Digital relief map of Honan province, China

Honan (Henan) is a province of central China straddling the middle Yellow River. The eastern half of the province is part of the North China Plain, while the northwest of the province includes part of the Taihang Mountains and the southwest includes much of the Nanyang Basin, which is separated from the North China Plain by the Dabie Mountains. The province was heavily populated and agriculturally productive in 1941, producing mostly wheat and sesame with lesser amounts of rice. Nevertheless, the province was among the poorest in China. During the time frame of the Pacific War, The capital was Kaifeng. Chengchow was located at the junction of major east-west and north-south railways, while Anyang in the extreme north of the province was the center of a significant coal mining district.

The Japanese seized Anyang on 20 October 1937 and began a campaign to clear the north-south rail line on 24 January 1941, Chengchow did not fall until 20 April 1944. Thus the province was on the front line during much of the Pacific War.

It is estimated that at least two million persons died of starvation in Honan during the war. Both the Japanese and the Kuomintang contributed to the famine of 1943 by their heavy demands on the food resources of the province. The elements contributed to the disaster: Drought, a late frost, and hail were followed by a literal plague of locusts, and the 300,000 Kuomintang troops living off the land proved too much for the reduced food supply.  Official indifference to the suffering led peasants to speak of four disasters: "flood, drought, locusts, and T'ang En-po" (quoted by Mitter 2013). By the spring of 1944 the peasants were in revolt, disarming 50,000 Kuomintang troops and killing perhaps one-fifth of these.

The famine was a heavy blow to the legitimacy of the Kuomintang and likely affected the outcome of the subsequent Chinese Civil War. The Kuomintang had begun to rely on grain taxes in kind to support the war effort, which helped ensure that the spiraling inflation did not leave the Kuomintang armies starving. However, when the famine struck Honan, the official response was to send paper money rather than grain to the province.


Collingham (2011)

Mitter (2013)

Peattie et al. (2011)

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