kong. Munich completely altered this situation, and the expedition against Canton which it prompted, radically changed the whole character of the war in China.
Without previous warning a fleet of Japanese transports with a naval escort entered Bias Bay, a few miles from British mainland territory, and on October 12 discharged over 30,000 fresh and well-furnished troops. Within a few days one detachment had cut the railroad connecting Hong Kong harbor at Shameen with Canton, 15 miles west of the British-Chinese boundary; and within ten days, the expedition's motorized vanguard rumbled into the city of Canton without firing a shot. Here and there odd Chinese units had offered stiff resistance, but it was unorganized and undirected; because, after the cutting of the railway, there was no one left in Canton with authority to direct it. The best troops and all available supplies had been consistently forwarded to Central China and the Japanese expedition came as such a complete surprise that Chiang Kai-shek had no chance to move to Canton's rescue.
After the fall of Canton whatever supplies the Generalissimo had accumulated at Hankow were the last he could expect to get from abroad in sufficient quantities to offer the Japanese formal battle, and when they were gone positional warfare would be at an end. There was no further point in wasting men or time, or in exhausting supplies in the defense of Hankow. The time would be better employed preparing for the evacuation of the city and getting the army ready for a new type of warfare -- a campaign of provocative raids, retreats and ambushes, such as the guerrillas were carrying on with great success in every allegedly "conquered" province, only on a much larger scale. Between the fall of Canton on October 21 and the Japanese occupation of Hankow on October 25 Chinese resistance slackened, the Japanese hastened their pace, correspondents were invited to fly from Shanghai and see the Chinese getting out, and the tone of Japanese publicity became not only exultant but took on that truculent note which has since characterized Tokyo's diplomatic correspondence. Though army spokesmen had, a few weeks before, predicted that the army would be content to take Hankow, General Hata, directing operations against Hankow, now prophesied that victorious Nippon would chase Chiang Kai-shek to China's frontiers if she had to and would crush resistance in the remotest corners of the republic.
Since the capture of Hankow the Japanese military have been busy with the task of clearing the Canton-Hankow and the Peiping-Hankow railroads of Chinese forces. They are finding this no easy matter. In the meantime light naval craft have advanced another hundred miles or so up the Yangtze and the Japanese air force has been busier than usual bombing remote centers of population. An expedition into northwest China, where the former Red armies still hold Shensi province and where Kansu serves as a distributing depot for such supplies as come from Russia by truck, has been announced but has not yet been organized as I write. Guerrillas still operate along almost every mile of Japanese communications in China and the population of vast blocks of territory between these lines has not yet seen a Japanese uniform.
So the war is not over, although it is not likely to be punctuated again by such great protracted positional struggles as the Japanese campaigns against Shanghai, Suchow and Hankow. Japan has not won; and whether she does eventually win now depends little upon the driving power of her military machine, but rather upon the survival of the fighting spirit among the Chinese people on the one hand, and upon the economic staying power of the Japanese nation on the other. The Chinese people have only to remain "non-coöperative" -- at which they are masters -- and to keep a few millions of their armed men engaged in active sabotage, thereby tying up at least half a million Japanese soldiery. If they can do this, they can impose an economic strain on Japan which in a few years will lower her vitality to the breaking point; a resurgence of active rebellion might then result in as complete an evacuation of China as that of the Mongols at the end of their conquering career.
Six months ago it was declared on Chinese military authority that Japan had 1,500,000 men in China. This probably included garrison troops in Manchuria and Jehol, and was an exaggeration at that. But, in discussing the war, highly-placed Japanese have several times since then spoken casually of the million men in China. This probably means 800,000 in China proper; and, since there is no reason to believe that more than 300,000 have been engaged in actual warfare at any one time, and since big engagements have always been accompanied by the withdrawal of men from remote outposts, we have pretty good reason to believe that half a million Japanese soldiery, apart from the navy's contributions to waterway patrol, are at all times engaged in guarding captured cities and other bases, as well as the railroads and minor waterways which are subject to constant interruption by Chinese irregulars. Certainly this vigilance cannot be relaxed if the army is to hold its own over all the territory that it has traversed. And just as certainly none of these police forces can yet attempt to patrol the big blocks of "non-coöperative" territory between the trunk railroads. How long Japan can support a police force of at least half a million men in China -- at, let us say, $700,000,000 a year -- is purely a matter of speculation, a fact abundantly proved by the great diversity of published estimates of Japan's financial resources. I have just read a dozen or more which I had put away at different times for comparison; and all they agree on is that Japan has gotten rid of her free gold, has dipped into her currency reserves and that, though she has achieved a trade balance, she has no prospect of financing a protracted war out of her exports. The maintenance of an unprofitable state of war in China probably depends a good deal more upon the degree of privation to which the Japanese people can be reduced than upon foreign credits. The strongest argument used by certain Japanese to persuade their countrymen that a totalitarian government is necessary is that the drain upon Japan's internal resources and a check on the discontent of the people can in that way be more scientifically imposed. Very few Occidentals who have lived among the Japanese people believe that revolution could ever come before exhaustion, no matter how ruthlessly the country were bled to keep the army in the field. On that I am not competent to pass an opinion. I only believe that the Chinese can, if they will, keep up the strain indefinitely without yielding the conqueror enough loot to relieve it materially.
As for China's material resources: there appeared to be no limit to her credit abroad while she had a port open to foreign purchases; and now that she has none through which more than driblets can come in, her need of credits is all but gone. Her normal sources of revenue are all in Japanese hands, or in the hands of the so-called puppet governments; but large forces can live off the land without pay and without imposing any unusual burdens on the population, as the great armies of the warlords have done for years at a stretch in even the poorest provinces. For the kind of hit-and-run warfare to which China must now resign herself little is needed but small arms and ammunition, gasoline and high explosives. The guerrillas supply themselves from Japanese stores; a number of small arsenals still operate behind the Chinese lines; and for the rest one must assume that, slow and unsatisfactory as shipments from Burma and Soviet Russia are by truck, the volume of such shipments will now increase to the maximum capacity of the roads.
The physical expulsion of the Japanese by Chinese armies so meagerly and irregularly supplied is, of course, out of the question. The only thing now that could give China command of the situation and a chance to regain lost territory is the evolution of an air force much superior to Japan's. While there are periodical reports of fresh Soviet contributions to Chiang Kai-shek's air fleet, there is no certainty that even the entire Soviet air force could clear China's skies of Japanese war planes. Nothing, in short, is left to China but the prospect of wearing Japan down, and this is just as good as the Chinese have the stamina to make it.