China's War Reporters: The Legacy of Resistance against Japan
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When Japan invaded China in the summer of 1937, many Chinese journalists greeted the news with euphoria. For years, the Chinese press had urged Chiang Kai-shek to resist Tokyo’s aggressive overtures. This was the war they wanted, convinced that their countrymen would triumph.
Parks Coble recaptures the experiences of China’s war correspondents during the Sino-Japanese War of 1937–1945. He delves into the wartime writing of reporters connected with the National Salvation Movement―journalists such as Fan Changjiang, Jin Zhonghua, and Zou Taofen―who believed their mission was to inspire the masses through patriotic reporting. As the Japanese army moved from one stunning victory to the next, forcing Chiang’s government to retreat to the interior, newspaper reports often masked the extent of China’s defeats. Atrocities such as the Rape of Nanjing were played down in the press for fear of undercutting national morale.
By 1941, as political cohesion in China melted away, Chiang cracked down on leftist intellectuals, including journalists, many of whom fled to the Communist-held areas of the north. When the People’s Republic was established in 1949, some of these journalists were elevated to prominent positions. But in a bitter twist, all mention of their wartime writings disappeared. Mao Zedong emphasized the heroism of his own Communist Revolution, not the war effort led by his archrival Chiang. Denounced as enemies during the Cultural Revolution, once-prominent wartime journalists, including Fan, committed suicide. Only with the revival of Chinese nationalism in the reform era has their legacy been resurrected.
most of the war coverage praised China’s military. Maintaining morale was a high priority; war was celebrated. The Salvationist press used China’s stand at Shanghai to advance and celebrate the idea of “heroic resistance.” Qian Junrui, a CCP member who frequently contributed to Salvationist journals, argued that China had previously been crippled by the “fear of Japan disease” (kongRi bing), the belief that China’s armaments were no match for those of Japan’s. China’s resistance, he countered,
summer of 1937, the response by Chinese left ist and Salvationist writers was one of near elation. Both reporters, such as Fan Changjiang, who had already covered conflict, and writers, such as Ba Jin and Mao Dun, who temporarily turned to war time reporting, celebrated China’s stand. After years of humiliation and retreat, Chiang Kai-shek had stood up to the Japanese. Despite retreats and disenchantment with Chiang, the Salvationist writers persisted in maintaining that China’s heroic resistance
walks of life to submit essays about their lives on the specific day May 21, 1936. More than three thousand essays were submitted, out of which 469 were selected for publication, with pieces COPING WITH ATROCITY 67 written by Chinese from a wide variety of social backgrounds. Edited by famed leftist writer Mao Dun, it was published by Zou Taofen’s Shenghuo Bookstore. The collection was very successful and garnered much attention within Chinese literary circles.37 In the early summer of 1938,
embassy in Chongqing noted, “It has long been admitted that the Japanese can go where they like in China, if they consider any particular objective worthwhile. In the past month this has been painfully exemplified.”34 Even the English-language publication China at War, an official propaganda journal of the Chongqing government, had to admit that “the loss of Hengyang is perhaps the most serious blow to the Chinese since the fall of Nanking, Hankow and Canton in the early stages of the war. For
throughout the city, there was celebration in Shanghai. Chen remembered that Chinese shops suddenly sported 124 DESPAIR AND BITTER VICTORY Chinese Nationalist flags, which had been hidden away. Russian restaurants and bars held lively celebrations. Chen himself was so excited that evening he could not sleep.58 In occupied Beijing, William Hung, a faculty member at Yanjing University, had been interned for a month not long after Pearl Harbor. After his release, he had spent the rest of the war