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Two Years of the Sino-Japanese Conflict

ISSUE:  Summer 1940

“Humane Endeavour”: The Story of the China War. By Haldore Hanson. New York: Farrar and Rinchart. $2.50. Chaos in China. By Hallett Abend. New York: Ives Washburn, Incorporated. $3.00.

At the time of the Lukouchiao incident, when the flame of war was ignited in the Far East, there were many, including not a few Chinese politicians, who would readily brush aside as wishful thinking or unwarranted optimism the prediction that China could hold out for more than a few months. Two and a half years have passed since the invasion began and China is still going strong. By thus holding out steadfastly despite tremendous difficulties China has defeated Japan’s main objective of winning a quick decision—her only hope of victory. This extraordinary demonstration of China’s staying power has surprised the world and has considerably revised the more or less common pre-war estimate of China as a sleepy, half-sick and spineless nation. By what means has China been able to hold out so long? What sacrifices has China been forced to make for her heroic stand? What has been the effect of the war on third-power interests in China? In other words, what has been the course of the war in the last two years? Interesting and pertinent answers to these questions and scores of others about the history and problems of the war can be found in these two books, which can be ranked among the best journalistic records of the war.

Haldore Hanson’s ” ‘Humane Endeavour’ ” is a very informative and extremely exciting book of value both for the specialist and the general reader. Going to the Far East immediately after graduation from college in 1934, with a loan of $125 in his pocket, Hanson spent three years in China before the war started, working at odd jobs and studying the spoken language. He was appointed war correspondent by the Associated Press soon after the opening of hostilities, and he took advantage of every opportunity to visit the scene of action and write from first-hand knowledge. The result is a book full of personal adventures, eye-witness accounts of conditions in the war zones and guerrilla areas, and stories of outstanding occurrences related by important participants whom Hanson has interviewed.

Hanson was at Lukouchiao in the worst days of the crisis; he witnessed the fall of Peiping; he was the first correspondent to visit the Nanyuan battlefield after a thousand Chinese soldiers had been massacred; he visited Paoting soon after its fall and got arrested, but he brought back an authentic story about the Japanese burning of books, looting, raping, and killing in North China; he interviewed the man who was supposed to have engineered the Tungchow Rebellion; he claims also to have gotten the real story of the Taierchuang victory from the real hero of the occasion. He had a flair for picking up quantitative data not obtainable in ordinary sources, on the basis of which he figures out the cost of living, cost of military operations, length of marches, number of casualties, and above all, an economic balance sheet of the Japanese adventure. There is, of course, no way of checking the accuracy of his figures, but in the absence of any others, these quantitative materials help give the reader a more realistic feeling of the situation.

The author of “Chaos in China” is Hallett Abend, the veteran correspondent of The New York Times in China. Belonging to the old school of Western correspondents in China who look at the multifarious problems of China and the Far East chiefly from the viewpoint of the Western interests in China, Abend devotes a large part of his book to the discussion of this problem. Just as Hanson marched with guerrillas, Abend made the round of Peiping, Tientsin, Shanghai, Canton, and other treaty port cities, interviewing important Chinese and Japanese in order to collect information about the status of Western interests in China. His conclusion is that “it is perfectly evident to all third-power nationals residing in the Far East that Japan plans an exclusive and monopolistic exploitation of China’s trade and resources.”

Considerable space is devoted to the inhuman and brutal treatment of Chinese civilians by Japanese officers and soldiers and the frequent annoyances caused by the arrogant and arbitrary activities of the Japanese secret police. In both cases, Abend gives us his personal experiences. His testimony on these matters is especially important because in his long record in the Far East, while he has frequently indicated his high regard for Japan, he has very seldom, if ever, been accused of being anti-Japanese.

While both books provide us with valuable information in regard to the first two years of the war, both are weak in analysis and both fail to give us a clear perspective on the future development of the conflict. Hanson, however, has touched upon the heart of the problem in his interviews with the guerrilla leaders, although he has failed to give it sufficient emphasis. In an interview with Hanson, General Nieh Jung-Chen, military commander of the Shansi-Hopei-Cha-har Border District, one of the most important guerrilla bases behind Japan’s lines, pointed out that the Japanese, like every previous conqueror of China, had hoped to seize China piece by piece, using the man power and resources of one province to conquer the next. General Nieh made it clear that “The first objective of the guerrilla is not military but political.” He explains, “We aim to occupy all the territory between the Japanese railways. If we can control the farmers, we automatically defeat the Japanese puppet government and prevent the exploitation of Chinese resources.” Although there is a copy of “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” on General Nieh’s desk, and the Chinese guerrilla leaders do not hesitate to learn from their English predecessor, there is a basic difference of objective and therefore of tactics between the guerrilla exploits of Lawrence and those of the Chinese leaders. “Lawrence used cameleers merely for railway sabotage,” explains Hanson, but “among Chinese guerrillas the democratic revolution is of major importance and railway demolition is secondary.” A successful democratic regime in the guerrilla base which provided better government than the puppet regimes would attract the people to its side. This is the fundamental and the most effective way of preventing the Japanese from selling their goods, exploiting Chinese resources, or consolidating their rule in occupied China. Thus, a long stalemate in the conflict, which seems to be likely, means that the struggle will become less and less military and more and more political and economic. Aside from developing the struggle along economic and political lines as well as continuing raids on Japanese garrisons in the occupied territories, China’s hope seems to lie in an intensive and progressive economic and political development of the hinterland provinces in the northwest and southwest, as a base for the organization of a general offensive that will finally oust the invader from Chinese territory.


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