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Sacrifices of China should be recognized

By Richard Overy (People's Daily Online)    10:47, May 13, 2015
Professor Richard Overy

It is now seventy years since the end of World War II but the historical legacy of the conflict is still alive today. The war was the largest and most costly conflict in all human history, with an estimated 55-60 million dead and tens of millions more carrying the physical and psychological scars of the war years. The commemoration of the event across the world is a reminder to the present generation of the terrible costs of the global conflict and the many sacrifices that an earlier generation had to make to achieve their liberation from imperial rule.

Various commemorations are being held around the world. In Britain, May 8 is commemorated this year with parties and festivals because victory in 1945 is still a very important part of Britain’s historical image of itself as a heroic democratic state freeing Europe from fascism. In Russia, military parade were held on May 9 since the Russians deem that the sacrifice of 27 million people for the defeat of fascism is the most important element of the whole conflict. In the United States the end of the war is always associated with the Pacific campaign and Japanese surrender on August 15.

The one factor usually missing from commemoration in the west is the contribution made by China to the eventual outcome of the war. Even seventy years later, with many new history books that explore the Asian war, public awareness of the Chinese dimension to the war is almost invisible. China, in Western commemoration, is not even remembered as one of the four main Allies. Partly this is because knowledge of the war in China in the 1930s and 1940s was very limited in the West.

The Chinese people's war of resistance against Japanese aggression was in reality an important element in the Allied struggle against the three Axis states. War reached China in 1931 with the Japanese Invasion of North-East China. During this period the Chinese resistance to Japan, which began fully with the war of 1937, affected the ability of Japan to confront the other states. Millions of soldiers were active in the Chinese war; guerrilla resistance tied down hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers who could have been used in the Pacific or in south-east Asia. During this long conflict, the Chinese people suffered extreme levels of deprivation and atrocity at the hands of the Japanese. This is a dimension of the conflict that should also be present in Western commemoration. American victory in the war in the Pacific and south-east Asia depended on the ability of the Chinese forces on all fronts in China to maintain the fighting against Japan.

The war was also the opportunity to determine the future of the Chinese nation and the political complexion of eastern Asia and the Pacific. With the end of the civil war in 1949 the way was open to build a more unitary and centralized state. China not only overcame the long-term impact of imperialism, both Western and Japanese, in order to assert its sovereignty and national integrity, but has also contributed to creating a more stable order in Asia as it has developed into one of the world’s superpowers. This has been an important contribution, just as the Soviet Union brought forty years of stability to eastern and central Europe. It would be good if the commemoration of war in the West and Russia could at last recognize that modern China was forged out of the tough metal of the war years against Japan and that the sacrifices this involved should be valued alongside the sacrifices of China’s wartime allies.

(The author is Professor of History at the University of Exeter and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.)

A Chinese version of this article appears on People's Daily as 《中国贡献不能忘却》 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Yao Xinyu,Huang Jin)

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