From allies to occupiers: living with the U.S. military in wartime China, 1941–1945
Fredman, Zach Simcha
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This dissertation investigates the U.S. military presence in World War II-era China, Americans’ first attempt to forge a nominally equal military alliance with a non-Western nation. Drawing on overlooked Chinese and English-language sources from archives in six countries, it recasts how we view that relationship. Other studies attribute the wartime deterioration of Chinese-American relations to the contentious relationship between Chinese President Chiang Kai-shek and U.S. General Joseph Stilwell, or to conflicting wartime and postwar strategic aims. This study, by contrast, shows how the success and failures of the alliance turned upon the actions of a far larger cast of characters: GIs and Chinese soldiers, ordinary civilians, interpreters, hostel workers, farmers, prostitutes, thieves, bandits, and smugglers. It argues that the power asymmetries between these various actors permeated all levels of Sino-American interaction, undermining the Guomindang government, stoking American feelings of superiority, exacerbating Chinese sensitivities about unequal treatment, and making these allies into adversaries even after Stilwell left China but also long before Cold War animosities solidified. A military occupation, friendly or otherwise, required a daunting set of arrangements that are rarely examined in detail. Beginning in 1941, as some 70,000 U.S. troops trickled into China, American commanders and their Chinese hosts set about solving knotty problems of alliance management related to providing food, lodging, and interpreters. Interactions between GIs and Chinese civilians nevertheless proved fraught, particularly in relation to issues of money, legal privileges, cultural norms, and sex. As theft, misconduct, and violent encounters snowballed, military-to-military relations also deteriorated. From Chinese perspectives, the alliance became an occupation. From American perspectives, the Chinese became impediments—rather than partners. The wartime alliance marked a key turning point in how the United States projected power around the world as well as a seminal moment for modern Chinese perceptions of Americans. After Japan’s surrender, Chinese Communists would exploit local resentment against American servicemen to attack the Chinese Nationalists and seize and consolidate power. Meanwhile, the U.S. military’s legal, cultural, economic, political, and sexual impact on China set recurring patterns of American military behavior that have complicated U.S. policy down to the present day.