When Japan invaded China in the summer of 1937, many Chinese journalists greeted the news with euphoria. For years, the Chinese press had urged Chiang Kai-shek to resist Tokyo’s aggressive overtures. This was the war they wanted, convinced that their countrymen would triumph.
Parks Coble recaptures the experiences of China’s war correspondents during the Sino–Japanese War of 1937–1945. He delves into the wartime writing of reporters connected with the National Salvation Movement—journalists such as Fan Changjiang, Jin Zhonghua, and Zou Taofen—who believed their mission was to inspire the masses through patriotic reporting. As the Japanese army moved from one stunning victory to the next, forcing Chiang’s government to retreat to the interior, newspaper reports often masked the extent of China’s defeats. Atrocities such as the Rape of Nanjing were played down in the press for fear of undercutting national morale.
By 1941, as political cohesion in China melted away, Chiang cracked down on leftist intellectuals, including journalists, many of whom fled to the Communist-held areas of the north. When the People’s Republic was established in 1949, some of these journalists were elevated to prominent positions. But in a bitter twist, all mention of their wartime writings disappeared. Mao Zedong emphasized the heroism of his own Communist Revolution, not the war effort led by his archrival Chiang. Denounced as enemies during the Cultural Revolution, once-prominent wartime journalists, including Fan, committed suicide. Only with the revival of Chinese nationalism in the reform era has their legacy been resurrected.
This is the first book to assess newspaper reports written during China’s war with Japan (1937–45) alongside new histories of the war that have appeared since the mid–1980s. Coble demonstrates the political slant of each body of literature—an emphasis on China’s bravery and resistance in the first instance, and on China’s victimization and Japanese brutality in the second. These stark differences mean that any attempt to use historic reporting to serve present war memorialization goals requires a distortion of history. The victim narrative boosts Chinese nationalism by filling the ideological void left by declining belief in Marxist-Leninist-Maoist thought… Coble also details journalists’ suffering under the Communist regime, particularly during the Cultural Revolution, thereby showing that press freedom had dissolved by the late war years. Coble’s work stands as a belated eulogy to these once-famous war reporters who later suffered persecution.
Thoroughly researched and well written, this is an original contribution to our understanding of China’s war with Japan. One of its strengths is the way Coble shows how varied over time and place the devastating war experience was for journalists as well as the Chinese populace in general. He works carefully through that experience as conditions on the battlefield changed. In particular, he demonstrates how important, destructive, and depressing was the impact of the now almost forgotten Ichigo Offensive of 1944. I know of no other work that covers the ups and especially the downs of the war experience so well and comprehensively.
Based on impressively wide reading in Chinese sources, this book is an important intervention in the current scholarship on the history of China’s War of Resistance against Japan. Readers will profit from Coble’s deft synopses of wartime and contemporary writings on the war. For historians of contemporary China, for those interested in public memory, and for those analyzing East Asian international relations, Coble provides a thoughtful analysis of the impact of the contemporary political situation in China on the new remembering of World War II in China. I have no doubt the book will find a broad audience.
- 288 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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