States are forged by war and modern China is no exception. Between 1894 and 1953 the country had less than a decade of peace, and war laid waste to significant parts of the country. But out of these sixty years of strife came a state so cohesive and powerful that it has been able to shift its economy from capitalism to socialism and back again without losing power. The state also learned how to terrorise its own population and get away with it. This is what wars teach states, except in cases when a well-educated and politicised citizenry demands that other lessons be learned.
No war did more to shape today’s China than the Second World War, and Rana Mitter’s new book is an outstanding account of how the country fought that war and survived it. The war against Japan created modern China, Mitter argues, even though the group that came to be the