Mukden Incident: Wikis


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Manchurian Crisis
Part of Second Sino-Japanese War
Japanese troops entering Shenyang during Mukden Incident
Japanese troops entering Shenyang during the Mukden Incident.
Date September 18, 1931 – February 18, 1932
Location Inner Manchuria, China
Result Japanese victory
Republic of China National Revolutionary Army, Republic of China Japan Imperial Japanese Army, Empire of Japan
Republic of China Army Flag.svg Zhang Xueliang,
Republic of China Army Flag.svg Ma Zhanshan,
Republic of China Army Flag.svg Feng Zhanhai
War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army.svg Shigeru Honjō,
War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army.svg Jirō Minami
160,000 30,000 – 66,000
Casualties and losses
 ?  ?

The Mukden Incident was an early event in the Second Sino-Japanese War, although full-scale war would not start until 1937. On September 18, 1931, near Mukden (now Shenyang) in southern Manchuria, a section of railroad owned by Japan's South Manchuria Railway was dynamited.[1] The Imperial Japanese Army, accusing Chinese dissidents of the act, responded with the invasion of Manchuria, leading to the establishment of Manchukuo the following year. While the responsibility for this act of sabotage remains a subject of controversy, the prevailing view is that Japanese militarists staged the explosion in order to provide a pretext for war. This event is known by various names, including the Mukden Incident. The favored name in Japan is the Manchurian Incident (Kyūjitai: 滿洲事變, Manshujihen: 満州事変). The favored name in China is the September 18 Incident (Chinese: 九•一八事变/九•一八事變Jiǔyībā Shìbiàn) or the Liutiaogou Incident (Chinese: 柳条湖事变/柳條湖事變Liǔtiáogōu Shìbiàn).



The Japanese economic presence and political interest in Manchuria had been growing ever since the end of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. The resulting Treaty of Portsmouth had granted Japan the lease of the South Manchuria Railway branch (from Changchun to Lüshun) of the China Far East Railway. The Japanese government claimed that this control included all the rights and privileges granted to Russia by China in the Li-Lobanov Treaty of 1896, as enlarged by the Kwantung Lease Agreement of 1898; which included absolute and exclusive administration within the South Manchuria Railway Zone. Japanese railway guards were stationed within the zone to provide security for the trains and tracks; however, these were regular Japanese soldiers, and they frequently carried out maneuvers outside the railway areas.

The plot

The weak state of the Republic of China and its tenuous control over Manchuria, the growing threat of totalitarian communism from the Soviet Union to the north, and the highly politicized and militaristic outlook of the semi-autonomous Kwantung Army of Japan were all factors driving the desire of Japanese junior officers to detach Manchuria from China and add it to the Empire of Japan.

Kwantung Army Colonel Seishirō Itagaki and Lieutenant Colonel Kanji Ishiwara, devised a plan to invade Manchuria. 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. However, when the Japanese Minister of War Jirō Minami dispatched Major General Yoshitsugu Tatekawa to Manchuria for the specific purpose of curbing the insubordination and militarist behavior of the Kwantung Army, Itagaki and Ishiwara knew that they no longer had the luxury of waiting for the Chinese to answer to repeated provocations, but had to stage their own.

They chose to sabotage the rail section in an area near Liǔtiáo Lake (柳條湖liǔtiáohú). The fact was that the area had no official name and was not militarily important to either the Japanese or the Chinese. But it was only eight hundred meters away from the Chinese garrison of Beidaying (北大營běidàyíng), at which were stationed troops under the command of the "Young Marshal" Zhang Xueliang. The alleged Japanese plan was to attract Chinese troops by an explosion and then blame them for having caused it, to provide a pretext for a formal Japanese invasion. In addition, to make the sabotage appear more convincingly as a calculated Chinese attack on an essential target — thereby masking the Japanese action as a legitimate measure to protect a vital railway of industrial and economic importance — the Japanese press labeled the site "Liǔtiáo Ditch" (柳條溝liǔtiáogōu) or "Liǔtiáo Bridge" (柳條橋liǔtiáoqiáo), when in reality the site was a small railway section laid on an area of flat land. The choice to place the explosives at this site was to preclude the extensive rebuilding that would have been necessitated had the site actually been a railway bridge.

The Incident

Colonel Seishirō Itagaki, Lieutenant Colonel Kanji Ishiwara, Colonel Kenji Doihara, and Major Takayoshi Tanaka[2] had laid complete plans for the incident by May 31, 1931. An important part of the scheme was to construct a swimming pool at the Japanese officers' club in Mukden. This "swimming pool" was actually a concrete bunker for two 9.2-inch artillery pieces, which were brought in under complete secrecy.[3]

A section of the Liǔtiáo railway. The caption reads "railway fragment"

The plan was executed when 1st Lieutenant Suemori Komoto of Independent Garrison Unit (独立守備隊) of the 29th Infantry Regiment, which guarded the South Manchuria Railway, placed explosives near the tracks, but far enough away to do no real damage. At around 10:20 PM (22:20), September 18, the explosives were detonated. However, the explosion was minor and only a 1.5 meter section on one side of the rail was damaged. In fact, a train from Changchun passed by the site on this damaged track without difficulty and arrived at Shenyang at 10:30 PM (22:30). [4]

Invasion of Manchuria

On the morning of September 19, 1931 the two artillery pieces installed at the Mukden officers' club opened up on the Chinese garrison nearby, in response to the alleged Chinese attack on the railway. Zhang Xueliang's small air force was destroyed and his soldiers fled their destroyed Beidaying barracks as five hundred Japanese troops attacked the Chinese garrison of around seven thousand. The Chinese troops, mostly irregulars or new conscripts, were no match for the experienced Japanese troops. By the evening the fighting was over and the Japanese had occupied Mukden at the cost of five hundred Chinese and only two Japanese lives.[5]

Meanwhile, at Dalian in the Kwantung Leased Territory, Commander-in-Chief of the Kwantung Army General Shigeru Honjō was at first appalled that the invasion plan was enacted without his permission,[6] but was eventually convinced by Ishiwara to give his approval after the fact. Honjō moved the Kwantung Army headquarters to Mukden, and ordered General Senjuro Hayashi of the Chosen Army of Japan in Korea to send in reinforcements. At 0400 on 19 September, Mukden was declared secure. By daylight, aircraft from the Chosen Army were landing at Mukden airport.

Zhang Xueliang, under implicit instructions from Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Government to adhere to a nonresistance policy, had already urged his men to not put up a fight, and to store away any weapons in case the Japanese invaded. Therefore, the Japanese soldiers proceeded to occupy and garrison the major cities of Changchun, Antung, and their surrounding areas with minimal difficulty. However, in November, Ma Zhanshan, the acting governor of Heilongjiang, began resistance with his provincial army, followed in January by Generals Ting Chao and Li Du with their local Jilin provincial forces. Despite this resistance, within five months of the Mukden Incident, the Imperial Japanese Army had overrun all major towns and cities in the provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang.


Chinese public opinion strongly criticized Zhang Xueliang for his nonresistance to the Japanese invasion, even though the Kuomintang (KMT) central government was indirectly responsible for this policy. Many charged that Zhang's Northeastern Army of nearly a quarter million could have withstood the Kwantung Army of only 11,000 men. In addition, Zhang's arsenal in Manchuria was considered the most modern in China and his troops had tanks, around 60 combat aircraft, 4000 machine guns, and four artillery battalions.

However, in reality, Zhang's seemingly superior force was undermined by several factors. One was that the Kwantung Army had a strong reserve force that could be transported by railway from Korea, which was a Japanese colony, directly adjacent Manchuria. Secondly, more than half of Zhang's troops were stationed south of the Great Wall in the Hebei province, while the troops north of the wall were scattered throughout Manchuria, therefore Zhang's troop could not have been deployed fast enough to fight the Japanese in any concentration north of the Great Wall. Also, most of Zhang's troops were under-trained, poorly led, and had poor morale and had questionable loyalty compared to their Japanese counterparts. Japanese secret agents had permeated Zhang's command because of his past (and his father, Zhang Zuolin's) reliance on Japanese military advisors. The Japanese knew the Northeastern Army very well and were able to conduct operations with ease.

The Chinese government was preoccupied with numerous internal problems, including the issue of the newly independent Guangzhou government of Hu Hanmin, Communist Party of China insurrections, and terrible flooding of the Yangtze River that created tens of thousands of refugees. Moreover, Zhang himself was not in Manchuria at the time, but was in a hospital in Beijing, to raise money for the flood victims. However, in the Chinese newspapers, Zhang was ridiculed as 'General Nonresistance' (Chinese: 不抵抗將軍).

Because of these circumstances, the central government turned to the international community for a peaceful resolution. The Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a strong protest to the Japanese government and called for the immediate stop to Japanese military operations in Manchuria, and appealed to the League of Nations, on September 19. On October 24, the League of Nations passed a resolution mandating the withdrawal of Japanese troops, to be completed by November 16. However, Japan rejected the League of Nations resolution and insisted on direct negotiations with the Chinese government.

Negotiations went on intermittently without much result. On November 20, a conference in the Chinese government was convened, but the Guangzhou faction of the Kuomintang insisted that Chiang Kai-shek step down to take responsibility for the Manchurian debacle. On December 15, Chiang resigned as the Chairman of the Nationalist Government and was replaced as Premier of the Republic of China (head of the Executive Yuan) by Sun Fo, son of Sun Yat-sen. Soon afterwards, Jinzhou, another city in Liaoning, was lost to the Japanese in early January 1932. As a result, Wang Jingwei replaced Sun Fo as the Premier.

On January 7, 1932, United States Secretary of State Henry Stimson proclaimed the Stimson Doctrine, stating that the United States would not recognize any government that was established as the result of Japanese actions in Manchuria. On January 14, a League of Nations commission, headed by the Second Earl of Lytton of Great Britain, arrived in Shanghai to examine the situation. In March, the puppet state of Manchukuo was established, with the former emperor of China, Puyi, installed as head of state. On October 2, the Lytton Report was published and rejected the Japanese claim that the Mukden Incident was an act of self-defense. The report also ascertained that Manchukuo was the product of Japanese military aggression in China, while recognizing that Japan had legitimate concerns in Manchuria because of its economic ties there. The League of Nations refused to acknowledge Manchukuo as an independent nation. This caused Japan to resign from the League of Nations in March 1933.

Colonel Kenji Doihara used the Mukden Incident to continue his campaign of disinformation. Since the Chinese troops at Mukden had put up such a poor resistance, he told Manchukuo Emperor Puyi that this was proof that the Chinese remained loyal to him. Japanese intelligence used the incident to continue the campaign to discredit the murdered Zhang Zuolin and his son Zhang Xueliang for "misgovernment" of Manchuria. In fact, drug trafficking and corruption had largely been suppressed under Zhang Zuolin.[7]


The Mukden Incident Museum (literally, "September 18th History Museum") in Shenyang

Different opinions still exist as to who blew up the Japanese railroad at Mukden. Strong evidence points to young officers of the Japanese Kwantung Army having conspired to cause the blast, with or without direct orders from Tokyo. Post-war investigations also stated that the original bomb planted by the Japanese failed to explode and a replacement had to be planted. The resulting explosion enabled the Japanese Kwantung Army to accomplish their goal of invading Manchuria and the subsequent establishment of the puppet state of Manchukuo.

The "9.18 Incident Exhibition Museum" at Shenyang, opened by the People's Republic of China on September 18, 1991, takes the position that the explosives were planted by Japan. However, the Yūshūkan museum, neighboring Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, places the blame on Chinese militias. Yūshūkan has been criticized for historical revisionism.

David Bergamini's book Japan's Imperial Conspiracy (1971) has a detailed chronology of events in both Manchuria and Tokyo surrounding the Mukden Incident. Bergamini concludes that the greatest deception was that the Mukden Incident and Japanese invasion were planned by junior or hot-headed officers, without formal approval by the Japanese government. Bergamini contends that Emperor Hirohito had approved the plan himself. However, historian James Weland has concluded that senior commanders had tacitly allowed field operatives to proceed on their own initiative, then endorsed the result.[8]

In August 2006, the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's top-selling newspaper, published the results of a year-long research project into the general question of who is responsible for the "Showa war". With respect to the Manchurian Incident, the newspaper blamed ambitious Japanese militarists, as well as politicians who were impotent to rein them in.[9][10]

Debate has also focused on how the Incident was handled by the League of Nations and the subsequent Lytton Report. A.J.P. Taylor wrote that "In the face of its first serious challenge", the League buckled and capitulated. The Washington Naval Conference (1921) guaranteed a certain degree of Japanese hegemony in the Far East. Any intervention on the part of America would be a breach of the already mentioned agreement. Furthermore Britain was in crisis, having been recently forced off the gold standard. Although a power in the Far East, Britain was incapable of decisive action. The only response from these powers was "moral condemnation".[11]

Popular culture

The Mukden Incident is depicted in the Tintin book The Blue Lotus, although the book places the bombing near Shanghai. In Akira Kurosawa's 1946 film No Regrets for Our Youth the subject of the Mukden Incident is debated.

See also


  1. ^ Fenby, Jonathan. Chiang Kai-shek: China's Generalissimo and the Nation He Lost. Carroll & Graf Publishers. 2003. pp. 202
  2. ^ Edward Behr, The Last Emperor, 1987, p. 180
  3. ^ Edward Behr, ibid, p. 180
  4. ^ CHRONOLOGY OF MAJOR INTERNATIONAL EVENTS FROM 1931 THROUGH 1943, WITH OSTENSIBLE REASONS ADVANCED FOR THE OCCURRENCE THEREOF 78th Congress, 2d Session. "An explosion undoubtedly occurred on or near the railroad between 10 and 10:30 p.m. on September 18th, but the damage, if any, to the railroad did not in fact prevent the punctual arrival of the south-bound train from Changchun, and was not in itself sufficient to justify military action. The military operations of the Japanese troops during this night, . . . cannot be regarded as measures of legitimate self-defence . . ." [Opinion of Commission of Enquiry.] Ibid., p. 71. ,
  5. ^ Edward Behr, ibid, p. 182
  6. ^ Chen, World War II Database
  7. ^ Edward Behr, ibid, p. 182-3
  8. ^ James Weland, Misguided Intelligence: Japanese Military Intelligence Officers in the Manchurian Incident, September 1931 The Journal of Military History, Vol. 58, No. 3. (July 1994), pp. 445-460.
  9. ^ "WAR RESPONSIBILITY--delving into the past (1) / Who should bear the most blame for the Showa War?". Yomiuri Shimbun. 2006-08-13. Retrieved 2008-09-18.  
  10. ^ "WAR RESPONSIBILITY--delving into the past (1) / Manchuria start of slide into war". Yomiuri Shimbun. 2006-08-16. Retrieved 2008-09-18.  
  11. ^ A.J.P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War, pp. 91-91.


  • The Damned Inheritance. The Soviet Union and the Manchurian Crises 1924-1935 by George Alexander Lensen. - The Diplomatic Press, 1974
  • Hsu Long-hsuen and Chang Ming-kai, History of The Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) 2nd Ed. ,1971. Translated by Wen Ha-hsiung , Chung Wu Publishing; 33, 140th Lane, Tung-hwa Street, Taipei, Taiwan Republic of China.
  • Jowett, Philip (2005). Rays of the Rising Sun, Volume 1: Japan's Asian Allies 1931-45, China and Manchukuo. Helion and Company Ltd.. ISBN 1874622213.  
  • Matsusaka, Yoshihisa Tak (2003). The Making of Japanese Manchuria, 1904-1932. Harvard University Asia Center. ISBN 0674012062.  

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