Three Alls Policy

Last updated

The Three Alls Policy (Chinese :三光政策; pinyin :Sānguāng Zhèngcè, Japanese : 三光作戦 Sankō Sakusen) was a Japanese scorched earth policy adopted in China during World War II, the three "alls" being "kill all, burn all, loot all" [1] (Japanese: 殺し尽くし・焼き尽くし・奪い尽くす, Hepburn: koroshi tsukushi-yaki tsukushi-ubai tsukusu, Chinese:殺光、燒光、搶光). This policy was designed as retaliation against the Chinese for the Communist-led Hundred Regiments Offensive in December 1940. [2] Contemporary Japanese documents referred to the policy as "The Burn to Ash Strategy" (燼滅作戦, Jinmetsu Sakusen).[ citation needed ]


The Chinese expression "Three Alls" was first popularized in Japan in 1957 when former Japanese soldiers released from the Fushun War Criminals Management Centre wrote a book called The Three Alls: Japanese Confessions of War Crimes in China (Japanese : 三光、日本人の中国における戦争犯罪の告白, Sankō, Nihonjin no Chūgoku ni okeru sensō hanzai no kokuhaku) (new edition: Kanki Haruo, 1979) in which Japanese veterans confessed to war crimes committed under the leadership of General Yasuji Okamura. The publishers were forced to stop the publication of the book after they had received death threats from Japanese militarists and ultranationalists. [3]


General Tanaka Ryukichi died 1972. Tanaka Ryukichi.jpg
General Tanaka Ryukichi died 1972.
General Yasuji Okamura died 1966. Yasuji Okamura.jpg
General Yasuji Okamura died 1966.

The prototype of the Sankō Sakusen policy were the "annihilation campaigns" launched in late 1938 by the North China Area Army to "pacify" the Hebei province, which was a hotbed of guerrilla resistance. [4] The Showa Emperor gave his approval of the "annihilation campaign" in an order he signed on 2 December 1938. [5] The Imperial Japanese Army always saw the National Revolutionary Army and other forces loyal to the Kuomintang regime as their main enemy in China and tended to ignore the Chinese Communist forces, and by mid-1940, the Communists controlled vast tracts of the Chinese countryside, ruling over millions of people. [6] In August 1940, the Eighth Route Army (created from the Chinese Red Army) launched the "100 Regiments Campaign", an offensive targeting bridge, railroads, mines, blockade houses and telephone lines in northern China that caused extensive damage [7] In response to the "100 Regiments" offensive, General Ryūkichi Tanaka, commanding North China Area Army devised a plan for the "total annihilation" of the Communist base areas so that "the enemy could never use them again". [8]

Initiated in 1940 by Major General Ryūkichi Tanaka, the Sankō Sakusen was implemented in full scale in 1942 in north China by General Yasuji Okamura who divided the territory of five provinces (Hebei, Shandong, Shensi, Shanhsi, Chahaer) into "pacified", "semi-pacified" and "unpacified" areas. [9] The approval of the policy was given by Imperial General Headquarters Order Number 575 on 3 December 1941. [10] Okamura's strategy involved burning down villages, confiscating grain and mobilizing peasants to construct collective hamlets. It also centered on the digging of vast trench lines and the building of thousands of miles of containment walls and moats, watchtowers and roads to prevent guerrillas from moving around. [11] These operations targeted for destruction "enemies pretending to be local people" and "all males between the ages of fifteen and sixty whom we suspect to be enemies". [12]

In a study published in 1996, historian Mitsuyoshi Himeta claims that the Three Alls Policy, sanctioned by Emperor Hirohito himself, was both directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of "more than 2.7 million" Chinese civilians. His works and those of Akira Fujiwara about the details of the operation were commented by Herbert P. Bix in his Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, who wrote that the Sankō Sakusen far surpassed the Rape of Nanking not only in terms of numbers, but in brutality as well as "These military operations caused death and suffering on a scale incomparably greater than the totally unplanned orgy of killing in Nanking, which later came to symbolize the war". [13] The effects of the Japanese strategy were further exacerbated by Chinese military tactics, which included the masking of military forces as civilians, or the use of civilians as deterrents against Japanese attacks. In some places, the Japanese also used chemical warfare against civilian populations in contravention of international agreements they refused to sign at the time.

Controversy and dispute

As with many aspects of Japan's World War II history, the nature and extent of Three Alls Policy is still a controversial issue. Because the now most well-known name for this strategy is in Chinese, some nationalist groups in Japan have even denied its veracity. The issue is partly confused by the fact that scorched-earth tactics were also used by the Kuomintang government forces in numerous areas of central and northern China, against both the invading Japanese, as well as against the Chinese civilian populations in rural areas where there was strong support for the Chinese Communist Party.[ citation needed ] Known in Japan as "The Clean Field Strategy" (清野作戦, Seiya Sakusen), Chinese soldiers would destroy the homes and fields of their own civilians in order to wipe out any possible supplies or places of shelter that could be utilised by the over-extended Japanese troops. [14] This similar military policy used in contested areas by the NRA affecting their own civilians greatly confuses matters.[ citation needed ]

The 2008 movie The Children of Huang Shi , which covers the Japanese invasion from 1938 to 1945, is set in part along the sankō sakusen. [15]


  1. Fairbank, J. K.; Goldman, M. (2006). China: A New History (2nd ed.). Harvard University Press. p. 320. ISBN   9780674018280.
  2. Grasso, June; Corrin, Jay; Kort, Michael. Modernization And Revolution In China: From the Opium Wars to World Power, pg. 129
  3. Herbert P. Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan , HarperCollins, 2001, p. 657.
  4. Bix, Herbert Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, New York, Perennial, 2001 page 365
  5. Bix, Herbert Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, New York, Perennial, 2001 page 365
  6. Bix, Herbert Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, New York, Perennial, 2001 page 365
  7. Bix, Herbert Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, New York, Perennial, 2001 pages 365-366.
  8. Bix, Herbert Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, New York, Perennial, 2001 page 366
  9. Bix, Herbert Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, New York, Perennial, 2001 page 366
  10. Bix, Herbert Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, New York, Perennial, 2001 page 366
  11. Bix, Herbert Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, New York, Perennial, 2001 page 366
  12. Herbert Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan , 2001, p. 365, citing an order drafted by Ryūkichi Tanaka.
  13. Bix, Herbert Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, New York, Perennial, 2001 page 365
  14. Harries. Soldiers of the Sun. page 235.
  15. "The Long March of a forgotten English Hero". The Times (London).

Related Research Articles

Hirohito Emperor of Japan from 1926 to 1989

Hirohito was the 124th emperor of Japan according to the traditional order of succession. He reigned as the emperor of the Empire of Japan (大日本帝國) from 25 December 1926 until 2 May 1947 and of the state of Japan (日本国) from 3 May 1947 until his death on 7 January 1989. He was succeeded by his fifth child and eldest son, Akihito. Hirohito and his wife, Empress Kojun, had seven children, two sons and five daughters. In Japan, reigning emperors are known only as "the Emperor." He is now referred to primarily by his posthumous name, Shōwa (昭和), which is the name of the era coinciding with his reign; for this reason, he is also known as the Shōwa Emperor or Emperor Shōwa. By 1979, Hirohito was the only monarch in the world with the monarchical title "emperor." Hirohito was the longest-lived and longest-reigning historical Japanese emperor and one of the longest-reigning monarchs in the world.

Nobusuke Kishi 56th and 57th Prime Minister of Japan (1896-1987)

Nobusuke Kishi was a Japanese politician who was Prime Minister of Japan from 1957 to 1960. He is the maternal grandfather of Shinzo Abe, twice prime minister from 2006 to 2007 and 2012 to 2020.

Inukai Tsuyoshi Japanese politician

Inukai Tsuyoshi was a Japanese politician, cabinet minister, and Prime Minister of Japan from 1931 to his assassination in 1932. Inukai is Japan's oldest prime minister while serving as he was aged 76 on the last day of his tenure.

Kazushige Ugaki Japanese politician (1868-1956)

Kazushige Ugaki was a Japanese general and in the Imperial Japanese Army and cabinet minister before World War II, the 5th principal of Takushoku University, and twice Governor-General of Korea. He was also nicknamed Ugaki Issei.

Kōichi Kido Japanese politician (1889-1977)

Kōichi Kido served as Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal of Japan from 1940 to 1945, and was the closest advisor to Emperor Hirohito throughout World War II. He was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment, of which he served 6 years before being released in 1953.

Herbert P. Bix is an American historian. He wrote Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, an account of the Japanese Emperor and the events which shaped modern Japanese imperialism, which won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction in 2001.

Tanggu Truce peace treaty

The Tanggu Truce, sometimes called the Tangku Truce, was a ceasefire signed between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan in Tanggu District, Tianjin on May 31, 1933. It formally ended the Japanese invasion of Manchuria which had begun two years earlier.

Yi Un former Crown Prince of Korea

Lieutenant General Prince Imperial Yeong, Yi Un, Crown Prince Uimin, also known as Yi Un, Yi Eun, Lee Eun and Un Yi, was the 28th Head of the Korean Imperial House, an Imperial Japanese Army general and the last crown prince of Korea. In 1910, when the Empire of Korea was annexed by Japan and Emperor Sunjong was forced to abdicate, Yi Un was titled His Highness The Crown Prince of Korea. On 10 June 1926, upon the death of Emperor Sunjong, he became His Highness King Yi of Changdeokgung in Japan. After World War II he was refused entry to Korea, and his Japanese titles were removed by article 14 of the new Constitution of Japan in 1947.

<i>Gozen Kaigi</i> Conference convened in the presence of the Japanese emperor

Imperial Conference was an extraconstitutional conference on foreign matters of grave national importance that was convened by the government of the Empire of Japan in the presence of the Emperor.


The National Foundation Society was a nationalist political society in late 1920s and early 1930s Japan.

Hajime Sugiyama Japanese general (1880-1945)

Hajime Sugiyama was a Japanese field marshal and one of the leaders of Japan's military throughout most of World War II. As Army Minister in 1937, Sugiyama was a driving force behind the launch of hostilities against China in retaliation for the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. After being named the Army’s Chief of Staff in 1940, he became a leading advocate for expansion into Southeast Asia and preventive war against the United States. Upon the outbreak of hostilities in the Pacific, Sugiyama served as the army’s commander-in-chief until his removal by Prime Minister Hideki Tojo in February 1944. Following Tojo's ouster in July 1944, he was reappointed to the post of Army Minister in Kuniaki Koiso's cabinet until its dissolution in April 1945. Ten days after Japan's surrender on 2 September 1945, he committed suicide.

<i>Hakkō ichiu</i> Japanese political slogan, popuarlized during the Second Sino-Japanese war, describing Japanese imperial rule as divinely ordained to expand until it united the entire world

Hakkō ichiu or Hakkō iu was a Japanese political slogan meaning the divine right of the Empire of Japan to "unify the eight corners of the world." It was prominent from the Second Sino-Japanese War to World War II, popularized in a speech by Prime Minister of Japan Fumimaro Konoe on January 8, 1940.

Yasuji Okamura Japanese general

Yasuji Okamura was a general of the Imperial Japanese Army, and commander-in-chief of the China Expeditionary Army from November 1944 to the end of World War II. He was found not guilty of any war crimes by the Shanghai War Crimes Tribunal after the war. As one of the Imperial Japanese Army's top China experts, General Okamura spent his entire military career on the Asian mainland.

Takeji Nara Japanese general

BaronTakeji Nara was a general in the Imperial Japanese Army.

Nakamura Incident

The Nakamura Incident refers to the extrajudicial killing of Imperial Japanese Army Captain Shintarō Nakamura and three others, on 27 June 1931 by Chinese soldiers in Manchuria.

The Toranomon incident was an assassination attempt on the Prince Regent Hirohito of Japan on 27 December 1923 by communist agitator Daisuke Nanba.

Tientsin incident international incident during the Second Sino-Japanese War

The Tientsin incident (天津事件) was an international incident created by a blockade by the Imperial Japanese Army's Japanese Northern China Area Army of the British settlements in the north China treaty port of Tientsin in June 1939. Originating as a minor administrative dispute, it escalated into a major diplomatic incident.

Ikuhiko Hata Japanese historian

Ikuhiko Hata is a Japanese historian. He acquired his PhD at the University of Tokyo and has taught history at several universities. He is the author of a number of influential and well-received scholarly works, particularly on topics related to Japan's role in the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II.

<i>Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan</i> book by Herbert P. Bix

Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan is a book by Herbert P. Bix covering the reign of Emperor Hirohito of Japan from 1926 until his death in 1989. It won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.

Sakuradamon Incident (1932) 1932 assassination attempt against Japanese Emperor Showa

The Sakuradamon incident or Patriotic Deed of Lee Bong-chang was an assassination attempt against Emperor Hirohito of the Empire of Japan by a Korean independence activist, Lee Bong-chang, in Tokyo on 9 January 1932.