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China First to Fight! - AN19880207-005
China First to Fight!

War in China, 1937-1945

Japan was a powerful nation but also an island nation, without enough food or resources to survive on its own. The most obvious place to exploit was nearby China, weak and chaotic. In 1931 the Japanese army seized control of the Chinese province of Manchuria, turning it into a puppet of Tokyo. In 1937 the Japanese army took charge of much of eastern China - the most fertile, heavily populated parts of the country. By the following year, both the old capital of Beijing and the new capital of Nanking had fallen to the Japanese.

Within China Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government ( Kuomintang ) was fighting off Mao Zedong's rebel Communists. Faced with the threat from Japan, however, the two enemies decided to stop their war to combat the outsider. They waged all but separate wars against the Japanese. The Communists, based in the distant, rural northwest, had considerable support in the countryside and villages, even from areas behind the Japanese lines, but had only the most basic equipment for an army. The Nationalists, in equally remote Szechuan in the west, had a huge army, which was less motivated and less well-led and had only a little more equipment than the Communists. Until 1941 the Nationalists received some equipment from the Soviet Union. The Americans sent some troops, pilots and supplies to the Nationalists from India over the rugged Burma Road until it was cut by the advancing Japanese army in Burma ( see the Burma Campaign, 1941-1945 ). Until a land route was re-opened in 1945, any Allied military aid to China had to be flown over the Himalaya mountains from India.

China was a Second World War backwater. However, the largest part of the Japanese army was tied down in China, maintaining internal order, and this limited what Japan could do in its war against the Allies.

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