Events preceding World War II in Asia
This article is concerned with the events that preceded World War II in Asia.
Communism and the Kuomintang in China
Prior to World War I, China's last dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, collapsed giving way to a nominal republic. This government, however, also failed, and China fell into a fragmented region of warlords. Out of this vacuum arose two primary forces aiming to unite China under their ideology. In 1912, the Kuomintang (KMT) was formed and in 1922, the Communist Party of China (CPC) was formed. The two were not immediate enemies, but in 1927, with much of southern and central China under their control, the KMT openly turned on the CPC.
In the east, Japan had, as early as the late nineteenth century, begun to spread out across Asia, brought about by conflict between traditional Japanese practices and changing social conditions associated with rapid industrialisation and modernisation. In 1905 Japan won an astounding victory over Russia, and in 1910 it occupied Korea and made it a colony. =] During the 1920s democracy seemed to be taking root in Japan, but by the 1930s, the Great Depression brought to the fore many talented military leaders who took control of Japan, often ruling in the name of Emperor Hirohito, and playing on the traditional respect the Japanese people held for their emperors. In 1931, Japan invaded and occupied Inner Manchuria, setting up the puppet state of Manchukuo, and by 1937 launched a second invasion that occupied the rest of the region. For this reason, some scholars consider 1936/37 the actual start of World War II.
The following events played a significant role in setting the stage for the involvement of Asia and the Pacific in World War II:
- 1853: American Commodore Matthew Perry arrives in Tokyo harbor and forces Japanese to begin 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.
- 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, and the Carolines. 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, Japanese forces invade Manchuria. 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.
- January 28, 1932: Beginning with anti-Japanese riots, fighting erupts between rioters 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 "1.28 Incident" in China.
- 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 in 1941-12-08.)
- 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.
- 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 breaching 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.
- Second Sino-Japanese War
- World War II
- Causes of World War II
- Events preceding World War II in Europe
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