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What was the significance of Pearl Harbor?

Source 1

A letter from the Federation of China Relief Funds of Southern Asia to Churchill in August 1939 on the Tientsin Dispute


➜ CHAR 2/361/A-B/2-3

Simplified Transcript

1 August 1939


On 24th July we sent you a telegram on behalf of the eight million Chinese people living outside China in Southern Asia about the Tientsin Dispute. On the same day General Chiang Kai Shek made a long statement expressing confidence in British policy in the Far East and stating that he was sure Britain would not make an agreement with Japan which would betray or harm China. He also wanted to say that China will continue to resist the Japanese invasion as long as it had adequate supplies of equipment.

We also want to say how pleased we were that the American government is going to end its 1911 trade agreement with Japan. This is an example of resisting aggression with real action and not just on paper.

Fortunately for us the interests of China and Britain are the same. China is fighting aggression, not just on her own behalf but also for the rest of the world.

Original Transcript

Singapore 1st: August. 1939


On the 24th of July we had the honour of sending you a telegram on behalf of the eight million Oversea-Chinese residing in Southern Asia relating to the joint Anglo-Japanese Declaration over the Tientsin Dispute. On the same day Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek made a lengthy statement expressing confidence in British policy in the Far East to the effect that as much as Great [Britain] desired peaceful settlement of the Tientsin Dispute, she would only make concessions such as would not conflict with China’s interest or the provisions of the Nine Power Treaty, emphasizing at the same time that any understanding affecting China arrived at between Britain and Japan without the cognisance and approval of the Chinese Government can have not validity. He further stated that it was unthinkable that Britain could associate herself with Japanese aggression in any way and assured the world that the Chinese Government is able [to] continue resistance against the Japanese so long as she has adequate stores of munitions [and] other military equipments.

We wish also to say how very much encouraged we all were when we heard the Government of the United States of America had given notice to Japan to terminate the 1911 Treaty of Commerce and Navigation. This is a step forward on the part of the said Government which should be an example for the whole world to follow showing to the aggressor resentment not only on paper but in some concrete form.

Fortunately for us and/or the world in general it happens that in this case the interests of Great Britain and China are identical. China to-day, though apparently fighting aggression on her own behalf, is in fact fighting on behalf of Great Britain and the whole world.

What is this source?

This source is a letter from the Federation of China Relief Funds to Churchill in August 1939. This was an organization which was set up in Singapore in 1937 to help the Chinese government and people in their struggle against the Japanese forces. War in China had officially started on 7 July 1937.

Background to this source

Throughout the 1930s Japan had pursued an aggressive, expansionist policy, including taking control of the Chinese province of Manchuria in 1931. Japan was effectively controlled by nationalist politicians and the military, who had the support of the Emperor. In 1937 Japan invaded China. The Chinese government, under the leadership of General Chiang Kai Shek, resisted the Japanese. They had support in the form of weapons, equipment and finance from Britain and the USA but also the Chinese community who lived outside China. The Federation of China Relief Funds was based in Singapore. It raised funds and encouraged men to join Chiang Kai Shek, and was closely connected to his government.

Additional information

Although China resisted the invasion, the Japanese conquered large areas of territory. This brought them into close contact with territory in China which was run by the British under treaties going back to the 19th century. In one particular incident, some of Chiang Kai Shek’s agents assassinated a Japanese official and tried to escape into British territory. This led to a dispute between Britain and Japan, and Japanese forces surrounded the British-run city of Tientsin. If Britain had not been concerned about the aggressive actions of Nazi leader Hitler in 1939 it is quite likely it would have sent its fleet and armed forces. In the end the two sides compromised. Japan agreed not to attack British settlements in China while Britain agreed not to oppose any further Japanese actions in China. Significantly, Britain also continued to make loans to China, allowing Chiang Kai Shek to continue the war with Japan.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember we are hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating the significance of Pearl Harbor. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level: details, facts and figures

  1. What did Chiang Kai Shek say in his statement?
  2. Why were the Chinese encouraged by American actions?
  3. How was China fighting on behalf of the rest of the world?

Deeper level: inferences and using the source as evidence

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference? Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?
China is worried that the British have betrayed them

China is confident that they have the support of the British

China is causing the tension, not Japan

The USA stayed out of the trouble in China

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • This source is very helpful as a way of measuring the levels of tension in Asia at this time. The Chinese were clearly worried that the British agreement over Tientsin might weaken their support for China. In reality this did not happen - the British government felt that if Japan remained in conflict with China, there would be less of a threat to the British Empire.
  • We can also see how Japanese aggression was really worrying for Britain and the USA as well as China. Britain saw Japan as a threat to its Empire in Asia, particularly Singapore and India. The USA saw Japan as a threat to its trading interests and military bases in the Philippines and many other parts of Asia.
  • It is also important to remember that Europe was on the brink of war. The Nazi leader Adolf Hitler had been pursuing aggressive policies in Europe since 1935 and seemed intent on starting a war in Europe.

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