In the 1930s, Japan Proved the Great Wall of China Wasn’t So Great

In the 1930s, Japan Proved the Great Wall of China Wasn’t So Great

While the wall undoubtedly posed a formidable obstacle against horsemen armed with spears and bows, it was less effective against a foe armed with tanks, airplanes, naval destroyers, and machine guns.

On the short term, the defensive actions by the underequipped Chinese troops along the Great Wall bought the Republic of China just enough time to prevent an attack on Beijing. However, in losing control of the wall itself, China’s northeastern plain was left exposed to attack. When Japan relaunched its invasion of China in 1937—caused by the brief disappearance of a single Japanese soldier in the so-called Marco Polo Bridge incident—Beijing would fall in just two weeks, followed by Shanghai and the Nationalist capital of Nanjing in the following four months.

The Great Wall actually proved reasonably effective for a defensive obstacle built six centuries earlier, and Chinese soldiers showed courage and adaptability in employing the antiquated weapons at their disposal. But static defenses and sheer courage by themselves could not prevail in the new age of mobile warfare that would soon consume the world.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is BoringThis first appeared in March 2018.

Image: Reuters.