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Este blog trata basicamente de ideias, se possível inteligentes, para pessoas inteligentes. Ele também se ocupa de ideias aplicadas à política, em especial à política econômica. Ele constitui uma tentativa de manter um pensamento crítico e independente sobre livros, sobre questões culturais em geral, focando numa discussão bem informada sobre temas de relações internacionais e de política externa do Brasil. Para meus livros e ensaios ver o website: www.pralmeida.org.

quarta-feira, 7 de junho de 2017

Why West often overlooks China’s WWII effort - Shanghai Daily

Entrevista com o historiador inglês Rana Mitter, especializado na história da China (tenho um livro dele, em italiano), sobre o papel tremendamente subestimado da China na II Guerra Mundial. Isto  ocorreu, em parte, por culpa dos ocidentais, que consideram importantes apenas as frentes de batalha no Ocidente e no Pacífico (EUA vs Japão), mas também por culpa de chineses, que mantiveram seus arquivos fechados desde os anos 1950, até pelo menos os anos 1980. O historiador inglês publicou um livro sobre o tema.
Paulo Roberto de Almeida

Why West often overlooks China’s WWII effort

EDITOR’S Note: There is a wealth of literature documenting WWII from a Western perspective but less is known in the West about China’s epic struggles against Japanese invasion. One of the few books that does justice to China’s war effort is the bestseller “Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945” published in 2013. Its author, Rana Mitter, Director of University China Center and Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford, spoke to Shanghai Daily reporter Ni Tao at this year’s Shanghai Forum about his research on China’s wartime history and how it taught him about the dangers of being doctrinaire while understanding the country’s political future.
SD: Early this year, the Chinese authorities updated the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression from eight years to 14 years. What is behind this change?
Mitter: I think a reason that there has been an official decision to change the length of the war from eight to 14 years is to change the historical understanding of the war itself.
If you look at the way in which Chinese scholars have been writing about the war in academic journals, they have been using the 14-year-long definition for quite a number of years.
The reason of course is because it dates the war from the invasion and occupation of Manchuria in 1931 as the starting point.
In a way, it also matches the definition of the war, which has been used in Japan, particularly by the Left, for many years. And I think that part of the reasoning has been to try and create an idea in the public mind of the different aspects of the build-up to the war.
Personally, I still think the eight-year definition is valuable, because it marks a particular time when the outbreak of the war, the Lugouqiao Incident of July 7, 1937, significantly changed the way in which the relationship between China and Japan operated.
After 1937, it would have been very dif­ficult to arrange any kind of compromise agreement between the two sides. People within the Nationalist government who had perhaps more sympathy toward Japan were no longer able to operate on the basis of getting closer to Japan.
SD: Why are China’s struggles during WWII largely forgotten in the West?
Mitter: I think there are two reasons: one to do with the West, one to do with China.
On the Western side, the major problem has been that the war in China was not taken very seriously.
Despite the fact that it caused millions of deaths and tens of millions of refugees, and despite (China’s) important role of holding down the Japanese army in China for many years, these achievements and suffering were regarded secondary to what was considered as the real war in Europe and then in the Pacific.
I would argue quite strongly that actually some of the decisions China made were really fundamental.
The best example of this was in 1938, a time when the Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-shek could have surrendered to the Japanese and in fact his former ally Wang Jingwei did form an alliance with the Japanese.
But by making the decision not to surrender to Japan, even when China was very weak and had little outside assistance, it actually set a very important turning point for the eventual victory in Asia many years later.
However, we also have to remember that it was very difficult, or actually impossible, for a long time for Western scholars to come to China and use archives for most of the period from the 1950s up until the 1980s and 1990s.
SD: How would you judge China’s contributions and sacrifices in WWII?
Mitter: I think that China’s contributions and sacrifices during WWII were immensely important and under-appreciated in the wider world.
The example I often give when asked where did China make a difference in World War II is to point to 1937.
You have to look at that year as it was seen then, not as what we know now.
Now we know that Japan and Germany were eventually defeated. The Americans would eventually come into the war.
But this was not at all clear in 1938. At that time China’s national government had retreated to Chongqing (the wartime capital); the Communists were restricted to some areas in northern and central China; a large part of China fell under Japanese occupation.
Many observers including some British diplomats thought that the most sensible thing to do would be for China’s government to compromise, surrender, or at least come to an agreement with the Japanese.
The decision both by the Kuomintang, and by the Chinese Communist Party, to continue resistance at a time when China had very little outside support or few alliances was not an obvious and easy one to make.
By deciding in 1938 that they would continue to fight against Japan, the Chinese managed to hold the situation for long enough for the situation to eventually change and for the eventual entry of the United States and Britain into the global war after 1941.
I f it weren’t for the Chinese contributions, it would have been much harder to achieve an allied victory in Asia.
But without the Allied contributions, China would not have been on the victorious side. So both sides needed each other.
SD: In researching the book, you rely on the diaries of personalities like Chiang Kai-shek. But could referencing these diaries come at the expense of more important archives?
Mitter: It is an important question to ask, because when writing history, we have to be aware of the danger of getting too trapped in personalities.
This is what the famous 19th century English historian Thomas Carlyle meant by the “Great Man” theory of history.
And we have to avoid that, partly because history is not just about men, and certainly not just about great men.
But the reason that I think these diaries are important is that they reveal not just the personality of the individuals, but also their particular mindset and viewpoints about much bigger questions, which is what was China going to achieve if it got through with the war with Japan.
For example, if you read Chiang’s diary, you’ll find he was constructing a different vision, not just of China, but also of Asia, one in which China would play a bigger role.
But understanding how he viewed China’s role in the post-war period tells you a lot about the relationship between America and China, as well as the emergence of new post-colonial and post-imperial nationalism in many Asian nations.
Moreover, one of the areas where I looked quite extensively was the way in which social change happened on the ground.
For instance, reforms in areas like health care, hygiene, and social welfare provision, refugee provision, in large parts of China during the war.
Most of that has nothing to do with specific individuals at all, but has to do with policies and social change in government as a whole.
And I think the important thing is to combine these materials with very personal views that you get from diaries.
SD: Have your perspectives changed over the course of researching China’s past?
Mitter: I think over maybe 16 or 20 years of writing about China, my views basically haven’t changed, but developed, and I hope deepened over that time.
Probably the single change is that it becomes much harder for me to argue that there is any fixed or definite political path for China during that time.
Sometimes if you look at the present day, you hear people from the West say China should be this way, while some say China definitely should be that way.
I think looking at 20th century Chinese history shows that actually there are a whole variety of different paths. And it’s not always possible to tell which one is the best at one time.
The one thing I learned from studying that period is that in the end it has to be up to the Chinese people to decide what their political path is going to be.
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