Image of Photo of Professor Rana Mitter

China's good war: how World War II is shaping a new nationalism

The China Centre lecture on Tuesday 18 January 2022 was delivered by Professor Rana Mitter OBE, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China, University of Oxford and Vice-President (Public Engagement) of the British Academy.

Professor Rana Mitter’s lecture addressed the issue of how the Second World War is analysed within China today. He compared the way in which interpretations of the war have changed in China and the USA in recent years. In Professor Mitter’s view, the war established the foundation of the modern world order. The USA’s presence in East Asia has been continuous throughout the period since the war in East Asia began. The Western perception regards China as a victim in the war, whereas the Chinese perception is that the CPC-led anti-Japanese War was centrally important to the defeat of Japan. Professor Mitter linked his examination of the respective narratives about the Second World War to the current state of US-China relations. He used the example of recent films to illustrate the difference of perceptions in the USA and China.

The issues raised in the Q&A session included the following: the meaning of the phrase ‘good war’; the role of wars in shaping national identity; the British re-colonisation of Hong Kong in 1945; a comparison of the role of the anti-Japanese war in Chinese national consciousness with the role of the Second Word War in Russian national consciousness.

Rana Mitter OBE FBA is Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China, and a Fellow of St Cross College at the University of Oxford. He is the author of several books, including China’s War with Japan: The Struggle for Survival, 1937-1945 (Penguin, 2013), [US title: Forgotten Ally] which won the 2014 RUSI/Duke of Westminster’s Medal for Military Literature, and was named a Book of the Year in the Financial Times and Economist. His latest book is China’s Good War: How World War II is Shaping a New Nationalism (Harvard, 2020). His writing on contemporary China has appeared recently in Foreign Affairs, the Harvard Business Review, The Spectator, The Critic, and The Guardian.