The Marco Polo Bridge Incident was a battle between the Japan's Imperial
Army and China's National Revolutionary Army, marking the beginning of the
Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).
"The Marco Polo Bridge Incident" and Battle of Lugou Bridge are the
battle's Western name.
Well known among the Chinese as:
- Incident of July 7 (七七事變 pinyin: qi1 qi1 shi4 bian4)
- Lugouqiao Incident (蘆溝橋事變 lu2 gou1 qiao2 shi4 bian4)
- July 7 Lugouqiao (七七蘆溝橋 qi1 qi1 lu2 gou1 qiao2)
- Roko Bridge Matter (盧溝橋事件 Rokokyo-jiken')
- Roko Bridge Incident (盧溝橋事変 Rokokyo-jihen')
Japan had occupied Manchuria in 1931 and had created an nominally
independent state of Manchukuo with Henry Puyi, the last monarch of the Qing
Dynasty, as its sovereign. That state is widely regarded to have been a
puppet government with real power concentrated in the hands of the Japanese,
which constituted the only significant military forces in Manchuria.
Although the Kuomintang and the international community refused to recognize
the legality of the Japanese occupation, a truce had been negotiated in
At the end of 1932, Japanese Guandong Army invaded Chahar Province. (The
Kuomintang's 29th Army, lead by General Song Zheyuan and armed only with
spears and obsolete rifles, resisted the attack, resulting in the War of
Resistance at the Great Wall. The province fell to the Japanese after the
predictable victory therefore areas to the west of Beijing fell to the
In 1933, Japan annexed Rehe using the security of Manzhouguo as a
pretext. Consequently all areas north of the Great Wall and hence north of
Beijing fell to Japan. Ho Yinqin (何應欽) and Umezu Yoshijiro (1888-1949)
(梅津美治郎) signed an agreement on June 9, 1935, known as the Ho-Umezu Agreement
recognizing Japanese occupations in Hebei and Chahar. Later that year, Japan
established yet another puppet government, East Ji Anti-Communist Autonomous
Administration (冀東防共自治政府 abbreviated as East Ji Autonomous Government
冀東自治政府). Later that year, As a result at the start of 1937, areas occupied
by Japanese surrounded Beijing at north, west and east.
Japanese installations of various puppet governments were deliberate
attempts to annex whole country of China by nibbling. The puppet government
at Nanjing with Wang Jingwei as head was another obvious example.
Geography around the bridge and Beijing
Lugou Bridge (蘆溝橋 lugouqiao) locates in Fengtai (豐台 feng1 tai2), a suburb
area south of Beijing. It is also known as the Marco Polo Bridge because the
bridge was believed to be described in the works of Marco Polo.) "Lugouqiao"
(蘆溝橋 lu2 gou1 qiao2) literally means "Reed-gutter Bridge".
4 strategic posts secured Beijing from outside the city.
- East of the city: Tongzhou Town (通州鎮)
- Northwest: Nankou Town (南口鎮) at Changping Prefecture (昌平縣xian)
- South: Fengtai Town (豐台鎮)
- Southwest: Lugou Bridge at Wanping Prefecture (宛平縣) where Wanping Town
(宛平鎮) was located. The bridge was the choke point of Pinghan Railway
(Beijing-Wuhan Railway) and guarded the only passage leading Beijing to
KMT-controlled area from the south. Nanwan Town (南宛鎮) located between
Wanping town and Beijing.
Before the start of the battle, all the first 3 posts were under Japanese
control except the southwest. The west end of the bridge was controlled by
the Japanese as the east by KMT. If the bridge fell, the city will be
completely cut off and easily captured.
China: At this time of the war, the Chinese armies (KMT and CCP) were
mostly infantry equipped with rifles, spears and sabers. Some soldiers were
recruited from peasants and local gangsters, thus well under trained and
equipped compared to the Japanese Imperial Army. Outnumbering the enemy and
exploiting the battlefield landscape to their advantages had been their only
ways to defeat the enemy.
Japan: Subduing the cities guaranteed the fall of the north of Huang He
portion of the North China Plain since the Japanese mechanized divisions
were formidable against the Chinese armies which had virtually no aircrafts
and any anti-tank weaponry.
People and divisions involved
- The 29th Army, composed mostly of Feng Yuxiang's forces and infantry,
secured the cities of Beijing and Tianjin and the Hebei Province.
- KMT forces Personal Names [abbreviations hereafter] Military Post(s)
- General Song Zheyuan [Song] Commander of 29th Army Chairman of the
Hebei Legislative Committee (same as a provincial parliament), Head of the
Beijing Securities (similar to police)
- General Qin Dechun (秦德純 qin2 de2 chun2) [Qin] Vice Commander of 29th
Army Mayor of Beijing
- General Liu Ruming (劉汝明 liu2 ru3 ming2) [Liu] Commander of 143th
Division Chairman of Chahar Province
- General Feng Zhian (馮治安 feng2 zhi4 an1) [Feng] Commander of 37th
Division Chairman of Hebei Province
- General Zhao Dengru (趙登汝 zhao4 deng1 ru3) [Zhao] Commander of 132th
- General Zhang Zizhong (張自忠 zhang1 zi4 zhong1) [Zhang] commander of
38th Division Mayor of Tianjin
- Colonel Ji Xingwen (吉星文 ji2 xing1 wen2) [Ji] commander of 219th
regiment, under 110th brigade of 37th Division N/A
- The Japanese Guandong Army at the region was a combination of
infantry, tanks, mechanized forces, artilleries and cavalries.
Japanese Forces Personal Names [abbreviations hereafter] Military Post(s)
Composition of the corresponding units
- Matsui Taisa = Colonel Matsui (松(matsu) 井(i) 大(tai) 佐(sa)) [Matsui]
commander of 117th? Battalion of Guandong Army and troops around Beijing
and Tianjin Infantry
- ? Taii = Captain ? [?] commander of 221th? Mechanized Squadron some
tanks and mostly armoured vehicles
- ? Taii [?] commander of 3(7?)th Battery Artillery with few infantry
- ? Taii [?] commander of 6(8?)th Squadron Cavalry
- KMT forces Units Locations of headquarters Strength in number of
soldiers Deployments or Duties
- 29th Army Beijing around 10000 Hebei Province
- 143th Division Beijing just below 3000 Beijing
- 37th Division Beijing just below 3000 south of Beijing
- 132th Division Beijing several thousands between Beijing and Tianjin
- 38th Division Tianjin several thousands Tianjin
- 219th regiment, under 110th brigade of 37th Division Wanping Town
around 400 of the 3000 deployed right in front of the Japanese for
security of the bridge
- Japanese Forces Units Locations of headquarters Strength in number of
soldiers Deployments or Duties
- 117th? Battalion ? around 400 west of Lugou bridge
- 221th? Mechanized Squadron same as 117th around 400 West of Lugou
- 3(7?)th Battery Nankou Town around 400 Nankou Town
- 6(8?)th Squadron Tongzhou Town around 400 Tongzhou Town
- KMT forces
- same as Phase I except 132th was moved to garrison Nanwan Town that is
between Wanping Town and Beijing.
- Japanese Forces
- 3(2?)th Division of Guandong Army from Chahar Province and 15(9?)th
Division from Manchuria and troops from Phase I were all commanded by
General Hashimoto (橋本大将). Strength of Japanese Army sharply increased from
around 1000 to around 3000. 34th(?) Army of Guandong army was on its way
from Manchuria and Korea.
Beginning late June 1937, the Japanese army (several hundreds) deployed
at the west end of the bridge was practising while Kuomintang forces,
garrisoned in Wanping Town, watched closely. At dawn of July 7, the Japanese
army telegraphed the KMT forces saying that a soldier was missing and
believed to be hiding inside the town. The Japanese demanded that its army
should enter the town to search for the missing soldier, who was later found
unharmed. There are some disputes among historians over the incident with
some historians believing that this was an unintentional accident while
others believing that the entire incident was fabricated by the Kwantung
Army in order to provide a pretext for the invasion of central China.
Colonel Ji denied the request backed by his superior, General Song. In
the evening of July 7, Matsui gave Ji an ultimatum that KMT troops must let
Japanese troops enter the town within the next hour or the town will be
fired. THe Japanese artillery had already aimed at the town when the
ultimatum was sent. At midnight July 8, Japanese artillery units started
bombarding the town while the infantry with tanks matched across the bridge
at dawn. With order from Song, Ji led the KMT forces of about 1000 to defend
at all cost. The Japanese army partially overran the bridge and vicinity in
the afternoon. KMT forces, after reinforcement from nearby units,
outnumbered the Japanese and retook it completely next day. Japanese army
then halted the attack and offered negotiation, marking the end of Phase I.
Nevertheless Japanese army still concentrated at the west end of the bridge.
During the meeting of all senior KMT officers of the 24th Army in Beijing
on July 12, Qin insisted that KMT forces must remain defending and resisted
any temptation of negotiating with the Japanese whom he did not trust. Zhang
in turn argued the incident on July 7 could still be settled by negotiation.
Song then sent Zhang as KMT representative to Tianjin to meet General
Hashimoto, the commander of all Japanese forces around the cities of Beijing
and Tianjin and in Chahar and Rehe Provinces.
At the beginning Hashimoto told Zhang that the Japanese hoped the
incident on July 7 to be settled peacefully. Zhang was encouraged by his
friendly gesture and telegraphed Song that any increased Kuomintang (KMT)
forces concentration around Beijing would be viewed as an escalation and
angered the Japanese. However Song thought Hashimoto was only buying time
since he received various reconnaissance reports indicating increasing
accumulation of Japanese forces from Manchuria and Korea around Beijing. As
the recent Chinese victory relied on outnumbering the opponent, he
transferred Zhao's 132th accompanied by Qin to station at Nanwan Town which
was between the bridge and Beijing to keep up the pressure from
concentration of Japanese forces. Similar to most KMT and Communist Party of
China (CPC), 29th Army was under equipped with only rifles and just enough
mortars and heavy machine guns with respect to better armed, trained and
commanded Japanese troops whose tanks the Chinese armies still did not have
any weapon capable of destroying them.
On July 31(?) (end of the month), Japanese promised not to invade Beijing
and Tianjin upon agreement of all following terms:
- KMT must wipe out all anti-Japanese organizations and halt all
anti-Japanese activities inside the cities.
- KMT must take all responsibilities of the incident on July 7.
- Song, not any other inferior personnel of 29th Army, must apologize.
Zhang accepted the first term and the commander of the battalion under
Ji's command will be relieved as an agreement to the second. However Zhang
told Hashimoto that he could not decide on behalf of Song, thus cannot agree
on the third term at the time. He then returned to Beijing. Hashimoto also
hinted that the Japanese would prefer Zhang as the commander of KMT troops
around the city. As soon as Zhang's departure, the Japanese launched
full-scale attack on Beijing.
On August 10(?), three days after Zhang heading for the city, the bridge
and Wanping Town fell to the Japanese. Nanwan Town fell on next day with
both divisions (37th and 132th) shattered. Zhao was mortally wounded on
battlefield and Qin retreated with the remnants back to the city. In the
evening after the fall of Nanwan Town, Zhang finally arrived (As he had to
pass through enemy lines to reach the city.). Several days after, Song
relieved himself of all non-military posts and appointed Zhang to take his
posts and Mayor of Beijing. Qin and Song then led 29th Army out of the city,
which was going to be encircled within hours and left Zhang with virtually
no troops. Japanese armies enter the city on August 18 without much
resistance and installed Zhang as mayor. However Zhang felt he was betrayed
and left the city secretly a week later.
With the fall of Beijing on August 18 and Tianjin on 21st, the North
China Plain was helpless against Japanese mechanized divisions who occupied
it by the end of the year. Chinese armies (KMT and CPC) were on constant
retreat until the hard fought Chinese victory at Tai er zhuang.
There are some disputes among historians over KMT handling of Japanese
troops approaching Beijing with some historians believing that Zhang and
Song intentionally cooperate secretly with Zhang appointment of non-military
posts in Beijing. Song and Qin can then safely retreat from the city to
retain the fighting ability of 29th Army. Others believed that the Japanese
completely sold Zhang out as the Japanese still invaded the cities even
though KMG agreed all terms. Zhang was vilified relentlessly by the Chinese
media, some of which (like the Shanghai media) reviled him as the traitor of
the country. Upon arrival at Nanjing he apologized publicly. Since he later
died fighting against the Japanese, KMT pardoned Zhang's activities in