The Chinese Military History Society held its 2019 conference in Columbus, Ohio, on May 9 in conjunction with the 2019 annual meeting of the Society for Military History. There were nine papers presented at the conference:

Jim Bonk (College of Wooster), "Mobile Monuments: Collecting Swords and Remembering War in the 19th Century Qing Empire"

While emperors’ acquisition and display of military artifacts is a well-known aspect of the Qing “culture of war,” assumptions about the civil (wen) bias of literati have obscured the extent to which they, too, treasured both ancient and contemporary military artifacts. Focusing on literati collecting of swords belonging to officers in the 18th and 19th century Green Standards (the largely Han Chinese branch of the Qing military), I argue that these swords became sites for constructing a counterpoint to the official remembrance of war. Their circulation across administrative boundaries challenged state efforts to use remembrance as a way of fixing Han Chinese identities to family and native place. And, their marginal status in the archery-centric Manchu Way made swords available as symbols of a distinctively Chinese experience of war.

Emily Mokros (University of Kentucky), "Capital Defense: Confronting Threats to Money and the City in Taiping-Era Beijing"

In the spring and summer of 1853, rumors swirled of a planned Taiping rebel attack on Beijing. At the same time that capital officials rushed to develop plans for defending the city, they dealt with a crippling logistical issue: the Taiping advance through central China had cut off the central state from its distant supplies of monetary metals. This paper profiles linked initiatives to reform central monetary policy and protect Beijing through a reading of announcements and proposals published in the Peking Gazette (jingbao) in the early 1850s. On a near-daily basis, the court gazette presented readers with a remarkable set of dangers confronting the capital city, including both suspicious transients and frozen commerce. Both sets of dangers portended the breakdown of urban society at the very moment that that Taiping attack loomed. Metropolitan officials published detailed defense proposals to demonstrate their active attention to the crisis. These public reports therefore offer an unprecedentedly detailed view of the threats perceived by capital officials, as well as the strategies proposed to counter economic and military defeat. I argue that capital officials saw bolstering the urban economy as a major strategy in their broader attempt to counter the Taiping threat. In so doing, they understood economic health—measured by monetary circulation and market activity—to be an essential component of capital defense.


Clemens Büttner (Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany), "The Teacher's Need for Affirmation: Western Praise and the Japanese Emphasis on Spiritual Matters in the Early Chinese Military Periodical Press"

In 1894-5, the Meiji Empire (1868-1912) easily beat China’s naval and land forces in the First Sino-Japanese War. One consequence of the Japanese victory was that China’s military modernizers began to turn their eyes eastward in search of a more promising model of military renewal. The other was that the western world took an interest in Japan’s military, trying to evaluate its strength and to explain its unexpected success. Western fascination with the Meiji armed forces grew even more when they convincingly defeated Czarist Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. Thereafter, most military specialists in the West came to attribute this victory to the “bushidō spirit” of the Japanese soldier, to his presumably outstanding morale.

This paper argues on basis of Wubei zazhi 武備雜誌, China’s first and Japanese-run specialized military journal (pub. 1904-6), that these western attempts to explain the meteoric rise of the Meiji Empire came to influence Japan’s military instructors in China: As becomes manifest in Wubei zazhi, the disproportionate emphasis on spiritual matters at Baoding Military Academy was a direct outcome of the Japanese military instructors’ continuing desire for foreign – and especially German – affirmation. Yet, in order to harness this foreign recognition for the strengthening of their own position in China, the Japanese teachers had to deemphasize the specific “Japaneseness” of these spiritual qualities. By doing so, they would come to comprehensively shape Chinese understandings of military professionalism in the first half of the 20th century.


Peter Worthing (Texas Christian University, "The 'Acid Test of the Revolution': Disbandment, the Hunan Affair, and the Unraveling of the NRA Coalition"

In mid-1928, the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) completed its Northern Expedition by defeating or co-opting regional warlords and providing at least nominal unification to China. This successful coalition of regional military forces, under overall command of Chiang Kai-shek, reflected the promise of a new era in which cooperation and adherence to central authority would lead to a strong and prosperous nation. As 1929 dawned, the commanders of the major military forces within the NRA pledged to work together, to pare down their military forces, and to accept the authority of the government in Nanjing. Despite the rhetoric of unity, self-sacrifice, and cooperation, by mid-1929 the group had descended into mutual recriminations, acts of sabotage, and open revolt against the Nanjing government. How exactly did this happen? This paper examines the Disbandment Conference and the “Hunan Affair” of early 1929 as pivotal events which undermined the NRA coalition. These two events, which contemporary observers described as “acid tests” of the new government, exacerbated tensions between the regional commanders, precipitated a series of military challenges to Chiang Kai-shek’s command, and led to the 1930 Central Plains War.

Sherman Xiaogang Lai (Queen's University at Kingston), "The Empire Legacy and the Civil War: Chiang Kai-shek during 1942-1946"

During the first half of 1946, China went through a series of events that brought the country from a seemingly promising solution to the disputes between the ruling GMD (Guomindang or Kuomintang or the Nationalists) and its principal rival of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to a full-scale civil war. The pivot of the events was a document called Principles for Amending the 1936 Draft Constitution. This document was accepted by an ad hoc agency that Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong established together in their meetings in the fall of 1945 in order to find a solution to their disagreement over the planned First National Assembly. Accord to the Principles, China would be a commonwealth. Mao supported this option but Chiang was opposed. Ironically, the CCP charged Chang Junmai (Carsun Chang), the composer of the Principles, of war crime in the spring of 1949 when the Nationalist government sought peace after it lost decisive battles in the civil war. The proposed paper is a review of how Chiang’s endeavor to turn the fragments of Qing China into a centralized republic ended up a full-scale civil war that would terminate Republican China.
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Kwong Chi Man (Hong Kong Baptist University), "Mobilizing an Imperial Trade Post: Hong Kong Preparing for War, 1938-1941"

In October 1938, around fourteen months after the outbreak of the war between Japan and the Nationalist Government of China, Japanese forces landed at Bias Bay, less than 60km from Hong Kong. In less than two weeks, they captured Canton, the center of Chinese resistance against Japanese invasion in South China, and took over the Hong Kong-China border in an attempt to cut off trade between China and Hong Kong. Since then, Hong Kong, a British colony that was also one of the busiest trading ports in Asia, was constantly under an invasion threat, until it was realized in December 1941. The Japanese invasion of South China presented opportunity and danger to Hong Kong. On one hand, Hong Kong was flooded with refugees that the colonial government was ill-equipped to take care of. On the other, the period also witnessed rapid economic growth because of the influx of manpower and capital from China. The colonial government became increasingly involved in solving local social-economic problems, a role that was not previously envisaged. The threat of war also forced the colonial government to introduce measures to mobilize the colonial society in different aspects, from organizing air raid precaution to introduction of requisition laws. It also had to expand its capability considerably so that it could accommodate the need of the population, especially in the aspects of hygiene, nutrition, and food security. Stricter government control over the media and communication also led to a debate, between the locals and the colonial government, over the nature of the British rule in Hong Kong. Some studies accused that the colonial government for doing nothing to prepare for the Japanese invasion; this paper, however, suggests that the colonial government spent much effort in preparing Hong Kong for war, although it did not change the outcome of the battle in December 1941.

Geoff Babb (US Army Command & General Staff College), "Preparing for Offensive Operations: Advising and Assisting the Chinese Army, 1941-1949"

In October 1941, the American Military Mission to China began providing direct military support to the Nationalist forces. China had been at war against Japan since July 7, 1937. In March of 1942, the United ...