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Posters on the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-45 at the Asian Division, Library of Congress

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(The following is a post by Yuwu Song, Reference Specialist, Asian Division.)

Constituting one of the most destructive conflicts of World War II, the Sino-Japanese War (1937-45) started with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident of July 7, 1937, and ended with the surrender of Japan in August 1945. This war marked the culmination of the growing Japanese aggression toward China since an earlier Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) and was one of the bloodiest in world history.

The Library of Congress’ Chinese collection contains over 6,000 items pertaining to the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-45. Among them are some rarely seen hand-drawn watercolor posters originally created during the war. These posters first came to light in the summer of 2009 when librarians at the Asian Division accidentally ran into some old WWII newspapers and Chinese Air Force propaganda materials in the Chinese book stacks. After being examined and treated for preservation by the Library’s Conservation Division, these posters were prepared for a collection display, together with other materials on WWII and the U.S. 14th Air Force (aka the Flying Tigers), for an event titled “Unsung Heroes: A Symposium on the Heroism of Asian Pacific Americans During World War II,” held in October 2009. These posters were eye-openers to the symposium attendees. Since then, many more patrons and scholars have visited the Asian Reading Room to view these items.

It is possible that some of these posters decorated the walls of the Chinese Air Force bases or facilities in the 1940s. An accession stamp found on one of the posters (see figure-3) suggests that these materials were transferred to the Library on October 17, 1944, possibly from the U.S. War Department or one of the U. S. military branches. They may have been brought back by Flying Tigers crews or other American military staff as souvenirs from the Chinese Air Force.

Figure-1: “Ready for Flight”
Figure-1: “Ready for Flight”
Figure-2: “Die with the Enemy”
Figure-2: “Die with the Enemy”
Figure-3: “Young People: Come and Join the Air Force”
Figure-3: “Young People: Come and Join the Air Force”
Figure-4: "Special Issue of the Celebration of the Double Tenth National Day and Chairman Chiang Kai-shek's Taking Office"
Figure-4: “Special Issue of the Celebration of the Double Tenth National Day and Chairman Chiang Kai-shek’s Taking Office”

The recurring theme of “Thunder” across several posters suggests that they were produced as a series. “Thunder” could symbolize the sound or strength of airplanes in this context. The messages conveyed were quite self-explanatory and easy to understand — to boost morale and encourage recruitment. For instance, figure-1: “Ready for Flight” shows a Chinese airman on a fighter plane, ready to begin his mission. Figure-2: “Die with the Enemy” depicts a Chinese pilot deliberately diving into a Japanese bomber, a scenario that could happen if a Chinese plane was hit or ran out of fuel. In figure-3: “Young People, Come and Join the Air Force,” an airman calls for young fellow countrymen to join the Air Force in defense of the nation. Figure-4: “Special Issue of the Celebration of the Double Tenth National Day and Chairman Chiang Kai-shek‘s Taking Office” was likely released on October 10, 1943, the National Day of the Republican China and the date when Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975) officially assumed the chairmanship of the Nationalist Government of China (The Central Executive Committee of the Nationalist Party elected Chiang to replace Lin Sen as chairman a few hours after Lin’s death on August 1, 1943). Figure-5: “Untitled” illustrates Chinese foot soldiers running after the fleeing enemy while shielded by Chinese airplanes. Figure-6: “Thunder” poster shows a group of fighter jets flying over China and the South China Sea with an eagle in the background, which could exemplify speed and power. Figure-7 (upper): “The Year of 1943” delineates a bug-like Japanese plane running up against a stone wall, a symbol of fortified Chinese defense. Last but not least, figure-7 (lower): “Strive for the Control of the Sky and Get the Enemy out of Our Territory” outlines a large hand reaching down to seize a shot-down enemy plane with the Japanese pilot bailing out.

In addition to the hand-drawn posters mentioned above, the Asian Division also holds a print poster, shown as figure-8: “New Dragon Dance Parade: Total War with International Assistance.” This poster was donated to the Library of Congress by the family of Nelson Trusler Johnson (1887-1954), the United States ambassador to the Republic of China from 1935 to 1941. In the poster, a Japanese militarist, bitten by a dog, is also being chased by dragon dancers. There are recognizable characters in the crowds of onlookers — such as Uncle Sam (United States), Charles de Gaulle (France) and Winston Churchill (Great Britain) — to symbolize the international alliance against Japan. It is probably safe to assume this poster was created between May 1940 when Churchill became Prime Minister of England, and May 1941 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the “Proclamation of Unlimited National Emergency” in response to Nazi Germany’s onslaught for world domination. The figure depicted in the lower left corner resembles German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. Although Germany had adopted a “pro-Japanese policy” since the start of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, China and Germany maintained diplomatic relations until July 1941 when Hitler announced Germany’s recognition of Wang Jingwei’s regime (1883-1944), a Japanese-supported collaborationist government established in Nanjing in 1940. Perhaps prior to that time, there was still a glimmer of hope in China that the Germans would join the international anti-Japanese alliance.

Figure-5: "Untitled"
Figure-5: “Untitled”
Figure-6: "Thunder"
Figure-6: “Thunder”
Figure-7 (upper): "The Year of 1943"
Figure-7 (upper): “The Year of 1943”
Figure-8: “New Dragon Dance Parade: Total War with International Assistance.”
Figure-8: “New Dragon Dance Parade: Total War with International Assistance”

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