Since then, the language has been a gateway to a whole variety of more detailed understandings, such as history, society, culture and politics. However, the language did come first. Why did you pick that subject? It was a classic PhD — supervised by Hans van de Ven FBA — in that it looked at a really quite small period of time and tried to drill down into it in immense detail. It was about a part of Chinese history that was not talked about much in China, let alone in the West. I wanted to explore in more detail the question of what the people who lived in Manchuria thought about it, and how they reacted to being invaded.
There was a nationalist mythology in China that people bravely resisted the invaders, but were crushed.
Rewriting Collaboration: China, Japan, and the Self in the Diaries of Bai Jianwu
Having read about the way in which France was supposed to have reacted when it was invaded by Germany in , and how people actually did react on the ground — which was often much more nuanced, everything between resistance and collaboration — I was fascinated to find out whether this might be the case in that part of China as well.
The projects I have done have all looked at some thread in modern Chinese history that has been under-studied or underplayed in the dominant narrative, and tried to pick away at that. The stories you have to dig out from under a carapace of historical dust and rubble often tend to be much more interesting than some of the subjects that have perhaps been gone over again and again.
What was the value of those visits? I remain immensely grateful to the British Academy.
Through its exchange schemes with partners in both mainland China and Taiwan, it provided the chance for me — and many other junior scholars — to go out to the region. And it provided an introduction to the major academies both in Beijing and Taipei, giving an entry point to visiting libraries and archives. The late s and early s was a period in which archives in China were relatively open. If you had the right ID you could go in, search the catalogues, order things up, photocopy. So you had more opportunity to see what was available on some often quite dusty shelves, and to make your own discoveries.
Sadly that is something that has become harder rather than easier in the years since then. As I supervise a new generation of doctoral students in Chinese politics and Chinese history, I do feel that they are lacking some of the opportunities that our generation was given 20 years ago. You have continued to pursue that interest in the war against the Japanese in China. The Second World War in China is still a relatively untouched field compared to the European and Pacific theatres of war. In I published my study of Manchuria in the early s, which was a prelude to the war.
It concentrated on political and social history, and was as interested in the fate of the nameless refugees on the ground as in the major leaders of the time — Mao and Chiang Kai-shek. A lot of your recent work has been on how China is now revisiting its own narrative. You can see this both in a proactive way, and also a negative way. The proactive sense is that there is a much wider project to define what Chinese nationhood is.
Manchukuo and the Dream of Pan-Asia | SpringerLink
It is made very clear that understanding the longer historical trajectory of China — which would include everything from the philosophy of Confucius to remembering more recent wars and conflicts that have shaped China — creates a narrative where China comes from a relatively backward past to, he would argue, a technologically enabled future, which is controlled by the Communist Party. However, there are also many signs of fear and apprehension about aspects of history that spoil this narrative. Anything that runs up against the historical myths that have been created, or against the idea of the inevitable victory of the Chinese Communist Party — perhaps speaking about the victory of the communists over the nationalists in the Civil War of the s in the wrong tones, or speaking ill of the pantheon of dead communist heroes — any of these might trigger a charge of historical nihilism.
In all sorts of aspects of Chinese life — whether in museums, television programmes, or indeed video games — you can find references to the Second World War. In Britain, we sometimes think we are overly obsessed with the Second World War — think of those recent films on Dunkirk and Winston Churchill.
However, the Chinese are not far behind us. Movies about the Second World War come out on a regular basis: there is a new one starring no less than Bruce Willis, with the bombing of the wartime capital of Chongqing being recreated on screen. What China contributed to the Second World War does deserve to be better known. Statistics are still not as accurate as we might wish, but we have good reason to believe that 10 million or more Chinese soldiers and civilians died during the years of the war, which lasted from to , having started two years earlier than in Europe.
Some million Chinese became refugees in their own country. And the painstakingly built infrastructure of China — railways, roads and factories, essentially all still in development — was smashed into pieces in those eight years of all-out war. On the flipside, we should remember that more than half a million Japanese troops were held down by Chinese troops in the early years of the war, meaning that some meaningful opposition to Japan in Asia was continued.
If China had given up the ghost in , as was entirely possible, then the whole history of the Second World War might well have been very different.
These facts are still not well enough known in the West. In the last decade or so, the Chinese have come to recognise that Western lack of understanding, and have become increasingly displeased, feeling that the Chinese contribution to a genuine global victory has not been sufficiently acknowledged.
And it has also been noticeable in the last years that the Chinese government has been using the history of the Second World War to make particular geopolitical points in the present day. It was the only major conference at which the Chinese leader Chiang was a player. In strategic terms, Cairo was not overwhelmingly significant, but symbolically having a non-western leader sitting with Churchill and Roosevelt was of great importance.
Seventy years later, in , the Chinese government started to push very hard with news reports about how the legacy of the Cairo conference had not been implemented, because of various pieces of territory — including the disputed islands known to the Chinese as the Diaoyu and to the Japanese as the Senkaku, which sit almost equidistant between China and Japan in the East China Sea — still deserved to go back to China. As well as studying these very specific subjects, you have published Modern China: A Very Short Introduction , which is a different sort of task.
It came out in Were you doing it for the Beijing Olympics? The challenge is that you have to cover your subject in an informed and academic way, but accessible to a general reader, and in no more than 35, words. It is famously said that it is much harder to write a short book than it is a long one, particularly one with no footnotes. The s was when we in the West first began to realise that the China story, economically and geopolitically, was going to make a big difference. Those who kept an eye on the newspapers, even if they were not China specialists, obviously knew that it was a big and important place.
However, the aftermath of Tiananmen Square in had turned a lot of people off China, because of the violence shown by the Chinese state. The Beijing Olympics was symbolic not only of the wider change that China was making in global society and the economy, but also of its intention to become a major, more confident power that was going to play a wider role in the world. You produced a second edition of Modern China in Why was that the moment for a new edition? The event that was just coming up when the first edition was published in , but whose full implications had not become clear, was the global financial crisis.
In retrospect, we can see that China took a very different path from many of the Western economies. Liam Byrne acknowledges Mitter's insights on contemporary debates on Chinese welfare provision a topic on which the UK aims to provide expert advice to the PRC , in particular that this topic is "not in fact new for the CPC [Communist Party of China] but stretches right back to the party's debates during the second world war," in a trajectory to the present day where the "recalibration of the social contract will be at the core of the next decade of Chinese politics.
Facilitating intra-Asian policy engagement Two workshops held at Oxford May , March enabled officers of the People's Liberation Army and policy practitioners from the Indian Institute of Chinese Studies to discuss the significance of Chinese nationalism in historical perspective. One very senior officer of the People's Liberation Army found the engagement with western scholars was important for recalibrating his views on western attitudes toward China's military development, and another found interaction with Indian policymakers particularly useful in terms of understanding the variations in Chinese and Indian viewpoints on nation-building and the role of history; the latter wrote with appreciation for "your very useful academic suggestions" and is currently seeking to invite Mitter to Beijing for a follow-up conference .
Promoting wider public understanding of China's history Mitter has also undertaken a variety of activities that have promoted wider public understanding of the significance of China's history in shaping contemporary Chinese nationalism: Mitter's discussion of the significance of wartime experience in shaping contemporary Sino-Japanese relations at the Commonwealth Journalists Forum London, 22 January was published by BBC Chinese Service online, and led to extensive and in part acrimonious feedback [i].
In April , Mitter spoke about the connections between China's wartime experience and contemporary politics on Saturday Extra , a major ABC Australia Radio National programme, which stimulated feedback and discussion on the programme's webpage [ii]. Listeners' responses included "What an interesting interview. Such a lot we don't know about the recent history of China, vs being awash with European history.
Could we hear a lot more of this scholar's interpretation of Chinese history. Comments included acknowledgement of "the unwritten Chinese history of the US involvement in that same war" and "One can only hope that more Japanese citizens will awaken to the delusional underpinnings of the nationalist path being pushed by Abe" [iii].
Finally, Mitter's book, China's war with Japan, , was published in July to wide and very positive reviews and its impact is likely to grow beyond the current REF period. Submitting Institution University of Oxford. Unit of Assessment History. Summary Impact Type Societal. Minguo Dang'an 4 : 83 — Fung , Edmund S. Gaimusho ,. Gendai Shina Jinmeikan. Harrison , Henrietta. He Deting ,. Yunyang shifan gaodeng zhuanke xuexiao xuebao 24 2 : —7. Howland , Douglas. Durham, N. Huang Lingjun ,. Wuhan daxue xuebao renwen kexue ban 56 4 : — Hung , Chang-Tai.
Ko , Dorothy.
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Li Shengping , , et al. Zhongguo jinxiandai renming da cidian [Biographical dictionary of modern China]. Beijing : Zhongguo guangbo guoji chubanshe. Li Yunhan , , ed. Kangzhan qian huabei zhengju shiliao. Taibei : Zhengzhong shuju.
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Re-understanding Japan: Chinese Perspectives, — Marrus , Michael R. Vichy France and the Jews. McCord , Edward A.
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