Lesson Plan

Lesson 2: America and the Sino-Japanese Conflict, 1933–1939

Chinese Civilians with Japanese Soldiers at Checkpoint, 1937.
Photo caption

Chinese Civilians with Japanese Soldiers at Checkpoint, 1937.

The Japanese conquest of Manchuria in 1931 was only the first step in what became a much larger campaign to create a pro-Japanese "buffer state" in North China, a campaign that resulted in full-scale war between Japan and China in 1937. From the beginning the United States considered Japan the aggressor, but refused to take any direct action beyond issuing diplomatic denunciations, sending small amounts of aid to the Chinese government, and imposing very limited economic sanctions against Japan. Nevertheless, China continued to fight even after suffering horrendous losses, and the Japanese offensive bogged down by the end of 1939. Tokyo, therefore, began looking for alternate solutions to what it called the "China Incident."

This lesson will examine the overall principles which underlay both Japanese and American foreign policy in the mid- to late-1930s. Through the use of documents and an interactive timeline, students will be invited to assess the effectiveness of U.S. policy toward East Asia.

Guiding Questions

To what extent did global events influence regional conflicts in East Asia?

In its approach to the Sino-Japanese conflict of the 1930s, did the United States place itself on a path to war?

Learning Objectives

Explain why Japan went to war against China during the 1930s.

Articulate the reasons why the United States believed that its interests were at stake in East Asia.

Discuss how the United States responded to developments in the Sino-Japanese War.

Assess the effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy in East Asia in the 1930s.