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Incident on July 7, 1937
www.chinaview.cn 2005-06-27 09:55:26

The Marco Polo Bridge in the then Wanping Town, north of Beijing where the Incident on July 7, 1937 happened, as the beginning of 8 years' anti-Japanese war. (Photo: Xinhua)

   Background of Incident July 7, 1937

    Japan had occupied Manchuria in 1931 and had created an nominally independent state of Manchukuo with Henry Puyi, the last monarch of the Qing Dynasty, as its sovereign. That state is widely regarded to have been a puppet government with real power concentrated in the hands of the Japanese, which constituted the only significant military forces in Manchuria. Although the Kuomintang and the international community refused to recognize the legality of the Japanese occupation, a truce had been negotiated in 1931.

The KMT forces were guarding on the Marco Polo Bridge.

The KMT forces garrisoned on the Marco Polo Bridge.

    At the end of 1932, the Japanese Guandong Army invaded Chahar Province. The Kuomintang's 29th Army, led by General Song Zheyuan and armed only with spears and obsolete rifles, resisted the attack, resulting in the War of Resistance at the Great Wall. The province fell to the Japanese after their predictable victory, therefore areas to the west of Beijing were under Japanese control.

    In 1933, Japan annexed Rehe using the security of Manzhouguo as a pretext. Consequently all areas north of the Great Wall and hence north of Beijing fell to Japan. He Yinqin and Umezu Yoshijiro signed an agreement on June 9th, 1935, known as the He-Umezu Agreement recognizing Japanese occupation of Hebei and Chahar. Later that year, Japan established yet another puppet government, the East Ji Anti- Communist Autonomous Administration abbreviated as East Ji Autonomous Government. As a result, at the start of 1937 areas occupied by Japanese surrounded Beijing at north, west and east.

    Japanese installations of various puppet governments were deliberate attempts to annex the whole of China by nibbling. The puppet government at Nanjing with Wang Jingwei as head was another obvious example.

    Story of Incident July 7

    Phase I

    Beginning late June 1937, the Japanese army (several hundreds) deployed at the west end of the Marco Polo bridge was practicing while Kuomintang forces, garrisoned in Wanping Town, watched closely. At dawn on July 7, the Japanese army telegraphed the KMT forces saying that a soldier was missing and believed to be hiding inside the town. The Japanese demanded that its army should enter the town to search for the missing soldier, who was later found unharmed. The entire incident was fabricated by the Guandong Army in order to provide a pretext for the invasion of central China.

Japanese troops shelled the Marco Polo Bridge on July 7th, 1937.

Japanese troops bombarded the Marco Polo Bridge (Lugouqiao) on July 7th, 1937.

    General Song Zheyuan denied the request. In the evening of July 7, KMT troops received an ultimatum saying that they must let Japanese troops enter the town within the next hour or the town would be fired upon. The Japanese artillery had already aimed at the town when the ultimatum was sent. At midnight July 8, Japanese artillery units started bombarding the town while the infantry with tanks marched across the bridge at dawn. With orders from General Song, the KMT forces of about 1000 defended at all cost. The Japanese army partially overran the bridge and vicinity in the afternoon. KMT forces, after reinforcement from nearby units, outnumbered the Japanese and retook it completely next day. The Japanese army then halted the attack and offered to negotiate, marking the end of Phase I. Nevertheless the Japanese Army remained concentrated at the west end of the bridge.

    Phase II

    During the meeting of all senior KMT officers of the 24th Army in Beijing on July 12, General Qin Dechun insisted that KMT forces must continue defending and resist any temptation to negotiate with the Japanese, whom he did not trust. General Zhang Zizhong in turn argued the incident on July 7 could still be settled by negotiation. General Song then sent Zhang as KMT representative to Tianjin to meet General Hashimoto, the commander of all Japanese forces around the cities of Beijing and Tianjin and in Chahar and Rehe Provinces.

Nanwan Town fell with both KMT divisions (37th and 132nd) shattered.

Nanwan Town fell with both KMT divisions (37th and 132nd) shattered.

    At the beginning Hashimoto told Zhang that the Japanese hoped the incident on July 7 could be settled peacefully. Zhang was encouraged by his friendly gesture and telegraphed General Song that any more Kuomintang forces around Beijing would be viewed as an escalation and anger the Japanese. However Song thought Hashimoto was only buying time since he received various reconnaissance reports indicating increasing accumulation of Japanese forces from Manchuria and Korea around Beijing. As the recent Chinese victory relied on outnumbering the opponent, he transferred Zhao's 132nd Division accompanied by Qin to a station at Nanwan Town which was between the bridge and Beijing to keep up the pressure from concentration of Japanese forces. Similar to most KMT and CPC (Communist Party of China) forces, the 29th Army was equipped with only rifles and just enough mortars and heavy machine guns, compared to better armed, trained and commanded Japanese troops whose tanks the Chinese armies still did not have any weapon capable of destroying. It should, however, also be noted that the KMT leader, Chiang Kai-Shek held a grudge against the 29th Army due to the fact it was made up primarily of his opponent Feng Yuxiang's troops, and did not provide sufficient support.

    The Japanese promised not to invade Beijing and Tianjin upon agreement of all following terms:

    1) The KMT must wipe out all anti-Japanese organizations and halt all anti-Japanese activities inside the cities.
    2) The KMT must take all responsibilities of the incident on July 7.
    3) Song, not any other inferior officer of the 29th Army, must apologize. 

    Zhang accepted the first term and the commander of the battalion under Colonel Ji Xingwen's command was to be relieved as an agreement to the second. However Zhang told Hashimoto that he could not decide on behalf of Song, thus could not agree on the third term at the time. He then returned to Beijing. Hashimoto also hinted that the Japanese would preferred Zhang as the commander of KMT troops around the city. As soon as Zhang left, the Japanese launched a full-scale attack on Beijing.

    Three days after Zhang headed for the city, the bridge and Wanping Town fell to the Japanese. Nanwan Town fell on the next day with both divisions (37th and 132nd) shattered. In the evening after the fall of Nanwan Town, Zhang finally arrived (As he had to pass through enemy lines to reach the city.). Several days later, General Song relieved himself of all non-military posts and appointed Zhang to take his posts and the mayorship of Beijing. Song then led the 29th Army out of the city, which was going to be surrounded within hours and left Zhang with virtually no troops. Japanese armies entered the city on August 18 without much resistance and installed Zhang as mayor. However Zhang felt he was betrayed and left the city secretly a week later.

    Aftermath of Incident July 7

    With the fall of Beijing on July 29 and Tianjin on 30th, the North China Plain was helpless against Japanese mechanized divisions who occupied it by the end of the year. The Chinese armies (KMT and CPC) were on constant retreat until the hard fought Chinese victory at Tai er zhuang.

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