This month marked the 80th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident (also known as the July 7th Incident, 七七事變). This relatively minor clash between a small regiment of the Nationalist Army and the Japanese Imperial Army from 7-9 July 1937 sparked what many war historians believe led to the second Sino-Japanese war (1937-1945). Fighting the war against Imperial Japan was also a contributing factor that led to the Nationalist government’s defeat in the second Chinese civil war (1946-1950). To be sure, a state of hostility between China and Taiwan existed since the end of the civil war, and for decades the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has propagated a state-led narrative that diluted the role of the Republican government in Chinese history. Yet, in this past decade, there has been an apparent opening up in the CCP party-state’s official narrative on some parts of Chinese history involving the Nationalist party—ostensibly to forge a common narrative on a shared past and therefore future.
Concerned by Taiwan’s democracy—which has given birth to an overwhelming sense of a distinct identity among the population—the CCP has been engaged in a concerted effort since 2005 to re-assimilate the Nationalist Party into its political narrative. Most recently, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, in which Nationalist forces fought and successfully repelled the Japanese Imperial Army, the China-based Academy of History of Chinese Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (中國抗日戰爭史學會) and the Taiwan-based Memorial Association for the Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (中華民族抗日戰爭記念協會), with support from Ke Yi Publishing House (克毅出版社), Nanjing University (南京大學), and Nanjing Zhongtang Keji (南京中堂科技), organized a conference in the former capital of the Republican government on July 5 titled “The Chinese People’s Anti-Japanese War History” (中華民族抗日戰爭史學術研討會), and invited the former premier of Taiwan and chief of general staff Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村; b. 1919) to give the keynote address.
The battle-hardened retired general was the commander of the 9th Infantry Division from 1958 to 1961, and presided over the second Taiwan Strait Crisis that involved the shelling of Kinmen by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 1958. Yet, in recent years, Hau has been a frequent participant in cross-Strait forums promoting a united front between the Kuomintang (KMT; Nationalist) and the CCP. In 2014, at a conference celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender in World War II, hosted by an organization called New China Youth (新中華兒女), Hau stated that “Taiwan’s future is the Republic of China’s future, the Republic of China’s future will be decided by all Chinese people” (台灣的前途就是中華民國的前途中華民國的前途由全體中國人來決定). Hau headlined another event in 2016, held in Washington, DC, focused on promoting a common narrative between Nationalist and Communist forces in fighting against the Japanese. The latter conference, entitled “A War to Remember – United Chinese Effort Against Japanese Invasion,” was hosted by the shadowy China Energy Fund Committee, with ties to the organization formerly known as the General Political Department.
In his keynote remarks in Nanjing, Hau declared that the victory against the Japanese in World War II is the “shared glory” (共同光榮) of both the Nationalists and the Communists. While seeking to forge a common political narrative on modern Chinese history, Hau noted five principles that must guide studies on the history of the Sino-Japanese war: first, it must stand on the side of the Chinese nation, not on the side of a particular party or person; second, it must stand on the side of academic enlightenment, and not be influenced by any political sympathies; third, it must stand on a strategic level; fourth, it must stand as a neutral observer, and use the perspective of younger generations to understand the truth of history; fifth, it must stand on the side of its influence on global human peace in understanding the relationship between the resistance to Japanese aggression and World War II.
Following Hau’s lead in heralding the united front against the Japanese, the former political commissar of the Nanjing Military Region Fang Zuqi (方祖岐) stated that “during the anti-Japanese resistance, the KMT was on the front line of the battlefield, whereas the CCP was behind the enemy lines, both fronts formed a comprehensive resistance against Japan, one cannot do without the other.” While it is a commonly accepted fact that the Nationalist Army suffered far more losses than the Communist Army during the war, Hau’s statement appears intended as political gloss that sought to promote an equal and thus shared sense of accomplishment between both the Nationalist party and Communist party in saving China.
The conference—held at the Purple Palace in Nanjing—was attended by over 240 participants. Nearly one hundred retired military officers from across the Taiwan Strait reportedly attended the meeting. Including Hau, there were 10 retired senior military officers from Taiwan, which included three former Army commanders Huang Xing-qiang (黃幸強), Chen Ting-chong (陳廷寵), and Li Zhen-lin (李楨林), former Deputy Defense Minister Wang Wen-xie (王文燮), former Presidential Military Strategy Advisor Zhou Zhong-nan (周仲南), former Navy Commander Miao Yong-qing (苗永慶), and former Air Force Commander Shen Guo-zhen (沈國禎), among others. There were also reportedly 17 retired senior military officers from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), including Fang Zuqi, and prominent civilians like the director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Institute of Modern History Wang Jianlang (王建朗), and PRC officials such as the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) director, Zhang Zhijun (張志軍), and deputy director, Long Mingbiao (龍明彪), attended different functions related to meeting.
Deputy Director Long—who gave one of event’s opening speeches—touted the cooperation between the KMT and the CCP that formed a unified battle line in resisting the Japanese invasion. The deputy director also referred to some of the population in Taiwan during Japanese occupation that proactively participated in the motherland’s resistance against Japan and asserted that the victory of the Chinese people was the result of the joint effort of Taiwan compatriots in a unified struggle. Yet, Long lamented how the situation has changed over the past year and lambasted Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for not recognizing the so-called “1992 Consensus,” and not agreeing that the two sides of the Strait belonged to “one-China” (兩岸同屬一個中國), and therefore causing the tensions in cross-Strait relations. He also highlighted how “Taiwan independence” activities on the island were aimed at reducing awareness about the Chinese nation among Taiwan compatriots, and thereby limiting, even obstructing, cross-Strait non-governmental cooperation, and forming a threat to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
The main point: In the past decade, there has been an apparent opening up in the CCP party-state’s official narrative on some parts of Chinese history involving the Nationalist party. The commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident is the latest in the string of United Front activities aimed at forging a common narrative on a shared past and therefore future.
 General Chen is also the first chairman of Memorial Association for the Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression(中華民族抗日戰爭紀念協會)(https://www.mod.gov.cn/big5/education/2015-10/24/content_4641919.htm).
Update: For a detailed study on the events leading up to the Sino-Japanese war, see, e.g., Steve Tsang, “Chiang Kai-shek’s ‘secret deal’ at Xian and the start of the Sino-Japanese War,” Palgrave Communications 14003 (2015). https://www.palgrave-journals.com/articles/palcomms20143#fn54.