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Chinese Soldier vs Japanese Soldier: China 1937–38

Chinese Soldier vs Japanese Soldier: China 1937–38 Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review June 2019 Title Chinese Soldier vs Japanese Soldier: China 1937–38
Author Benjamin Lai Publisher Osprey Publishing
Published 2019 ISBN 9781472828200
Format 80 pages, softbound MSRP (USD) $20.00

Review

For four years before Pearl Harbor, China bore the brunt of Imperial Japan’s aggression.

Now Benjamin Lai illumines and explores the conflict’s infantry fighting in Chinese Soldier vs Japanese Soldier: China 1937-38 – 37th in Osprey’s growing “Combat” series.

Contents commence with remarks on “the opposing sides”. China proved inferior to Japan in almost every aspect – recruitment, training, doctrine, tactics, command and control, logistics, and morale.

Only in certain weapons types did Chinese soldiers match their Japanese counterparts. Even then, China suffered severe standardization problems. Fighting on home territory also operationally and logistically favored Chinese forces.

Coverage hits climax with combat commentary on three actions:

  • The Marco Polo Bridge Incident, July 1937
  • Tai’wrzhuang, March-April 1938
  • Wanjialing, July-October 1938

And informative analyses and “aftermath” comments complete contents.

Fascinating facts season the study. Readers unfamiliar with politics of the period, for instance, might find the naked disobedience of local Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) commanders surprising. IJA troops acted brazenly independent of Imperial Headquarters in Tokyo.

Resourcefulness often proved critical to combat success. To identify the enemy during a decisive night engagement, for instance, Chinese troops simply stripped to the waist – and attacked any completely clothed soldier.

Social factors remained arbiters of battlefield outcomes, too. While “some 85-90 per cent” of Chinese soldiers were illiterate, all Japanese conscripts, thanks to the country’s “mandatory education system” were literate. Quite a disparity.

Endemic poverty further hobbled Chinese defenses. “One bullet cost the same as 3.5 kg of rice or 35 eggs,” Lai notes. “[T]he cost of ammunition severely [restricted] training to cover only the most basic of soldiering skills.”

Period photos, uniform plates, action illustrations, and maps illustrate the effort. Sidebars, biographies, and extended captions also augment the account. And an abbreviations list, unit symbols key, orders-of-battle, and index nicely round things out.

But lack of annotations proved vexing. Lai contends, for instance, that “the Chinese soldier could pick up skills and techniques much faster than a comparable Western soldier could”. But only the unattributed remarks of an anonymous “American military observer” serve as proof. Informed inquiry demands more than anecdote or allegation.

Still, Lai competently captures combat during early phases of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Make his handy handbook your introduction to this long-neglected topic.

Recommended!

My sincere thanks to Osprey Publishing for this review sample!

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