The Jeep Girl Crisis: Sexual Fear and Racism in Wartime China

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 3:30 PM
Maryland Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Zach Fredman, John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding, Dartmouth College
More than 120,000 American troops served in China during the 1940s. In 1942, Chinese officials welcomed them with ten-course banquets and toasts to Sino-American friendship. Civilians lined the streets to greet them. Yet a short three years later, Chinese interpreters and civilian laborers who worked with the U.S. Army walked out of their jobs on strikes, riots by locals protesting widespread sexual misconduct by American servicemen rocked the wartime capital of Chongqing, and fistfights and shootings broke out across the country between Chinese soldiers and their supposed American allies. After Japan’s surrender, a similar story played out in northern China. Local enthusiasm for the 54,000 U.S. Marines who arrived to assist the Chinese Nationalists in reasserting control over formerly Japanese-occupied territory quickly gave way to outrage over American misconduct, culminating in nationwide anti-American protests and the withdrawal of Marine Corps personnel.

 A number of scholars have written about the U.S. presence in China during and after World War II, but almost all have focused narrowly on military goals using only English language sources. My contribution to this roundtable will be to explain how race and gender are crucial lenses for understanding why Americans’ attempt to forge a nominally equal military alliance with China faltered so fully and with such lasting consequences. Besides detailing specific incidents where cultural friction undermined broader political and military goals, I will also argue that gender trouble stemming from the sexual relations between GIs and Chinese women poisoned Sino-American ties in China more than any other issue. Finally, I will make a case for using sources in Mandarin to understand the racial and cultural dimensions of the occupation, and offer thoughts on directions for future research.

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