Japanese troops enter the Chinese city of Peking (now known as Beijing) in the war between China and Japan from 1937-1945

china-japan wars

Sino-Japanese Wars

(China vs. Japan)

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Flag of Nationalist China | Flag of Communist China | Flag of Japan

The series of wars and conflicts between China and Japan are known as the Sino-Japanese Wars. These wars weakened China, while helping Japan gain more power; that is, until the final war, in which China finally gained allies, most notably the United States and Great Britain. The Second Sino-Japanese War is also considered a part of World War Two.

While no armed conflicts have broken out since the end of World War Two between these two Asian nations, a lot of distrust and animosity remain, partly as leftovers from the Japanese Occupation of China, but also as a result of nationalist politics in both countries, as seen in the recent dispute over the Diaoyu-Senkaku Islands.

First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895)--The first conflict between China and Japan took place over who would control Korea, a small nation located between them. Japan defeated the technologically inferior Chinese forces, and gained control of Korea. Japan would rule Korea until the end of World War Two in 1945. Japan gained control of the Chinese Diaouy Islands. The Japanese name for this uninhabited island chain is the Senkaku Islands.

The Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901)--A Chinese secret society called the Righteous Harmony Society, and called "The Boxers" by Western observers, began an uprising to drive Western influence from China. While the rebels also at first opposed the ruling government, called the Manchu Dynasty, the government soon managed to direct most of the violence against European, American, and Japanese cultural, political, military, and diplomatic interests in China. After the rebels and the government's military began a siege of the Foreign Legations (foreign embassies) in the capital of Beijing (known as Peking at the time), an unlikely alliance of eight nations gathered military forces to invade China and save their embassies, as well as to preserve the power and influence they had long held in China. These allies included: Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Russia, the United States, and Japan. This China Relief Expedition totaled nearly 45,000 men, and quickly invaded China, seizing Beijing. China was forced to pay war reparations, (in other words, they had to repay their enemies for the financial cost of the war), accept more foreign troops on Chinese soil.

Jinan Incident (May 3rd Incident) (1928-1929)--During the period of Chinese civil wars between the Nationalist government and various warlords, one of the warlords allied himself with Japan, who already occupied the Shantung Peninsula during World War One. In 1927, the advancing Nationalist army clashed with Japanese and warlord forces. A cease-fire was agreed upon in March, 1928.

Japanese Occupation of Manchuria (1931-1932)--The Japanese Army invaded the Chinese province of Manchuria in 1931, setting up a puppet government. Japan wanted Manchuria due to the great natural resources in this northern portion of China. Japan's excuse for invading was the so-called Mukden Incident (known as the "9.18 Incident" in China). Some historians date the beginning of World War Two to the beginning of the Mukden Incident and the Japanese takeover of Manchuria.

First Battle of Shanghai (January 28 to March 4, 1932)--In an attempt to break the Chinese boycott of Japanese goods and businesses begun after the Mukden Incident, the Japanese Army lands at the Chinese port city of Shanghai in January of 1932. The Chinese 19th Route Army held 70,000 Japanese troops to the area around the waterfront for nearly a month until being driven from the city by the invaders. As a result of the Japanese seizure of the city, China abandoned the boycott. Japan's effective use of aircraft carrier-based planes was the first use of this tactic in the Pacific/East Asia region. This is also known as the Shanghai War of 1932.

Japanese Invasion of Jehol Province (January to March 1933)--The Japanese advanced from their positions in occupied Manchuria (which they renamed Manchukou), to occupy Jehol, near the Mongolian border. Chinese resistance ended as the Japanese advanced closer to Peking. An armistice was signed on March 31.

Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945)--Japan launched an all-out invasion of China after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident on July 7, 1937. Japan used this battle as an excuse to invade China, beginning a war which would kill millions, draw in the United States, Great Britain and other nations, and end with the defeat of Japan in 1945. Some historians date the beginning of World War Two to the beginning of this war.

Diaoyu-Senkaku Islands Dispute (2010-2013)--While Japan and China have not fought a war against each other since 1945, they still really do not like each other. This is partially evidenced by the ongoing dispute over a group of uninhabited islands between Japan and China (which Taiwan also claims, by the way). China calls them the Diaoyu Islands, while Japan calls them the Senkaku Islands (see map above). Both nations claim the islands as their territory, and this dispute escalated in September, 2010, when Japanese authorities seized a Chinese fishing trawler that collided with Japanese patrol boats and arrested the boat's captain.

Nationalist-minded Chinese activists previously have landed on the rocky islands in order to raise the Chinese flag, but the boat incident is the most serious diplomatic dispute over these islands in decades.

Again, in August, 2012, the dispute over these islands erupted, as a group of 14 nationalists from Hong Kong and mainland Chinese traveled by boat to the disputed islands and planted Chinese flags. Japanese authorities arrested them, but then several Japanese nationalists journeyed to the islands to plant Japanese flags. Chinese public opinion erupted in anti-Japanese protests and attacks on Japanese business interests in China.

In mid-September, 2012, the Japanese national government purchased the three islands that were under private ownership, presumably to prevent the governor of Tokyo, who is an extreme nationalist, from acquiring them with Tokyo funds. This purchase set off a new round of protests in China. An escalation of the tension between China and Japan reached new heights when six chinese military surveillance ships entered Japanese waters near the islands. Japanese Coast Guard vessels warned the Chinese ships via radio to leave. All six Chinese ships eventually left Japanese-claimed waters.

Throughout 2012 and 2013, the tension between China and Japan continued to increase, as China increasingly attempted to lay claim to the islands. Chinese naval ships, fishing boats, and  warplanes continually entered the waters and airspace near the islands. Japanese forces constantly patrolled the area, and fears of an accidental clash between Chinese and Japanese forces became a constant concern. In November of 2013, China declared a large swath of sea and air off the Chinese coast, including the area around the islands, as a new Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), requiring foreign planes and ships to log travel plans with the Chinese, among other restrictions. The United States, an ally of Japan, immediately responded with an overflight of the ADIZ by two unarmed B-52 bombers. This was followed by overflights by both South Korean and Japanese military planes. (The ADIZ also incorporated areas claimed by South Korea). The next day, Chinese military planes also overflew the area. This escalation in tensions came as the U.S. and Japan prepared to start a massive air and naval exercise in the western Pacific. The ongoing tensions are serious, and a wrong move or an accidental clash could develop into a new war between China and Japan.

 Recent Issues Between Japan and China Resources:

Japanese activists land, raise flags on disputed island, provoking Chinese protests--Businessweek, August 18, 2012

The Sino-Japanese Naval War of 2012: OK, it's probably not going to happen. But if it did, who would win? -Foreign Policy, by By James R. Holmes, August 20, 2012

Arrest of boat captain escalates Japan-China rivalry--Seattle Times, Sept. 11, 2001



1. Kohn, George C. Dictionary of Wars. New York: Facts On File Publications. 1986.

3. Steems, Peter and William L. Langer., ed. An Encyclopedia of World History. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.

4. Banks, Arthur S., ed. Political Handbook of the World. 5th ed. Binghamton, NY: CQ Press, 2004.

5. R. Ernest, Dupuy, and Dupuy Trevor N. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History: From 3500 BC to the Present. New York: Harper & Row, 1970.


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Map Courtesy of the AP


Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands

Senkaku Islands, also known as the Diaoyu Islands



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