January 28 incident

Last updated
January 28 incident
Shanghai 1932 19th route.jpg
The Chinese 19th Route Army in a defensive position
DateJanuary 28 March 3, 1932
In and around Shanghai, China
Result Ceasefire;
Shanghai demilitarized
Flag of the Republic of China.svg  China Merchant flag of Japan (1870).svg  Japan
Commanders and leaders
19th Route Army:
Jiang Guangnai
Cai Tingkai
5th Army:
Zhang Zhizhong
Yoshinori Shirakawa
Chief of staff:
Kanichiro Tashiro
Units involved
Flag of the Republic of China Army.svg 19th Route Army
Flag of the Republic of China Army.svg 5th Army
War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army (1868-1945).svg Shanghai Expeditionary Army
Naval ensign of the Empire of Japan.svg  Imperial Japanese Navy
50,000 100,000+
80 ships
300 airplanes
Casualties and losses
13,000, including 4,000 KIA 5,000, including 3,000+ KIA [1]
10,000–20,000 civilian deaths

The January 28 incident or Shanghai incident (January 28 – March 3, 1932) was a conflict between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan. It took place in the Shanghai International Settlement which was under international control. Japanese army officers, defying higher authorities, had provoked anti-Japanese demonstrations in the international District of Shanghai following the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. The Japanese government sent a sect of militant ultranationalist Japanese Buddhist priests belonging to the Nichiren sect to Shanghai. The monks were shouting anti-Chinese, pro-Japanese nationalist slogans in Shanghai, promoting Japanese rule over East Asia. [2] In response, a Chinese mob formed killing one monk and injuring two. [2] In response, the Japanese in Shanghai rioted and burned down a factory, killing two Chinese. [2] Heavy fighting broke out, and China appealed with no success to the League of Nations. A truce was finally reached on May 5, calling for Japanese military withdrawal, and an end to Chinese boycotts of Japanese products.


Internationally, the episode intensified opposition to Japan's aggression in Asia. The episode helped undermine civilian rule in Tokyo; Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi was assassinated on May 15, 1932. [3]


In Chinese literature it is known as the January 28 incident (simplified Chinese :一·二八事变; traditional Chinese :一·二八事變; pinyin :Yī Èrbā Shìbiàn), while in Western sources it is often called the Shanghai War of 1932 or the Shanghai incident. In Japan it is known as the first Shanghai incident, alluding to the second Shanghai incident, which is the Japanese name for the Battle of Shanghai that occurred during the opening stages of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937.


After the Mukden Incident, Japan had acquired control over Manchuria and would eventually establish the puppet government of Manchukuo. However, the Japanese military planned to increase Japanese influence further, especially into Shanghai where Japan, along with the various western powers, had extraterritorial rights. On January 18, five Japanese Buddhist monks, members of an ardently nationalist sect, shouted anti-Chinese slogans, and were beaten near Shanghai's Sanyou Factory (simplified Chinese :三友实业社; traditional Chinese :三友實業社; pinyin :Sānyǒu Shíyèshè) by agitated Chinese civilians. [2] Two were seriously injured, and one died. [2] [4] Over the next few hours, a Japanese group burnt down the factory, killing two Chinese in the fire. [2] [4]

One policeman was killed and several more hurt when they arrived to quell the disorder. [4] This caused an upsurge of anti-Japanese and anti-imperialist protests in the city and its concessions, with Chinese residents of Shanghai marching onto the streets and calling for a boycott of Japanese-made goods.


Chinese military police in combat 19th Root Army, being in engagement with the Japanese in Chapei front.jpg
Chinese military police in combat
Japanese troops burning residential districts Shanghai 1932 japan burning.jpg
Japanese troops burning residential districts

The situation continued to deteriorate over the next week. By January 27, the Japanese military had already concentrated some 30 ships, 40 airplanes and nearly 7,000 troops around the shoreline of Shanghai to put down any resistance in the event that violence broke out. The military's justification was that it had to defend its concession and citizens. The Japanese issued an ultimatum to the Shanghai Municipal Council demanding public condemnation and monetary compensation by the Chinese for any Japanese property damaged in the monk incident, and demanding that the Chinese government take active steps to suppress further anti-Japanese protests in the city. During the afternoon of January 28, the Shanghai Municipal Council agreed to these demands.

Throughout this period, the Chinese 19th Route Army had been massing outside the city, causing consternation to the civil Chinese administration of Shanghai and the foreign-run concessions. The 19th Route Army was generally viewed as little more than a warlord force, posing as great a danger to Shanghai as the Japanese military. In the end, Shanghai donated a substantial bribe to the 19th Route Army, hoping that it would leave and not incite a Japanese attack. [5]

However, at midnight on January 28, Japanese carrier aircraft bombed Shanghai in the first major aircraft carrier action in East Asia. Barbara W. Tuchman described this as also being "the first terror bombing of a civilian population of an era that was to become familiar with it", [6] preceding the Condor Legion's bombing of Guernica by five years. Three thousand Japanese troops attacked targets, such as the Shanghai North railway station, around the city and began an invasion of the de facto Japanese settlement in Hongkew and other areas north of Suzhou Creek. In what was a surprising about-face for many, the 19th Route Army, which many had expected to leave after having been paid, put up fierce resistance. Also on the 28th, the Chinese Air Force dispatched nine planes to the Hongqiao Aerodrome, and the first aerial battle between Chinese and Japanese aircraft occurred on that day, although neither side suffered losses. [7]

Though the opening battles took place in the Hongkew district of the International Settlement, the conflict soon spread outwards to much of Chinese-controlled Shanghai. The majority of the concessions remained untouched by the conflict, and it was often the case that those in the Shanghai International Settlement would watch the war from the banks of Suzhou Creek. They could even visit the battle lines by virtue of their extraterritoriality. The Oriental Library built by The Commercial Press was destroyed. [8] On January 30, Chiang Kai-shek decided to temporarily relocate the capital from Nanjing to Luoyang as an emergency measure, due to the fact that Nanjing's proximity to Shanghai could make it a target. [9]

Because Shanghai was a metropolitan city with many foreign interests invested in it, other countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom and France, attempted to negotiate a ceasefire between Japan and China. However, Japan refused, instead continuing to mobilize troops in the region. On February 12, American, British and French representatives brokered a half-day cease fire for humanitarian relief to civilians caught in the crossfire.

The same day, the Japanese issued another ultimatum, demanding that the Chinese Army retreat 20 km from the border of the Shanghai concessions, a demand promptly rejected. This only intensified fighting in Hongkew. The Japanese were unable to take the city by the middle of February. Subsequently, the number of Japanese troops was increased to nearly 90,000 with the arrival of the 9th Infantry Division and the IJA 24th Mixed Brigade, supported by 80 warships and 300 airplanes.

Map of the fighting in Shanghai Map showing Japanese-Chinese warfre (sic) now in Shanghai (2674774585).jpg
Map of the fighting in Shanghai

On February 14, Chiang Kai-shek sent the 5th Army, including the 87th and 88th divisions, into Shanghai.

On February 20, Japanese bombardments were increased to force the Chinese away from their defensive positions near Miaohang, while commercial and residential districts of the city were set on fire. The Chinese defensive positions deteriorated rapidly without naval and armored support, with the number of defenders dwindling to fewer than 50,000. Japanese forces increased to over a 100,000 troops, backed by aerial and naval bombardments.

On February 28, after a week of fierce fighting characterized by the stubborn resistance of the troops mainly from Guangdong, the Japanese, supported by superior artillery, took the village of Kiangwan (now Jiangwanzhen), north of Shanghai. [10]

On February 29, the Japanese 11th Infantry Division landed near Liuhe behind Chinese lines. The defenders launched a desperate counterattack from 1 March, but were unable to dislodge the Japanese. On March 2, the 19th Route Army issued a telegram stating that it was necessary to withdraw from Shanghai due to lack of supplies and manpower. The next day, the 19th Route Army and the 5th Army retreated from Shanghai, marking the official end of the battle. [11]

Peace process

Remembrance service for fallen Chinese troops Shanghai 1932 aftermath.jpg
Remembrance service for fallen Chinese troops

On March 4, the League of Nations passed a resolution demanding a ceasefire, though sporadic fighting persisted. On March 6, the Chinese unilaterally agreed to stop fighting, although the Japanese rejected the ceasefire. On March 14, representatives from the League of Nations arrived at Shanghai to broker a negotiation with the Japanese. While negotiations were going on, intermittent fighting continued in both outlying areas and the city itself. [12]

On May 5, China and Japan signed the Shanghai Ceasefire Agreement (simplified Chinese :淞沪停战协定; traditional Chinese :淞滬停戰協定; pinyin :Sōnghù Tíngzhàn Xiédìng). The agreement made Shanghai a demilitarized zone and forbade China to garrison troops in areas surrounding Shanghai, Suzhou, and Kunshan, while allowing the presence of a few Japanese units in the city. China was allowed to keep only a small police force within the city.


After the ceasefire was brokered, the 19th Army was reassigned by Chiang Kai-shek to suppress the Chinese Communist insurrection in Fujian. After winning some battles against the communists, a peace agreement was negotiated. On November 22, the leadership of the 19th Route Army revolted against the Kuomintang government, and established the Fujian People's Government, independent of the Republic of China. This new government was not supported by all elements of the communists and was quickly crushed by Chiang's armies in January 1934. The leaders of the 19th Route Army escaped to Hong Kong, and the rest of the army was disbanded and reassigned to other units of the National Revolutionary Army.

Yoshinori Shirakawa, the commander of the Shanghai Expeditionary Army and joint leader of the Japanese forces, was severely wounded by Korean nationalist Yoon Bong-Gil during a birthday celebration for Emperor Hirohito held at Shanghai's Hongkou Park and died of his injuries on May 26.

See also

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Further reading