Rana Mitter, "Forgotten Ally: China's World War II, 1937–1945" (HMH, 2013)

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If we wish to understand the role of China in today’s global society, we would do well to remind ourselves of the tragic, titanic struggle which that country waged in the 1930s and 1940s not just for its own national dignity and survival, but for the victory of all the Allies, west and east, against some of the darkest forces that history has ever produced.

– Rana Mitter, Forgotten Ally: China’s War with Japan 1937-45

Understanding China and its approach to policy formation in various political and economic spheres of the 21st century needs to recognize this influential country’s historical reference points in order to better grasp its sensitivities and the interwoven nature of its relationships with the west. One way to commit to such an educational undertaking is through the highly accessible scholarship of Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at Oxford University. His interesting and readable works cover much of contemporary Chinese history, and his most recent book, China’s Good War: how World War II is shaping a new nationalism was published last year by Harvard University Press, and thoroughly covered on the New Books Network East Asian Studies with Daigengna Duoer in December 2020 – well worth a careful listen.

Today’s interview introduces Professor Mitter’s four previous books revealing people significant to the political and social history of early to mid-20th century China, as well as his smart summary of modern China – part of Oxford’s Very Short Introduction series. Mitter’s framing of his historical narratives help provide an understanding of a Chinese nation composed of individuals confronting stark choices, and revealing what it means to be Chinese. Along with his latest book China’s Good War, those interested in the contemporary arc of social history and the development of a political system are well advised to dig into Mitter’s books which can be nicely supplemented with his well-articulated thoughts on BBC radio programs and his 2015 Asia History Channel documentary, “The Longest War: China’s World War II.”

His first four books briefly discussed today start in 2000 with the University of California Press release of:

  • The Manchurian Myth: Nationalism, Resistance and Collaboration in Modern China;
  • A Bitter Revolution: China’s Struggle with the Modern World (Oxford University Press, 2004)
  • Modern China: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2008)
  • Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013)

Rana’s contributions to China studies and scholarship since receiving his PhD from Cambridge University include not only his books, journal articles, and chapters in edited books, but regular contributions to reviews and essays for the Financial Times, Guardian, and International New York Times among others.

Rana Mitter is currently Director of the Oxford University China Center, and is currently working on the connections between war and nationalism in China from the 1930s to the present. His interests include the Republican period (1912-1949), the Cold War and Sino-Japanese relations.

Keith Krueger lectures at SILC Business School – Shanghai University

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