Capsule Review

Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937–1945

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Forgotten Ally: China's World War II, 1937-1945
Forgotten Ally: China's World War II, 1937-1945
By Rana Mitter
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, 464 pp. $30.00 Purchase

Mitter applies historical empathy to yield fresh insights into the situations of all the actors in the horrific conflict that the Chinese call the War of Resistance Against Japan, which lasted from 1937 to 1945. He pays particular attention to China’s leaders, explaining Chiang Kai-shek’s decision to breach the dikes of the Yellow River, an act that killed half a million of his countrymen; Mao Zedong’s preference for a protracted guerrilla strategy against the Japanese; and Wang Jingwei’s decision to collaborate with the Japanese occupiers. But he also recounts the frustrations of Japanese infantrymen that led them to behave so viciously in occupied Chinese cities. The only person Mitter fully condemns is U.S. General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell, often portrayed as a hero in earlier accounts but whom Mitter charges with blinkered egoism in his clashes with Chiang. The narrative also tells the stories of soldiers, refugees, missionaries, and journalists, creating an exceptionally full narrative of a fateful period whose legacies still shape China; these include a broader sense of national identity, modern techniques of mass mobilization and propaganda, a large role for the state in providing for the needs of the people, and a culture of violence.

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