United Chinese Front Against Japanese Aggression

By staff reporters JIAO FENG & ZHOU LIN

A Shanghai citizen takes a picture on July 8, 2015 of the bullet-riddled, bloodstained west wall of the Sihang Warehouse. 


FOLLOWING the Lugou Bridge Incident of July 7, 1937, the Japanese army accelerated its invasion of China. China’s two political powers at that time, the Kuomintang (KMT) and Communist Party of China (CPC), jointly formed the Chinese united front against Japanese aggression in efforts to save the nation. The Chinese army fought against the Imperial Japanese Army in the eastern coastal city of Shanghai and put paid to their avowed ambition to “subjugate China in three months.” In central Shanxi Province, meanwhile, the Communist-led Eighth Route Army won a great morale-boosting victory at Pingxingguan, so dispelling the myth of the “invincible” Japanese army. China eventually emerged victorious after years of dogged resistance. Seventy years later, we revisited the battlefields of the onset of this long, bloody conflict.


Songhu Battle


The Shanghai Songhu Campaign Memorial Hall is in Linjiang Park in Baoshan District, the water portal in north Shanghai at the confluence of the Huangpu and Yangtze rivers. Deputy Party Secretary of the Memorial Hall Xu Rong told the reporters that the hall is site of the original seat of Baoshan County, and main battlefield of the two Battles of Songhu.


Exhibits in the memorial hall include scripts, old photos, relics, and duplicated scenes of the two Battles of Songhu.  


Late on the night of January 28, 1932, the Japanese Marine Corps quartered in Shanghai were deployed in five divisions that attacked the Chinese troops guarding the Zhabei Defense District. The Japanese commander had earlier declared that his armies would capture Shanghai in just four hours. The defending 19th Route Army gave ferocious battle, killing and wounding 10,000 Japanese soldiers in 36 days. The Japanese were forced during this period to change their commander-in-chief three times.


The 1937 Lugou Bridge Incident marked Japan’s launch of its full-scale invasion of China. On August 13, Japanese troops attacked Shanghai, decimating Zhaibei and Nanshi districts. Chinese defenders then embarked on a three-month battle against the Japanese invaders. After six days and nights of deadlock, the Japanese finally used sulfur bombs and frangible grenades that razed Baoshan County to the ground. The defending troop, the Third Battalion under the 583rd Regiment of the 98th Division, fought to the last man. Commander Yao Ziqing and all 600 soldiers sacrificed their lives after running out of ammunition and supplies. There is a stele in the southwest corner of the park that bears the carved legend “Yao Ziqing Battalion Sacrifice Site.”


The Shanghai Songhu Campaign Memorial Hall exhibits include soldiers’ manuscripts and letters and such documents as the Memoirs of the Songhu Battle, the Military Record of the Song-hu Battle Against Japanese Aggression, and also a painting by a Japanese war correspondent. All document the Japanese invasion of Shanghai. Among them is one picture called Breaking into Zhaibei House K of Japanese soldiers wielding guns charging into ruined homes.


One memorial hall souvenir display cabinet contains commemorative “Sihang Isolated Troops Comrade Committee” medals. Sihang Warehouse, repository for Shanghai’s four big banks, is a six-storied reinforced concrete mansion on No.1 Guangfu Road on the north bank of the Suzhou River, opposite Shanghai’s foreign concessions. In late October 1937, Commander Xie Jinyuan and his 524th Regiment withstood a dozen onslaughts during a battle that lasted four days and nights, so giving cover to Chinese forces retreating west. The successful defense of the warehouse was a sorely needed shot in the arm for the Chinese army and civilians in the demoralizing aftermath of the Japanese invasion of Shanghai.


The bullet-riddled, bloodstained west wall of the Sihang Warehouse is still standing, and is now a memorial anti-aggression wall. This edifice is under restoration to commemorate the battle and the heroes who fought in it and sacrificed their lives.


 Japanese troops attack Shanghai on August 13, 1937, decimating Zhaibei and Nanshi districts.


General Lin Biao and General Nie Rongzhen fought and won the Great Victory of the Pingxingguan Battle in September 1937. 


Baiyatai Village Memories


On September 25, 1937, 35-year-old Zeng Huai encountered the Eighth Route Army as he walked out of the village. “A general riding a tall horse, accompanied by four guards, asked my father to guide the troops,” Zeng Shirong, son of Zeng Huai, recalled. He was then just three years old. “I can remember my father repeatedly telling the story of that fierce battle since I was five,” 81-year-old Zeng Shirong told the reporters. China’s history textbooks refer to the battle as “the Great Victory of Pingxingguan.”


A black-and-white photo of the young Zeng Huai occupies pride of place in Zeng Shirong’s home. Zeng senior acted as guide for the Eighth Route Army and also organized a group of stretcher-bearers to carry the wounded five miles to a village nearby. It was only after the battle that Zeng realized the commander he had met that morning was the celebrated General Nie Rongzhen.


The “10-mile Qiaogou Valley” where the fiercest battle took place can be seen from the high land overlooking it nearby Laoye Temple in Baiyatai Village of Lingqiu County in Shanxi Province. The terrain appears as a bulging pocket with a small opening and stretches 10 miles from Laiyuan in Hebei Province to Lingqiu in Shanxi. It is also the sole path to Taiyuan, capital city of Shanxi. Qiaogou Valley was around 10 meters wide, with steep, 20-meter-high cliffs on either side. This narrow dirt road through the valley hence gave no shelter. It was here that the 115th Division of the Eighth Route Army annihilated more than 1,000 Japanese soldiers, destroyed more than 60 Japanese vehicles, and captured weapons and ammunition. The victory was the Eighth Route Army’s first triumph in the nationwide resistance against the Japanese army. From then on, the eighth Route Army became a main force behind enemy lines.


Today, two landmark constructions still stand in Baiyatai Village. One is the 115th Division battle command office at the village entrance, where General Lin Biao and General Nie Rongzhen waged the Pingxingguan Battle. The other is the Laoye Temple where the 8th Route Army engaged in a bloody battle against the Japanese army and eventually regained the strategic site.


Baiyatai villager Zeng Shirong recalls the story of his father, who acted as a guide for the Communist-led Eighth Route Army during Pingxingguan Battle. 


“Mom, I Miss Home”


Mao Zedong summarized the significance of the Great Victory of Pingxingguan at a meeting in September 1938 in Yan’an, saying that it was a vital political campaign that mobilized millions of Chinese civilians in the battle against Japanese invaders.


There is on display at the Pingxingguan Memorial Museum a photo of Shanghai citizen Pu Jiting and his two daughters. When the triumphant news came to Shanghai, the two girls saved their candy money to buy two military telescopes and mailed them to Generals Zhu De and Peng Dehuai to help bolster the Chinese army.


The Japanese army, meanwhile, retreated, broken and thoroughly demoralized. When the 8th Route Army and local villagers cleaned up the battlefield, they discovered a letter written by a young Japanese soldier surnamed Miura to his fiancée. “Death is such a common thing in battles. Several friends that were with me have died for no apparent reason,” he wrote, “A gunshot struck down and killed one soldier walking in front of us without warning. We are in constant dread fear of death.” Another young soldier wrote to his mother, “Mom, I am only 18. Why should I come such a long a way to kill Chinese people? Mom, I miss home. A few days ago when I passed through a village, the officer ordered us to burn down the houses and kill the civilians. They were all poor peasants. When their blood spurted over me, I felt so scared. I did not want to kill anyone, least of all these common folks. I came here for the ideal of fighting for the great honor of Japan. But now, Mom, I want to go home and study at school.”


 Pupils in Lingqiu County visit the Great Victory of Pingxingguan Museum.