After its unprecedented victory in the Russo-Japanese War, Japan became the dominant power in the eastern region of China¹. To protect their own interests in the country, Japan monitored the Chinese government closely throughout the early 1900s. After the Qing Dynasty in China was overthrown, a power vacuum was left in the country as warlords divided territories and jockeyed for power². Those with strong anti-Japanese sentiments were assassinated, while those that appeared weak (and so vulnerable to influence) were supported, such as Zhang Xueliang, the son of an eliminated warlord³. As the Japanese slowly extended control, such as by increasing military presence and laying railroads, nationalist sentiment increased in China. Militaristic Japan feared the unification of China, which would threaten Japanese presence in the area⁴. Zhang, however, proved to actually be a nationalist, allied with the Nationalist Party leader Chiang Kaishek, and executed pro-Japanese leaders. Japan, however, was loathe to lose Manchuria, as it was strategically advantageous against Russia and rich in natural resources⁵.
Zhang Xueliang, from
Chiang Kai-shek, from

The Incident
The nationalistic Kwantung Army of Japan, of unit of the Imperial Japanese Army that had begun operating separately from the Japanese government, was pushing for war. Despite increasing provocations, Chinese leader Zhang Xueliang continuously instructed his forces to exercise tolerance and avoid war⁶.

On the evening of September 18, 1931, there occurred an explosion on the Japanese owned branch of the South Manchurian Railroad⁷. It caused only minor damage - the railway was operating regularly once more within twenty minutes - but the Japanese, calling it sabotage, used the incident as an excuse to invade as they had long been desiring to do. Japanese railroad security personnel teamed with Japanese soldiers dispatched from Korea to swiftly invaded Manchurian, first bombarding a nearby Chinese military cite with cannons, then taking Mukden and Changchun, and then all of Jilin by September 21⁸. They met little resistance, and Chaing Kai-shek could do little to help from his region of Nanking, though a boycott was instated against the Japanese forces. The total Chinese casualties from the attacks were around 800. Within a week, the Japanese army occupied 30 Chinese cities⁹. The precision and quickness of the attack indicated the invasion was not a random response. Indeed, the bombing of the Japanese railway had been staged by the Japanese army to create a reason to invade.

On September 22, 1931, the United States Minister to China reported to Secretary of State Stimson that the Japanese had committed a deliberate act of aggression that should be considered war. Stimson, in turn, reported to the League of Nations and urged that they act in response to the blatant defiance of the Kellogg-Briand Act, which had in essence outlawed war. The League took its time deliberating¹⁰.


¹ "Manchurian Incident." Highbeam Researcher Inc., 2008. Web. 1
Jan. 2010. <
² Chen, C. Peter. "Mukden Incident and Manchukuo." World War II Database. N.p.,
n.d. Web. 1 Jan. 2010. <
³ Ibid.
⁵ Chen
⁶ Xiang, Ah. "Manchurian Incident." Ugly Chinese. N.p., 17 June 2007. Web. 1 Jan.
2010. <>.
⁷ "Mukden Incident." US History. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Jan. 2010.
⁸ Ibid.
⁹ Xiang
¹⁰ Ferraro, Vincent. "Japanese Conquest of Manchuria 1931-1932." Mt.
Holyoke, n.d. Web. 1 Jan. 2010. <