Atrocities, Insults, and “Jeep Girls”: Depictions of the U.S. Military in China, 1945-1949

Controversy continues to surround various military occupations in East Asia in the 20th century. Specifically, the connection between military occupation and sex work carried out by women the occupied countries remains highly fraught. While the Japanese occupations of Korea and China have sparked the most fervent and intractable of the debates, a great deal of scholarship has been produced about East Asian societies which provided American soldiers with sex. The scholarly silence surrounding these power imbalances at the time has long since been broken, with Katherine H.S. Moon’s book Sex Among Allies (looking at prostitution around US bases in South Korea) and more recent work having been done on the US occupation of Japan by Sarah Kovner (in her stunning book of 2012, entitled Occupying power : sex workers and servicemen in postwar Japan).

Lost, however, amid this writing has been a fuller examination of the behaviour and societal reception of American soldiers in Chinese cities from 1945-1949.  About 50,000 US soldiers were posted to cities like Tianjin, Beijing, Qingdao and Shanghai in order to accept the Japanese surrender, and there they remained until shortly before the decamping of the Nationalist Party and the Republic of China machinery of state to Taiwan.

An article which I published in 2008 on this subject has at last been digitized and indexed, and I am pleased to share the text in full.

Entitled ‘Atrocities, Insults, and Jeep Girls, Depictions of the U.S. Military in China, 1945-1949‘ the article analyzes depictions of the U.S. military in Chinese comic art in a period of political transition. The images of U.S. troops in Chinese cartoons demonstrate the way in which a few “isolated incidents” of misconduct by U.S. troops can reverberate powerfully through the societies they policed. The mass public medium of political cartoons functioned as a vehicle in which U.S. troops were demonized in a bid to shock the viewer. U.S. troops were the target of a flood of criticism in cartoons and news reports that resulted in a broad current of anti-American feeling. In the end, they were perceived as a harmful extension of years of foreign influence in China, and, even after they returned to the United States in 1949, Mao Zedong, the Chinese Communists, and propagandists in the People’s Republic of China relied heavily on images of “the atrocities of American troops” to stir up anti-American sentiments during the Korean War.

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