In 1938 Chiang Kai-Shek's nationalist opted to breach the dykes of the Yellow River to flood the area in front of the Japanese advance and thereby slow down their enemy and protect the the key city of Wuhan.

The loss of life in the flooding was terrible, as was the damage done to homes and agricultural production. The government knew very well that this would be the result; it was an act of desperation.

The Chinese government didn't publicly admit to deliberately breaching the dykes. But the American government (at least) were well aware of how it had happened.

Was the dyke breaching intended partly as a message to the Americans and overseas allies (and to Japan) that China was prepared to stay the course of the war, would pay any price, and would never submit to her enemies' terms? Something like Britain's sinking of the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir?

Is there evidence Chiang and his group intended the flooding to act as a message?

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    Well, at Mers-el-Kebir the French were the ones that paid the price, not the Royal Navy.
    – Oldcat
    Oct 21, 2014 at 21:35
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    I'll take the mental discomfort over being shelled pretty much any day. I know just enough about the Sino-Japanese war to doubt your analogy holds up. Scorching your own earth is common enough to not raise the stink that Mers-el-Kebir did.
    – Oldcat
    Oct 21, 2014 at 21:56
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    I wonder about the parallels with stripping food and shelter in Russia ahead of Napoleon's advance. Is there even any bright line between run-of-the-mill scorched earth and the suffering of your own citizens versus the subset of events that foreign observers complain about? Oct 21, 2014 at 23:09
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    @LateralFractal: A close Napoleonic parallel would be the burning of Riga's suburbs prior to the siege of that city. See Dominic Lieven's 'Russia against Napoleon' ch 6. According to Lieven, 750 buildings were destroyed at a cost of 17 million rubles, just to free up space in front of the city walls.
    – neubau
    Oct 22, 2014 at 2:13
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    Perhaps it would be better to ask up front (i.e., in the title) whether foreign perception was a factor behind the breach, and dispense with the somewhat awkward analogy.
    – Semaphore
    Oct 22, 2014 at 3:36

1 Answer 1



The attack at Mers-el-Kebir was done by Britain to France, an ALLY.

The breaching of the Henan dykes was done by the Chinese to themselves. It was a "scorched earth" policy like that practiced by the Russians against Napoleon (and Hitler). And the goal was to "sacrifice the plum tree to save the peach tree," to save (unsuccessfully) industrialized areas further south.

Unless you're trying to make the case that Chiang Kai Shek breached the dykes to hurt the Communists (his nominal "allies"). But that's a bit far-fetched because the bulk of Communist power was further north, centered around Yenan.

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