Contributor: C. Peter Chen
The northeastern region of China, known to westerners by the name of Manchuria, had been under the control of warlord Zhang Zuolin until his assassination in Jun 1928 by Japanese Colonel Daisaku Komoto. Upon the successful assassination, the Japanese supported Zhang Zuolin's son Zhang Xueliang, who was perceived to be a weak individual because of his opium addiction, as the successor. To the surprise of the Japanese, the younger Zhang was firmly nationalistic and publicly denounced Japanese influence in northeastern China. When he ended the conflict between his troops and the troops of the Nationalist Party, allied himself with Chiang Kaishek, and furthermore executed his pro-Japanese officials under him, the Japanese Kwantung Army leaders were ready to apply direct force. Northeastern China, with its rich natural resources and its strategic location against any Soviet expansion, was of critical importance to Japan.
In 1930, hostilities between Chinese factions once again broke out into war. Zhang Xueliang declared his support in the Central Plains War for the Nationalists on 18 Sep 1930 and led more than 40% of his men through Shanhai Pass of the Great Wall into China Proper two days later. Zhang's troops decisively contributed to the Nationalist victory in the war two month's later. With Nationalist forces weakened by this latest of a series of wars between Chinese factions, Zhang's troops remained in China Proper to assist the Nationalists in the occupation. The absence of such a large portion of Zhang's troops would give the Japanese an opportunity to seize control of northeastern China.
On 1 Jul 1931, during an incident that was later named Wanbaoshan Incident, 200 Korean immigrants were told by Chinese police to return to Korea, the Koreans were backed by Japanese police. Chinese farmers, unwilling to share irrigable land with the immigrants, attacked them, and was fired upon by Japanese police. Around the same time, Japanese Army intelligence officer Captain Shintaro Nakamura was captured and executed by the Chinese on the border of Inner Mongolia or near Mukden, upsetting Japanese Kwantung Army command.
Kwantung Army Colonel Seishiro Itagaki and Lieutenant Colonel Kanji Ishiwara, who had been looking for the excuse to occupy northeastern China for Japan, devised an invasion plan. Ishiwara presented the plan at the Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo, and it was approved to be launched but only following a major incident started by the Chinese. IGHQ had little or no idea that Itagaki and Ishiwara was about to embark on instigating such an incident. Originally, they enlisted the help of Colonel Kenji Doihara to worsen Sino-Japanese relations, but Doihara was recalled by Tokyo for his undiplomatic conduct. Additionally, Minister of War Jiro Minami dispatched Major General Yoshitsugu Tatekawa to China for the specific purpose of curbing the militarist behavior of the Kwantung Army. Itagaki and Ishiwara knew that once Tatekawa arrived, the continuation of their plan would become difficult, therefore they no longer had the luxury of waiting for the Chinese to answer to their provocation; they must now stage their own.
Tatekawa arrived in Mukden at 1900 hours on 18 Sep 1931, and was distracted by Itagaki who entertained him at a teahouse. At 2200 hours, Lieutenant Suemori Komoto planted explosives on the Japanese-controlled South Manchurian Railway line at Liutiaokuo, north of Mukden. The explosion did little damage, and the use of the rails was restored only twenty minutes later. Nevertheless, the Independent Garrison Force of the Japanese 29th Infantry Regiment was dispatched to attack the Chinese barracks in Mukden. At 2230 hours, Tatekawa was informed of the incident by Itagaki's men and reported to Tokyo as per Itagaki's version of the story. Unable to compete with Kwantung Army's firepower, the Chinese garrison at Mukden withdrew. Meanwhile, at Port Arthur, Commander-in-Chief of the Kwantung Army General Shigeru Honjo was at first appalled that the invasion plan was enacted without his permission, but was eventually convinced by Ishiwara to give his approval after-the-fact. Honjo moved the Kwantung Army headquarters to Mukden, and ordered General Senjuro Hayashi of the Japanese Chosun Army in Korea to send in reinforcements to bolster the defenses at Mukden. At 0400 hours on 19 Sep, Mukden was declared secure. By dawn, aircraft from the Japanese Chosun Army were landing at Mukden airport.
Mukden Incident Timeline
|18 Sep 1930||Zhang Xueliang pledged military support for the Nationalists during the Central Plains War. As he committed over 40% of his forces, it would weaken the overall defense of northeastern China, thus giving the Japanese an opportunity to seize control.|
|1 Jul 1931||Chinese and Korean farmers engaged in a petty dispute over land boundaries at the village of Wanpaoshan in Jilin Province, China. As it escalated, Chinese farmers attacked the Koreans with farm tools and pikes. In response, Japanese consular policemen who had been protecting the Koreans fired their rifles over the heads of the Chinese, forcing the Chinese to back down. Although the incident was minor, it gave the Japanese Kwantung Army an excuse to draw up a plan to invade and occupy northeastern China, ostensibly to protect Japanese nationals.|
|18 Sep 1931||Japanese troops detonate a bomb on the rail line near Mukden, China.|
|19 Sep 1931||Japanese troops occupied Mukden, China.|
|21 Sep 1931||China appealed to the League of Nations over the Japanese attacks in northeast China. The league dispatched a delegation headed by British Lord V. A. G. R. Bulwer-Lytton to China to investigate.|
|23 Sep 1931||Chinese Lieutenant General Xi Qia began talks with the Japanese occupation representatives in Mukden, China.|
|24 Sep 1931||Yuan Chin-hai was appointed the Chairman of the Committee for the Maintenance of Peace and Order for the newly renamed Fengtien Province in northeastern China (now Liaoning Province, China) as he negotiated with the Japanese. Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Xi Qia of neighboring Jilin Province continued his separate discussion with the Japanese.|
|29 Sep 1931||The Soviet Union declared neutrality in the conflict between China and Japan in northeastern China (Manchuria).|
|30 Sep 1931||Lieutenant General Xi Qia, collaborating with the Japanese, announced that Jilin Province, China was now independent from the Republic of China and was under protection of the Japanese Army.|
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» Xi Qia
» Doihara, Kenji
» Honjo, Shigeru
» Itagaki, Seishiro
» Tatekawa, Yoshitsugu
» Zang, Shiyi
» Zhang, Haipeng
» Zhang, Jinghui
» Zhang, Xueliang
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Winston Churchill, 1935