Nanjing 1937

Battle for a Doomed City

Peter Harmsen

The infamous Rape of Nanjing looms like a dark shadow over the history of Asia in the 20th century, and is among the most widely recognized chapters of World War II in China. By contrast, the story of the month-long campaign before this notorious massacre has never been told in its entirety. Nanjing 1937 by Peter Harmsen fills this gap. This is the
Date Published :
March 2021
Publisher :
Illustration :
32pp photos
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781612002842
Pages : 368
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
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Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781612009803
Pages : 368
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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The infamous Rape of Nanjing looms like a dark shadow over the history of Asia in the 20th century, and is among the most widely recognized chapters of World War II in China. By contrast, the story of the month-long campaign before this notorious massacre has never been told in its entirety. Nanjing 1937 by Peter Harmsen fills this gap.

This is the follow-up to Harmsen's best-selling Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze, and begins where that book left off. In stirring prose, it describes how the Japanese Army, having invaded the mainland and emerging victorious from the Battle of Shanghai, pushed on toward the capital Nanjing in a crushing advance that confirmed its reputation for bravery and savagery in equal measure.

While much of the struggle over Shanghai had carried echoes of the grueling war in the trenches two decades earlier, the Nanjing campaign was a fast-paced mobile operation in which armor and air power played mayor roles. It was blitzkrieg two years before Hitler's invasion of Poland. Facing the full might of modern, mechanized warfare, China's resistance was heroic, but ultimately futile.

As in Shanghai, the battle for Nanjing was more than a clash between Chinese and Japanese. Soldiers and citizens of a variety of nations witnessed or took part in the hostilities. German advisors, American journalists and British diplomats all played important parts in this vast drama. And a new power appeared on the scene: Soviet pilots dispatched by Stalin to challenge Japan's control of the skies.

This epic tale is told with verve and attention to detail by Harmsen, a veteran East Asia correspondent who consolidates his status as the foremost chronicler of World War II in China with this path-breaking work of narrative history.

About The Author

Peter Harmsen, a foreign correspondent in East Asia for two decades, has worked for Bloomberg, the Economist Intelligence Unit, and the Financial Times. He is also the former bureau chief in Taiwan for French news agency AFP. His books have been translated into Chinese, Danish, and Romanian.


Author’s note

1 A new battle begins
2 “Moving out!”
3 The line is crossed
4 Battle at lake tai
5 Winter
6 Enemy at the gates
7 Decisive days
8 The fall
9 Terror
10 Aftermath

Appendix: orders of battle



“Peter Harmsen has once again ingeniously woven a vast range of Chinese, Japanese and Western source materials into a vivid tapestry of intense personal experience and world-shaking international conflict. Our historical memories shorten with distance from our own shores. As we contemplate a newly-risen China, Harmsen brings to life for us cataclysms that lie closer to the surface of Chinese consciousness. Where the great Allen Furst’s taut novels of wartime Europe stay just inside the fiction side of the boundary with history, Harmsen’s dramatic style adds a gripping and novelistic quality to the powerful writing of 20th-century history.”

- Robert A. Kapp, author of "Szechwan and the Chinese Republic: Provincial Militarism and Central Power, 1911-1937," and past president, The US-China Business Council.

"Peter Harmsen has written a very important book about the Japanese defeat of Chinese Nationalist forces in defending their national capital, Nanjing. Using a wide variety of materials written in several languages, including diaries of individual combatants, Harsen describes and analyses the Japanese military victory as well as their infamous, subsequent slaughter and rape of the city’s civilians. He intersperses analyses of the broader battles with vignettes of individual, deadly skirmishes drawn from the perspectives of individual soldiers. Harmsen clarifies a less well understood aspect of the war by demonstrating the importance of Soviet air force participation and aid to the Chinese Nationalist forces. His final chapter on the Rape of Nanjing is one of the most powerful descriptions of those events as well as perhaps the very best analysis of why this most horrendous event occurred. Nanjing 1937: Battle for a Doomed City stands by itself as an important book about a significant historical event, but it also serves as an excellent sequel to Harmsen’s Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze."

- Professor J. Bruce Jacobs,Emeritus Professor of Asian Languages and Studies,Monash University ,Melbourne, Australia

"This terrific piece of work fills a conspicuous void in English language literature on the Second Sino-Japanese War by providing the first comprehensive treatment of the 1937 Battle for Nanjing. The spritely narrative weaves research in Chinese, Japanese and Western sources into insight views of the top and bottom of the military, diplomatic and civilian levels. Harmsen achieves a remarkably even yet clear eyed account that perhaps only a foreigner could achieve in approaching this searing collision of China and Japan."

- Richard B. Frank, author of Guadalcanal and Downfall

"The book offers plenty for readers interested in military detail, and it also adds perspective and stimulates thought by including aspects of high politics. How many are aware that the elite troops in Chiang Kai-shek's National Chinese Army were trained and equipped by German veterans of the First World War? Or that Chiang defended Nanjing with Russian pilots and planes? .... Brilliant."

- Weekendavisen

"When we think of Republican-era Nanking today, rape, pillage and massacre come first to mind. But there is much more to the story of the city’s fall to the Japanese invaders. Peter Harmsen’s new book tells the whole story in great detail. Only the last ten percent of the text deals directly with the subsequent occupation and its atrocities. Harmsen recounts the fall of the Republic of China’s capital in terms of military tactics, but he also explains the behind-the-scenes diplomacy and reports some personal accounts of those involved. Unusually, most of his reporting emphasizes the Japanese point of view. The book’s extensive list of sources suggests that few accounts from the Chinese viewpoint survived the occupation, the civil war and then the Cultural Revolution...Nanjing 1937 offers a detailed account of the campaign illustrated with numerous useful maps. It presents a point of view which most readers will not have encountered before. It’s well worth a read."

- The Asian Review

"Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze and Nanjing 1937: Battle For a Doomed City are not only meticulously researched, but are gripping reads as well. And if we are fortunate, Harmsen will continue writing these histories. A golden age of Chinese military history is still far away, but if books like Harmsen’s continue to be published, a golden age of China’s World War II history may be just around the corner."

- The Strategy Bridge

"In this carefully researched book, Peter Harmsen examines witness accounts taken from letters and diaries, and juxtaposes these with accounts of the battles and fighting that resulted in the takeover of Nanjing by the Japanese. In doing so, he brings into sharp relief exactly why Nanjing has become the stuff of legend... a valuable account of a little known event... a grim reminder of the darker side of war."

- Military History Monthly

"...welcome, readable, multi-faceted look at the origins of World War II in Asia which other reports usually gloss over in their haste to reach the events after Pearl Harbor"

- StrategyPage

“Nanjing 1937’s target audience is not only scholars and students in Chinese history but also the general public interested in the Asia theater of World War II. It is distinguished from other books on the Second Sino-Japanese War not only by its use of diverse primary sources, but also by its global perspective… Harmsen’s journalistic writing style makes Nanjing 1937 a pleasant book for readers with a general interest in military history. Analysis of military tactics is balanced with vivid accounts of the combat experiences and psychologies of soldiers and officers in both armies, as revealed in their diaries and memoirs… Nanjing 1937 offers a remarkable account of a critical battle in the early stages of the Second Sino-Japanese War, reinforced by numerous photographs and maps.”

- Journal of Military History

"...fills the void of literature in English concerning the 1937 Nanjing campaign...personal accounts make the descriptions of warfare vivid and readable..."

- China Review International

"Harmsen has done a very good job at relating the nature and the scope of the conflict surrounding the fall of Nanjing. His book is well researched and makes for fascinating reading, touching as it does the spectrum of perspectives from the strategic to the tactical and both local and international observations. His research is comprehensive and his writing style engaging. The books production value is very high. This book is recommended for those wishing to garner an appreciation of the nature of war in the far east before the western powers became engaged."

- Major Chris Buckham, The Military Reviewer

“His military history relates Shanghai-to-Nanjing operations in 1937 with a detailed focus on what combat entailed for men on both sides… noteworthy points in the book are Harmsen's use of wartime photo­graphs for pedagogic and not propagandistic purposes, his citing of Japanese sources in Chinese translation in an attempt portray both sides graphically in the conflict, and his stress on significant Soviet aid to China's war effort… he deserves thanks and praise for an engrossing study that rewards specialists and general readers alike.”

- The Historian

“Harmsen's lucid, engaging account will appeal to and inform readers ranging from professional historians and military analysts to the merely curious… I heartily recommend Nanjing 1937 to anyone interested in the history of the battle and the lingering controversies associated with it.”

- Michigan War Studies Review

“A close reading of Harmsen's book shows that the past is never really past, but lives on in our lives and helps explain some of the anti-Japanese feeling in China and Southeast Asia.”

- Military Review

"This is a compelling … look at one of the most vicious campaigns of the period."

- History of War

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