World War II: China--First Shanghai Incident (1932)

Figure 1.--After seizing Manchuria, the Japanese wanted Shanghai to the south, the richest and most important city in China. The situation in the city was tense because of Chinese resentment toward the Japanese aggression in Manchuria. Events are murky, but it is widely believed that the Japanese helped stage violence that could be used to justify intervention. Japanese carrier aircraft begn bombing the city (January 28). Most Europeans lived in the largely British Shanghai Intenational Settlement (SIS) which the Japanese attempted to avoid. Even so, the violence convinced many Europeans to leave. Here we see British and other Europeans departing the city.

While the Chinese Nationalist KMT Army did not intervene in Manchuria, the Chinese people were outraged at the Japanese. The Japanese were increasingly resented in China and the seizure of Manchuria was only confirmation of what the Chinese already widely suspected. There were demonstrations and protests throughout China. Anti-Japanese disturbances broke out in Shanghai. And there were attacks on Japanese citizens. The Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) used these attacks and other instances of resistance to justify a military action in Shanghai which was the financial center of China and because of its location at the mouth of the Yangtze River dominated a huge area of central China. Complicating the situation was the Chinese 19th Route Army deployed outside the city. This was essentially a war lord force which the Shanghai Municipal Council fered as much as the Japanese. The Japanese set off this powder keg by attacking the city in what they called the Shanghai Incident (January 1932). The Japanese who had been massing naval forces off Shanghai, bombed the city to quell the claimed disturbances (January 28). Thus the fighting is also called the January 28 Incident. It was the first use of carrier aircraft in an military engagement. The Japanese claimed that their nationals resident in Shanghai were endangered. The city had no air defense or bomb shelters. There was no effort to hit military targets because they were so few. This was the first of many Japanese terror bombings of civilian populations. The Japanese when they attacked Shanghai, avoided hitting the International Settlement (SIS). Chinese fleeing the fighting attempted to get into the International sector for safety because the Japanese bombung was so indiscriminate. ThecBritish hd to close off the SIS becuse supplies did not exist to provide for the refugees. Groups in America provided some relief aid. Press reports and wire photos of the devastated city and civilians appeared in newspapers around the world. This profoundly affected the Japanese image both in Europe and more importantly the United States perhaps more significantly than Manchuria bcause Europeans were more directly involved and the violence so well covered. The International Settlement in the 1930s found itself in the middle of the bloody battle between the Nationalists and the Japanese. The Nationalists were out gunned by the Japanese who were supported by Japanese naval vessels in the harbor. They put up a fight for the city. Only the SIS remained untouched. Chinese tried to get unto the SIS for safety. Eventually a ceasefire was negotiated. This resulted in the demilitarization of Shanghai. The Chinese KMT were prohibited from deploying troops in the city, but could have a police force. The Japanese were allowed a small force of Marines. The action is called the First Shanghai Incident because when the Japanese invaded China (July 1937), Shanghai was a major target. The Nationalist Army surprised the Japanese by puting up a tough fight for the city, sometimes called the Second Shanghai Incident (August-November 1937).


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Created: 1:13 PM 3/11/2016
Last updated: 1:13 PM 3/11/2016