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The Assassination of Chang Tso-lin

  • Paul S. Dull (a1)

Japanese complicity in the death of Marshal Chang Tso-lin on June 4, 1928, by an explosion under his railway car on the Peiplng-Mukden Railway, has long been taken for granted. In the absence of a full explanation of what happened near Mukden as well as what happened, in consequence, in political circles in Japan, myth and conjecture have obscured the real significance of the episode. An examination of the record makes it possible to show that it was not another manifestation of the positive policy of the Tanaka cabinet but that it was the first successful test of strength between the radical wing centered in young officers in the Kwantung Army, with civilian sympathizers in Japan, and the more responsible elements of the Japanese government, both civilian and military. Strong disciplinary action by the latter group at this point, perhaps, could have checked a chain of events that eventually led to the ascendency to power of the radical faction and the realization of some of its foreign and domestic programs. The failure to punish by established disciplinary procedures may well have been a fateful decision in Japanese history.

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l See League of Nations, Appeal by the Chinese Government, Report of the Commission of Enquiry (hereafter cited as Lytton Report), (Geneva, 1932), 29.

2 ”Affidavit of Okada Keisuke,” International Military Tribunal for the Far East, Proceedings (hereafter cited as IMTFE), July 2, 1946, 1818. (Mimeographed.) Admiral Okada was Navy Minister in the Tanaka cabinet and later headed his own cabinet, 1934–36.

3 Ibid., 1816–17; “Affidavit of Morishima Morito,” IMTFE, August 1, 1946, 3014–15. Morishima was first assistant to Consul Hayashi at Mukden, September, 1928 to December, 1932.

4 Mori, Shō;zō;, Sempŭ Nijŭnen (Twenty Turbulent Years), (Tō;kyō;, 1945), 14. Mori, director of the Mainichi Shimbun Sha, had long experience as a journalist, specializing in Russian and Manchurian affairs. See also Lytton Report, 29–30.

5 Ibid., IMTFE, July 2, 1946, 1817.

6 The text of the Japanese government's note of May 18, 1928, presented to Chang Tso-lin by Ambassador Yoshizawa and to the Nanking government by the Japanese Consul-General at Shanghai, Mr. Yada, and the reply of both governments is in Mori, 14–18.

7 The first character of this man's name can also be read Kō;. Consequently, in English renditions of the surname, both Kawamoto and Kō;moto are to be found. Kawamoto has been used in this paper because it was used by General Tanaka Ryukichi under examination by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. General Tanaka knew Kawamoto personally and it is presumed that he, therefore, knew what Kawamoto called himself. See IMTFE, July 5, 1946, 1953. An examination of the trial records supports the conjecture that the tribunal regarded Kawamoto and Kō;moto as two people.

8 Takamiya, Taihei, Gunkoku Taihei Ki (Record of the Great Peace of a Militant Nation), (Tō;kyō;, 1951), 47.

9 IMTFE, July 5, 1946, 1953.

10 Ibid, 1951.

11 Takamiya, loc. cit.

13 See “Affidavit of Shimizu Konosuke” and “Affidavit of Tokugawa Yoshichika,” IMTFE, June 26, 1946. 1402–05, 1441–43.

14 Mori, 15.

15 Mori states that a large crowd was gathered at the Mukden station to meet Chang but that generally among the railway guards unaware of the plot it was thought that his train had already passed. Ibid., 11, 16.

16 The above details are as given by the Japanese War Ministry announcement of June 12 as cited in Mori, 14–15 and Takamiya, 44–46. According to Morishima Morito, the announcement was largely incorrect as it concerned the story of the three Chinese. The affair of the three Chinese was apparently a bungling attempt on the part of the plotters to draw suspicion away from the Kwantung Army. In the end, it accomplished the opposite. It appears that, on the night of June 3, some Kwantung Army personnel seized three Chinese beggars who had been using narcotics and brought them to the house of Adachi Ryusei, a ronin living in the South Manchuria Railway Zone in Mukden. From there, they were taken to a Japanese operated bath house, cleaned up and given new clothes. They were then taken to the place the explosion was to occur. Two of them were bayoneted but the third escaped, taking his story to Chang Hsueh-liang. The clothing of the dead Chinese, of course, contained incriminating evidence. Morishima Morito, “Chang Tso-lin, Yang Yü-t'ing no Ansatsu” (The Assassinations of Chang Tso-lin and Yang Yü-t'ing), Sekai, No. 45 (September, 1949), 42.

17 The joint Sino-Japanese investigation committee stated forty, Mori, 15. Mori says in his account that there were twenty. Mori, 13.

18 Ibid.; Takamiya, 46.

19 Mori, 13–14. The fact that Chang was standing, at the moment, may have cost him his life. Wu and Giga were seated and survived.

20 Takamiya, 46.

21 In Takamiya, 47, it is given as the 12th Engineer Regiment. General Tanaka Ryukichi, on direct examination, stated that it was the 20th Engineer Regiment. IMTFE, July 5, 1946, 1952. In Japanese 12 and 20 can be easily confused.

22 General Tanaka described it as “square shaped explosives numbering approximately 200, belonging to the artillery (sic) unit.” Ibid., 1955.

23 Morishima, 42.

24 IMTFE, July 5, 1946, 1957. Apparently, both the Commander in Chief and the Chief of Staff of the Kwantung Army were unsympathetic to the plot.

25 IMTFE, July 2, 1946, 1828.

27 Ibid., 1819.

28 The truth of the incident became known to the government at Tōkyō; by curious chance. The owner of the bath house where the Chinese beggars had been brought the night before had, out of curiosity, visited the scene of the explosion. He recognized the dead Chinese as the ones brought earlier to his establishment. He reported this to the Kwantung ploice who were under the control of the Overseas Ministry. The report was relayed to Tō;kyō; and thus became known outside army circles. Morishima, 43.

29 IMTFE, July 2, 1946, 1819, 1829.

30 Harada, Kumao, Saionji-Kō; to Seikyoku (Prince Saionji and the Political Situation), Vol. I, (Tō;kyō;, 1950), 5. The author understands that an English translation, commonly called Saionji-Harada Memoirs, is in existence and that material contained therein cannot be quoted. Material in this paper has been taken from the Japanese edition against which there is no such prohibition.

31 Ibid, 7.

32 IMTFE, July 2, 1946. 1820.

33 Ibid, 1819, 1829.

34 Harada, I, 3.

35 Ibid., 4.

36 Ibid., 4–5.

37 Takamiya, 51.

38 Harada, I, 8; Takamiya, 51–52.

40 Harada, I, 6–7.

41 Ibid, 8.

42 Takeuchi, Tatsuji, War and Diplomacy in the Japanese Empire, (New York, 1935), 275.

43 Mori, 17.

44 The euphemism adopted by newspapers to circumvent censorship against mentiontioning the Chang Tso-lin incident.

45 Mori, 17.

46 Ibid., 18.

47 Takeuchi, 276–77.

48 Ibid., 276.

49 Two of the techniques employed by the army were to act as if the investigation were out of their province and were being undertaken by the Foreign Office, and to glorify, covertly and anonymously, the Japanese who had been responsible as patriots who had acted out of devotion to their country. See Harada, I, 5, 9.

50 Takamiya, 51–52.

51 The “Big Three” were the War Minister, the Chief of the General Staff and the Inspector-General of Military Education.

52 Takeuchi, 278–80.

53 Harada places this as the middle of May. All other evidence indicates that this is an error and that it was the middle of June. See Harada, I, 10. In comparison with the treatment of other incidents, Saionji Kō; to Seikyoku deals poorly with the Chang Tso-lin incident. Harada notes that Saionji erased fifteen pages of his second draft which are unavailable elsewhere. See Harada I, 11, f.n. Of course, the work, while generally an excellent source, must always be read with a view to the bias of placing Saionji in a favorable light.

54 Ibid., 10; Takamiya, 57.

55 Harada, I, 10; Takamiya, 48.

56 Harada, I, 11.

57 Mori, 17.

58 Harada, Kumao, Saionji Kō; to Seikyoku, Vol. II, (Tō;kyō;, 1950), 6768. Takamiya, 81–82. IMTFE, June 26, 1946. 1441–43.

59 Ibid, 1404.

60 Mori, 19.

61 Ibid. 17, 19.

62 IMTFE, July 5, 1946. 1954.

63 Takamiya, 47–48.

64 Harada, I, 9–10.

* Dr. Dull is associate professor of history and political science and coordinator of the Far Eastern studies curriculum at the University of Oregon. This paper is part of a project to which financial assistance has been granted by the graduate school of the University of Oregon.

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