China Defense Sags, Fear Masses

(September 1937)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 1 No. 4, 4 September 1937, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Demonstrating once again the inability of the Chinese bourgeoisie to conduct any consistent, effective struggle against imperialism for China’s national independence, recent reports from China indicate the withdrawal of Nanking government forces from Woosung and the immediate vicinity of Shanghai, thus enabling the armies of Japanese imperialism to secure a substantial foothold in the area of the Yangtze delta at a time when the armed hosts of Nippon have already driven through the Nankow Pass to complete their conquest of North China and Inner Mongolia. Japanese military and naval commanders told newspaper correspondents that they expect the Shanghai hostilities to be over in short order. “The cabarets on North Szechuen Road will be open again in about, two weeks,” vice-admiral Hasegawa laughingly announced. Thus seriously do Japan’s war lords estimate Nanking’s “resistance!”

A “high Nanking government spokesman,” quoted in the New York Times on August 28, described the withdrawal at Shanghai as the first step in a plan for “a long campaign of stiff resistance, retiring inland if necessary, and letting the enemy extend his own lines to his cost.”

“What if they take Nanking?” this anonymous mouthpiece nonchalantly declared:

“It would signify nothing, for there would be no government there and probably not much of anything else by that time. And conceding that the Japanese Army with naval aid might sweep the whole Shanghai, Hangchow, Soochow and Nanking area – even then they would have made only the smallest territorial dent in China. No, our present aim is not to obtain military victories but to preserve the unity and fortitude of our armies. Our people refuse to make peace on any terms, but will continue fighting until the enemy is compelled to realize the futility of attempting such a colossal task as the conquest of China and the subjugation of the Chinese people.”

Record of Surrender

The strategic motive advanced as justification for the Chinese withdrawal might be accorded some weight if it had not come from the Nanking government, which has a record for miserable capitulation before Japanese imperialism stretching back over a period of six years to the Japanese seizure of Mukden on September 18, 1931. When the armies of Japanese imperialism were completing their conquest of Manchuria (quite a sizeable “territorial dent”), Nanking announced a policy of “long-time resistance” but did not lift a finger to defend the vast northeastern territory, When Japan struck at Shanghai in the opening weeks of 1932, the Nanking government fled in indecent haste to Loyang, capital of Honan province, far from the devastating fury of Japanese artillery and bombing planes. The theory of “long-time” resistance was twisted into the theory of “long-distance” resistance, with the government declaring it would fight Japan even if it had to retreat to Kansu and Shensi in order to do it! The heroic resistance of the 19th Route Army to the Japanese invaders at Shanghai was spiked by Nanking from the rear and ended in tragic defeat. Shanghai was demilitarized.


In February 1933 Nanking’s long-time, long-distance resistance policy, which meant leaving thousands of poorly-armed, ill-fed and unclothed masses of provincial soldiers in the path of the Japanese advance, enabled Japanese imperialism to add Jehol to the empire it had seized in Manchuria. Despite topographical factors which added to the difficulties of the attackers, Japan’s armies conquered the province in a campaign which lasted barely eight days. The Jehol campaign was followed in May of the same year by the Japanese seizure of the Luan River region in Hopei province. The sporadic fighting in that area was formally concluded by the Tangku Truce, signed May 9, the full terms of which have never been disclosed to this day. This “truce” resulted in the “demilitarization” of 24 districts, comprising a region of roughly 1,500 square miles, in the region of the Great Wall. Japanese imperialism continued to press forward and in June 1935 engineered the Ho-Umetsu Agreement whereby all Nanking government troops were to be excluded from Hopei province. Although Ho Ying-ching, the Chinese signatory, was Minister of War in the Nanking government and Nanking’s official deputy in North China, Nanking declared it did not “recognize” the agreement but let it go at that. Ho was not repudiated nor excluded from the government. The uncontested Japanese seizure of Manchuria, the surrender of Shanghai, the miserable “defense” of Jehol, the traitorous Tangku and Ho-Umetsu agreements – all these paved the way for Japan’s latest military campaign in North China and at Shanghai.

The agreement which brought to a formal close the hostilities at Shanghai in 1932 provided for the demilitarization of a 12-mile zone around Shanghai. Japan has made it clear that at the conclusion of the latest undeclared war Chinese troops are to be excluded from a zone of much wider radius. Practically all of the Hongkew, Yangtzepoo and Chapei districts which form northeastern Shanghai are now held by Japan’s forces and it is not unlikely that these will become a Japanese “concession.” The conquest of Hopei and Chahar, inevitably to be followed by seizure of the Inner Mongolian provinces of Suiyuan and Ningh-sia, will provide Japan with an important flanking base for future attack on the Mongolian People’s Republic and, ultimately, Soviet Siberia.

Nanking’s “resistance” to Japan’s latest empire push is calculated, not as a serious war for the preservation or assertion of China’s independence, but as the minimum necessary to retain the leadership of the Chinese bourgeoisie, to stall off mass opposition to the treachery of the Kuomintang regime, and to justify the confidence of Anglo-American imperialism to the end that a “new deal” may be struck with Japan at a propitious moment. The mood of surrender has animated Nanking from the very outset of the hostilities, which began in North China and only later extended to Shanghai. It is underlined by the declaration of the Nanking spokesman, in particular the statement that Japan is to be maneuvered into drawing out her lines for a costly and possibly disastrous campaign inland. A government seriously bent on defense would never disclose its strategy to the enemy. intended to deceive? But it coincides with the actual retreat of Chinese troops from the Shanghai area and the weakening of Chinese opposition to Japan in North China! Moreover, there is nothing to show that Japan has embarked or ever intended to embark on any such suicidal venture as the attempted conquest of all China by a single, continuous military campaign. Japan’s policy has been, and remains, the gradual carving of a continental empire from the living body of Asia, the theory of the Japanese imperialists being that each successive territorial conquest renders more difficult, and ultimately will make impossible, any serious resistance. Yet it is precisely on the theory that Japan is now trying, at one fell swoop, as it were, to subjugate all China, that Nanking predicates its policy of long-time, long-distance resistance, in other words, a long-drawn-out war of attrition! Here we have the unmistakable formula of capitulation.

Nanking not Serious

Viewing from afar the struggle now being waged in China one cannot help being struck by the inequality of the contending forces. Backward China faces imperialist Japan. But even more striking is the fact that the fighting in China is taking place after the fashion of a staged drama, with the vast Chinese populace as spectators – spectators moreover, who are not infrequently drawn into the role of passive victims of the contenders. Here we get the measure of Nanking’s seriousness in the conduct of the war. If Nanking, governing a country militarily superior to imperialist Japan only in the sheer weight of its vast population, intended seriously to fight for China’s liberation from imperialism, it would extend the struggle to all possible fronts and systematically draw the civilian masses into the battle. Arming the masses for the struggle, it would answer the attacks of Japanese imperialism

not only by military measures, but by severance of diplomatic relations with Tokyo, following this up by decrees confiscating all Japanese concessions, banks, factories, real estate and other properties in China – in word, by a real defensive and offensive war. Measures such as these (countless others could be suggested) would evoke tremendous mass enthusiasm and call forth international proletarian solidarity for China’s cause. A struggle along the lines indicated, with all available forces brought into action, would almost certainly spell defeat for the imperialists of Dai Nippon.

But Nanking, keeping one eye cocked for a “compromise” with Japan, has carefully refrained from taking any of those irrevocable measures which a state of war demands and which pose inescapably the alternatives of either complete victory or defeat with no middle course of “compromise” left open. Nanking fears the Chinese masses more than it does the hosts of imperial Japan. With the latter a “compromise” is always possible; the Chinese masses might want to go “too far” and confiscate all bourgeois property, foreign and native. Tokyo has been equally careful to avoid a formal war declaration. The Japanese imperialists have a lively appreciation of the advantages of undeclared warfare. They realize that a formal war declaration would give Nanking no choice but to respond in kind. In a real war, with the entire Chinese nation mobilized for the struggle, Nanking would be risking its own existence, but defeat for Japan would be practically certain. Tokyo understands quite well that Nanking is playing Japan’s game by restricting the Chinese defense to military action by professional armies and preventing that enlargement of the campaign by which alone victory can be assured.

Britain, U.S. Tied

Nanking’s acceptance of Washington’s proposal to settle Sino-Japanese issues “peacably” on the basis of a withdrawal of both Japanese and Chinese troops from he Shanghai area, coinciding with Nanking’s announcement of the conclusion of a non-aggression pact with Moscow, and Chiang Kai-shek’s appeal for imperialist intervention against Japan’s is fresh indication of the Chinese bourgeoisie’s lack of confidence in its ability to beat off the attacks of the Japanese imperialists. In line with its policy of the last six years, it naively hopes for intervention by Japan’s imperialist rivals, by Soviet Russia, or both. But Washington, pending completion of its armament program, is in no haste to try conclusions with Japan, while Britain, despite the shooting-up of its ambassador by Japanese machine gunners, is too preoccupied with preserving its domination in the Mediterranean to challenge Japan’s latest onslaughts in China. The Stalin government, counter-revolutionary to the core, will never aid China in her struggle for national liberation unless such aid should happen to coincide with the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy. Moscow’s conclusion of a non-aggression pact with Nanking is merely a diplomatic move designed to hinder bourgeois China from becoming the ally of imperialist Japan in a future war against Soviet Russia.

It becomes ever clearer that only a revolutionary government of the Chinese proletariat, supported by the poor peasants and all the oppressed, and assisted by the international working-class, can win China’s freedom from imperialist rape and domination. Unless the exploited Chinese masses, rallying to the demand for arms to repulse the imperialist invaders, succeed in intervening in the present struggle, Japan will emerge from the war with new territorial conquests.

Last updated on 19 November 2014