The Marco Polo Bridge Incident took place on July 7, 1937; historians predominantly consider the incident to be the start of the Second Sino-Japanese war, which lasted until 1945. The Incident took place at the Marco Polo Bridge – a stone bridge that extends across the Yongding River in Beijing’s Fengtai district.
Before the Incident took place, the tension between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan were on the verge of a breaking point after Japan invaded Manchuria – a region in Northeast China. Since the invasion and occupation of Manchuria, Japan began expanding further into China to obtain natural resources, thereby creating a wave of anti-Japanese sentiments to spread throughout China. Japan’s continual expansion through China created small incidents between the two powers; however, the tension and the incidents would not reach their ultimate boiling point until the Marco Polo Bridge Incident.
On the night of July 7, acting on information that a missing soldier was in the Chinese town of Wanping, a small Japanese unit demanded to enter the town to search for the soldier. The Chinese refused them entry, thus the Japanese surrounded the town and attempted to breach the walls of Wanping. Unable to enter the town, the Japanese issued the Chinese an ultimatum: let the Japanese enter the town peacefully to search for their soldier, or face military retaliation from the Japanese forces. Bolstered by the anti-Japanese sentiments, the Chinese refused the Japanese entry and General Feng Zhian was ordered by the acting commander to place his troops on high alert.
Early in the morning of July 8, reinforcements arrived for both sides of the conflict. The Japanese approached the Marco Polo Bridge and were fired upon by the Chinese forces. Despite the Japanese forces surrounding the town of Wanping and being unable to breach the walls, neither the Japanese or the Chinese were willing to concede. Rather than conceding, the Chinese fired at the Japanese thereby marking the beginning of the Sino-Japanese war.
The Incident escalated further as Colonel Ji Xingwen ordered his 100 troops to hold the Marco Polo Bridge at all cost. Reinforcements enabled the Chinese to hold the bridge despite them losing significant loss to their troops.
As the Incident violently escalated at the Marco Polo Bridge, negotiations between the Japanese Foreign Services and Chinese Nationalist Government were taking place in Beijing. The two sides verbally agreed that the Chinese would formally apologize to the Japanese, and those responsible for creating the Incident would be punished. In addition, Wanping would be turned over to the Hopei Chinese civilian constabulary that would work to control the communists and social unrest in the area more effectively than the military. Though a formal agreement was reached between the two sides, Japanese Garrison Infantry Brigade commander General Masakazu Kawabe continued to fire shells at Wanping until his superiors forced to cease his actions and ordered Kawabe to move his forces northeast.
The Incident at Marco Polo Bridge proved to be different from other relatively minor conflicts between China and Japan because of any attempt to quell the conflict ultimately failed. Retaliating against additional Chinese attacks, Kawabe ordered more shells to be fired upon Wanping on July 9. In addition, after launching an attack on the Japanese General Sung of the Chinese forces was defeated and was forced to retreat across the Yongding River on July 28.
Tensions from the Incident at Marco Polo Bridge ultimately led to a full-scale war between China and Japan as conflict spread into central China. Japan initially was set on a quick resolution to the war; however, they would not be granted a quick victory as the Sino-Japanese war would become part of the fabric of World War II (1939-1945).