On Aug. 15 exactly 60 years ago, Japanese Emperor Hirohito announced an imperial prescript to end the war, and proclaimed the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, as the Potsdam Declaration demanded. Germany had already surrendered on May 2, 1945. Japan's move officially marked the end of World War II.
Historically, should this day be marked as the end of the war or victory in the War of Resistance Against Japan? The two represent different historical views on World War II. To be blunt, both the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wanted bragging rights for the so-called "victory." In fact, late president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣中正) was not challenged on the issue when singing his own praises about it. Without the 2000 transfer of power, his claim would be the only version of history.
Nevertheless, from a historian's perspective, focusing on the victory against Japan rather than the end of World War II is like talking about the Sino-Japanese War without reference to World War II. This narrow perspective reduces the importance of World War II. Although the Sino-Japanese War was a part of World War II, the latter was in fact the focus. China was victorious not because it defeated Japan, but because the US dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, forcing it to surrender. Japan had met with virtually no defeats in China, and it surrendered only because of the attacks on its homeland. Therefore, China did not really win the war. It was able to be listed as a victorious nation thanks to the US and its allies.
From this perspective, Chiang's regime simply rode to success on others' coattails by listing itself as one of the world's leading powers. But it was not actually listed as one of the alliance's four leaders until the US declared war against Japan after Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
Whether a country is a "power" or not depends on its actual strength. The UK was hardly considered a great power after World War II, let alone China. As British prime minister Winston Churchill commented at the Tehran Conference in November 1943, the poor little English donkey was squeezed between the great Russian bear and the mighty American buffalo. As least the UK was able to attend the Yalta Conference; China did not even have a seat.
Calling it China's eight-year war of resistance sounds good, but actually China was set to perish at Japan's hands. In his book The Second World War, the British war historian John Keegan described China's war of resistance as a battle to "keep their distance" from the enemy, and that they rarely threatened their opponent. He added that there was little difference in the performance of Chiang's troops and those of the communists.
During the war, Japan had a high level of control over China. It had established four successive puppet governments, and the government of the Republic of China (ROC) had all but ceased to exist. As Yale history professor Jonathan Spence has said, without World War II, China might have split in 1938. Chiang was undertaking a last-ditch fight, and was lucky to be able to hold on until Japan's defeat. Otherwise, he might not have had to wait until he fled to Taiwan to proclaim the death of the ROC.
This special day should be marked as the end of World War II, rather than the day of victory in the war of resistance. This is the historical fact. The KMT and the CCP, however, have come up with their own versions. No matter how they commemorate this day, they are merely writing a fake history. If they really want to discuss the Sino-Japanese War, they should first clarify the historical facts.
Chin Heng-wei is the editor-in-chief of Contemporary Monthly magazine.
TRANSLATED BY EDDY CHANG
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