The northern provinces affected by this policy were Chahar , Suiyuan , Hebei , Shanxi , and Shandong. This Japanese policy was most effective in the area of what is now Inner Mongolia and Hebei. Thus, by the end of the Chinese government had essentially abandoned northern China. Japan provided all the necessary military and economic aid. Afterwards Chinese volunteer forces continued to resist Japanese aggression in Manchuria , and Chahar and Suiyuan.
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On the night of July 7, , Chinese and Japanese troops exchanged fire in the vicinity of the Marco Polo or Lugou Bridge, a crucial access-route to Beijing. What began as confused, sporadic skirmishing soon escalated into a full-scale battle in which Beijing and its port city of Tianjin fell to Japanese forces July—August On July 29, some 5, troops of the 1st and 2nd Corps of the East Hopei Army mutinied, turning against the Japanese garrison. In addition to Japanese military personnel, some civilians living in Tongzhou in accordance with the Boxer Protocol of , were killed in the uprising predominantly Japanese including the police force and also some ethnic Koreans.
The Chinese then set fire to and destroyed much of the city. Only around 60 Japanese civilians survived, who provided both journalists and later historians with firsthand witness accounts. As a result of the violence of the mutiny against Japanese civilians, the Tungchow mutiny , as it came to be called, strongly shook public opinion within Japan. The KMT, however, determined that the "breaking point" of Japanese aggression had been reached.
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Chiang Kai-shek quickly mobilized the central government's army and air force , placed them under his direct command, and laid siege to the Japanese area of Shanghai International Settlement , where 30, Japanese civilians lived with 30, troops on August 12, On August 13, , Kuomintang soldiers and warplanes attacked Japanese Marine positions in Shanghai, leading to the Battle of Shanghai.
On August 14, Kuomintang planes accidentally bombed the Shanghai International Settlement , which led to more than 3, civilian deaths. The skies of China had become a testing zone for advanced biplane and new-generation monoplane combat-aircraft designs. The introduction of the advanced A5M "Claude" fighters into the Shanghai-Nanjing theater of operations, beginning on September 18, , helped the Japanese achieve a certain level of air superiority. The Imperial Japanese Army IJA ultimately committed over , troops, along with numerous naval vessels and aircraft, to capture the city.
After more than three months of intense fighting, their casualties far exceeded initial expectations. Finally, on November 9, the NRA began a general retreat. These campaigns involved approximately , Japanese soldiers, and considerably more Chinese. Historians estimate that between December 13, , and late January , Japanese forces killed an estimated , to , Chinese mostly civilians in the " Nanjing Massacre " also known as the "Rape of Nanjing" , after its fall. In , a history textbook prepared by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform which had been approved by the government in , sparked huge outcry and protests in China and Korea.
It referred to the Nanjing Massacre as an "incident", glossed over the issue of comfort women, and made only brief references to the death of Chinese soldiers and civilians in Nanjing. Indeed, the only one sentence that referred to this event was: "they [the Japanese troops] occupied that city in December".
At the start of , the leadership in Tokyo still hoped to limit the scope of the conflict to occupy areas around Shanghai, Nanjing and most of northern China. They thought this would preserve strength for an anticipated showdown with the Soviet Union, but by now the Japanese government and GHQ had effectively lost control of the Japanese army in China.
With many victories achieved, Japanese field generals escalated the war in Jiangsu in an attempt to wipe out Chinese resistance, but were defeated at the Battle of Taierzhuang March—April Afterwards the IJA changed its strategy and deployed almost all of its existing armies in China to attack the city of Wuhan , which had become the political, economic and military center of rump China, in hopes of destroying the fighting strength of the NRA and of forcing the KMT government to negotiate for peace.
In , the Japanese Imperial Army quickly marched into the heart of Chinese territory. On June 6, they captured Kaifeng, the capital of Henan, and threatened to take Zhengzhou, the junction of the Pinghan and Longhai railways.
To prevent Japanese advances in western and southern China, Chiang Kai-shek, at the suggestion of Chen Guofu, ordered the opening of the dikes on the Yellow River near Zhengzhou. The original plan was to destroy the dike in Zhaokou, but due to difficulties in that place, the Huayuankou dike on the south bank was destroyed on June 5 and June 7 by excavation, with flood waters over Henan, Anhui, and Jiangsu. The floods covered and destroyed thousands of square kilometers of agricultural land and displaced the mouth of the Yellow River hundreds of miles to the south.
Thousands of villages were flooded or destroyed and several million villagers were expelled from their homes. About , drowned and an additional 10 million became refugees. Damage to plantations also affected the population which generated later hunger.
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With Japanese casualties and costs mounting, the Imperial General Headquarters attempted to break Chinese resistance by ordering the air branches of their navy and army to launch the war's first massive air raids on civilian targets. Japanese raiders hit the Kuomintang's newly established provisional capital of Chongqing and most other major cities in unoccupied China, leaving millions dead, injured, and homeless. From the beginning of , the war entered a new phase with the unprecedented defeat of the Japanese at Battle of Suixian—Zaoyang , 1st Battle of Changsha , Battle of South Guangxi and Battle of Zaoyi.
These outcomes encouraged the Chinese to launch their first large-scale counter-offensive against the IJA in early ; however, due to its low military-industrial capacity and limited experience in modern warfare , this offensive was defeated. Afterwards Chiang could not risk any more all-out offensive campaigns given the poorly trained, under-equipped, and disorganized state of his armies and opposition to his leadership both within the Kuomintang and in China in general.
He had lost a substantial portion of his best trained and equipped troops in the Battle of Shanghai and was at times at the mercy of his generals, who maintained a high degree of autonomy from the central KMT government. After , the Japanese encountered tremendous difficulties in administering and garrisoning the seized territories, and tried to solve its occupation problems by implementing a strategy of creating friendly puppet governments favourable to Japanese interests in the territories conquered, most prominently the Nanjing Nationalist Government headed by former KMT premier Wang Jingwei.
However, atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army, as well as Japanese refusal to delegate any real power, left the puppets very unpopular and largely ineffective. The only success the Japanese had was to recruit a large Collaborationist Chinese Army to maintain public security in the occupied areas. By , Japan held most of the eastern coastal areas of China and Vietnam, but guerilla fighting continued in these occupied areas.
Japan had suffered high casualties from unexpectedly stubborn Chinese resistance, and neither side could make any swift progress in the manner of Nazi Germany in Western Europe. The basis of Chinese strategy before the entrance of the Western Allies can be divided into two periods as follows:.
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Unlike Japan, China was unprepared for total war and had little military-industrial strength, no mechanized divisions , and few armoured forces. Even under these extremely unfavorable circumstances, Chiang realized that to win support from the United States and other foreign nations, China had to prove it was capable of fighting.
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Knowing a hasty retreat would discourage foreign aid, Chiang resolved to make a stand at Shanghai , using the best of his German-trained divisions to defend China's largest and most industrialized city from the Japanese. The battle lasted over three months, saw heavy casualties on both sides, and ended with a Chinese retreat towards Nanjing, but proved that China would not be easily defeated and showed its determination to the world. The battle became an enormous morale booster for the Chinese people, as it decisively refuted the Japanese boast that Japan could conquer Shanghai in three days and China in three months.
The Chinese army would put up fights to delay the Japanese advance to northern and eastern cities, allowing the home front , with its professionals and key industries, to retreat west into Chongqing.
As a result of Chinese troops' scorched earth strategies, in which dams and levees were intentionally sabotaged to create massive flooding which causes thousands of death and many more seeking refuge. During this period, the main Chinese objective was to drag out the war for as long as possible in a war of attrition , thereby exhausting Japanese resources while building up Chinese military capacity. American general Joseph Stilwell called this strategy "winning by outlasting".
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The NRA adopted the concept of "magnetic warfare" to attract advancing Japanese troops to definite points where they were subjected to ambush, flanking attacks , and encirclements in major engagements. The most prominent example of this tactic was the successful defense of Changsha in and again in , in which heavy casualties were inflicted on the IJA. Local Chinese resistance forces , organized separately by both the communists and KMT, continued their resistance in occupied areas to pester the enemy and make their administration over the vast land area of China difficult.
In , the Chinese Red Army launched a major offensive in north China, destroying railways and a major coal mine. It was during this period that the bulk of Japanese war crimes were committed.
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By , Japan had occupied much of north and coastal China, but the KMT central government and military had retreated to the western interior to continue their resistance, while the Chinese communists remained in control of base areas in Shaanxi. In the occupied areas, Japanese control was mainly limited to railroads and major cities "points and lines". They did not have a major military or administrative presence in the vast Chinese countryside, where Chinese guerrillas roamed freely.
After the Mukden Incident in , Chinese public opinion was strongly critical of Manchuria's leader, the "young marshal" Zhang Xueliang , for his nonresistance to the Japanese invasion, even though the Kuomintang central government was also responsible for this policy, giving Zhang an order to "improvise" while not offering support. This resulted in great casualties for his Northeast Army, which received no support in manpower or weaponry from Chiang Kai-shek.
Despite Japan's steady territorial gains in northern China, the coastal regions, and the rich Yangtze River Valley in central China, the distrust between the two antagonists was scarcely veiled. The uneasy alliance began to break down by late , partially due to the Communists' aggressive efforts to expand their military strength by absorbing Chinese guerrilla forces behind Japanese lines. Chinese militia who refused to switch their allegiance were often labelled "collaborators" and attacked by CPC forces. Mao began his final push for consolidation of CPC power under his authority, and his teachings became the central tenets of the CPC doctrine that came to be formalized as " Mao Zedong Thought ".
The communists also began to focus most of their energy on building up their sphere of influence wherever opportunities were presented, mainly through rural mass organizations, administrative, land and tax reform measures favoring poor peasants ; while the Nationalists attempted to neutralize the spread of Communist influence by military blockade of areas controlled by CPC and fighting the Japanese at the same time. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor , the United States declared war against Japan, and within days China joined the Allies in formal declaration of war against Japan, Germany and Italy.
Almost immediately, Chinese troops achieved another decisive victory in the Battle of Changsha , which earned the Chinese government much prestige from the Western Allies. President Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union and China as the world's " Four Policemen ", elevating the international status of China to an unprecedented height after the century of humiliation at the hands of various imperialist powers.