Cover: In a Sea of Bitterness: Refugees during the Sino-Japanese War, from Harvard University PressCover: In a Sea of Bitterness in HARDCOVER

In a Sea of Bitterness

Refugees during the Sino-Japanese War

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$44.00 • £38.95 • €40.95

ISBN 9780674059887

Publication Date: 11/30/2011


368 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

12 maps, 6 tables


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The brutal Japanese invasion of China in 1937 forced more than 30 million Chinese to flee their homes and subsist in regions of their country unfamiliar to them as refugees until the end of World War II. Schoppa retraces the stories of these refugees, produced from oral histories, journals, and memoirs chronicling a turbulent period in one particular province—Zhejiang, on the central Chinese coast. The terrorizing offensives of mass murder, rape, and germ warfare launched by the Japanese militarists brought about the most demoralizing sense of political, cultural, and psychological dislocation in Chinese history… A moving narrative for serious readers in Chinese or Japanese history and in the history of 20th-century warfare in East Asia.—Allan Cho, Library Journal

Schoppa relies primarily on the direct accounts of diarists to illustrate the confusion and emotional distress that accompanied the physical hardships of being without a home during wartime—particularly for a culture that places such a high value on the concept of home. The era Schoppa revisits in this book is a dark one—as one refugee says, the loss of his home in the war thrust him into a ‘sea of bitterness’—but with measured analysis and an arsenal of facts, he sheds light on the war’s forgotten refugees.Publishers Weekly

A stunning account of the horrific experiences of Chinese refugees during the Sino-Japanese War of 1937–45. Focusing on people’s actual sentiments rather than state-generated propaganda, Schoppa finds that personal concerns, not the interests of the nation, were uppermost in the minds of refugees. He also shows that refugee strategies were profoundly shaped by the preeminent importance in Chinese culture of native place and the complex networks of human connections associated with it. In the brutal caldron of war, local attachments, which were concrete, trumped more abstract national ones.—Paul A. Cohen, author of Speaking to History

Japan’s ‘Rape of Nanking’ is infamous. Less well known are the massacres at Qiaosi and countless other places. In a moving, relentless narrative, Keith Schoppa shows how Japanese bombing, arson, rape, pillage and murder in the first years of war unleashed a ‘tsunami of refugees’ across China. Rulers and ruled, teachers and students, merchants and customers, farmers and artisans went on the run. This is the story of how they lived, coped, resisted, remembered or died in one Chinese province. Schoppa takes us back to ‘a world where ghosts wailed,’ when local, national and global destinies were sorted out. This is a masterful and sobering history.—William C. Kirby, editor of The People’s Republic of China at 60

Makes a signal contribution to the understanding of warfare in China by examining the refugee experience comprehensively. The great strength of this book is that it focuses on an entire province, one whose history and geography the author knows intimately. Schoppa takes an important step towards fulfilling the call, made by the eminent historian Parks Coble, for scholars to explore more deeply the traumatic effects of this war on civilians.—Rebecca Nedostup, author of Superstitious Regimes

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