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An Inquiry into the Truth of the Sino-Japanese Incident

By Nagae Tarô,

II. The Marco Polo Bridge Incident (July 7, 1937)

On July 7, 1937, seven kilometers from the south-west quarter of Beiping, near the Marco Polo bridge which straddles the Yongding River, a shooting incident took place between the Chinese Army and the Japanese Army, which was conducting night-time drills. The Japanese held back from shooting until 5:40 in the morning of July 8.

The Japanese Army there stationed was the 8th Company (under company commander Lt. Shimizu Setsuro) of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment; the unit of the Chinese Army that fired was the Wanping district garrison (Jin Zhenzhong’s battalion of 1,400 men), under the 37th Division (Gen. Feng Zhian, commanding) of the 29th Army (Gen. Song Zheyuan, commanding).
So ? why did shooting break out? It was the local Chinese Army’s resolute determination for war, brought about by political education from a Chinese Communist Party functionary. Jin Zhenzhong’s battalion made strategic preparations with full intent, anxious to do battle with the Japanese Army. This is found on page seven of the second volume of Zhongguo Kang Ri Zhanzheng Shi, and in Major Jin Zhenzhong’s journal in his own handwriting.

The Chinese Communist Party spared no time with their correspondence. On June 8, when the true situation of the shooting incident was still unclear, a telegram (the June 8 Circular Telegram) was transmitted throughout the country ordering an immediate opening of hostilities, and on the 9th ordering subordinate units to conduct an all-out war with Japan. On that day, Zhou Enlai visited Chiang Kai-shek at Lushan to consult with him, insisting that he keep his promise to actively fight a war of resistance against Japan. (Zhongguo Kang Ri Zhanzheng Shi, pp. 8?10.)

Japan was totally opposed to this. Early on the morning of the 8th, the Japanese government, apprised by a report from their army there of the Chinese Army’s attack, held a meeting all morning long at the Foreign Affairs Ministry among the three concerned ministries (the Army, Navy, and Foreign Affairs). Principal at the meeting were Ishii Itaro, chief of the East Asian Office (in whose chambers the meeting took place), Ushiroku Atsushi of the department of army affairs, and Toyoda Soemu, representing naval affairs . They confirmed the need for a quick settlement to the incident, and to contain it.

Holding meeting that afternoon, the cabinet, too, decided to keep the incident from expanding and to take measures to resolve the situation where it started. Thereafter, the General Staff Headquarters transmitted General Order #400 to the Japanese Army stationed in China, commanding “No enlargement of the incident, no exercise of military force.”

The Japanese Army in China followed the orders of the General Staff Headquarters, going forward with talks with the commanders at the 29th’s headquarters to quickly end the hostilities. The result of this was the signing on the night of June 11 of an accord to end the conflict between the Japanese forces and the 29th Army. In addition, a representative of the 29th Army apologized for the incident, and they promised to punish the offenders and to take steps to ensure that there would not be a repeat occurrence.

The Chinese Communist Party, desirous of all-out war between China and Japan, agonized over how to get entangled in an armed quarrel. It was at this point that they carried out a series of terrorist attacks to damage the peaceful entente. The Japanese Army, however, would not rise to the bait. The Chinese Communist Party, knowing that the Japanese forces would not respond to small-scale terrorist action, finally they started directly attacking the Japanese with the regular Chinese Army.
On June 25, Chinese regulars of the 229th Regiment, 38th Division, attacked some members of the Japanese Signal Corps who were repairing telegraph lines in Langfang (the Langfang Incident). The next day, as the Hirobe Battalion was passing through the Guang’an Gate in Beiping, they were fired on by gate guards (the Guang’anmen Incident).

It was unmistakable that armed attacks by the Chinese Regulars on the Japanese Army had begun. The prudent General Staff Headquarters finally authorized armed action, but limited to the Beiping/Tianjin area, on June 27 (General Staff Headquarters Extraordinary Order #64). This marked the beginning of the Northern Sino-Japanese Incident.

At 8 o’clock AM on June 28, the troops stationed in China that began the attack made a clean sweep of the 29th Army, which was more than ten times its size. At 8 o’clock the next evening, they secured the Beiping/Tianjin area; but the day before, in the eastern Beiping suburb of Tongzhou, “Chinese Peace Preservation Corps” officers massacred 223 people in the Japanese settlement in what came to be known as the Tongzhou Incident.
The simple shooting incident at the Marco Polo Bridge caused an escalation into the North Sino-Japanese Incident. These Troubles were armed attacks on the Japanese forces by regular Chinese Army soldiers.