The Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) and its aftermath
On July 7, 1937, Japanese troops stationed near the Marco Polo Bridge (Lugou Bridge to the Chinese), ten miles southwest of Beijing (Beiping at the time), used the pretext of searching for a soldier who had gone missing during a drill to demand entry into the city. When refused, they fired shots. The Chinese regiment commander Ji Xingwen (1908–1958) ordered his soldiers to return fire, triggering the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, which was to change China forever.
The military confrontation was not wholly unexpected. Since Japan invaded and occupied Manchuria in September 1931, tension had been mounting. Chiang Kai-shek’s (1887–1975) policy of nonresistance had been met with opposition from various quarters, as evidenced in the Xi’an Incident of December 12, 1936, in which Marshal Zhang Xueliang (1901–2001) took Chiang hostage in order to extort a promise from him to form a united front with the Chinese Communist Party (hereafter CCP) against Japanese aggression. Ten days after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, Chiang issued a statement condemning the violence as “the last straw,” and in August declared an all-out war of resistance.
Japan had aimed to take China in three months. Advances in the north went largely unopposed; within a month, Beijing and Tianjin fell. On August 13, Japan attacked Shanghai. Faced with the enemy’s superior firepower, Chinese soldiers stood their ground for three months. At Four Banks Storehouse (Sihang cangku) in Shanghai, October 27 to 31, eight hundred soldiers under Commander Xie Jinyuan (1904–1941) held off Japanese offensives, allowing Chinese troops to retreat and Chinese civilians to be evacuated. The campaign ended on November 27.