Home / Robert Farley / The Japanese Counter-Insurgency Experience in China

The Japanese Counter-Insurgency Experience in China


This week’s Diplomat column takes a look at COIN in the Second Sino-Japanese War, based on the Murray-Mansoor edited volume Hybrid Warfare:

Yamaguchi suggests that elements of the Japanese Army and a variety of hybrid civil-military organizations took the problem of COIN quite seriously from a strategic point of view, appreciating that the only way to victory in China was the establishment of a self-sustaining, pro-Japanese Chinese government.

However, the Japanese Army suffered from problems of focus and resources.  Rather than concentrating on counter-insurgency operations, the Army needed to prepare for conventional operations against Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist Army, defensive operations in jungle and island theatres against British and American forces, and finally the long-anticipated Soviet invasion of Manchuria.  These threats all posed radically different challenges, making training haphazard and incoherent. The Japanese also faced unity of effort challenges, with civilian and military agencies organized around pacification and institution building losing out in intra-agency battles against conventionally oriented officers.

Long story short, the history of Japanese operations in China was more complicated in process, if not in effect, than the “Kill All, Loot All, Destroy All” that has come to characterize the war*.

*Standard caveat: I trust that readers are bright enough to understand that this does not constitute an apology for the Japanese Imperial Army.

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  • Dave

    And shortly we’ll find out how widely this blog is read in China….

  • Walt

    If you love the Imperial Japanese Army so much, why don’t you marry it?

  • bobbyp

    Your love for the east asia co-prosperity sphere is readily apparent, your mild criticism of the Imperial Army notwithstanding.

  • JamesP

    Have you read Timothy Brook’s COLLABORATORS? Very interesting. There were always more Chinese than Japanese fighting for Japan in China, but it’s a hugely uncomfortable and politicized subject.

    • Robert Farley

      Yeah, the historiography changes with the politics; at some points the emphasis has been on the civil war and the role played by Wang Jingwei, with the Japanese merely as side players.

  • Well yes like all instances of military colonialism and occupation the IJA did do more than just kill, rape, and loot. Although in this particular case there is an awful lot of killing, raping, and looting. In large part because the Japanese had a very low opinion of the Chinese as a race. So one of the things they did was try and support ethnic minorities in China against the Han. In particular they supported the Manchu and created the puppet state of Manchuko. But, there were also a lot of ethnic Koreans in China working with the Japanese not to mention the White Russians in Harbin and other places.

  • The Dark Avenger

    When my mother was 4 years old, her alma(nursemaid) used to teach her to shake her fists at the Japanese planes flying overhead and say “watsu miku” or monkey face. She was later held with her whole family at the Chapei concentration camp near Shanghai. She saw a Chinese guerilla get buried alive after three days of ‘enhanced interrogation’ screaming at the last for Chaing-kai Shek to save him.

    The camp commendant announced the surrender of the Japanese government to the now former prisoners, saying, “We had our day. Now you have yours.”

    My mother was able to shield us from most of her instilled hatred, but sometimes it peeped through, a fiery point in her soul that she carried in all of her days.

    RIP, Sheila Jean.

  • That’s amazing and disturbing, Dark Avenger. It’s funny that her alma wanted her to taunt the planes in Japanese. It sounds as if your mother was a remarkable person. One always has both respect and a kind of embarrassed bafflement when hearing about someone who undergoes experiences like that and then goes on to have a normal life (I’m stipulating that you’re normal). It’s not that one thinks the person should be stuck forever in miserable reflections, but at the same time one suffers a failure of imagination as to how one would “go on” afterwards, even in the simplest “go on in the same way” when counting numbers sense in the PI.

    Here in “Syonanto” people are unusually forgiving, it seems to me, as an American. Rather, though, they are reticent, and their unforgiveness surfaces sometimes strangely, as in a friend’s (ethnically) Chinese landlady who refuses to buy any household appliances from Japan, and explained that she would have to throw away the Japanese-made toaster and pay for new one herself. As the Japanese had to control the city with a smaller number of troops, they rounded up a whole lot of the ethnically Chinese young men they judged to be fighting age right at the start of the occupation and machine-gunned them to death in the waters off Changi. It was a very nice beach. God, didn’t the British officer corps want to shoot themselves when they realized they had been had, surrendered to a smaller force. I suppose the Japanese were often obliging in this one respect.

    I think the Japanese in China faced unity of effort challenges, because civilian and military agencies organized around pacification and institution building lost out in intra-agency battles against completely insane race suprematist sadists. It is difficult to say whether I object more to their just killing people for fun or to their killing people to perform medical experiments on them. The latter holds out claims to utilitarian virtue but, insofar as it seems likely to rope easily gulled followers of Mills into evil, I think on the whole I disprefer it. But what do I know about military history–I’m a girl! Also, if you love the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere so much, why don’t you marry it?

    • The Dark Avenger

      The experience affected all of her family in different ways. Her aunt who was in the camp with them used to have nightmares about the camp years and years afterward.

      My grandfather, who was told by a doctor after the war that he had the bones of an old man because of the forced labor in the camp and the lack of nutrition,(he was 32 when the war ended), thought that all the Japanese should’ve been killed off in Japan after they surrendered.

      • The Dark Avenger

        I should also mention that before being interned, my grandfather used to hire Chinese laborers to help him steal stuff from the Japanese that they brought to Shanghai. He was interned for being an American citizen, which probably wouldn’t have helped him if he had even gotten caught in the act of ‘spoiling the Egyptians’ as they call it in the Bible.

  • AgentX

    I don’t think any of your Reich-Wing readers will believe that you’re apologizing for the Japanese Army. Most of them probably think the abbreviation COIN refers to money you put into the laundry machines at the laundromat.

    In the Korean movie My Way (2011), a Japanese Army unit composed mainly of Korean conscripts and led by the second main character, a crazed Japanese suicidal maniac, takes on the Soviet army in Manchuria. It doesn’t start well for our Korean friends; later it gets worse as they (and their crazy suicidal Japanese commander) are sucked into a Soviet penal unit and sent to fight the Nazis. It’s one of the few movies out there that touch on the subject.

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