China: World War II--Children (1937-45)

Figure 1.--These boy are congregting along the rail tracks at Taku (near Tianjin/Tientsin) in northern China, to sell bread or get some coins from the passangers. The photograph was taken in 1945, probably September. It was taken by a U.S. soldier helping the Nationalists to occupy northern cities after the Japanese surrender. By this time, American food shipments had begun to reach China.

World War II was a disaster for China, but no one suffered more than the children. This is because despite te unbelievable brutality of the Japanese, the major killer was famine and food shortages. Even in normal times, China's archaic agricultural sector struggled to feed the population. And children because of their lower resistance to disease and need for more regular nutrition were often the first to die as a result of food shortages. And orphaned children or those seprated from their parents had virtually no way of obtaining food. Some 10-15 million Chinese people are believed (some estimates are higher) perished during the war, most because of food shortages. And children were a large part of that total. The United States after the Japanese cut the Burma Road (February 1942) had no way of getting significantly quantities of food into China. At first the Nationalists controlled vast areas of productive agricutural land, but as Japan moved steadily south and west, more and more agrucultural land fell into their hands. This meant that children would have increaing difficulty obtaining food. In Nationalist-controlled areas the authorities as a result had less access to food and greater demand for it as refugees fleeing the Japanese flooded toward the Nationalists seeking safety. The Nationalists had insufficient food for permanent residents let alone the refugees. In Commuinst controlled areas, we are not sure what occuurred. In Japanese-controlled areas, the Japanese seized contol of the food supply. Food production declined because of the brutal occupation regime. Labor shortages were a major problem. The Japanese Army seized food from the peasantry for its troops and shipped some back to the Home Islands albeit much less than they thought possibe when they launched the war. The Chinese were on their own and of course displaced children were most endangered. While food shortages were the major killer, childrn died and suffered in many other ways. Children were not exempted from terrible Japanese attrocities (the Rape of Nanking is but one example), bombing of Chinese cities, use of chemical and biological agents, and medcal experiments. Even if not killed directly, the killing of parents meant that younger children had very little chance of survival unless taken in by other family members. And given the terrible food shortages, this often did not happen. The Nationlists, Communists, and Japanese often press-ganged civilans and this included both teenagers and even older boys. Many did not survive because of mistreatment and food shortages. The Japanese murdered all Chinese POWs, including the boys and teenagers. Unlike the Germans, the Japanese did not target ethnic groups in China, although they attempted to coopt the Manchurins. This was not the case of the overseas Chinese in countries Malaya and Indonedia. The Chinese minorities there were brutalized and subjct to roundups and murder. Children also played a role in the war effort as they were consripted into military service and worked on construction projects. Orphanages were opened for the displaced children, but we have limited information on these facilities at this time. A major problem for the orhaages was obtaining food. This is a poorly stdied subject. If you do a Google serch, virtually nothing come up. In fact what comes up or Japanese children stranded in China after the war. This is a miniscule part of the stry of children in China during World War II, but interesting in itself.


Collingham, Lizze. The Taste of War: World war II and the Battlke for Food (New York: Peguin: 2012), 634p.


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Created: 5:01 PM 9/3/2015
Last updated: 5:02 PM 9/3/2015