JAPANESE MUST TAKE HARDER LOOK AT TONGCHOW MASSACRE OF 1937
Journalist Gyo Tsutsumi, legendary former editor-in-chief of the general interest magazine Bungei Shunju, laments that Japanese of his age—in their late seventies—know “too little about our history.” He notes:
“At a recent gathering of a dozen or so of my middle school classmates, I asked if they knew anything about the Tongchow Mutiny of 1937. Only a few of them replied they did. I often deplore the lack of historical knowledge on the part of our younger generation, but sadly came to realize on that day that they aren’t the only ones who are ignorant about our past.”
As I will later explain in greater detail, the savage incident occurred in the wee hours of July 29, 1937, during which Chinese soldiers massacred Japanese soldiers and residents in what now is the Tongchow (Tongzhou) District of Beijing. Chinese security forces of the pro-Japanese East Hebei Autonomous Council led by Yin Ju-keng tasked with protecting the walled city suddenly attacked the Japanese garrison, brutally murdering 32 Japanese guards and 225 civilians.
But Tsusumi’s old classmates aren’t alone in lacking knowledge about the incident. I suppose a large number of Japanese of all ages are similarly ignorant of this tragic incident that occurred in the opening phase of the Sino-Japanese war (1937-1945). In his Dokoku no Tsusho: 1937 Natsu no Gyakusatsu (Tears of Lament: The 1937 Tongchow Massacre) (Asuka Shinsha, Tokyo; October 2016), journalist Yasuo Kato makes an important point: “Since the end of the last war, the Japanese government has kept its mouth shut about the incident. I can even surmise that the governments of Japan and China may have somehow agreed to pretend that ‘nothing of the sort happened’ in Tongchow.”
Kaｔo maintains that not only the Foreign Ministry—presumably out of consideration for China—but the Chinese government as well appear determined to airbrush the incident from history. It is pertinent to note that he makes these observations after spending considerable time in Tongchow to collect information about the incident. He notes that all the buildings connected to the incident, including the gate and stone walls of the castle that was the site of the bloody episode, have been torn down. Work began in the 1990s, and anything to do with the incident has long since vanished. Tongchow today functions as a “sub-administrative center” for the municipality of Beijing, with an assortment of plush new buildings having erased its wartime past altogether.
I think the author’s hunch is correct when he observes: “There’s a world of difference with Tongchow when one realizes that a whole lot of places and buildings in China—not only Nanjing City and the Marco Polo Bridge but the Japanese-built prewar Yamato hotels in several spots in the former Manchukuo (Manchuria)—are conveniently utilized for propaganda purposes. I can only surmise that, because the ‘Tongchow Incident’ is detrimental to China’s reputation, the Chinese have endeavored to completely wipe out all traces.”
Horrific Eyewitness Accounts
The Chinese have spent many years in their attempt to rewrite history. They are probably the most brutal race in the history of mankind. That is why they are trying to portray we Japanese as a race more brutal than the Chinese, thereby hoping to be excused for their hideous acts. For that reason, they must erase every trace of this massacre that can only be termed a deed of the devil.That I suspect is what has been happening as regards the Tongchow Incident.
In December of the year after the incident, Chiang Kai-shek was captured by Chang Hsueh-Liang, leading to an anti-Japan alliance between the Nationalist and Communist Chinese. Although the Nationalists and Communists thus joined forces, China at the time was faced with a complicated situation, with many warlords and bandits still controlling their own regions. Kato explains that Tongchow Castle, where the Japanese garrison was stationed, was considered secure, as it was protected by the (Chinese) security forces of the pro-Japanese East Hebei Autonomous Council led by politician Yin Ju-keng.
When the incident broke out, Japanese security guards entrusted with the safety of the Japanese population in Tongchow totaled only 163, including janitors and servants, while the East Hebei troops numbered 3,300 inside the castle and 2,500 outside.
Sometime after 3 a.m. on July 29, 1937, Yin’s troops started their attack on the Japanese. It soon escalated into a killing frenzy. The horrific methods of killing that ensued are detailed in Kato’s Dokoku no Tsusho and The Tongchow Incident: Eyewitness Accounts by Nobukatsu Fujioka (Jiyu-sha, Tokyo; 2016)
The Chinese soldiers allegedly gouged out the eyes of many of the victims and disemboweled others, stretching out their intestines in some cases to more than ten meters. Women were raped and then mercilessly killed. They also pierced wire through the hands of some victims while alive, banded them together, and tortured them to death. They then threw their bodies into a pond, turning the water red.
I am having difficulty breathing as I retell these scenes depicted by the authors. The Chinese soldiers allegedly carried out such evil deeds in cold blood one after another. But how can one be so sure?
Kato bases his narrative on the eyewitness account of the incident by a survivor—Mrs. Ten Sasaki, who lived in Tongchow with her Chinese husband at the time. She returned to Japan in 1940 after divorcing him. Fifty years later, in 1987, she began relating her experience to chief priest Kanga Shirabe of the Entsu-ji Buddhist temple in Kiyama Town, Saga Prefecture. Her account is a vital link to what Kato and Fujioka have written.
Reviewing the history of those days now, one can clearly see how determined China was to seek war with Japan. This is explained in great detail in The Sino-Japanese War: China Wanted War but Japan Did Not (PHP Institute; 2008), co-authored by Professor Minoru Kitamura of Ritsumeikan University and Lin Si-yun.
Kato delves into what he refers to as the Chinese propensity for belligerence, noting that the Marco Polo Bridge Incident of July 7, 1937 was triggered when the 29th Nationalist Army commanded by General Sun Che-yuan fired shots at Japanese troops. Japan swiftly decided to keep the conflict from escalating, but China tenaciously kept up provocative actions, notes Kato. A Japanese army officer was shot at by Chinese scouting soldiers on July 10. Three days later, in the so-called Dahongmen Incident, a Japanese army truck was blown up, resulting in the deaths of four Japanese soldiers.
Ample Grounds for Grievance
Then on July 25, telegraph lines used by the Japanese army were severed at the Langfang train station in the suburbs of Beijing. Troops sent to repair the lines were subject to violent attack, including mortar shells. With things having finally come to this pass, Japan decided to dispatch additional troops, which the cabinet had already approved but had not immediately sent.
Japanese generally know too little about these and other aspects of our wartime history. We just are not aware. We fail to refute China’s fabrications because we have deplorably little knowledge about our own wartime history. Comments Tsutsumi:
“‘The Comprehensive Chronology of Modern Japan’ published by Iwanami carries an abridged version of events in world history on a day-to-day basis. The edition that I have does not mention the Tongchow Incident. I thought it strange so I contacted Iwanami’s editorial department to ask why. An editor replied that it was simply an editorial decision. But I did find an entry of the incident in a new edition, so I figure my protest may have worked.”
No matter how outrageously China fabricates history and heaps undue abuse on Japan, the Foreign Ministry never strikes back. This includes any reference to the Tongchow Incident, which certainly provides ample rounds for grievance on the part of Japan, as Kato points out.
Japanese schools attach too little importance to teaching history, including what happened in Tongchow. Is the Tongchow Incident doomed to pass into oblivion while this strange intellectual indifference prevails? That, I believe, would be absolutely unpardonable.
We must cherish our predecessors more, reminding ourselves to appreciate the outsized efforts of those men and women who have contributed so much to the building of modern Japan. If we don’t know the truth about our past, if we allow a distance to grow between ourselves and our own history, we run the risk of coming to see ourselves in the twisted view of Japan held by the Chinese—a view that sees everything about Japan as evil.
I wish to strongly urge all Japanese to read the two books mentioned in this column.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 729 in the November 17, 2016 issue of The Weekly Shincho)