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China – Sino-Japanese Relations, c.1840-1945

6. The Chinese Experience of War

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In this module, we trace events as the Sino-Japanese War escalates further and ‘joins up’ with the Second World War in the early 1940s, focusing in particular on: (i) China’s inability to drum up international support following the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931; (ii) the reluctance of the Western powers to get involved with an East Asian conflict given the threat posed by Nazi Germany much closer to home, and the United States’ reluctance to get involved with any war whatsoever; (iii) the importance of Japan’s increasingly aggressive expansion in the 1930s and (most importantly) the attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in 1941 in altering the West to the threat posed by the Japanese; (iv) the increase in support to China from the United States, in terms of both military advisors and materiel; (v) the extent to which the Chinese government made effective use of US military aid to pursue the war against Japan; (vi) the importance of Soong Mei-ling in maintaining US support for the Chinese war effort; and (vii) the extent to which China’s continued emphasis on how close it was to defeat undermined American trust in the regime.


In this course, Dr Marjorie Dryburgh (University of Sheffield) explores the relationship between China and Japan between c.1840-1945, with a particular focus on the events that led to the outbreak of war between the two nations in July 1937. In the first module, we think about the longer-term political context of Sino-Japanese relations (from the mid-19th century onwards) before turning in the second module to consider the cultural relationship between China and Japan. In the third module, we think about the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, followed in the fourth module by an brief exploration of life in Japanese-occupied Manchuria (referred to by the Japanese as Manchukuo). In the fifth module, we think about why the Marco Polo Bridge Incident escalated so quickly into war, before turning in the sixth module to consider the Chinese experience of war more generally – including the notorious ‘Nanjing Massacre’ of December 1937. Finally, in the seventh module, we think about the incorporation of the Sino-Japanese War into the Second World War more generally – particularly after the Japanese attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor – and the (in)effectiveness of China’s international diplomacy in the face of the Japanese threat.


Dr Marjorie Dryburgh is Lecturer in Chinese Studies in the School of East Asian Studies at the University of Sheffield. She works on the modern history of China, with specific interests in China’s relations with Japan before 1945, regional and urban histories, and the conventions and uses of life writing.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Dryburgh, M. (2021, February 11). China – Sino-Japanese Relations, c.1840-1945 - The Chinese Experience of War [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Dryburgh, M. "China – Sino-Japanese Relations, c.1840-1945 – The Chinese Experience of War." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 11 Feb 2021,

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