Although World War II had been largely remembered in the People’s Republic of China as an experience of victimization since its founding in 1949, that view has been changing since the Deng Xiaoping era in the 1980s. Rana Mitter’s newest book on modern China, China’s Good War: How World War II Is Shaping a New Nationalism (Harvard University Press 2020), traces this transformation in the Chinese interpretations of the war from one marked by humiliation to one that celebrates victory. This change in the discourses surrounding the war began with a changing historiography led by Chinese academia in the 1980s, when research on a variety of previously forbidden areas of historical study was encouraged. Then, through local and public attempts at reviving and celebrating war memories through museums, TV, film, and the online space, WWII has been increasingly narrated in these different arenas as China’s “good war.” What came out of these new narratives, Mitter points out, is an attempt to rehabilitate Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists war efforts, which allows the PRC “to re-create an identity it was forging in the 1930s and 1940s, as a rising power that took a cooperative and powerful role at a time of immense global crisis…” In doing so, Mitter argues that China is able to create a subtle corollary, the idea that China is also a postwar state that is both one of the creators and protectors of the postwar international order.
Daigengna Duoer is a PhD student at the Religious Studies Department, University of California, Santa Barbara. Her dissertation researches on transnational and transregional Buddhist networks connecting twentieth-century Inner Mongolia, Manchuria, Republican China, Tibet, and the Japanese Empire.