In 1937, A Toilet Break Led to War Between China and Japan

So Kikujiro resorted to nature. That done, he tried to rejoin his unit, but they had moved on. And since it was late at night, it took him a while to find his way back to his base.

Military maneuvers over, the Japanese returned to their camp and made a roll call – which was when they realized that one of them was missing. They dispatched some men to Wanping and demanded entry so they could find their missing man.

The Chinese refused. They had sealed the town’s gates hours before, and the thought of letting a Japanese soldier in past sunset was ridiculous.

But the Japanese were insistent, so the Chinese soldiers offered to conduct their own search. The Japanese refused and threatened to attack if they weren’t allowed in. The Chinese said “no.”

In 2013, Japan’s National Diet Library released their sealed files on the incident. It revealed that as their troops prepared to attack Wanping, a shame-faced Kikujiro finally showed up, apologizing for getting lost.

According to those same files, however, shots were fired – though it still isn’t known where they came from and who the target was. It didn’t matter – the Japanese had the excuse they had been looking for.

A little past midnight, a small Japanese infantry unit tried to breach the city’s walls and were repelled. They then issued an ultimatum, promising a bigger attack unless Wanping opened its gates to them.

Chinese troops pouring out of Wanping's gate in 1937 Image Source:

Chinese troops pouring out of Wanping’s gate in 1937.

Acting Commander Qin Dechun of the Chinese 29th Route Army ordered his men on high alert. The city’s mayor, Wang Lengzhai, was anxious to avoid bloodshed, however. He was given permission to go to the Japanese camp to negotiate – but it did no good.

Chinese reinforcements arrived at 4 AM. Some 45 minutes later, the mayor was returning to his town when he saw the Japanese troops massing. He had barely made it past the gates when the shooting started.

Thus the Second Sino-Japanese War began on July 8th, 1937 at 4:50 AM. Though the fighting ended with a truce two days later, the countdown  had begun.

The Japanese had a new excuse to launch a full-scale invasion of China, plunging it into a hell that only ended in 1945.

Memorial plaque on the south wall of Wanping Castle. The stone drums tell the story of China's resistance against Japanese occupation Image Source: Vmenkov CC BY-SA 3.0

Memorial plaque on the south wall of Wanping Castle. The stone drums tell the story of China’s resistance against Japanese occupation. Photo Credit

Thus the Second Sino-Japanese War began on July 8th, 1937 at 4:50 AM. Though the fighting ended with a truce two days later, the countdown had begun.

The Japanese had a new excuse to launch a full-scale invasion of China, plunging it into a hell that only ended in 1945.