Japanese Invasion of China: International Reaction

China Chinese-American Cub Scouts
Figure 1.--The internationl community widely condemned Japan for its invasion of Manchuria (1931) and China proper (1937), but at first offered little actual assistance. Here Chinese-American Cubs and Scouts demonstrate againsr the Japanese in New York City's Chinatown during 1938. The BSA had rules against Scouts engaging in politics, but of course feeling against the Japanese was especially strong among Chinese-Americns. American ethnic politics, however, played a smaller role in World War II than in World War I.

The international community had been shocked by the Japanese invasion of Manhuria. In response to League of Nation condemnation, Japan withdrew from the League. The internatiinal community did not see what happened in Manchuria as few Europeans lived there. And after the Japanese seized control, Manchoukuo was essentially closed off the foreigners, espercially journalits. The Japanese placed former Qing emperor PuYi onto its throne, creating a puppet regime with the fiction of an independent state. The Japanese invasion of Chima proper was a different matter. The Japanese moved south. When they reached the Great Wall of China, Chiang Kai-shek pulled back his army in order to avoid a war with Japan whle he fought the Communists. Elements in the the Natioinalists Armywere less willing to tolerate Japanese advances. This led to the Marco Polo Bridge incident which the Japanese military followed up with an attsack on Shanghi. The Japanese bombing of Shanghai was the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War. It was something that Chiang could not tolerate or hush up. Japanese bombers virtually obliterated the city for no real military objective before brutally occupying it. And this was done in the full glare of international scrutiny from the international sector of Shanghai which the Japanese did not attack. A few months later, the Japanese Army committed "The Rape of Nanjing" which was all observed by mumerous international observers. The Japanese behaved with a barbarity unseen since the Middle Ages and made all the more horrible by the use of moidern weapons. These reports were widely published around the world. The Missionary movement helped create an emotional attachment with the Ameruican public that mafe the Japanese brutalities in China a more personal matter. The reports firmly established an image of Japan as both lawless and brutal. A reputation it would live up to in its 7-year occupation of China and then other countries after launching the Pacific War. These reports were not only moved the Chinese communities in America and other countries, but also public opinion in Europe and more importantly the United States. The Japanese attrocities in China so affected American opinion are one reason that President Roosevelt had more leaway in dealing with Japan than NAZI Gerrmany. Amereican diplomatic prptests were gradually escalated to both economic sanctions and economic and military support for China. The primary issue which divided America and Japan was China which ultimsately led to Pearl Harbor.

Japanese Agression

The international community had been shocked by the Japanese invasion of Manhuria. In response to League of Nation condemnation, Japan withdrew from the League. The internatiinal community did not see what happened in Manchuria as few Europeans lived there. And after the Japanese seized control, Manchoukuo was essentially closed off the foreigners, espercially journalits. The Japanese placed former Qing emperor PuYi onto its throne, creating a puppet regime with the fiction of an independent state. The Japanese invasion of Chima proper was a different matter. The Japanese moved south. When they reached the Great Wall of China, Chiang Kai-shek pulled back his army in order to avoid a war with Japan whle he fought the Communists. Elements in the the Natioinalists Armywere less willing to tolerate Japanese advances. This led to the Marco Polo Bridge incident which the Japanese military followed up with an attsack on Shanghi. The Japanese bombing of Shanghai was the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War. It was something that Chiang could not tolerate or hush up. Japanese bombers virtually obliterated the city for no real military objective before brutally occupying it.

International Press

And this was done in the full glare of international scrutiny from the international sector of Shanghai which the Japanese did not attack. A few months later, the Japanese Army committed "The Rape of Nanjing" which was all observed by mumerous international observers. The Japanese behaved with a barbarity unseen since the Middle Ages and made all the more horrible by the use of moidern weapons. These reports were widely published around the world.

Missionaries

There is a long history of European missioinary woirk in China. American mostly Protestsnt missiionsaries began woking in China during the 19tth century. The Missionary movement helped create an emotional attachment with the American public that made the Japanese brutalities in China a more personal matter.

Pearl Buck

One of the children of missionaries was Pearl Buck whose novels beginning with The Good Earth (1931) introduced the Chinese peasant to the American public. This proved to be a matter of enormous political consequence. Buck wrote about Chima in a sympsthetic way, unlike any previous author of importance. Those who read Buck's books or saw the film adaptations could not help from being affected when they saw press images or articles about Japanese barbarities in China.

Japanese Image

The reports firmly established an image of Japan as both lawless and brutal.

Japanese Attrocities

A reputation it would live up to in its 7-year occupation of China and then other countries after launching the Pacific War.

Chinese Communities

These reports moved the Chinese communities in America and other countries.

Public Opinion

The reports also public opinion in Europe and more importantly the United States. Ameican officials became cincerned about Japan after World WarI which led the Washington Naval Treaties. Public opinion, however, was generally friendly to Japan through the 1920s. The seizure of Manchuria began to change this, but the invasion of China and the brutalities reported by the internatinal press radically changed public opinion toward China. This was further affected ny the Japanese attack on the U.S. gunboat Panay. There were apolguidts in Europe that justified NAZI actions such as the remilitarization of the Rhineland (1935), the Anschluss (1938), and seizure of the Czech Sudentenland (1938). This was not the case with Japan. One academic stufy of 5,000 editorials about Far Eastern issues in American newspapers during 1937 found "note that jusrifies Japanese agressionor condemns Cinese resistanbce. In the American press Japan is almost universally treated as the aggressor and China the victim in an undeclared war." [Wright and Nelson, p. 46.]

American Neutrality Act

One action that did not take place after the Japanese invasion was that President Roosevelt did not invoke the embargo provisions of the Neutrality Act. Here the Act seem more appropriate than the Spanish Civil War when the Act was invoked. The Japanese invasion began a major war between two countries, although neither country actually declared war. Unlike with Spain, there was not great cry among America's powerful isolationist lobby to invole the Act. The reason for this is unclear and an assessment would require a major study. Our belief is that it probably reflects the much greater fear of war with Germany and much less concern over the dangers posed by Japan. (The Isolationist Movement included those with a wide range of interests and motives, but fear of war with Germany was a major factor.) An corrilary reason is that most Americans, in part because of prevalent rascist attitudes, did not see Japan as a serious military threat. The Panay incident (December 1937) had in addition affected American public opinion. The Administration's failure to act also probably reflects the learning experience after the enbargo on Spain and a judgement that in gthis case an embargo would hurt China much more than Japan.

Consequences

The Japanese attrocities in China so affected American opinion are one reason that President Roosevelt had more leaway in dealing with Japan than NAZI Gerrmany. Amereican diplomatic prptests were gradually escalated to both economic sanctions and economic and military support for China. The primary issue which divided America and Japan was China which ultimsately led to Pearl Harbor.

Sources

Wright, Quincy and Carl J. Nelson. "American attitudes toward Japoan and China, 1937-38," Public Opinion Quarterly Vo. III, No. 1 (January 1939), pp. 46-62.






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Created: 3:02 AM 3/6/2010
Last updated: 3:02 AM 3/6/2010