China’s Good War
Chinese leaders once tried to suppress memories of their nation’s brutal experience during World War II. Now they celebrate the “victory”-a key foundation of China’s rising nationalism.
For most of its history, the People’s Republic of China limited public discussion of the war against Japan. It was an experience of victimization-and one that saw Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek fighting for the same goals. But now, as China grows more powerful, the meaning of the war is changing. Rana Mitter argues that China’s reassessment of the World War II years is central to its newfound confidence abroad and to mounting nationalism at home.
China’s Good War begins with the academics who shepherded the once-taboo subject into wider discourse. Encouraged by reforms under Deng Xiaoping, they researched the Guomindang war effort, collaboration with the Japanese, and China’s role in forming the post-1945 global order. But interest in the war would not stay confined to scholarly journals. Today public sites of memory-including museums, movies and television shows, street art, popular writing, and social media-define the war as a founding myth for an ascendant China. Wartime China emerges as victor rather than victim.
The shifting story has nurtured a number of new views. One rehabilitates Chiang Kai-shek’s war efforts, minimizing the bloody conflicts between him and Mao and aiming to heal the wounds of the Cultural Revolution. Another narrative positions Beijing as creator and protector of the international order that emerged from the war-an order, China argues, under threat today largely from the United States. China’s radical reassessment of its collective memory of the war has created a new foundation for a people destined to shape the world.
Mitter shows movingly what Chinese people sing about and weep about when they turn their minds to the devastating contours of the Second World War. Equally at home in provincial museums, internet chat rooms, and China's foreign ministry, he is a sure guide to China's ongoing reassessment of the war and postwar. His brilliant account shows how nation has replaced class in the moral narrative China has constructed to frame its national project. -- Jay Winter, author of War beyond Words: Languages of Remembrance from the Great War to the Present Written with the flair we have come to expect from esteemed China historian Rana Mitter, China's Good War provides indispensable and timely context for the upsurge in Chinese nationalism now remaking Sino-foreign relations. -- Karl Gerth, author of Unending Capitalism: How Consumerism Negated China's Communist Revolution A breathtaking study of the relationship between history, nationalism, and collective memory by a China eager to assert its new moral and international standing in the world. In a sweeping yet detailed chronicle of the ways in which China is refashioning a new wartime narrative, Mitter provides extraordinary insights into the inner workings of its rise as a global power. For anyone interested in understanding how Chinese leaders are laying the groundwork for their claim as guarantor of the international order, this brilliant book is an absolute must-read. -- Sheila Miyoshi Jager, author of Brothers at War: The Unending Conflict in Korea A brilliant and profoundly researched work. Mitter demonstrates that alone among major combatant nations, China's official historical narrative of World War II has undergone radical swings not just on the basic facts, but also on how memory serves (or not) to validate China's governments. He provides timely and nuanced insights into how war memory today is deployed by both the Chinese government and the Chinese people. -- Richard B. Frank, author of Tower of Skulls: A History of the Asia-Pacific War An understanding of China today requires a grasp of its history through its own eyes, including the unfolding national narrative on the Second World War. Mitter confirms his status as one of the world's leading sinologists in this lucid work as he explores fresh intellectual terrain, awakening us to China's radically different perspectives on critical wartime events. This book will unsettle much received wisdom in the West on the war whose outcome determined much of the current global order. -- Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia and President of the Asia Society Policy Institute
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