The January 28 Incident

May 22 2013

This was a pre-echo of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45). The Imperial Japanese Navy bombed Shanghai on January 28 1932, ostensibly to crush Chinese student protests against the occupation of Manchuria in the previous year. The Chinese fought back. The two sides fought to a standstill. The League of Nations brokered a ceasefire in May.

After twenty years devoted to preliminary domestic exercises in civil wars, the Chinese peasant-soldier had won his spurs in his stubborn defence of an area in Greater Shanghai against a Japanese assault from the 28th January to the 3rd March 1932. [Footnote: See Toynbee, A. J., and Boulter, V. M.: Survey of International Affairs, 1932 (London 1933, Milford), pp. 480-95.] In psychology as well as in strategy this campaign had been reminiscent of the Russo-Turkish wars of A.D. 1828-9 and A.D. 1877-8, and it had been prophetic of China’s ultimate victory over Japan in a defensive war on a sub-continental scale that was to drag on from A.D. 1937 to A.D. 1945. At Shanghai in A.D. 1932, as in the Balkans in the nineteenth century, the moral victory had been won by the belligerent [Japan] who had managed by sheer endurance to postpone the hour of a defeat which he knew to be ultimately inevitable owing to the odds being overwhelmingly in his antagonist’s favour, while this ultimate victor [China] had been humiliated by having to take so long, and pay so high, to overcome the resistance of an antagonist who was notoriously not his match.

Not his match in the long run or in numbers, but in 1932 surely more than his match in everything else. The Chinese barely had an air force. An American army reservist and pilot, US Reserve Lt Robert McCawley Short, was in Shanghai to demonstrate a Boeing fighter biplane to the Chinese and decided to show it in action. He shot down an IJN aircraft on February 19. On February 22 he downed another and was shot down himself and killed. He was posthumously raised to the rank of colonel in the Republic of China Air Force.

Lt Robert McCawley Short

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

2 Responses to “The January 28 Incident”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Salesman or hero?

  2. davidderrick Says:

    Moral dustbowl was the phrase the came into my mind today after the Woolwich machete killing. But of course, it has been used before.


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