Student Report on ‘Reinterpreting China’s Second World War’ by Professor Rana Mitter

Reported by Mateja Bokan, Class of 2025.

This lecture was part of Statelessness Conference that tells the story of statelessness in Asia and the Pacific during the Second World War.

‘Reinterpreting China’s Second World War’ by Professor Rana Mitter of Oxford University focused on the question of the refugee and how they fit into the narrative of wartime China. Professor started by explaining how there are significant differences in discussion of the what the term statelessness might be within the Chinese context, especially as most understanding of the term comes from a European perspective. Further, he also explained that the vast majority of people who fled war in China during the 1930s and 1940s had many problems, but they were saying they were fed particular information of the Republic of China as means of a larger operation at the time. as such, the experience of refugees During that. It was harder to record and is thus more stimulating to explore compared to the history of refugees in the past decade or early 2000s.

First the professor placed an emphasis on the fact that refugees in China were not stripped away of their citizenships as were Jews in Germany or in a way that borders were hastily drawn in Eastern Europe to divide people and families in a way that would result in different citizenships to make families harder to rejoin after the war. However, in China the refugees were faced with a decision of which system to support in China, creating subtle differences in treatment between different groups of refugees. As such professor argued that China is extremely exceptional in terms of the uncertainty of its future and what state it is going to be after the Second World War because many different Chinese states existed simultaneously within the same territory. From the systemic point of view, this haunted politicians in power because they were forced to take decisions based on a variety of reasons and variety of needs demanded by the general population, thereby making the Chinese response to the Second World War a much more complicated one than ones seen within Europe.

Professor Deng shifted to talk about the capital of China during the Second World War, Chongqing, or how historians now call it “the undefendable city,” and how it had developed the Chinese society during the Second World War. Professor Mitter first outlined some historical facts such as that the city had been bombed by Japanese air raids for 27 consecutive days and that such destruction caused the city to develop in unexpected ways. The National Party and the Communist Party, in the need to appeal to the general public, developed separate ways to approach people that were struggling during the air raids. Through the development of tracking and compensation documents, figuring out how to approach various administrative and societal issues and resolving them in relation to the air raids of Chongqing, China as a country was able to move forward and emerge as more developed by the end of the war.

Professor Mitter then went to conclude the lecture by returning to the status of refugees in wartime China. Much like in many European nations, women and refugees were part of the industrial mobilization in wartime, which helped China fight through the Second World War. Professor explained that without being aware for how long they were going to stay in the country, refugees focused their efforts in helping the country in the war, thereby trying to secure their place within the Chinese society for the times after the war had ended. Ultimately, these stories of bravery of the refugees in China became non-stories under the regime of the nationalist party in China which promoted the “one nation, one people” strategy, which was grounded in belief that all people were one and defending China no matter what their personal context is. Professor Mitter finished his lecture by stating that many stories of refugees of wartime China remain unknown, but many historians studying China of this period are becoming increasingly interested in these stories as some stories and research emerge.