Sook Ching

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Sook Ching
Part of the Japanese occupation of Singapore
Japanese occupation of Malaya
TypeSystematic purge
PlannedUnknown, between 28 January 1942 (1942-01-28)
4 February 1942 (1942-02-04)
Planned by Tsuji Masanobu/Hayashi Tadahiko
Commanded by Tomoyuki Yamashita
ObjectiveIdentify and eliminate suspected anti-Japanese elements among the Chinese community in Singapore and Malaya.
Date18 February 1942 (1942-02-18)
4 March 1942 (1942-03-04) (UTC+08:00)
Executed by Kenpeitai
Casualties5,000–25,000 alleged to be Chinese males including Peranakan males[ citation needed ]
Part of a series on the
History of Malaysia
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Flag of Malaysia.svg   Malaysiaportal

The Sook Ching (simplified Chinese :肃清; traditional Chinese :肅清; pinyin :Sùqīng; Jyutping :suk1 cing1; Pe̍h-ōe-jī :Siok-chheng, meaning 'purge through cleansing') was a systematic purge of perceived hostile elements among the Chinese in Singapore and Chinese Malayans by the Japanese military during the Japanese occupation of Singapore and Malaya, after the British colony surrendered on 15 February 1942 following the Battle of Singapore. The purge took place from 18 February to 4 March 1942 at various places in the region. The operation was overseen by the Imperial Japanese Army's Kempeitai secret police and subsequently extended to include the Chinese population in Malaya.


Scholars agree the massacre took place, but Japanese and Singaporean sources disagree about the number of deaths. According to Hirofumi Hayashi, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs "accepted that the Japanese military had carried out mass killings in Singapore ... During negotiations with Singapore, the Japanese government rejected demands for reparations but agreed to make a 'gesture of atonement' by providing funds in other ways." Officially, Japan says that fewer than 5,000 deaths occurred, while Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first prime minister alleged that "verifiable numbers would be about 70,000" including Malaysia, although there isn't any evidence to prove this allegation. In 1966, Japan agreed to pay US$50 million in compensation, half of which was a grant and the rest as a loan. They did not make an official apology. The Japanese also killed about 150,000 Tamil Indians in Thailand and Burma.

The memories of those who lived through that period have been captured at exhibition galleries in the Old Ford Motor Factory at Bukit Timah, the site of the factory where the British surrendered to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. [1]

The Japanese referred to the Sook Ching as the Kakyō Shukusei (華僑粛清, 'purging of Overseas Chinese') or as the Shingapōru Daikenshō (シンガポール大検証, 'great inspection of Singapore'). The current Japanese term for the massacre is Shingapōru Kakyō Gyakusatsu Jiken (シンガポール華僑虐殺事件, 'Singapore Overseas Chinese Massacre'). Singapore's National Heritage Board uses the term Sook Ching in its publications. [2] [3]

Planning of the massacre

According to postwar testimony taken from a war correspondent embedded with the 25th army, Colonel Hishakari Takafumi, an order to kill 50,000 Chinese, 20 percent of the total, was issued by senior officials on Yamashita's operations staff, either from Lieutenant Colonel Tsuji Masanobu, Chief of Planning and Operations, or Major Hayashi Tadahiko, Chief of Staff. [4] [5] [6]

Hirofumi Hayashi, a professor of politics at a university and the co-director of the Center for Research and Documentation on Japan's War Responsibility, writes that the massacre was premeditated, and that "the Chinese in Singapore were regarded as anti-Japanese even before the Japanese military landed". It is also clear from the passage below that the massacre was to be extended to the Chinese in Malaya as well.

The purge was planned before Japanese troops landed in Singapore. The military government section of the 25th Army had already drawn up a plan entitled "Implementation Guideline for Manipulating Overseas Chinese" on or around 28 December 1941. This guideline stated that anyone who failed to obey or co-operate with the occupation authorities should be eliminated. It is clear that the headquarters of the 25th Army had decided on a harsh policy toward the Chinese population of Singapore and Malaya from the beginning of the war. According to Onishi Satoru, the Kenpeitai officer in charge of the Jalan Besar screening centre, Kenpeitai commander Oishi Masayuki was instructed by the chief of staff, Sōsaku Suzuki, at Keluang, Johor, to prepare for a purge following the capture of Singapore. Although the exact date of this instruction is not known, the Army headquarters was stationed in Keluang from 28 January to 4 February 1942... The Singapore Massacre was not the conduct of a few evil people, but was consistent with approaches honed and applied in the course of a long period of Japanese aggression against China and subsequently applied to other Asian countries. The Japanese military, in particular the 25th Army, made use of the purge to remove prospective anti-Japanese elements and to threaten local Chinese and others to swiftly impose military administration. [7]

After the Japanese military occupied Singapore, they were aware that the local Chinese population was loyal to the Republic of China. Some Chinese had been financing the National Revolutionary Army in the Second Sino-Japanese War through a series of fund-raising propagandist events.

Targeted groups

The Japanese military authorities defined the following as "undesirables": [8]



After the fall of Singapore, Masayuki Oishi, commander of No. 2 Field Kenpeitai, set up his headquarters in the YMCA Building at Stamford Road as the Kenpeitai East District Branch. The Kenpeitai prison was in Outram with branches in Stamford Road, Chinatown and the Central Police Station. A residence at the intersection of Smith Street and New Bridge Road formed the Kenpeitai West District Branch.

Under Oishi's command were 200 regular Kenpeitai officers and another 1000 auxiliaries, who were mostly young and rough peasant soldiers. Singapore was divided into sectors with each sector under the control of an officer. The Japanese set up designated "screening centres" all over Singapore to gather and "screen" Chinese males between the ages of 18 and 50. [9] [10] Those who were thought to be "anti-Japanese" would be eliminated. Sometimes, women and children were also sent for inspection as well.

The following passage is from an article from the National Heritage Board:

The inspection methods were indiscriminate and non-standardised. Sometimes, hooded informants identified suspected anti-Japanese Chinese; other times, Japanese officers singled out "suspicious" characters at their whim and fancy. Those who survived the inspection walked with "examined" stamped on their faces, arms or clothing; some were issued a certificate. The unfortunate ones were taken to remote places like Changi and Punggol, and unceremoniously killed in batches. [3]

According to the A Country Study: Singapore published by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress:

All Chinese males from ages eighteen to fifty were required to report to registration camps for screening. The Japanese or military police arrested those alleged to be anti-Japanese, meaning those who were singled out by informers or who were teachers, journalists, intellectuals, or even former servants of the British. Some were imprisoned, but most were executed. [11]

The ones who passed the "screening" [9] received a piece of paper bearing the word "examined" or have a square ink mark stamped on their arms or shirts. Those who failed were stamped with triangular marks instead. They were separated from the others and packed into trucks near the centres and sent to the killing sites.


There were several sites for the killings, the most notable ones being Changi Beach, Punggol Point and Sentosa (or Pulau Belakang Mati).

Massacre sites:Description
Punggol Point The Punggol Point Massacre saw about 300 to 400 Chinese shot on 28 February 1942 by the Hojo Kempei firing squad. The victims were some of the 1,000 Chinese men detained by the Japanese after a door-to-door search along Upper Serangoon Road. Several of these had tattoos, a sign that they might be triad members.
Changi Beach/Changi Spit BeachOn 20 February 1942, 66 Chinese males were lined up along the edge of the sea and shot by the military police. The beach was the first of the killing sites of the Sook Ching. Victims were from the Bukit Timah/Stevens Road area.
Changi Road 8-mile section (ms)Massacre site found at a plantation area (formerly Samba Ikat village) contained remains of 250 victims from the vicinity.
Hougang 8 msSix lorry loads of people were reported to have been massacred here.
Katong 7 ms20 trenches for burying the bodies of victims were dug here.
Beach opposite 27 Amber RoadTwo lorry loads of people were said to have been massacred here. The site later became a car park.
Tanah Merah Beach/Tanah Merah Besar Beach242 victims from Jalan Besar were massacred here. The site later became part of the Changi airport runway.
Sime Road off Thomson RoadMassacre sites found near a golf course and villages in the vicinity.
Katong, East Coast Road732 victims from Telok Kurau School.
Siglap areaMassacre site near Bedok South Avenue/Bedok South Road (previously known as Jalan Puay Poon).
Belakang Mati Beach, off the Sentosa Golf CourseSurrendered British gunners awaiting Japanese internment buried some 300 bullet-ridden corpses washed up on the shore of Sentosa. They were civilians who were transported from the docks at Tanjong Pagar to be killed at sea nearby. [12]

In a quarterly newsletter, the National Heritage Board published the account of the life story of a survivor named Chia Chew Soo, whose father, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters were bayoneted one by one by Japanese soldiers in Simpang Village. [13]

Extension to Chinese community of Malaya

At the behest of Masanobu Tsuji, the Japanese High Command's Chief of Planning and Operations, Sook Ching was extended to the rest of Malaya. However, due to a far wider population distribution across urban centres and vast rural regions, the Chinese population in Malaya was less concentrated and more difficult to survey. Lacking sufficient time and manpower to organise a full "screening", the Japanese opted instead to conduct widespread and indiscriminate massacres of the Chinese population. [14] [15] The primary bulk of the killings were conducted between February to March, and were largely concentrated in the southern states of Malaya, closer to Singapore.

Specific incidents were Kota Tinggi, Johore (28 February 1942) – 2,000 killed; Gelang Patah, Johor (4 March) – 300 killed; Benut, Johor (6 March) – number unknown; Johore Baharu, Senai, Kulai, Sedenak, Pulai, Renggam, Kluang, Yong Peng, Batu Pahat, Senggarang, Parit Bakau, and Muar (February–March) – estimated up to 25,000 Chinese were killed in Johor; Tanjung Kling, Malacca (16 March) – 142 killed; Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan (15 March) – 76 killed; Parit Tinggi, Negeri Sembilan (16 March) – more than 100 killed (the entire village); [16] Joo Loong Loong (near the present village of Titi) on 18 March (1474 killed, entire village eliminated by Major Yokokoji Kyomi and his troops); [17] [18] and Penang (April) – several thousand killed by Major Higashigawa Yoshimura. Further massacres were instigated as a result of increased guerilla activity in Malaya, most notably at Sungei Lui, a village of 400 in Jempol District, Negeri Sembilan, which was wiped out on 31 July 1942 by troops under a Corporal Hashimoto.

Extension to the Indians of Malaya and Singapore

The Japanese also killed about 150,000 Tamil Indians in Thailand and Myanmar during the war, although it is believed that the true number of deaths is much higher for the Tamil Indians. It excludes the death toll of the Malayali Indians. The Indians came from Singapore or Malaysia under Japanese supervision. [19]

Japanese camp guards frequently killed entire Indian families or the entire Indian population of whole camps. They also killed Indian families or camps that were infected with typhus, sometimes for sadistic reasons. [20] Aside from killing the Indians, Japanese soldiers often gang raped Tamil women after which they would force other Indian coolies to rape the Indian women. [21]

Death toll

The figures of the death toll vary. According to official Japanese statistics, the number was below 5,000, while the Singaporean Chinese community initially alleged 100,000 despite having been unproven. Recent research narrowed down the official deathtoll to 10,000 to 25,000 at maximum.[ citation needed ]

Hirofumi Hayashi wrote in another paper that the death toll "needs further investigation".

According to the diary of the Singapore garrison commander, Major General Kawamura Saburo, the total number reported to him as killed by the various Kenpeitai section commanders on 23 February was five thousand. This was the third day of mop-up operations when executions were mostly finished. It is alleged by Singapore that the total number of innocent Chinese and Perankan civilians killed was forty or fifty thousand; this point needs further investigations. [22]

Having witnessed the brutality of the Japanese, Lee made the following comments:

But they also showed a meanness and viciousness towards their enemies equal to the Huns'. Genghis Khan and his hordes could not have been more merciless. I have no doubts about whether the two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary. Without them, hundreds of thousands of civilians in Malaya and Singapore, and millions in Japan itself, would have perished. [23]

Prominent victims

Chinese film pioneer Hou Yao moved to Singapore in 1940 to work for the Shaw brothers. Because Hou had directed and written a number of "national defence" films against the Japanese invasion of China, he was targeted by the Japanese and killed at the beginning of the Sook Ching massacre. [24] [25]


The Sook Ching Centre site memorial stands at Hong Lim Complex in Chinatown. Sook Ching Centre site.JPG
The Sook Ching Centre site memorial stands at Hong Lim Complex in Chinatown.
Masanobu Tsuji Tuji Masanobu.jpg
Masanobu Tsuji

In 1947, after the Japanese surrender, British authorities in Singapore held a war crimes trial for the perpetrators of the Sook Ching. Seven Japanese officers: Takuma Nishimura, Saburo Kawamura, Masayuki Oishi, Yoshitaka Yokata, Tomotatsu Jo, Satoru Onishi, and Haruji Hisamatsu, were charged with conducting the massacre. Staff officer Masanobu Tsuji was the mastermind behind the massacre, and personally planned and carried it out, but at the time of the war crimes trials he had not been arrested. As soon as the war ended, Masanobu Tsuji escaped from Thailand to China. The accused seven persons who followed Tsuji's commands were on trial. [6]

During the trial, one major problem was that the Japanese commanders did not pass down any formal written orders for the massacre. Documentation of the screening process or disposal procedures had also been destroyed. Besides, the Japanese military headquarters' order for the speedy execution of the operation, combined with ambiguous instructions from the commanders, led to suspicions being cast on the accused, and it became difficult to accurately establish their culpability.

Nishimura Takuma Nishimura Takuma.jpg
Nishimura Takuma
Sosaku Suzuki Suzuki Sosaku.jpg
Sōsaku Suzuki

Saburo Kawamura and Masayuki Oishi received the death penalty while the other five received life sentences, though Takuma Nishimura was later executed following conviction by an Australian military court for his role in the Parit Sulong Massacre in 1951. The court accepted the defence statement of "just following orders" by those put on trial. [8] The condemned were hanged on 26 June 1947. The British authorities allowed only six members of the victims' families to witness the executions of Kawamura and Oishi, despite calls for the hangings to be made public. [26]

The mastermind behind the massacre, Masanobu Tsuji, escaped. Tsuji, later after the trial and the execution, appeared in Japan and became a politician there. Tsuji evaded trial, but later disappeared, presumedly killed in Laos in 1961. Tomoyuki Yamashita, the general from whose headquarters the order seems to have been issued, was put on another trial in the Philippines and executed in 1946. Other staff officers, who planned the massacre, were Shigeharu Asaeda and Sōsaku Suzuki. But, as Shigeharu Asaeda was captured in Russia after the war and Sōsaku Suzuki was killed in action in 1945 before the end of the war, they were not put on trial.

The reminiscences of Saburo Kawamura were published in 1952 (after his death) and, in the book, he expressed his condolences to the victims of Singapore and prayed for the repose of their souls. [6]

Mamoru Shinozaki (February 1908 – 1991), a former Japanese diplomat, has been described as instrumental as key prosecution witness during the Singapore War Crimes Trial between 1946 and 1948. [27] Shinozaki remains a controversial figure, with some blaming him for saying positive things about the accused (despite being a prosecuting witness); [28] views on him continue to vary, with opinions ranging from calling him the "wire-puller" of the massacre [29] or criticizing him for "self-praise" in his autobiography [30] to calling him a life-saving "Schindler" of Singapore. [31]

When Singapore gained full self-government from the British colonial government in 1959, waves of anti-Japanese sentiments arose within the Chinese community and they demanded reparations and an apology from Japan. The British colonial government had demanded only war reparations for damage caused to British property during the war. The Japanese Foreign Ministry declined Singapore's request for an apology and reparations in 1963, stating that the issue of war reparations with the British had already been settled in the San Francisco Treaty in 1951 and hence with Singapore as well, which was then still a British colony.

Singapore's first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew responded by saying that the British colonial government did not represent the voice of Singaporeans. In September 1963, the Chinese community staged a boycott of Japanese imports (refusing to unload aircraft and ships from Japan), but it lasted only seven days. [32] [33]

With Singapore's full independence from Malaysia on 9 August 1965, the Singapore government made another request to Japan for reparations and an apology. On 25 October 1966, Japan agreed to pay S$50 million in compensation, half of which was a grant and the rest as a loan. Japan did not make an official apology.

The remains of the victims of the Sook Ching were unearthed by locals for decades after the massacre. The most recent finding was in late-1997, when a man looking for earthworms to use as fishing bait found a skull, two gold teeth, an arm and a leg. The massacre sites of Sentosa, Changi and Punggol Point were marked as heritage sites by the National Monuments of Singapore in 1995 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of the Japanese occupation. [34]


The massacre and its post-war judicial handling by the colonial British administration incensed the Chinese community. The Discovery Channel programme commented about its historic impact on local Chinese: "They felt the Japanese spilling of so much Chinese blood on Singapore soil has given them the moral claim to the island that hasn't existed before the war". Lee Kuan Yew said on the Discovery Channel programme, "It was the catastrophic consequences of the war that changed the mindset, that my generation decided that, 'No ... this doesn't make sense. We should be able to run this [island] as well as the British did, if not better.'" [35] "The Asiatics had looked to them for leadership, and they had failed them." [36]

Germaine Foo-Tan writes in an article carried on the Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) website: [37]

While the quick defeat of the British in Singapore was a shocking revelation to the local population, and the period of the Japanese Occupation arguably the darkest time for Singapore, these precipitated the development of political consciousness with an urgency not felt before. The British defeat and the fall of what was regarded as an invincible fortress rocked the faith of the local population in the ability of the British to protect them. Coupled with the secret and sudden evacuation of British soldiers, women and children from Penang, there was the uneasy realisation that the colonial masters could not be relied upon to defend the locals. The Japanese slogan "Asia for Asians" awoke many to the realities of colonial rule, that "however kind the masters were, the Asians were still second class in their own country". Slowly, the local population became more aware of the need to have a bigger say in charting their destinies. The post-war years witnessed a political awakening and growing nationalistic feelings among the populace which in turn paved the way for the emergence of political parties and demands for self-rule in the 1950s and 1960s.

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Further reading