April 1944: the last Japanese attack on China
It was the greatest offensive launched on China since 1937-38, with the aim of opening a safe land route between Korea and Hanoi. The operation would enable Japan to receive supplies and strategic equipment without using the sea route that was under American control. Some 150,000 Japanese soldiers left Henan and quickly moved south along the Peking-Hankow railway line. Nationalist forces had an extra enemy they weren’t expecting in the guise of famished Chinese peasants taking revenge for the years of mistreatment and deprivation they had suffered.
At the end of May, 350,000 Japanese soldiers continued the march. In August, they took Guangxi and by November all American air bases had been destroyed. In Chongqing, the provisional capital of “Free China” and the refuge of Chiang Kai-shek, panic abounded. But luck would have it that in December 1944 the offensive was suddenly brought to a halt. Japan had to face successive American victories at the battle of Leyte in October 1944, when the Americans sunk what was left of Japanese fleets. Furthermore, Japan lost the Burma Campaign, which opened up a supply route to Chongqing.
This nine-month campaign was disastrous for Chiang Kai-shek and his army, which was left humiliated and weakened by the loss of 500,000 men – twenty times as many as the Japanese. A debacle that benefited the communists, whose prestige was heightened by stabilisation of zones under their control in northern and central China, in the face of invasion attempts by both the Japanese and by troops of the puppet government.
Mao stood to challenge the leadership of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and aimed to seize power of the whole country. The Americans made no mistake in opening negotiations with Mao in the summer of 1944. But this American mediation attempt between the two Chinese rivals failed in December 1944. At most, Mao attained modest international recognition for sending a representative of communist China to the San Francisco Conference in June 1945.