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This article is concerned with the events that preceded World War II in Asia.

Kuomintang and Communism in China

The revolution led by the Kuomintang (KMT, or Chinese Nationalist Party) and others ended the last Chinese dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, which was replaced by a republic, the Republic of China, in 1912. Prior to World War I, however, the ROC central government failed to effectively rule its territory. China fell into a fragmented region of local warlords. Other than the warlord-controlled central government, two primary forces aimed to unite China under their ideology. The KMT was reorganized in 1919, and the Communist Party of China was formed in 1921. The two parties were not immediate enemies and had short-term partnership. In 1924, KMT started a military campaign to defeat the northern warlords. In 1927, with much of southern and central China under the KMT control, the KMT openly turned on the CPC. The KMT took most parts of China under its power in 1928, and the warlord controlling Manchuria agreed to KMT leadership of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.

Noteworthy events

The following events played a significant role in setting the stage for the involvement of Asia and the Pacific in World War II:

  • 1839: First Opium War in China against the west, forcing China to import British opium. Britain won the war and as a result gained control over Hong Kong.
  • 1856: Outbreak of the Second Opium War or the Arrow War in China. Resulting Treaties of Tianjin at 1858, Treaty of Aigun, etc Unequal Treaties and also burning, looting of the Old Summer Palace and New Summer Palace. "Beyond any doubt, by 1860 the ancient civilization that was China had been thoroughly defeated and humiliated by the West."
  • 1853: American Commodore Matthew C Perry arrives in Tokyo harbor and forces Japanese to allow trade with American merchants with threat of military action.
  • 1858: Western nations force Japan to sign the Unequal Treaties. These articles established export and import tariffs and the concept of "extraterritoriality" (i.e. Japan held no jurisdiction over foreign criminals in its land. Their trials were to be conducted by foreign judges under their own nation's laws). Japan had no power to change these terms.
  • 1868: Japan, in an effort to modernize and prevent future Western dominance, ousts the Tokugawa Shogunate and adopts a new Meiji Emperor. The next few decades see arguably the most rapid and successful industrialization of any economy in world history.
  • 1899: With newly gained power from recent industrialization, Japan successfully renegotiates aspects of the Unequal Treaties.
  • 1904-1905: The Russo-Japanese War begins with a surprise attack and ends by an eventual Japanese victory over Imperial Russia. Japanese control over Korea until World War 2 is assured.
  • 1914: During World War I Japan and other Allies seize German colonial possessions.
  • 1919: Japan, as a member of the victorious Allies during World War I, gains a mandate over various Pacific islands previously part of the German colonial empire. The primary island chains are the Marshall Islands, Marianas, the Carolines, and Truk Lagoon. Japan joins the League of Nations.
  • 1921: Foundation of the Communist Party of China.
  • 1922: The Washington Naval Treaty is signed, limiting the fleets and vessels of the navies of the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, France, and Italy. Japan is limited to about two-thirds of the fleet allowed for the United States and Britain. This is seen in Japan as a denial of Japanese equality amongst European powers.
  • 1924: First congress of the Kuomintang under Sun Yat-Sen.
  • 1927: Open conflict between the CPC and KMT commences in China. This continues until the 1937 invasion by Japan, but even then there remains a clandestine battle between the two.
  • 1930: The London Naval Treaty is signed, putting a halt to battleship production until 1937. Limitations on submarines and other surface combatants are also made.
  • September 18, 1931: Japanese agents blew up part of the Japanese owned South Manchurian Railroad at Mukden in northeastern China, and blamed it as an act of sabotage by the Chinese forces. Using the incident as a pretext, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria is launched. Resistance fails and within six months the occupation of Manchuria is complete. The incident is known as the "9.18 Incident" thereafter in China (see Mukden Incident for details). It was marked by the Chinese as the start of Japanese invasion of China. According to "Why we fight", a US propaganda film released in 1942, it claims that world war 2 started on this date, saying that "we should remember this date as well as December 7, 1941."
  • January 28, 1932: The January 28 Incident broke out when fighting erupts between Chinese boycotters and Japanese troops protecting the nation's enclave in the port of Shanghai. The Japanese dispatched a naval invasion force in an attempt to capture Shanghai. However, the invasion was not successful and ended in a stalemate. United Kingdom and United States, which both had vast business and political interests in the city, brokered a cease-fire deal between China and Japan three months after the hostilities began. The Japanese naval forces withdrew. The incident is now known as the January 28 Incident.
  • February, 1932: Manchukuo is announced as an independent nation, and is in reality a Japanese puppet government for the region of Manchuria. It encompassed the three northeastern Chinese provinces occupied by Japan since the "9.18 Incident." Japanese control remains direct however, and Japanese owned interests gain considerable power. Additionally, the opium trade is encouraged. Manchukuo was not recognized by the League of Nations and Japan subsequently withdrew from the organization.
  • May, 1932: Japanese Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi is assassinated by a group of young officers for his support of the London Naval Treaty, which is seen in Japan as preventing parity of forces. The act, known as the May 15 incident, is symptomatic of a certain level of anarchy amongst Japanese aristocracy.
  • October, 1934-November, 1935: The Chinese Communists conduct the Long March, transferring their base of power from Kiangsi to Shensi. The casualties are significant, but the Communists are in a much better position to confront both the KMT and the Japanese.
  • December 29, 1934: Japan abrogates the Washington Naval Treaty.
  • December, 1935: Large-scale anti-Japanese riots take place in Peking.
  • February, 1936: In Japan, a coup attempt by junior officers comes close to succeeding.
  • November, 1936: Japan joins Germany in signing the Anti-Comintern Pact, concluded to provide a two-front threat to the Soviet Union. Japan is however not interested in being drawn into a European war, and thus the pact is not a true alliance.
  • December, 1936: Machinations including the arrest of Chiang Kai-Shek by one of his generals result in the KMT adjusting to a more anti-Japanese stance. Confidence had grown that the Japanese were beatable.
  • July 7, 1937: Japanese forces conducting military exercises outside Yuan Peng County near Peking claimed that several Japanese soldiers participating in the exercise were not accounted for after the exercise. After the Japanese request to enter the Yuan Peng County town to conduct a search was declined by the Chinese, the Japanese launched an all-out assault towards Yuan Peng County, which is across the Luokouchiao (or Luo Kou Bridge) from the Japanese positions. The Chinese government in Nanking declared its intent to resist Japan, marking the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The incident is later known as the "7.7 Incident" or the "Luokouchiao Incident" by China. (Note: For political reasons, war was not declared by either side at this point. The Chinese declaration of war came on December 8, 1941. However, some historians believe this point is when World War II started in Asia.)
  • August-November, 1937: Full scale fighting erupts throughout northern China, and Japan overcomes initial failures with landings and reinforcements in Shanghai. Before the battle of Shanghai, the Tokyo government announced that Japan was going to complete the conquest of Shanghai in three days, and all of China within three months. By the end of November, Japanese troops began their march inland on the capital at Nanking.
Chinese soldiers poorly armed.
  • November, 1937: Nanking was captured and is subjected to many days of rampage. The Rape of Nanking demonstrates the difficulty the Japanese have in controlling their army in the field. However, some historians (and also most Chinese people) believe that the atrocities against Chinese civilians by the occupying Japanese forces in Nanking were systematic actions ordered by high level officials in Tokyo or at the minimum by top level military officials in the field to demonstrate their rage against their inability to defeat China in three months (as they have announced) and also in hope to crush the Chinese will of continuing the resistance.
  • April, 1938: Chinese Nationalists gain a major victory over Japanese forces in Shantung province.
  • June, 1938: The Japanese advance along the Yellow River is halted by the breaking of dams by the Chinese. The flood kills many Japanese but also as many as 1,000,000 civilians.
  • July, 1938: Japanese forces provoke a battle with the Soviets at Lake Hassan in Manchukuo. The Soviets handily defeat the Japanese.
  • October, 1938: The Japanese Central China Army captures Hankow, ending their advance up the Yangtze River. Additionally, landing near Hong Kong capture Canton, completing the cutting off of the Chinese Nationalists from ocean ports. The Japanese see this as the completion of major operations against the Nationalists.
  • November, 1938: The New Order for East Asia is declared by Japan. This declaration of Japanese plans for dominance of East Asia further deteriorates their relations with western nations.
  • February, 1939: Japan captures Hainan Island, which is seen to have strategic implications by the British.
  • May-September, 1939: Japan and the Soviet Union engage in border clashes around the Khalka River. Again, the Soviet Union is victorious.
  • July, 1939: The United States announces its withdrawal from its commercial treaty with Japan.
  • August, 1941: The United States, which at the time supplied 80% of Japanese oil imports, initiates a complete oil embargo. This threatens to cripple both the Japanese economy and military strength once the strategic reserves run dry, unless alternative oil-sources can be found.

See also

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