【 New York Times 】   Post Date: 3/29/2014
Book Review: 'Forgotten Ally,' by Rana Mitter
Between 14 million and 20 million Chinese died in the “war of resistance to the end” against Japan last century. Another 80 million to 100 million became refugees. The conflict destroyed China’s great cities, devastated its countryside, ravaged the economy and ended all hopes for a modern, pluralistic society. “The narrative of the war is the story of a people in torment,” Rana Mitter, a professor of Chinese history at Oxford University, writes in his superb work, “Forgotten Ally.”

World War II, Mitter points out, started not on the plains of Europe but with an accidental firefight in 1937 at the Marco Polo Bridge, a few miles southwest of Beijing, and although Tokyo surrendered eight years later, the victorious Nationalist China of Chiang Kai-shek arguably lost more than the vanquished Japan. By 1949, Chiang had fled to Taiwan and Mao Zedong’s Communist Party had taken control.


Yet the war did more than ruin the country and set the stage for a Communist dictatorship. In the early decades of the 20th century, Mitter writes, “many felt that China was a geographical expression rather than a country.” The invasion by the Japanese — once mentors to the Chinese but now seen as monsters — created a sense of national identity. In 1938, after the first Nationalist battlefield victory, China’s people for the first time began to care who governed them. The nation may have been in disarray, but “China” as a concept became personal and meaningful.

Throughout his book, Mitter discusses a “new compact between state and society,” as the country became “more militarized, categorized and bureaucratized.” Because of the exigencies of the fighting, the rival Nationalists and Communists demanded much more from populations under their control than had traditionally been the case, yet at the same time leaders were expected to provide more in return.

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