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For centuries, Japan was within the cultural sphere of the vast Chinese civilization to its west. It adopted the Chinese writing system and numerous other cultural legacies.

Modern tensions in China's relations with Japan date back to the 1894-5 Sino-Japanese war, in which Japan marked its emergence as a world power by inflicting a shock defeat on China. Japan won Formosa (now Taiwan) and by 1910 it had also colonised Korea.

Japan's militarisation accelerated in the early 1930s, and the resource-poor country set its sights on more imperial prizes. In 1931, Japan invaded north-eastern China. Japan sought to consolidate its hold on China and in 1937 it swept south.

The fall of the Chinese city of Nanjing heralded one of the most poisonous episodes in Chinese-Japanese relations. Japanese soldiers embarked on a frenzy of murder, rape and looting in which estimates suggest up to 300,000 people were killed and 20,000 women were raped. Chinese women were also among the tens of thousands of Asian women forced to serve as sexual slaves to Japanese soldiers.

Japan's government also sponsored the development of chemical and biological weapons in China, testing them against POWs and civilian populations. Armed resistance to Japanese control in China continued throughout World War II. Finally defeated, the retreating Japanese forces are thought to have left at least 700,000 chemical weapons littering China.

Though the US's formal occupation of Japan ended in 1952, it left behind a large contingent of forces that remains to this day. Japan and the People's Republic of China finally normalised relations in 1972.

Japanese soldier in Nanjing, 1931
Some 250-300,000 Chinese civilians were killed in the Nanjing massacre

1894-5: Sino-Japanese war. Japan inflicts a shock defeat on China's far larger, but poorly equipped, army
1910: Japan annexes the Korean peninsula
1931: Japan invades China and takes control of Manchuria
1937: Japanese forces capture Nanjing, culminating in the massacre of hundreds of thousands of civilians
1945: Japanese forces expelled from China at the end of World War II
1950s-60s: Despite efforts to rebuild trade links, relations remain difficult
1972: Full diplomatic relations finally restored


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