Friday, 17 August 2012

Tension and warfare in 1920s China

The years between the two world wars of the 20th century are generally considered to be ones of peace, albeit with tensions rising that would ultimately explode into the Second World War. That impression is not entirely true as several smaller wars and troubles broke out around the world.

In 1919 the League of Nations was established to find a peaceful solution to any future conflict. Based in Geneva, the League was joined by all the victors of the First World War, except the USA, and most neutral countries. Germany and the USSR joined later. Although it managed to solve disputes between smaller states in the 1920s, it failed to constrain aggression by larger states in the 1930s.

Early in 1912 Chinese rebel army officers and provincial governors had seized power and announced that the 6 year old emperor, Puyi, had abdicated in favor of a republic. The new regime proved to be just as ineffectual as that it replaced. The provinces of Tibet and Mongolia declared themselves independent while several provincial governors acted as independent warlords. In 1926 a new force, the Kuomintang led by Chiang Kai-shek announced that it wanted to see a strong, united China. Gathering mass support from peasants and city dwellers in central China, Chiang seized the central government and by 1930 had imposed his rule on most of China.

In 1931 a dangerous new element entered the turbulent Chinese scene. Japan had long been a major investor in Chinese industry, with Japanese owned enterprises being concentrated in the north around Tientsin and Lu Shan which lay close to Korea, held by Japan since 1910. Worried by the instability of warlord activity, the Japanese invaded Manchuria in 1931, later expanding into the neighbouring province of Jehol. Two years later the Japanese brought Puyi out of retirement and declared him to be Emperor of Manchuria, though real power remained with the Japanese. In 1936 the Japanese invaded China in force and by 1939 had occupied all important coastal cities and great swathes of northern China.

from The Historical Atlas of the World at War by Rupert Matthews
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