The most recommended books on the second Sino-Japanese War

Who picked these books? Meet our 16 experts.

16 authors created a book list connected to the second Sino-Japanese War, and here are their favorite second Sino-Japanese War books.
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What type of second Sino-Japanese War book?


Forgotten Ally

By Rana Mitter,

Book cover of Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945

Ronald Spector Author Of In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia

From the list on the Asia Pacific War from 1937-1945.

Who am I?

I am Emeritus Professor of History and International Relations at George Washington University. Although I trained at Yale to be a college teacher, I spent most of the first twenty years of my career working in and with the military. I served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam and later as a reservist on active duty during the Grenada –Lebanon Operations in the early 1980s and during the Gulf War.. As a civilian, I worked at the U.S. Army Center of Military History and subsequently as Director of Naval History and of the Naval History and Heritage Command. I  joined George Washington University in 1990. I am the author of six books about military history, two of which, Eagle Against The Sun: The American War With Japan and In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia are directly about the Asia- Pacific War.   

Ronald's book list on the Asia Pacific War from 1937-1945

Why did Ronald love this book?

For many years, American views of the China’s role in World War II were strongly influenced by Barbara Tuchman’s best-selling, Stilwell and the American Experience in China published in 1971. Tuchman painted China’s war effort as brave but costly and ineffective thanks to the incompetence and corruption of Chiang Kai Shek. Portrayed as a kind of Chinese George Washington in the U.S. media, Tuchman saw Chiang as being in fact, far less interested in defeating the Japanese than in ensuring that his regime survived the war in a position to vanquish its domestic rivals, especially Mao Zedong’s Communists 

In contrast, Mittar’s focus is not on policy squabbles or specific military issues but on the overall impact of the war on China and its people. He highlights that country’s remarkable achievement, not in winning battles but in surviving the Japanese onslaught for eight long years despite the early loss of almost…

By Rana Mitter,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Forgotten Ally as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An Economist Book of the Year
A Financial Times Book of the Year

“A book that has long cried out to be written.” — Observer (UK), Books of the Year

In 1937, two years before Hitler invaded Poland, Chinese troops clashed with Japanese occupiers in the first battle of World War II. Joining with the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain, China became the fourth great ally in a devastating struggle for its very survival.

Prizewinning historian Rana Mitter unfurls China’s drama of invasion, resistance, slaughter, and political intrigue as never before. Based on groundbreaking research, this gripping…

Book cover of The Wars for Asia, 1911-1949

Kenneth M. Swope Author Of On the Trail of the Yellow Tiger: War, Trauma, and Social Dislocation in Southwest China during the Ming-Qing Transition

From Kenneth's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Historian Sinophile Baseball fan Writer Music lover

Kenneth's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Kenneth love this book?

This book offers an excellent overview of the military history of Asia in the first half of the twentieth century, focusing especially on the grand strategies of China, Japan, and Russia/USSR in the era under consideration. 

It correctly highlights the fact that World War II began in Asia and connects this to broader historical developments that impelled Japan to attempt continental conquest in search of resources. The excellence of the work stems from the author’s ability to carefully offer a balanced analysis of the decisions of the major actors. 

Rather than simply look at the success or failure of specific actions or policies, she tries to understand why certain decisions were made within the context of the times.

By S. C. M. Paine,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Wars for Asia, 1911-1949 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Wars for Asia, 1911-1949 shows that the Western treatment of World War II, the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War as separate events misrepresents their overlapping connections and causes. The Chinese Civil War precipitated a long regional war between China and Japan that went global in 1941 when the Chinese found themselves fighting a civil war within a regional war within an overarching global war. The global war that consumed Western attentions resulted from Japan's peripheral strategy to cut foreign aid to China by attacking Pearl Harbour and Western interests throughout the Pacific in 1941. S. C.…

China's Good War

By Rana Mitter,

Book cover of China's Good War: How World War II Is Shaping a New Nationalism

Sylvia Vetta Author Of Brushstrokes in Time

From the list on the heart and soul of China.

Who am I?

I studied modern Chinese history so, when Qu Leilei told me the story of the Stars Art Movement, I couldn’t understand why I hadn't heard their courageous story. I spent three years interviewing Qu Leilei, researching and visiting China with him before writing the Stars story as a historical novel. I am a freelance writer, author, and speaker.

Sylvia's book list on the heart and soul of China

Why did Sylvia love this book?

I am disturbed by what is happening in Hong Kong and Xinjiang but it’s important to take a long and balanced view if we want to influence China. Chinese dynasties harbour long memories including the humiliation of the Opium Wars and the sacking of the Imperial Summer Palace by colonial powers and the atrocities committed by Japan in WW2 in China. If we start by empathising with this shared but forgotten history of China in WW2, maybe we can help swing the pendulum to one that respects the diversity that is needed in both East and West.

By Rana Mitter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked China's Good War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Chinese leaders once tried to suppress memories of their nation's brutal experience during World War II. Now they celebrate the "victory"-a key foundation of China's rising nationalism.

For most of its history, the People's Republic of China limited public discussion of the war against Japan. It was an experience of victimization-and one that saw Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek fighting for the same goals. But now, as China grows more powerful, the meaning of the war is changing. Rana Mitter argues that China's reassessment of the World War II years is central to its newfound confidence abroad and to mounting…

The Poppy War

By R. F. Kuang,

Book cover of The Poppy War

L.J. Stanton Author Of The Dying Sun

From the list on non-western fantasy.

Who am I?

I am a disabled author and podcaster who loves fantasy, but wanted more out of the genre than the Eurocentric Lord of the Rings model. I grew up watching Aladdin, reading Egyptian mythology, and one of my most prized books is an illustrated Shahnameh. There are brilliant stories set in deserts and rainforests, with intense magic and danger, and I hope you’ll enjoy these as much as I do. 

L.J.'s book list on non-western fantasy

Why did L.J. love this book?

The Poppy War is an epic, grim military fantasy inspired by the Sino-Japanese wars. Rin, a war orphan from the southern Rooster Provinces, aces the Empire-wide admittance exam to Sinegard–the premier military academy in Nikan. But as a dark-skinned peasant from a rural province, Rin’s struggles only compound as she fights for acceptance among her aristocratic peers. And when the fragile peace with Mugen is broken, Rin discovers her greatest powers come at even greater costs. 

I adore how The Poppy War combines the very best of the fantasy academia genre with military fantasy. Add in some heavy historical allegories, and you have one difficult, sometimes heartbreaking, but incredible read. 

By R. F. Kuang,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Poppy War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Reddit Fantasy Award for Best Debut 2018

'The best fantasy debut of 2018' - WIRED

A brilliantly imaginative epic fantasy debut, inspired by the bloody history of China's twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic.

When Rin aced the Keju - the test to find the most talented students in the Empire - it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn't believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin's guardians, who had hoped to get rich by marrying her off; and to Rin herself, who realized she…

Two Kinds of Time

By Graham Peck,

Book cover of Two Kinds of Time

Anna Wang Author Of Inconvenient Memories: A Personal Account of the Tiananmen Square Incident and the China Before and After

From the list on Westerners’ experience in China.

Who am I?

Anna Wang was born and raised in Beijing, China, and immigrated to Canada in her 40s. She received her BA from Beijing University and is a full-time bilingual writer. She has published ten books in Chinese. These include two short story collections, two essay collections, four novels, and two translations. Her first book in English, a 2019 memoir, Inconvenient Memories, recounts her experience and observation of the Tiananmen Square Protest in 1989 from the perspective of a member of the emerging middle-class. The book won an Independent Press Award in the "Cultural and Social Issues" category in 2020. She writes extensively about China. Her articles appeared in Newsweek, Vancouver Sun, Ms. Magazine, LA Review of Books China Channel, Ricepaper Magazine,, etc.

Anna's book list on Westerners’ experience in China

Why did Anna love this book?

This book is the comparatively underrated one among my five choices, but I guarantee it worthwhile. Peck went to China in 1935. He served in the U.S. Office of War Information in China throughout the 1940s. This memoir chronicles his life in China from the beginning of the Japanese invasion to the end of the Pacific War, during which the U.S. was the ally of the Nationalists, who lost to the Communists in the following years. The China Peck described was a sleepy, isolated world, characterized by apathetic people, rampant corruption, and senseless internal friction. When the book first came out in 1950, the Communists took over China a few months ago, and the Americans were in a hot debate, “Who lost China?” The valuable historical and political information Peck provided in this book offered a unique voice to answer the burning question. His opinion of China could be summarized…

By Graham Peck,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Two Kinds of Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Graham Peck (1914-1968) made his first trip to China in 1935 and served with the U.S. Office of War Information in China throughout the 1940s. His memoir, Two Kinds of Time, first published in 1950, is witty and eloquent in both its words and the drawings with which it is lovingly illustrated. Long out of print in its unabridged version, this engagingly written eye-witness narrative of China on the eve of revolution remains an important source of historical and political information. Robert A. Kapp's new Introduction analyzes the book's original contribution and highlights its relevance to issues in the twenty-first…

Champions Day

By James Carter,

Book cover of Champions Day: The End of Old Shanghai

Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom Author Of Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink

From the list on twentieth-century Shanghai.

Who am I?

I have been fascinated by history since I spent a year in Britain as a ten-year-old. I became hooked on novels set in ancient Greece and Rome and found it incredibly exotic to walk through old buildings and imagine the lives of the people who had walked through those same doors. In college, I began studying history in earnest and grew intrigued by China, especially Chinese cities during periods of upheaval and transformation. My first passion was Shanghai history, and I spent time there in the mid-1980s before the soaring Pudong skyscrapers that are now among its most iconic structures were built. I have since shifted my attention to Hong Kong, a city I had enjoyed visiting for decades but had not written about until after I completed my last book on Shanghai. My fascination with cities that are in China but enmeshed in global processes and are sites of protest has been a constant.

Jeffrey's book list on twentieth-century Shanghai

Why did Jeffrey love this book?

Shanghai, which was once called the “Hollywood of Asia,” has always been a cinematic city par excellence, so a good way to describe the charms of this book is via movie terms. In one sense, it zooms in tightly on a specific day in the history of the city and what was happening in a single setting. It mixes close-ups of a horse race and some people who came to watch it, though, with wide-angle shots and flashbacks. The author, a skilled historian with deep knowledge of Chinese history and a stylish writer, moves effortlessly between Shanghai in the early 1940s as the Japanese military’s World War II era grip on the city and much of China was tightening and earlier points in its past. He also moves fluidly between the racecourse—a potent symbol, as during the height of the British imperial period, Britons would often build these to mark…

By James Carter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Champions Day as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

12 November 1941: war and revolution are in the air. At the Shanghai Race Club, the elite prepare their best horses and most nimble jockeys for the annual Champions Day races. Across the city and amid tight security, others celebrated the birth of Sun Yat-Sen in a new centre which challenged European imperialism. Thousands more Shanghai residents attended the funeral of China's wealthiest woman. But the biggest crowd gathered at the track; no one knew it, but Champions Day heralded the end of European Shanghai. Through this snapshot of the day's events, the rich and complex history that led to…

Shanghai 1937

By Peter Harmsen,

Book cover of Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze

Shouhua Qi Author Of Purple Mountain: A Story of the Rape of Nanking

From the list on the Pacific Theater in WW2.

Who am I?

A native of Nanjing (Nanking), China, Shouhua Qi has published extensively in both the United States and China on academic as well as transcultural issues. He is the author of more than twenty books, including fiction, nonfiction, literary translation, and scholarly monographs. Qi’s first novel, Purple Mountain, is about the Rape of Nanking, a horrendous tragic event that happened in his hometown in the winter of 1937-08. A screenplay Qi co-wrote based on the novel has been optioned for production.

Shouhua's book list on the Pacific Theater in WW2

Why did Shouhua love this book?

This was a major battle that happened in 1937, right before the Rape of Nanking. After the fall of Shanghai, the Japanese army would march toward, Nanking (Nanjing), the capital of China then. Although it was front page news throughout much of the world then, few people other than historians know it today. It is no hyperbole to call the battle Stalingrad on the Yangtze. The book reads like an engrossing historical novel.

By Peter Harmsen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shanghai 1937 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This deeply researched book describes one of the great forgotten battles of the 20th century. At its height it involved nearly a million Chinese and Japanese soldiers, while sucking in three million civilians as unwilling spectators and, often, victims. It turned what had been a Japanese adventure in China into a general war between the two oldest and proudest civilizations of the Far East. Ultimately, it led to Pearl Harbor and to seven decades of tumultuous history in Asia. The Battle of Shanghai was a pivotal event that helped define and shape the modern world.

In its sheer scale, the…

The Library of Legends

By Janie Chang,

Book cover of The Library of Legends

Rose Osterman Kleidon Author Of 1836: Year of Escape

From the list on immigration in the 1800s.

Who am I?

By chance, I was entrusted with rare historical documents about the immigrant generations in our family, which inspired this novel and grounded it in reality. Who wouldn’t wonder why they came? Besides, I have always been fascinated by pre-modern times and how steam power changed everything and dragged us along, kicking and screaming. And, even though they arrived in America in 1836, I grew up on the farm where they lived, so I heard tales of their amazing journey. It may be 186 years on, but it’s time to tell their story, which, it turns out, is a story for us all.  

Rose's book list on immigration in the 1800s

Why did Rose love this book?

Janie Chang is a master writer who weaves the power of myth into her story of a 1937 escape of Chinese university students as Japanese bombs drop on their city. Charged with protecting an irreplaceable trove of ancient books, the students face air raids, a ragged life on the road, and a growing fear of traitors from within. The Library of Legends is an evocative tale of love, war, and survival, beautifully written.

By Janie Chang,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Library of Legends as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The Library of Legends is a gorgeous, poetic journey threaded with mist and magic about a group from a Chinese university who take to the road to escape the Japanese invasion of 1937 - only to discover that danger stalks them from within. Janie Chang pens pure enchantment!" -Kate Quinn, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Alice Network and The Huntress

From the author of Three Souls and Dragon Springs Road comes a captivating historical novel-the third in a loosely-connected trilogy-in which a young woman travels across China with a convoy of student refugees, fleeing the…

Lust, Caution

By Eileen Chang,

Book cover of Lust, Caution: The Story

Paul French Author Of City of Devils: A Shanghai Noir

From the list on old Shanghai.

Who am I?

I came to Shanghai largely by accident back in the late twentieth century and found a city of art deco and modernism, of influences form east and west – then far less developed, smaller and more intimate, as if a dust sheet had been thrown over the city in 1949 and the metropolis underneath left to await a new era. The old city, the once international city that was the most modern in Asia – jazz, skyscrapers with elevators, streamline moderne villas, a hundred nationalities living cheek-by-jowl was still, seemingly, just within reach. I’ve never stopped being fascinated by that old world, or writing about it.

Paul's book list on old Shanghai

Why did Paul love this book?

Set in wartime Shanghai in a time of espionage, betrayal, and murder. Chang knew of what she wrote – her own husband worked for the pro-Japanese collaborationist Chinese government of Wang Jing-wei and was considered a traitor. It’s a wartime novel where bombs don’t fall and soldiers don’t fight but everyone, including the main character of Wang Chia-chih (based on a real-life Nationalist Chinese spy Zheng Pingru, but with a fair amount of Chang herself thrown in), is faced with issues of resistance, collaboration, fighting back or staying quiet. A novella, but no less a masterpiece for being short.

By Eileen Chang,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lust, Caution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A major motion picture (2007) from Oscar-winning director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Brokeback Mountain): an intensely passionate story of love and espionage, set in Shanghai during World War II.

In the midst of the Japanese occupation of China and Hong Kong, two lives become intertwined: Wong Chia Chi, a young student active in the resistance, and Mr. Yee, a powerful political figure who works for the Japanese occupational government. As these two move deftly between Shanghai’s tea parties and secret interrogations, they become embroiled in the complicated politics of wartime—and in a mutual attraction that may be more…

The Ecology of War in China

By Micah S. Muscolino,

Book cover of The Ecology of War in China: Henan Province, the Yellow River, and Beyond, 1938-1950

Simo Laakkonen Author Of The Long Shadows: A Global Environmental History of the Second World War

From the list on the environmental history of war.

Who am I?

Simo Laakkonen is director of Degree Program in Digital Culture, Landscape and Cultural Heritage, University of Turku, Finland. He is an environmental historian who has specialized among other things on the global environmental history of warfare during Industrial Age. He has coedited on this theme two special issues and three books, the latest one is The Resilient City in World War II: Urban Environmental Histories. He has selected five books that cover some main phases of the long environmental history of wars and mass violence.

Simo's book list on the environmental history of war

Why did Simo love this book?

Historiography of the Second World War has traditionally focused on European powers and/or the United States while such major actors as the Soviet Union and China have been largely neglected.

Dr. Muscolino’s book approaches the long Second World War in China by examining the interplay between landscapes, rural society, and “hydraulic warfare” in Henan Province in the central part of the country.

Here the Nationalist government in 1938 deliberately destroyed a dam in the Yellow River, which caused a catastrophic flood and famine that had long socioenvironmental percussions in Chinese society until Mao’s era.  

By Micah S. Muscolino,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ecology of War in China as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book explores the interplay between war and environment in Henan Province, a hotly contested frontline territory that endured massive environmental destruction and human disruption during the conflict between China and Japan during World War II. In a desperate attempt to block Japan's military advance, Chinese Nationalist armies under Chiang Kai-shek broke the Yellow River's dikes in Henan in June 1938, resulting in devastating floods that persisted until after the war's end. Greater catastrophe struck Henan in 1942-3, when famine took some two million lives and displaced millions more. Focusing on these war-induced disasters and their aftermath, this book conceptualizes…

Book cover of China’s War with Japan 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival

Malcolm H. Murfett Author Of Naval Warfare 1919-1945: An Operational History of the Volatile War at Sea

From the list on Asian theatre in the Second World War.

Who am I?

I lived and taught in Asia for over 30 years and love the place to bits. Leaving Oxford for Singapore may have seemed like a daring adventure in 1980, but it complemented my doctoral research and introduced me to a wonderful set of students who have enriched my life ever since. Asia has a fascination for me that I can’t resist. I have written and edited 15 books on naval and defence themes, much of which have been set in the Asian continent. An associate editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for the past 25 years, I am also the editor for the series Cold War in Asia. 

Malcolm's book list on Asian theatre in the Second World War

Why did Malcolm love this book?

In my opinion, you cannot fully understand the Pacific War without grasping the tragedy of the undeclared Sino-Japanese War which preceded Pearl Harbor by virtually four and a half years. Remarkably, however, the story is not well known. It’s often passed over as if it was of hardly any consequence at all. Far from being a minor item on the road to war, however, China’s horrendous struggle with Japan is pivotal because it managed to suck in arguably the best troops of the Imperial Japanese Army and kept them fighting throughout the duration of the Pacific War. This ensured that they couldn’t be released to go elsewhere because China refused to give in. Mitter’s excellent book reveals why this dramatic fight for survival influenced Chinese leaders both then and now.

By Rana Mitter,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked China’s War with Japan 1937-1945 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Duke of Westminster Medal for Military Literature

Different countries give different opening dates for the period of the Second World War, but perhaps the most compelling is 1937, when the 'Marco Polo Bridge Incident' plunged China and Japan into a conflict of extraordinary duration and ferocity - a war which would result in many millions of deaths and completely reshape East Asia in ways which we continue to confront today.

With great vividness and narrative drive Rana Mitter's book draws on a huge range of new sources to recreate this terrible conflict. He writes both about the…

The Samurai's Garden

By Gail Tsukiyama,

Book cover of The Samurai's Garden

Ginny Kubitz Moyer Author Of The Seeing Garden

From the list on gardens as places of discovery and change.

Who am I?

When I was growing up, my mother loved to garden. I remember visiting the nursery with her and being captivated by all the rows of flowers with the gorgeous names: marigolds, cosmos, dahlias, fuchsias. Now I have a garden of my own, and it’s my happy place. It adds color and fragrance to my life, and it keeps me grounded (literally and figuratively) when things are stressful. And as a writer, I find that story ideas often come to me when I’m working in the garden. It’s a constant source of inspiration and delight.       

Ginny's book list on gardens as places of discovery and change

Why did Ginny love this book?

There’s a serene, almost dreamlike quality to The Samurai’s Garden which drew me in right away.

On the eve of WWII, a young man recovering from tuberculosis spends the year at his family’s summer home in Japan. There are actually two gardens in the story: one is the lush green one at his home, and the other is a stone garden in the pine forests, tended by Sachi, a woman who has lived with leprosy for decades.

Though both gardens lead to transformation, Sachi’s garden in particular teaches the narrator that as long as there is beauty in the world, there is life. I loved this novel’s luminous writing and vivid sense of place. It’s a beautiful testament to human loyalty and the healing power of nature.

By Gail Tsukiyama,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Samurai's Garden as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On the eve of the Second World War, a young Chinese man is sent to his family's summer home in Japan to recover from tuberculosis. There he meets four local residents, and what ensues is a classical yet wonderfully unique adventure that seizes the imagination with its clean, simple yet dazzling storytelling.