The Consul General at Hankow (Josselyn) to the Chargé in China (Peck)29

No. 593

Sir: As describing the environment in which Americans are living in Kiukiang, a town representative of the many in this district occupied by the Japanese armed forces, I have the honor to submit the following information supplementary to the telegrams sent in mid-February by vice consul John Davies, Jr. from the U. S. S. Oahu at Kiukiang.

General Conditions:

Kiukiang was practically intact city when abandoned by the Chinese in July 1938. It had suffered only slightly from Japanese aerial bombing and Chinese demolition. The first Japanese men-of-war to appear off Kiukiang subjected the town to a senseless and wasteful shelling. That accounted for a certain amount of destruction. With the arrival of Japanese troops and naval landing parties there began the thorough-going vandalism and looting which has continued to the present.

Houses were broken into, articles of value pillaged and other objects smashed. An American resident of Kiukiang stated that the streets of the town, well known for its ceramics, were littered after Japanese occupation with broken china-ware. The loot was shipped down river in vessels which had discharged their cargoes of troops and military supplies. With the advent of autumn, the Japanese began demolishing houses to obtain wood for fires. This destruction was carried on indiscriminately so that in February large sections of the city were badly wrecked.

The native population, with the exception of a few thousand refugees who sought shelter in foreign missions, fled before the approach of the Japanese. Shortly after their arrival, the Japanese sought to evict the refugees and move them to a refugee zone established in the outskirts of the city. The night before the transfer was to be made, it was necessary for the American doctor at the Water of Life Hospital to post five men at the hospital well to prevent women refugees from committing suicide.

The main part of the city was, when visited by Mr. Davies in January and again in February, reserved for the Japanese. The only Chinese to be seen on the streets were a few hawkers with special passes and girls impressed as waitresses in six or eight drab little bars and cafes. Very few Japanese civilians were visible. The fronts of [Page 149] most shops and homes not demolished were broken in and the buildings used as storehouses, garages or stables. Soldiers were seen warming themselves over fires built on the dirt floors of vacant houses and fed by furniture, torn-up floorboards and other structural parts of buildings. There was a heavy traffic of military trucks and staff cars. Sentries were posted at the entrance to billets and at important street corners. On the water front gangs of Chinese coolies under Japanese supervision unloaded military supplies from barges. Oil and other supplies were stacked high along the foreshore.

Relations Between Japanese and Native Population:

An upper middle class Chinese who had assumed an important position in the Japanese-inspired Kiukiang local regime confessed to an American there that he bitterly regretted his association with the puppet government. He said that he had believed that he was aligning himself with a permanent and stabilizing force. Association with the Japanese military and Army Special Service Section, he declared, had disabused him of those beliefs. “How can a dissolute organization like the Japanese army”, he asked, “be expected to hold and govern 400 million people?”

As an example of the experiences of thousands of Chinese in the country-side surrounding Kiukiang, there was described to Mr. Davies by an American the recent history of a village woman who had sought refuge in an American mission. In the autumn this woman lost two nephews, young peasants, who were machine-gunned and killed by Japanese aircraft while crossing a small river by ferry boat. Then her son was taken away as a supply-bearer by a passing detachment of Japanese troops. Sometime later her home was burned by a Japanese punitive expedition. Finally, Japanese soldiers discovered one day the hiding place of her three nieces. Two of the young women succeeded in reaching a nearby pond before being caught, and there committed suicide through drowning. The third was caught but, because she resisted assault, was killed, disemboweled and her entrails strewn on the road.

It is such manifestations of violent lechery and sadism on the part of Japanese soldiery, too often reported from reliable sources throughout the occupied areas of this district to be doubted more than in minor detail, that so dismays and horrifies the average Chinese. The not infrequent cases of several Japanese raping one woman are particularly bestial in Chinese eyes. Their own irregulars and bandits are hated mostly for financial exactions and looting, the Japanese troops mostly for their treatment of Chinese women.

The Japanese gendarmerie have in Kiukiang, as they have in Hankow, exerted themselves to curb the excesses of Japanese troops. The behavior of Japanese soldiers in the city has been therefore somewhat [Page 150] less disorderly than in the country. In conversations with farmers several miles outside of Kiukiang, Mr. Davies was told that Japanese troops calling at a village or farm house appropriated household articles that took their fancy and smashed other objects in sport. Farm products commandeered were sometimes paid for, more often not. Peasants carrying produce to Kiukiang for sale had so often been robbed by Japanese soldiers of either their commodities on the way to market or of their cash on the way home that many of them had abandoned any attempt to market their produce at Kiukiang. Foraging parties calling at farm houses almost invariably demanded young women.

Punitive expeditions to a village suspected of having given aid to guerrillas follow the same saturnalian procedure on the Yangtze as on the Sungari: a certain part of the male population (depending upon the “guilt” of the village) is shot outright, the women are raped and some killed, the houses are burned.

Japanese Military Mentality:

Probably the most common question asked by Americans in this district concerning the new dispensation under which they are living is, “Why are the Japanese so savage in their behavior towards the common Chinese people and so malevolently rude towards us?” An American in Kiukiang asked Mr. Davies, “Why, for example, has the Army Special Service Section told its Chinese employees, as we have naturally learned, that it is permissible to beat a French citizen or even kill him; an American may be beaten but should not be killed?”

An interpretation of the mentality of the Japanese military in China is essential to an understanding of the position of Americans in Kiukiang and other occupied towns. Being without a Japanese service officer, this office is not competent to examine this question in the detail which it deserves. The following brief observations may, however, serve as a thumb-nail sketch of the subject and complement what has been said in preceding paragraphs about the behavior of the Japanese armed forces.

The Japanese military in China obviously have a conviction of divine mission. Primarily, this mission is, of course, the fulfillment of duty to the Emperor and the bringing of glory to the Empire through martial conquest. Secondarily, but of major importance in contributing to a psychological conflict in the military, is the idealistic belief that the mission is also a crusade to liberate the Chinese people from the oppression of their own rulers. Opposition to the crusade is, by Japanese logic, to be expected from the Chinese Government and its armies and grateful gladness from the Chinese people.

To the Japanese soldier the resistance from armed peasants, the flight of most of the population from him and the unmistakable resentment [Page 151] and fear of those whom he does succeed in “liberating” are a shocking rejection of his idealism. The psychological conflict is thereby precipitated, and is certainly not lessened by the continued insistence of official pronouncements on the theme of idealism. What critical faculties he may have been endowed with at birth having atrophied through non-use, the average Japanese soldier is unable to resolve this psychological conflict through revolt or decent cynicism. He benightedly vents the conflict in vengeful action against the people whom he believes have denied his chivalry.

The excessive forms which this vengeance takes need further interpretation. They are perhaps largely explained by the transition of the average Japanese soldier and officer in China from a social system in which the police and family dictated most phases of his behavior to a war situation in which there are no constant social checks. Never having been encouraged to appraise independently moral values, he is in China without apparent moral judgment. This moral infantilism, with all of its ramifications of primitive glorification of the sword fetish and blood-letting, and low regard for human sensibilities, especially in respect of women, accounts in a large measure for the odious reputation of the Japanese army and navy forces in this district.

The Position of Americans:

Again taking Kiukiang as a town representative of those in this district occupied by the Japanese, it may be profitable to examine the position of Americans there. They were surrounded by and at the mercy of men who had not only been taught to despise and hate Americans but who also suffered from delusions of their own divine origin and divine mission, whose urge in dealing with occidentals was to over-compensate a subconscious feeling of inferiority and whose personal life was unfettered by the social control which in Japan once caused them to be regarded as a civilized beings.

The one factor which prevented the Americans in Kiukiang, as elsewhere in occupied territory, from being subjected to a worse fate than the Chinese was Japan’s international policy. Abundant circumstantial evidence suggests that the Japanese armed forces in this district have been held in check in their behavior towards Americans only by strict orders from the Japanese High Command to avoid incidents which might lead to complications in American-Japanese relations. Americans have indicated their anxiety lest, in an international crisis, these orders be rescinded.

In conclusion, it may be said that conditions in the smaller cities and towns of this district and the position of Americans in them can be fully appreciated only through first-hand observation. This office has, of course, since Japanese invasion of this district regularly received reports from trustworthy sources on the situation in the outlying [Page 152] areas occupied by the Japanese armed forces. They have been accepted with a certain degree of reserve because, being confined by Japanese restrictions to the intact and more or less orderly sections of Hankow, the staff of this Consulate General has not had an opportunity personally to observe the environment in which Americans outside of Hankow are living.

There are enclosed, as setting forth in further detail the position of Americans in Kiukiang, copies of the communications sent and received by Mr. Davies while at Kiukiang.30

Respectfully yours,

P. R. Josselyn
  1. Copy transmitted to the Department by the Consul General at Hankow in his covering despatch No. 571, March 9; received April 26.
  2. None printed.