Origins of Shanghai Crisis
British documents on foreign affairs : reports and papers from the Foreign Office confidential print. Part II From the First to the Second World War. Series E, Asia, 1914-1939 / editor, Ann Trotter Volume 11 Japan, January 1932 – June 1932
Consul-General Brenan to Sir M. Lampson.
Enclosure in Shanghai Despatch to Foreign Office, No. 11, of February 7.—
(Received March 16.)
Shanghai, February 7, 1932.
I HAVE the honour to refer to your telegram No. 31 and my telegrams Nos. 64 and 65, regarding the responsibility for the present situation in Shanghai. Before receiving your telegram I had already realised that it would be necessary to consider in somewhat more detail than I had done in my current reports the origin of the present crisis and the justification, if any, for the action taken by the Japanese on the night of the 28th January.
2. The background of the situation, which may be described as the Shanghai crisis, is very briefly as follows: An anti-Japanese boycott–in existence since July as the result of the Wanpaoshan incident and the Korean riots, intensified by the occupation of Manchuria, and stringently enforced–caused enormous damage to Japanese trade. The boycott, which was fostered by the Anti-Japanese Boycott Association, formed by various Chinese commercial organisations, included the picketing of shops, the seizure of Japanese goods, the fining and imprisonment of Chinese using or dealing in such goods, and other illegal acts, for which no redress could be obtained through the courts. A spirit of bitter hostility was consequently engendered in the local Japanese community against the Chinese. Student manifestations and demands by them for a declaration of war against Japan intensified the Chinese feeling against Japan. In this state of acute tension incidents of violence frequently occurred. There were in addition derogatory references by the Chinese press to the Emperor of Japan which infuriated the Japanese, and demands by Japanese to their Government to take direct action to put an end to an intolerable position became insistent.
3. Then came the assault on the Japanese monks, and the reprisals taken by Japanese roughs, which have been fully reported in my earlier despatches.
4. The first indication that direct action might be taken by the Japanese was the presentation of the five demands by the Japanese consul-general to the Mayor of Greater Shanghai on the 20th January, followed on the 21st January by the Japanese admiral’s communiqué stating that, in case the mayor failed to give a satisfactory reply, the admiral was determined to take appropriate steps in order to protect the rights and interests of the Empire of Japan.
5. Japanese naval reinforcements arrived off Shanghai on the 24th January. On the 25th January the Japanese consul-general informed the Mayor of Greater Shanghai that he would expect a preliminary reply to his demands by the 28th January. On the 27th January he notified the mayor that he must have a satisfactory reply by 6 P.M. on the 28th, failing which the Japanese would take whatever steps they might consider necessary to enforce them.
6. At 7:30 A.M. on the 28th January the Japanese commander gave notice to the commanders of the other national defence forces that he proposed to take action on the following morning, as no satisfactory reply had been received from the Chinese, but no indication was given of the nature of the action intended. At a meeting of the Defence Committee, held on the 27th, the commander of the Japanese naval landing party, in reply to a question, said that, with regard to the threatened drastic action to be taken in the event of the Chinese not conceding the Japanese demands, Admiral Shiosawa would give twenty-four hours’ notice in advance of taking action. He further stated that, in the event of the Japanese having to take action, it was the wish of Admiral Shiosawa that the Shanghai Municipal Council should declare a state of emergency. The situation appeared to the Defence Committee so serious that arrangements were made for the immediate wiring of the whole of the defended perimeter .
7. Also, on the morning of the 28th, the chairman of the Municipal Council asked the Defence Committee for advice regarding the necessity for declaring a state of emergency, and he was informed that the committee was of the opinion that a state of emergency should be declared forthwith. The Japanese commander of the naval landing force was not summoned to this meeting.
8. In order to understand the situation at that moment, and the motives which actuated the Municipal Council in declaring a state of emergency, it is necessary to appreciate the atmosphere in which the decision was taken. From the time that the Japanese ultimatum was presented refugees began streaming into the settlement in great numbers, and a state of disorder and panic was already arising with which it was becoming increasingly difficult for the police to cope. Furthermore, the “Press Union Bulletin,” which is the official Japanese propaganda organ, was issuing inflammatory statements to the effect that the Chinese did not intend to carry out their promises, that the Chinese military forces were engaged in making active preparations for an attack on the Japanese, and that the Japanese naval forces had been tricked into useless diplomatic negotiations, where every minute’s delay in action on their part might mean incalculable loss to them once the actual clash occurred. I enclose herewith extracts from the “Bulletins,” (1) dated the 27th and 28th January, which will give some indication of the Japanese attitude.
9. The Japanese had concentrated in and around the Chapei area a landing force of approximately 3,000, while the Chinese had in the neighbouring area of Chapei approximately 4,000 troops, known to be bitterly anti-Japanese, together with volunteers and armed police, and very much larger forces in other parts of the Shanghai area, while both sides were known to be bringing up reinforcements. Furthermore, on all sides, in official and unofficial circles, there was a strong belief that, no matter what the reply of the Chinese to the Japanese demands might be, the Japanese naval authorities were determined to take action. In this connexion, I would venture to call your attention to the attached statement by Mr. Stirling Fessenden, (1) the memorandum written immediately after the mayor’s interview with myself on the 28th January, (1) and the last paragraph of my telegram No. 30 of the 28th January. In short, at this moment, a most dangerous situation had arisen, in which the Municipal Council was not only justified, but, in my view, absolutely compelled, to declare a state of emergency. I was not directly consulted as to the necessity for this step, but I was kept informed as to what was being done, and entirely concurred in the decision taken. And so did my American colleague.
10. Early in the afternoon of the 28th January, the Mayor of Greater Shanghai transmitted to the Japanese consul-general a reply accepting the Japanese demands without reservation. At 4 P.M. the Japanese consul-general informed the consular body of the receipt of this reply, which he said was entirely satisfactory. He added that it remained to be seen whether the mayor would be able to enforce the terms accepted, but he admitted that the demands had been carried out to a great extent, and that for the time being no action would be taken. The impression remained, however, that the Japanese navy would take action anyhow, and the council considered it advisable to allow the proclamation of the state of emergency to stand until it was seen how the situation developed.
11. It is important at this point to consider what is the effect of the declaration of a state of emergency, and what duties and responsibilities it places upon the persons involved. I append hereto extracts from the so-called “Shanghai Defence Scheme,” (1) which is a scheme drawn up by agreement between the various parties responsible for the defence of the foreign area. It is important to note that, so far as concerns the Chinese authorities, this is a secret document. They had no say in its composition, and, it is presumed, no knowledge of its contents.
12. Under this scheme the International Settlement Defence Committee consists of the commanders of the foreign troops, the chairman of the Shanghai Municipal Council, the commissioner of the municipal police, and the commandant of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps, with, as chairman, the senior of the garrison commanders. The commandant of the French forces, though not a permanent member of the committee, has the right to attend if desired. The committee simply allots the sectors to be defended by the various forces available, helps to co-ordinate the action taken by the various commanders, and fixes the main principles of the defence. It has no power to give orders to the various commanders with regard to the steps they are expected to take in the defence of their sectors, or to prevent their independent action, should they consider such necessary to conform with orders received from their own national superiors. In case of independent action, individual commanders are, however, supposed to inform the chairman of the Defence Committee.
13. On the 28th January, the senior commander, and, therefore, the chairman of the Defence Committee, was the British commander, Brigadier Fleming.
14. The British and American forces began to make preparations for the defence of their respective sectors as soon as it was realised that a serious situation was developing. For instance, the wiring of the exposed sections of their perimeter was put in hand, so that, shortly after the declaration of the state of emergency their sectors were in a state of defence. The Shanghai Volunteer Corps, whose perimeter is protected by permanent defences, were also in a state of defence at about the same time.
15. It is now necessary to say a few words about the Japanese sector. Reference to Enclosure 4 (2) will show that the Japanese sector (described as sector A) includes the whole of the north-eastern area of the settlement, bounded on the west side by (but excluding) the North Honan Road, and that it comprises also an extra-settlement area bounded on the west by the North Kiangse Road and the Woosung Railway line, on the north by the northern border of the Hongkew Park, and on the east by a line roughly running along the Paoang and Dixwell Roads to the settlement boundary.
16. This extra-settlement area (which I propose to call the salient) consists of one main artery, the North Szechuen Road, and one subsidiary artery, the Dixwell Road, around the north end of which cluster a large number of foreign houses built on foreign-owned property served by roads owned by the Shanghai Municipal Council or foreign owners, containing a very considerable (about 7,000) number of Japanese and other non-Chinese residents. The intermediate area, between this foreign population and the settlement boundary along both sides of the two arteries, is filled with alleyways running at right angles to the arteries and containing a very highly-congested, low-class Chinese population.
17. The position will be more clearly understood if reference is made to the attached sketch-plan, (3) in which it will be seen that the foreign-occupied area is like an apple attached to the settlement by a long stalk. The two municipal roads and numerous radiating terraces are patrolled by International Settlement municipal police, who maintain a police station in the district. The rest of the area is patrolled by Chinese police, under the control of the Bureau of Public Safety, who maintain police stations on roads other than the Shanghai Municipal Council roads.
18. The Japanese naval landing party headquarters are also in this salient, and the reason for their existence so far from the settlement boundary is apparent from the sketch-plan, which shows that they are in reality in the heart of the apple, which represents the Japanese and foreign-populated section of the area. In normal times the Japanese naval landing party do not patrol the roads, and are merely there for protection if and when required, normal protection being of course granted by the police. But in troublous times, as during the last three months, the Japanese marine patrols are constantly on the roads reinforcing, as they deem necessary, the protection afforded by the police.
19. On the other side, too, in troublous times, the police are reinforced by gendarmerie or troops. So that, while in normal times the apple and the stalk are patrolled by municipal police and the surrounding areas by Chinese city police, in times of excitement the apple and the stalk are patrolled by municipal police plus Japanese marines and the surrounding areas by Chinese city police plus Chinese gendarmerie or troops.
20. On the 28th January the municipal police, having been notified by the commander of the Japanese landing force that he had landed a number of new men and that the presence of the municipal Chinese police might lead to misunderstanding, had withdrawn all Chinese policemen. During the days preceding the 28th, and as the certainty grew that the Japanese were determined to take direct action, the Chinese troops in the neighbouring area had been reinforced and had been making extensive preparations for defence. Thus, on the 28th January, the apple and the stalk were patrolled by Japanese marines, supplemented by a few non-Chinese police belonging to the Municipal Council, while the surrounding area was occupied by Chinese police plus a strong force of Cantonese troops with strong anti-Japanese leanings.
21. To return now to our main story. The Japanese made no attempt to occupy the perimeter of the salient at 4 P.M., nor did they give any indication that they intended to do so. They did, however, it will be remembered, at 7.30 A.M. that morning give notice to the other commanders that they intended to take action on the following morning. At 6 P.M. the commander of the Japanese landing force informed Brigadier Fleming that in view of the fact that the Chinese had agreed to the Japanese demands the necessity for drastic action would only arise if the Chinese failed to carry out their promises. He added that in any case no action was likely that night (see Brigadier Fleming’s statement-Enclosure 7). At 10:55 P.M. Brigadier Fleming received information from the Volunteer Corps that a member of the Japanese company had reported that the landing party were preparing something that they were anxious to conceal, and that it was anticipated that they would attack Chapei from the north and east. A few minutes later Brigadier Fleming’s attention was called to a Press Union Bulletin Extra issued at 9:15 P.M., reporting that Admiral Shiosawa had issued a proclamation at 8:30 P.M. announcing his decision to take necessary military action in Chapei in order to preserve peace and order in the area. A copy of this, the earliest intimation given by the Japanese of their intention to move that evening, is enclosed. (4) At 11:30 P.M. Brigadier Fleming was informed by the Japanese commander that the Japanese were about to undertake a minor operation” in order to extend the area occupied by them and wire the boundary between Chapei and themselves and around Hongkew Park.
22. The Japanese admiral had in fact issued two proclamations, but these did not become public until about 11 P.M., and copies were served on the Mayor of Greater Shanghai, who declares that he received them only at 11.25 P.M. One of these referred to the state of emergency, and said that the Imperial navy, who felt extremely anxious about the situation in Chapei where Japanese nationals resided in great numbers, had decided to send out troops to this section for the enforcement of law and order in that area. In these circumstances he hoped that the Chinese authorities would speedily withdraw the troops situated in Chapei to the west of the railway, and remove all hostile defences in the area. The other proclamation stated that in the area given to the Japanese to preserve order in the settlement, any action considered necessary for the proper execution of the duties involved in the state of emergency would be taken.
23. Japanese marines and reservists, that is to say, armed Japanese in civilian clothes distinguished by a brassard, started massing at the naval landing party headquarters at about 11 and at 11:50 amid great enthusiasm from their fellow-countrymen and with every appearance of an army going to the front, moved off along North Szechuen Road towards the settlement boundary and then westward along Range Road to Honan Road. All along the road they dropped parties, and the last of these parties, accompanied by an armoured car, approached the North Honan Road gate, leading to the railway station, just on midnight. I shall return to this party later. When all the parties were placed the signal was given and they moved off from the North Szechuen Road and Range Road towards the railway line. The Chinese military authorities had not complied with the demand of the Japanese admiral to withdraw their troops. In fact, even if they had decided to comply with this demand, it would have been quite impossible in the short time at their disposal. It must, in the circumstances, have been impossible for them to do more than notify their local unit commanders of what was imminent.
24. The Chinese, however, had no intention whatever of withdrawing. They had for days been making preparations to resist. The movement of the Japanese marines must have given them ample warning of the impending attack, and it is hardly surprising, therefore, that the moment the Japanese penetrated into the Chinese area they were met with a hail of machine gun and rifle fire. Whatever the object of the Japanese (a point to which I shall return later), they had clearly underestimated the resistance which the Chinese would be able to oppose, and instead of having a clear road before them they seem to have had to fight for every foot of the way. The actual details of the fighting are almost impossible to obtain, but if the Japanese crossed the railway line at all they were forced to withdraw, for by the following morning their line ran along the railway as far south as Paoshing Road, from which point onward, it ran some distance to the east of the line until it joined the settlement boundary.
25. Now we come to the crucial point: What were the Japanese attempting to do on the night of the 28th January? Were they attempting merely to occupy the perimeter defined by the Defence Committee, or were they attempting something further, and by exceeding the scope of the defence scheme committing an act not of defence, but of aggression? This is a question extremely difficult to answer. There is, however, one well-authenticated point which may give us a clue to the correct answer. I attach hereto a report made by Captain Brown and Lieutenant Tuxford of “A” Company, Shanghai Volunteer Corps, (5) from which it will be seen that, at about 12 midnight, an armoured car, accompanied by Japanese marines, approached the North Honan Road barrier along the Range Road and endeavoured to enter Chinese territory from the settlement side, obviously with the intention of attacking the railway station, but they were refused permission to pass by members of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps, in whose sector the North Honan Road gate is situated. This story is corroborated by Mr. Chancellor, the Far Eastern representative of Reuter’s (Limited), who watched the Japanese marines massing at the naval landing-party headquarters, and followed them along the North Szechuen Road, and saw the last party in the armoured car as it approached the North Honan Road, as before described. This is an indication that an attack on the railway station, which is right outside the Japanese perimeter, was part of the scheme being put into operation that evening.
26. Reuter’s also reported that the Japanese, in their first attack, penetrated well into the north part of Chapei and the west of the railway line, penning the Chinese in between this and the settlement boundary, but that they were eventually driven back under the stubborn resistance which they encountered. This information was, however, supplied by a reporter of Rengo (the Japanese news agency) and cannot be regarded as equally reliable with Mr. Chancellor’s and Captain Brown’s statements.
27. Apart from this the only direct evidence regarding the Japanese objectives which I can obtain is contained in the statements made to the chairman of the council by the commander of the Japanese landing party, and Mr. Fukushima, one of the Japanese members of the Shanghai Municipal Council (see Mr. Fessenden’s statement attached), (5) but these are little more than hints. The fact remains that, whether true or not, almost all persons, both the ordinary public and those in authority, whether Chinese, Japanese or neutrals, were firmly convinced in their minds that the Japanese intended to take action some time (though it was not then known when the stroke would fall), and not for the purpose of guarding their perimeter under the Defence Scheme, but as a war-like operation for the occupation of Chapei or some other portion of Shanghai. In this connexion, I would again like to call attention to the remarks made above in paragraph 9.
28. On the other hand, we have the official Japanese explanation, a copy of which I have the honour to attach. (5) In this the consul-general, Mr. Murai states that the objective was the occupation of the strip of land between the Sorth Szechuen Road and the Woosung Railway line, which had been assigned to the Japanese for defence in accordance with the Shanghai Defence Scheme. He gives as additional reasons for the Japanese action the fact that the situation, which had been gradually developing in view of various rumours and the inability of the local Chinese authorities to control the situation, reached a crisis in the evening, that refugees poured into the settlement from all directions, that rumours of the surreptitious entry of plain-clothes corps gained wide circulation, and that all the Chinese constables fled from the Chapei district.
29. With regard to this statement, however, I would like to call attention to the following: —
(1) Mr. Chancellor states that, as soon as he received information (about 10 P.M.) of the impending Japanese attack, he went out to see for himself how the situation was. He visited the railway station, even buying a platform ticket and going on to the platform, and he also walked up and down the railway yard. All was absolutely still and peaceful and there was no sign of a soldier. Along the roads, including the North Szechuen Road, all was quiet until the Japanese marines began to mobilise.
(2) When the attack started, most of the non-Japanese foreign residents in the area were in their beds, which shows that the excitement in the area was not so intense as Mr. Murai’s statement suggests.
(3) If the statement with regard to the fleeing of the Chinese constables refers to the constables of the Shanghai municipal police it is untrue, for these police had been withdrawn at the request of the commander of the Japanese landing party, as mentioned above. If it refers to the Chinese city police it is denied by the Chinese Bureau of Public Safety, who assert that the constables were still at their posts at the time of the attack, and is also discounted by the Press Union report of the attack, which states that Chinese police officers, who fired upon the Japanese, were quickly disarmed.
30. If the Japanese were intending merely to occupy the perimeter prescribed by the defence scheme, the normal procedure would have been for them to notify the Chinese authorities of their intention to do so, and request them to withdraw their police. Mr. Murai, in his statement, says that he made it a special point to ask the secretary-general of the Mayor of Greater Shanghai to withdraw the Chinese troops from the section in question, and that Mr. Yui gave his ready assent and assurance that it would be done. Mr. Yui has since denied this hotly, and it seems unlikely in the circumstances. No notice appears, however, to have been given of the intention to occupy this area, nor, indeed, was a reasonable opportunity given to the Chinese troops to withdraw. Compare with this what happened in the western sector, which is likewise situated beyond the Settlement boundary, where, or the morning of the 28th, and therefore before the state of emergency came into force, I notified the mayor that the sector was being taken over by the British forces, and asked that it might be explained to the Garrison Commander that this was a purely defensive measure to prevent refugees and disorderly soldiers from entering the area, and was in no way directed against the Chinese Government.
31. It is also important to note that the mayor had at this same interview informed me that, at his request, a force of gendarmerie was being brought down from Nanking to be posted between the Japanese and Chinese forces in order to prevent the risk of a clash.
32. The evidence generally points in the direction that the Japanese intended, on the night of the 28th January, to do something more than they were entitled to do under the defence scheme, but they failed in their attempt and subsequently sought to cover themselves by saying that they were only attempting to carry out their obligations under this scheme. If, nevertheless, their object was generally to restrict themselves to the limits imposed by the defence scheme, it must be said that their measures were about as bad as could be imagined, and calculated-particularly after the assurances which had been given by the consul-general only a few hours earlier—to create the maximum of distrust, discord and disquiet.
33. There is yet another point which must be made and which goes to the root of the whole matter. The defence scheme was drawn up with reference to an entirely different set of circumstances from those prevailing on the 28th January. It was devised, as the Japanese well knew, in order to preserve the immunity of the settlement in the event of a war in its vicinity between two rival Chinese factions or of an attack on the settlement itself. It was not devised to meet a case where one of the partners in the defence of the settlement was, to all intents and purposes, at war with the Chinese.
34. The Japanese, however, succeeded in turning the existence of the defence scheme to their own advantage. By their threats of direct action they brought about a situation where the Municipal Council was forced to declare a state of emergency. The declaration of a state of emergency brought into operation the defence scheme, and the defence scheme enabled the Japanese to plead some authority from the council when they decided to take direct action against the Chinese forces in their neighbourhood. As in Manchuria, they plead as an excuse for their action a danger which they themselves have created.
35. I would repeat that the general opinion, which I share, is that the Japanese navy intended to take action in Chapei whatever the outcome of the consul-general’s negotiations were. They had all their plans ready. They hoped that the demands which had been presented to the Chinese were impossible of acceptance, as indeed they were impossible of execution. When, however, the demands were accepted the grounds for the proposed action had to be shifted, and reports were immediately circulated by the Japanese Press Union that the Chinese had no intention of carrying them out and that they were preparing to attack the Japanese.
36. Finally, I would call your attention to the statement made by the Japanese admiral and the Japanese consul-general to the Chinese representatives at the conference held at my house on the 31st January, and reported in my despatch No. 34 of the 2nd February. Both Admiral Shiosawa and Mr. Murai emphasised that the responsibility for the action taken on that fateful evening rested entirely with the Japanese authorities, who were not seeking to share it with anyone else.
I have, &c.
J. F. BRENAN.
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