By the late nineteenth century Imperial China was in decline. The Manchu Qing dynasty had lost much of its strength and its last years were largely dominated by the Dowager Empress Ts'u-hsi. A series of clashes with western powers had ended in defeat and reduced the prestige of the government and most efforts to modernise were either disrupted by corruption or undermined by the Empress. Tensions with the Empire of Japan, which had been forced to open up to outside influences, eventually erupted into war in Korea, and the resulting First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 was a disaster for China. In the aftermath of this war European powers forced the Imperial government into more humiliating concessions. The Boxer Revolt further reduced the prestige of the government and in 1911 the Qing were overthrown. This marked the start of nearly fifty years of chaos - the new Republic never really got established and China descended into civil war, with a series of warlords fighting an amazing number of wars.
Even when the Nationalists managed to gain the supremacy in this conflict many of the warlords remained in their posts and the Nationalists found themselves in a long civil war with the Communists. At the same time the Japanese began their long costly intervention in Chinese affairs, which finally broke out into full scale war in 1937. The Chinese were just about holding on when the Japanese turned their attention to the Pacific, dragging the Allies into the war in China, but even after the defeat of Japan the fighting didn't stop. Finally after three years of renewed civil war Mao's Communists expelled the Nationalists from the mainland and a peace of sort settled over China.
This book covers this long and costly series of wars. We start in the dying days of Imperial China and the first attempts to modernise the Chinese army. Jowett does a good job of explaining the chaotic situation during the warlord period, with its seemingly endless procession of wars and changes of fortune (an estimated 500 wars in the 1910s and 1920s including five major conflicts, fought between as many as 2,000 warlords). The text is supported by an excellent selection of contemporary photographs, good Osprey maps and some interesting propaganda material, mainly issued by the Japanese or the Communists.
This is an excellent study of a chaotic period in Chinese history. It will be of value both to those interested in this period and its conflicts in their own right and those who want to get some idea of events before the current Communist regime came to power - the chaos of the previous half-century helps explain the current regime's concern with stability.
1 - Brutal Awakening 1894-1911
2 - Revolution - 1911-20
3 - High Warlordism - 1920-28
4 - Undeclared Conflict - 1928-37
5 - Full-scale War - 1937-41
6 - World War in the East - 1941-45
7 - Red Victory - 1946-49
Author: Philip Jowett