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Rough Cut: Japan and China: The Unforgotten War
Background Facts and Related Links
Learn more about China and Japan's history and their modern day conflicts.


General Background

China's first dynasty, the Xia, dates back 5,000 years, but it was not until the Qin dynasty (221-207 BC) that the country was unified for the first time with a standardized writing system and the construction of the Great Wall.

China's international trade, based on silk and tea, was first established with Macau at the turn of the 17th century, and by the late 1700s had expanded to Britain and the rest of Europe. Trade was decidedly in China's favor, however, which Britain tried to even out by illegally trafficking opium, sparking the Opium Wars in 1840.

Hong Kong was one of the spoils of the British victory. China's colonial possessions evaporated soon after, with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia falling to the French, Burma to the British, and Korea and Taiwan to Japan.

Warlords scrambled for imperial power in the first half of the 20th century while intellectuals sought to replace Confucianism. Politically, Sun Yatsen's Kuomintang (KMT, or Nationalist Party) competed with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), formed in 1921 and led by Mao Zedong.

The Japanese took advantage of the turmoil in China by invading Manchuria in 1931, overtaking much of the county by 1939. The civil war between the KMT and CCP ended after WWII in 1949 when Chiang Kaishek fled to Taiwan and Mao Zedong proclaimed the foundation of the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Intervention in the Korean War brought confidence to the new party, and by 1953 inflation stopped, industrial production was restored to prewar levels, and the redistribution of land had begun through the first Five Year Plan.

The Great Leap Forward, Mao's subsequent economic plan, attempted to continue China's development but the plan was derailed by mismanagement, floods, droughts and, in 1960, the withdrawal of all Soviet aid. In order to distract China from its troubles, Mao began The Cultural Revolution in 1966. For the next five years the Maoist Red Guards killed intellectuals, closed universities, demolished temples and tried to annhialate all reminders of China's capitalist past.

The death of Mao Zedong in 1976 along with three other senior officials led to a period in which many became disillusioned by the ruling party's "mandate of heaven," which said that heaven would bless the authority of a just ruler. Pro democracy demonstrators were crushed by the Chinese regime during the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

The return of Hong Kong and Macau to Chinese control, and China's "one country, two systems" allowing a limited free market system have contributed to China's economic growth. China's was recently admitted to the World Trade Organization and will host the 2008 Olympics. However, the nation continues to be charged with civil rights abuses, official corruption and a stagnant rural economy. The desire to annex Taiwan into the "one China" model also remains a strain for China's international relations.


At 3,705,407 square miles (9,596,960 sq km), China is slightly smaller than the United States, but its population of more than 1.3 billion is four times greater.

The market-oriented economy has led to a growing private sector, including the sale of equity in China's largest state banks to foreign investors in 2005. The economic restructure has contributed to a more than tenfold increase in GDP since 1978, the fourth largest economy in the world.

As China develops economically, the nation is threatened by catastrophic destruction of the environment - notably air pollution, soil erosion, and the steady fall of the water table. It also has a rapidly aging population, due in part to the "one child" policy, which could contribute to future labor shortages.

Nearly 150 million Chinese live on $1 or less a day, and there is no minimum wage. Between 250,000 - 300,000 political dissidents are held in "reeducation-through-labor" camps without trial according to the last visit by the U.N.'s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in 1997. There are no privately owned TV or radio stations, and the government monitors citizen communications including e-mails and phone calls. At least 400,000 residents of Beijing have been forcibly evicted from their homes in preparation for the Olympic Games.


General Background

Japan was settled by fishermen, hunters and gatherers traversing land bridges from Korea to the west and Siberia to the north. After the defeat of the indigenous Ainu in the 9th century, Japan's emperors began to devote more time to leisure and scholarly pursuits and less time to government. At the same time the samurai, or warrior class, built strength in the outer provinces, eventually making their way toward the capital, Heian (modern-day Kyoto). Feudal military rule remained until imperial power was restored in 1868.

The Tokugawa government, in power at the turn of the 19th century, was marked by economic stagnation and political corruption. This was reversed with the ascendance of Emperor Meiji in 1868, who took Japan out of its isolation and accepted Westernization and industrialization. In 1889 Japan created a Western-style constitution. The nation's victory over China in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-5) and Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5) sealed its place as a world power. During World War I Japan expanded its economy through shipping and trade with the allied countries.

Emperor Hirohito's reign, which began in 1926, brought with it increased nationalism and militarism, reflected in the invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and the bloody Nanjing Massacre of 1937-8, the murder of an estimated 300,000 Chinese.

Japan signed a tripartite pact with Germany and Italy in 1940 and when diplomatic attempts towards US neutrality failed, the Japanese entered World War II with a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Japan and the United States fought until 1946 when the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Emperor Hirohito announced unconditional surrender after which US forces occupied Japan until 1952. The emperor's power was stripped and the country was demilitarized. A recovery program enabled the economy to flourish into the world's most successful export economy, with massive trade surpluses in electronics, robotics, computing, car production and banking.


During the last decade, the traditional economic and cultural landscape has begun to erode in Japan. In 1997, the Asian financial crisis led to bouts of recession and a level of financial instability new to most Japanese.

With a land mass slightly smaller than California and a population nearing 128 million, Japan's primary economic concerns are its lack of natural resources and, like China, a rapidly aging population.

Though a recognized leader of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, Japan still faces many environmental threats, including over fishing and the acidification of its lakes and reservoirs due to air pollution from power plants resulting in acid rain.

Sources: BBC, CIA Fact Book, Lonely Planet



History of Japan and China's Rivalry

The BBC reports on the history, economic competition, military spending, and cultural issues fueling the rivalry between Japan and China. A timeline of the conflict in the 20th century is also provided.

The Nanking Massacre

This site features the original eyewitness report of the Japanese occupation of Nanking, then the capital of the Republic of China. It was filed by a New York Times reporter in 1937.

Nanking Massacre 60th Anniversary

As the 70th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre approaches, Princeton University's Web site from nearly a decade ago remains a relevant source for the story and images from the event. It includes a gallery of photographs and useful links.

The Tokyo War Crimes Trials

Part of a Web site for "MacArthur," an episode on PBS's American Experience series, this page describes the war crimes trials in Tokyo, over which Douglas MacArthur presided. Held from 1946 to 1948, these war crime trials were as difficult and controversial as the Nazi trials at Nuremberg.

Japan's Postwar Constitution

This site provides the text of Japan's constitution after WWII which officially renounced war as a method for settling international disputes. It also includes a chronological table of events leading to the creation of the constitution, bios of historical figures and an explanation of the key issues informing the constitution.

Global Alliance for Preserving the History of WWII in Asia

Global Chinese advocacy group founded in 1994, their stated mission is to preserve the historical truth of the Asia-Pacific War. The site lists their demands and activities, as well as relevant links.

Overview of the China-Japan Relationship

The Council on Foreign Relations recently published this article by Kent Calder, Director of the East Asian Studies department at John Hopkins University. The article charts the history of relations between the two countries.

Current Issues

Japanese High School Textbook

The China Daily provides an account of a Japanese junior high school textbook setting off a furor in China by minimizing one of the most infamous instances of Japanese atrocities in China-calling the "Nanjing Massacre" the "Nanjing Incident." News of the textbook's publication sent thousands of Chinese into the streets.

Japan's School Textbook Examination Procedure

This site provides Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs explanation of the process for approving textbooks for school education. The site provides English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean language versions.

The Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands Territorial Dispute

Global describes China and Japan's competing historical claims over the oil-rich Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands. The site includes maps of the area and numerous links.

Japan Defends the Prime Minister's Annual Shrine Visits

BBC gives both sides of the argument over Prime Minister Koizumi's visit to Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial for Japan's two and a half million war dead. The controversy stems from 14 of those honored there - Class-A war criminals indicted and executed for war crimes committed during World War II.

Official Web site of the Yasukuni Jinja Shrine

The significance of the shrine and information about the war memorial museum are included on this site. The site includes photographs of the shrine and information on the deities worshipped there.

Japan's Bid for UN Security Council Membership (PDF)

Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs submitted this report in March, 2005. The report argues why Japan should become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

China and Japan Continue to be Strong Economic Partners

The Japanese External Trade Organization chronicles a continuing trend in increased trade between Japan and China. In 2004, China eclipsed the United States as Japan's largest trading partner, and Japan ranked third behind the EU and the United States as the major source of direct foreign investment in China.


Profile of China's Military provides this guide to understanding China's military, including an overview of the military's weapons, fleet and forces.

Report on China's Military Power (PDF)

The U.S. Department of Defense issued this report in 2005 documenting what is known about China's national and military strategy, including the country's progress in military modernization. The report also details the possible implications of China's current security affairs.

Profile of Japan's Military provides this guide to Japan's national defense policy, which favors diplomacy over the development of armed forces.

Japan's Military Buildup

This article from the Brookings Institution focuses on Japan's rapidly changing defense strategy and considers how those changes might affect relations with the U.S. and neighboring countries.

Controversy of Japanese Constitutional Right to Military

The UCLA International Institute provides an explanation for why some Japanese want to change a constitutional article that renounces war as well as the right to maintain a military. For decades, any suggestion to revise this clause was frowned upon. But in recent years, emerging threats such as North Korea's missile testing program have changed attitudes.


Japan/China Reconciliation Blog

This blog spot was created by the Department of International Relations at the Australian National University in preparation for a workshop to be held in August 2006 as "a search for solutions" towards reconciliation between Japan and China.

Japan's English Language Media

The Mainichi Shimbun

Founded on Feb. 21, 1872, the Tokyo Nichi-Nichi Shimbun was the predecessor to the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper of today, making it the newspaper with the longest publishing history in Japan. With over 20 bureaus around the world, the Mainichi Shimbun has a national circulation of 4 million for its morning edition and 2 million for its evening edition.

The Japan Times

The Japan Times, founded in 1897, calls itself Japan's leading English-language daily newspaper. The Times provides economic, political, sports and hard news, as well as editorials and features to its readers, and takes pride in its ability "to produce a responsible newspaper that is impartial and balanced."

NHK World

NHK, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, is a Japanese media conglomerate involved in television broadcasting both in Japan and overseas. NHK WORLD is the international broadcasting service of NHK, which produces NHK World TV, NHK World Premium, and NHK Radio Japan. NKH World prides itself on fostering international understanding of Japan and the rest of Asia by presenting objective and entertaining programming.

China's - English Language Media

China Daily

China Daily, established in 1981, is the only national English-language newspaper in China. The average daily circulation is more than 200,000 with more than 1/3 of that circulation being abroad. In addition, China Daily also runs several other publications including China Business Weekly, China Daily Hong Kong Edition, Reports from China, Shanghai Star, Beijing Weekend, 21st Century, 21st Century Teens Senior Edition, 21st Century Teens Junior Edition and the China Daily Web site.

Xinhuanet is sponsored by the Xinhua News Agency, the state and worldwide news agency in China. The Xinhua News Agency has 150 subsidiaries all over China and the world, and Xinhuanet claims to be "a backbone with global influence among key national Web sites."

China News

China News is an English language news wire which collects content from international news outlets, as well as domestic outlets within China.

South China Morning Post

The South China Morning Post, founded in 1903, is Hong Kong's premier English-language daily newspaper which targets a middle and upper-class population in Hong Kong.