JAPANESE OCCUPATION OF CHINA
Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931, established the puppet government of Manchukuo in 1932, and soon pushed south into North China. The 1936 Xi’an Incident—in which Chiang Kai-shek was held captive by local military forces until he agreed to a second front with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—brought new impetus to China’s resistance to Japan. However, a clash between Chinese and Japanese troops outside Beijing on July 7, 1937, marked the beginning of full-scale warfare. Shanghai was attacked and quickly fell. An indication of the ferocity of Tokyo’s determination to annihilate the Kuomintang government is reflected in the major atrocity committed by the Japanese army in and around Nanjing during a six-week period in December 1937 and January 1938. Known in history as the Nanjing Massacre, wanton rape, looting, arson, and mass executions took place, so that in one horrific day, some 57,418 Chinese prisoners of war and civilians reportedly were killed. Japanese sources admit to a total of 142,000 deaths during the Nanjing Massacre, but Chinese sources report upward of 340,000 deaths and 20,000 women raped. Japan expanded its war effort in the Pacific, Southeast, and South Asia, and by 1941 the United States had entered the war. With Allied assistance, Chinese military forces—both Kuomintang and CCP—defeated Japan. Civil war between the Kuomintang and the CCP broke out in 1946, and the Kuomintang forces were defeated and had retreated to a few offshore islands and Taiwan by 1949. Mao and the other CCP leaders reestablished the capital in Beiping, which they renamed Beijing. [Source: The Library of Congress]
Few Chinese had any illusions about Japanese designs on China. Hungry for raw materials and pressed by a growing population, Japan initiated the seizure of Manchuria in September 1931 and established ex-Qing emperor Puyi as head of the puppet regime of Manchukuo in 1932. The loss of Manchuria, and its vast potential for industrial development and war industries, was a blow to the Nationalist economy. The League of Nations, established at the end of World War I, was unable to act in the face of the Japanese defiance. The Japanese began to push from south of the Great Wall into northern China and into the coastal provinces. [Ibid]
“Chinese fury against Japan was predictable, but anger was also directed against the Kuomintang government, which at the time was more preoccupied with anti-Communist extermination campaigns than with resisting the Japanese invaders. The importance of "internal unity before external danger" was forcefully brought home in December 1936, when Nationalist troops (who had been ousted from Manchuria by the Japanese) mutinied at Xi'an. The mutineers forcibly detained Chiang Kai-shek for several days until he agreed to cease hostilities against the Communist forces in northwest China and to assign Communist units combat duties in designated anti-Japanese front areas. [Ibid]
Of the estimated 20 million people that died as a result of the Japanese hostilities during World War II, about half of them were in China. China claims that 35 million Chinese were killed or wounded during the Japanese occupation from 1931 to 1945. An estimated 2.7 million Chinese were killed in a Japanese "pacification" program that targeted "all males between 15 and 60 who were suspected to be enemies" along with other "enemies pretending to be local people." Out of the thousands of Chinese prisoners captured during the war only 56 were found alive in 1946.
The first phase of the Chinese occupation began when Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931. The second phase began in 1937 when the Japanese launched major attacks on Beijing, Shanghai and Nanking. The Chinese resistance stiffened after July 7, 1937, when a clash occurred between Chinese and Japanese troops outside Beijing (then renamed Beiping) near the Marco Polo Bridge. This skirmish not only marked the beginning of open, though undeclared, war between China and Japan but also hastened the formal announcement of the second Kuomintang-CCP united front against Japan. By the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 they were firmly entrenched in China, occupying much of the eastern part of the country.
Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Washington State University site wsu.edu : Nanking Incident (Rape of Nanking) : Princeton site princeton.edu/~nanking ; Nanjing Massacre cnd.org/njmassacre ; Wikipedia Nanking Massacre article Wikipedia Nanjing Memorial Hall humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/NanjingMassacre ; Nanking Atrocities nankingatrocities.net/ ; CHINA AND WORLD WAR II Factsanddetails.com/China
Good Websites and Sources on World War II and China : ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; U.S. Army Account history.army.mil; World War II Database worldwar2database.com ; Burma Road book worldwar2history.info ; Burma Road Video danwei.org
Links in this Website: WARLORDISM AND CHIANG KAI-SHEK Factsanddetails.com/China ; EARLY COMMUNISTS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; MAO, HIS EARLY LIFE, TACTICS AND REVOLUTION Factsanddetails.com/China ; LONG MARCH Factsanddetails.com/China ; JAPANESE OCCUPATION OF CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINA AND WORLD WAR II Factsanddetails.com/China ; COMMUNISTS TAKE OVER CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; EARLY COMMUNIST RULE UNDER MAO Factsanddetails.com/China
How Japan Became a Major Power in Asia
Japan modernized at a much faster rate than China in the 19th and early 20th centuries. By the late 1800s, it was on its way to becoming a world class, industrial-military power while the Chinese were fighting among themselves and being exploited by foreigners. Japan resented China for being a "sleeping hog" that was pushed around by the West.
The world was awakened to Japan's military strength when they defeated China in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 and Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.
The Russo-Japanese war halted European expansion into East Asia and provided an international structure for East Asia that brought some degree of stability to the region. It also changed the world from being a European-centered one to one in which a new pole was emerging in Asia.
The Japanese hated European and American colonialism and were committed to avoiding what happened to China after the Opium Wars. They felt humiliated by the unequal treaties that were forced on them by the United States after the arrival of Perry's Black ships in the 1853. But in the end Japan became a colonial power itself.
The Japanese colonized Korea, Taiwan, Manchuria and islands in the Pacific. After defeating of China and Russia, Japan began conquering and colonizing East Asia to expand its power.
The Japanese victory over China in 1895 led to the annexation of Formosa (present-day Taiwan) and Liaotang province in China. Both Japan and Russia claimed Liatong. The victory over Russia in 1905 gave Japan the Liaotang province in China and led the way to the annexation of Korea in 1910. In 1919, for siding with the Allies in World War I, the European powers gave Germany's possessions in Shandong province to Japan in the Treaty of Versailles.
The area that Japanese had a right to as a result of its victory in the Russo-Japanese War was quite small: Lunshaun (Port Arthur) and Dalian along with rights to the South Manchurian Railway Company. After the Manchurian Incident, the Japanese claimed the entire area of southern Manchuria, eastern Inner Mongolia and northern Manchuria. The seized areas were about three times the size as the whole Japanese archipelago.
In some ways, the Japanese mimicked the Western colonial powers. They built grand government buildings and "developed high-minded schemes to help the natives.” Later they even claimed they had the right to colonize. In 1928, Prince (and future Prime Minister) Konroe announced: “as a result of [Japan’s] one million annual increase in population, our national economic life is heavily burdened. We cannot [afford to] wait for a rationalizing adjustment of the world system.”
To rationalize their actions in China and Korea, Japanese officers invoked the concept of "double patriotism" which meant they could "disobey moderate policies of the Emperor in order to obey his true interests." A comparison has been made with religious-political-imperial ideology behind Japanese expansion and the American idea of manifest destiny. [Source: "History of Warfare" by John Keegan, Vintage Books]
The Japanese tried to build a united Asian front against Western imperialism but its racist views ultimately worked against it.
Japanese Enter Manchuria
The Japanese operating out of their concessions on China's east coast encouraged and profited from the opium trade. Profits were funneled to right wing societies in Japan that advocated war.
The absence of a strong central government after the collapse of the Qing dynasty made China easy prey for Japan. In 1905, after the Russo-Japanese War, the Japanese took over the Manchurian port of Dalien, and this provided a beachhead for its conquests in northern China.
Tensions between China and Japan arose over claims on the Russian-built Manchurian railroad. In 1930, China owned half the railways outright and owned two thirds of the remainder with Russia. Japan held the strategic South Manchurian railway.
The Chinese railroads were built with loans from Japan. China defaulted on these loans. Both China and Japan promised a peaceful resolution to the problem. On the eve of discussions on the matter a bomb exploded on the tracks of the South Manchurian Railway.
Early Events in the Japanese Occupation of China
On March 18, 1926, students in Beiping staged a demonstration to protest the Japanese navy opening fire on Chinese troops in Tianjin. When protesters gathered outside the residence of Duan Qirui, a warlord who was chief executive of the Republic of China at the time, to submit their petition, a shooting was ordered and forty-seven people died. Among them was 22-year-old Liu Hezhen, a student activist campaigning for a boycott of Japanese goods and the expulsion of foreign ambassadors. She became the subject of Lu Xun's classic essay In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen . Duan was deposed after the massacre and died of natural causes in 1936.
In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen was written by the celebrated and revered left-wing writer Lu Xun in 1926. For decades, it had been in high school textbooks, and there was quite a bit of controversy when education authorities decided to remove it in 2007. There was speculation that the article was junked in part because it might remind people of a similar incident that occurred in 1989.
Japan Takes Over Manchuria in 1931 After the Manchurian Incident
The 10,000-man Japanese Kwantung Army was responsible for guarding the Manchuria railway. In September 1931, it attacked one of its own trains outside Mukden (present-day Shenyang). Claiming that the attack had been carried out by Chinese soldiers, the Japanese used the event—now known as the Manchurian Incident—to provoke a fight with Chinese forces in Mukden and as an excuse to start a full-scale war in China.
The Manchurian Incident of September 1931 set the stage for the eventual military takeover of the Japanese government. Guandong Army conspirators blew up a few meters of South Manchurian Railway Company track near Mukden and blamed it on Chinese saboteurs. One month later, in Tokyo, military figures plotted the October Incident, which was aimed at setting up a national socialist state. The plot failed, but again the news was suppressed and the military perpetrators were not punished.
The instigators of the incident were Kanji Ishihara and Seishiro Itagaki, staff officers in the Kwantung Army, a unit of the Imperial Japanese Army. Some blame these two men for starting World War II in the Pacific. They modeled their attack on the assassination of Zhang Zuolin, a Chinese warlord with a strong influence in Manchuria, whose train was blown up in 1928.
After the Manchurian Incident Japan sent 100,000 troops to Manchuria and launched a full-scale invasion of Manchuria. Japan took advantage of China's weakness. It encountered little resistance from the Kuomintang, taking Mukden in a single day and advancing into Jilin province. In 1932, 3,000 villagers were massacred in Pingding, near Fushan.
Chiang Kai-shek's army offered no resistance against the Japanese after Japan entered Manchuria in 1931. Out of disgrace Chiang resigned as head of the nation but continued on as head of the army. In 1933, he made peace with Japan and attempted to unify China.
In a tactic intended to halt the southward movement of Japanese soldiers from Manchuria before World War II, Chiang Kai-shek ordered his soldiers to breach the levees of the Yellow River and purposely divert its flow. At least 200,000, maybe millions, died, millions more were made homeless and the Japanese advanced anyway.
Japan Attacks Shanghai
In January 1932, the Japanese attacked Shanghai on the pretext of Chinese resistance in Manchuria. After several hours of fighting the Japanese occupied the northern section of the city and placed the foreign settlement under martial law. Looting and murder prevailed throughout the city, American, French and British troops took up positions with bayonets out of fear of mob violence.
Reporting from Shanghai, an International Herald Tribune reporter wrote: “Terrified by innumerable acts of violence and the persistent rumors of impending Japanese air raids, foreigners kept indoors...Attempting to carry heavy munitions to a secret fortification in the river front, 23 Chinese were killed in a terrific blast which destroyed their craft and shattered windows along the quays, when sparks form the boat’s smokestack ignited the cargo. A live bomb was discovered in the Nanking Theater, Shanghai’s largest movie house, and another bomb, which exploded in the Chinese native city, near the French settlement, did great damage and resulted in grave rioting.”
Finding stiff Chinese resistance in Shanghai, the Japanese waged a three-month undeclared war there before a truce was reached in March 1932. Several days later, Manchukuo was established. Manchukuo was a Japanese puppet state headed by the last Chinese emperor, Puyi, as chief executive and later emperor. The civilian government in Tokyo was powerless to prevent these military happenings. Instead of being condemned, the Guandong Army's actions enjoyed popular support back home. International reactions were extremely negative, however. Japan withdrew from the League of Nations, and the United States became increasingly hostile.
Japanese Occupation of Manchuria
Japanese-built Dalian station In March 1932, the Japanese created the puppet state of Manchukou. The next year the territory of Jehoi was added. The former Chinese emperor Pu Yi was named the leader of Manchukuo in 1934. In 1935, Russia sold the Japanese its interest in the Chinese Eastern Railway after the Japanese had already seized it. China’s objections were ignored.
Japanese sometime romanticize their occupation of Manchuria and take credit for the great roads, infrastructure and heavy factories they built. Japan was able to exploit resources in Manchuria using the Russian-built trans-Manchurian railway and an extensive network of railroads they built themselves. Vast expanses of Manchurian forest were chopped down to provide wood for Japanese houses and fuel for Japanese industries.
For many Japanese Manchuria was like California, a land of opportunity where dreams could be realized. Many socialists, liberals planners and technocrats came to Manchuria with utopian ideas and big plans. For Chinese it was like the German occupation of Poland. Manchurian men were used as slave laborer and Manchurian women were forced to work as comfort women (prostitutes). One Chinese man told the New York Times, “You looked at the forced labor in the coal mines. There wasn’t a single Japanese working in there. There were great railroads here, but the good trains were for Japanese only.”
The Japanese enforced racial segregation between the themselves and the Chinese and between the Chinese, Koreans and Manchus. Resisters were dealt with using free fire zones and scorched earth policies. Even so Chinese from the south migrated to Manchuria for jobs and opportunities. The pan-Asian ideology given lip service by the Japanese was a view widely held by the Chinese.
People ate tree bark. One elderly woman told the Washington Post that she remembered her parents buying her a corn cake, a rare treat at the time, and bursting into tears when someone ripped the cake from her hand and ran off before she had time to eat it.
In November 1936, the Anti-Comintern Pact, an agreement to exchange information and collaborate in preventing communist activities, was signed by Japan and Germany (Italy joined a year later).
Japanese Invasion of China After the Marco Polo Incident
The Japanese began an eight-year undeclared war with China in 1937 when China was weak and torn apart by rivalry between warlords. The excuse for the incursion was the so-called Marco Polo Bridge Incident on July 7, 1937, when Japan seized Beijing after Chinese nationalist troops under Chiang Kai-shek opened fire on some Japanese troops who had illegally taken over a railway station. Chinese general Fang Zhenwu, "the man who shot the first bullet against the Japanese," is regarded today as a great Chinese hero.
After the Marco Polo incident as armistice was briefly established by the Japanese government which then yielded to pressure from the military and sent in more troops and expanded the front. Chinese resistance was more than the Japanese anticipated. Also on July 7, the Japanese 1st Division, stationed in northern China, demanded to enter the city of Wanping, purportedly to search for a missing Japanese soldiers. Chinese officials refused and the Japanese shelled the city into submission.
Describing the Battle for Shanghai, the Washington Post reported: "Fresh regiments of veteran Japanese regular army troops smashed China's defense line on the northern edge of the Yangtzepoo area of the International Settlement...Nipponese infantrymen fought with their bayonet behind a curtain of artillery shells and aerial bombs. There were continuous explosions of large-caliber artillery shells as Chinese and Japanese batteries engaged in a deafening duel.”
Chen Hui, a Chinese man who participated in the resistance movement against the Japanese in northern China, wrote poems that were surprisingly sympathetic to the enemy. One entitled A Japanese Soldier goes:
"A Japanese soldier
took his last breath on the plains of Jinchaji.
His eye sockets
congealed with dark red blood,
and his overflowing tears turned to ice,
freezing his sadness. ...
Two farmers carrying hoes
came across the soldier
and buried him on a hill in the north. ...
The Chinese snow soundlessly
fell on his last resting place..
On this lonesome night,
in his poor home village far across the seas,
an old woman with a hunched back and long speckled gray hair
must be praying wholeheartedly for the safety of her son on a distant battlefield ... ."
(taken from "Seisen Chugoku Gendai Shishu," a collection of modern Chinese poetry edited and translated by Kukio Akiyoshi of Kyushu University)
Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45)
After the invasion of Shanghai Japanese troops conquered city after city. In November 1937, Shanghai was captured; the infamous Rape of Nanking took place in December 1937; and Canton was captured in 1938. Beijing, Tsinan and Wuhan also fell. The the U.S. gunship Panay and three Standard Oil tankers were sunk by Japanese bombs on the Yangtze River.
The Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45) ensued, and relations with the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union deteriorated. The increased military activities in China--and the Japanese idea of establishing "Mengukuo" in Inner Mongolia and the Mongolian People's Republic--soon led to a major clash over rival Mongolia-Manchukuo border claims. When Japanese troops invaded eastern Mongolia, a ground and air battle with a joint Soviet- Mongolian army took place between May and September 1939 at the Battle of Halhin Gol. The Japanese were severely defeated, sustaining as many as 80,000 casualties. Japanese troops were slaughtered in a Mongolian Desert called Nomonhan by Soviet tanks because the military leaders though they were assured of victory because they had been given a blessing by the Emperor. After that Japan concentrated its war efforts on its southward drive in China and Southeast Asia, a strategy that helped propel Japan ever closer to war with the United States and Britain and their allies. [Ibid]
Japanese General Hideki Tojo, the most well-known Japanese war criminal from World War II, lead attacks in Char Province on Inner Mongolia, urging men to repeatedly charge and attack. There were reports of atrocities and mass executions of Chinese there.
By 1939, most of coastal China was occupied by the Japanese. A year later more than 1.5 million Japanese troops were stationed in China, costing Japan more than $4 million a day. The Japanese occupied most of eastern China for eight years. The Kuomintang and the Communists were holed up in western China, where they were supplied towards the end of World War II by American and British weapons brought in on the Burma Road.
Chinese Flee to Southern China
War orphans Many Chinese fled southward to Yunnan and Sichuan (where the Kuomintang had their wartime capital in Chongqing). Air raids were launched on Chongqing in May 1939. Altogether 218 air raids were conducted on the city over the next several years, leaving the city in ruins and killing around 20,000 people, including people that sought refuge in tunnels and suffocated to death there.
The most deadly panic ever occurred in Chongqing in June 1941, when 700 people suffocated in an underground tunnel in a Japanese air raid.
Describing Chongqing in 1939, Edgar Snow wrote: "Acres of buildings had been destroyed in barbaric raids of May and June. The Japanese preferred moonlit nights for their calls, when from their base in Hankow they could follow the silver banner of the Yangtze up to its confluence with the Jialing, which identified the capital in a way no blackout could obscure."
"The city had no defending air force and only a few anti-aircraft guns...Spacious public shelters were being dug, but it was estimated that a third of the population still had no protection. Government officials given advanced warning, sped outside the city in their motor cars—cabinet ministers first, then vice-ministers, then minor bureaucrats. the populace soon caught on; when they saw a string of official cars racing off to the west, they dropped everything and ran. A mad scramble of rickshaws, carts, animals and humanity blew up the main streets like a great wind, carrying all before it."
Recalling how he survived during the war one Chinese man told Time, "I would scavenge for food and elude the soldiers by running up into the hills and hiding."
Jews in Occupied China
The Japanese were not all beasts. Shanghai under the Japanese was one of the few places in the world that accepted Jewish refugees from Europe. Thousands of Jews arrived in Japanese-occupied Shanghai in the late 1930s and early 1940s from Europe because it was the only place that would accept them without passports or visas and unlike other places there were no restrictions on the numbers of Jews allowed in the country.
Japanese rulers in Shanghai accepted 25,000 Jewish refugees, more than Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India combined. The Japanese Foreign Minister told a group of Jewish businessmen in December 1940: "I am the man responsible for the alliance with Hitler, but nowhere have I promised that we would carry out his anti-Semitic policies in Japan."
Most of the Jewish refugees came from Austria, Poland and Russia. The Japanese "Schindler," Chiyune Sugihara, a consul in the Japanese Embassy in Lithuania issued thousands of exit visa for Jews, which allowed them to leave the country before the Nazi occupation. After his seal was taken he issued the visas by hand and continued doing so out of the window of the train that took him out of the country.
Suffering of Jews in Occupied China
In 1943, partly to appease their Nazi allies, the Japanese rounded up 18,000 newly arrived Jews, mostly from Austria, Germany and Poland, and placed them in Hongkew (now Hongkou), a two-square-mile ghetto that had been badly damaged by bombing raids.
The Nazis proposed rounding up the Jews for a "final solution." One suggestion was to sponsor a big Rosh Hashana party on some barges and then send the celebrators to concentration camps on Tsungming Island (later canisters of gas were found on the island that contained the same chemicals used to kill Jews in Europe). Why the Japanese refused to go along with the plan is unknown? Some have suggested that it was because Jewish businesses had lent them money during the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War.
The Jews in Shanghai suffered terribly. They did menial jobs and relied on charity to survive. Baths, fresh food and hot water were luxuries. They ate old bananas and cabbage soaked in chemicals to kill bacteria and washed their hair with kerosene to kill lice. Many died from starvation and diseases. Others busied themselves with clubs, dances and theater performances. Most survived the war.
Image Source: Nanjing History Wiz, Wiki Commons, History in Pictures
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated August 2012