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On This Day: Thousands Die in Shelter During Japanese Bombing of Chongqing

Written By Haley A. Lovett
Last updated: February 13, 2023

On June 5, 1941, a bombing in China’s former capital sent thousands of residents fleeing to a bomb shelter, where they suffocated. The Chongqing massacre and other Japanese attacks would sour Sino-Japanese relations for decades.

Japanese Bombing of Chongqing Lasts Five Years

At the start of the second Sino-Japanese War in 1938, the Japanese began bombing China’s new capital city of Chongqing (Chungking). During the five-year campaign, the Japanese killed an estimated 11,889 people, wounded 14,100 and destroyed 17,608 buildings, according to the Chongqing Municipal Government.

Chongqing had grown four times its pre-war size after becoming the new capital of China in 1938, but when the bombing began, many of the nearly 1 million citizens, unable to defend themselves, were forced into hiding as the only refuge from constant Japanese bombardment.

One of the worst bombings came on June 5, 1941, and lasted more than three hours. More than 2,500 Chongqing residents fled to shelter in one of the town center’s tunnels, the Jiaochangkou Tunnel. There they suffocated as they waited for the end of the assault.

The Japanese attack on Chongqing came three years after the massacre at Nanjing. Events like the “Rape of Nanjing” and the bombing of Chongqing set the stage for Japanese brutality and dominance over China, and caused decades of Sino-Japanese hostility.

Background: The Sino-Japanese Wars; Rape of Nanjing

Sources in this Story

  • Chongqing Municipal Government: Chongqing commemorates 66th anniversary of tunnel massacre
  • Encyclopedia Britannica: Chongqing (China): The modern period
  • People’s Daily: Air-raid Siren Sounded to Commemorate Victims of Japanese Bombing
  • The BBC: China & Japan: History
  • The BBC: Nanjing remembers massacre victims
  • The Japan Times: Japan to be sued over bombings of Chongqing

The BBC provides a short history of the tensions between China and Japan. The two nations have been clashing since the 1894 Sino-Japanese war when Japan’s unexpected victory began a long trend of militarism and domination over neighboring Asian countries.

In 1931, in the midst of an ailing economy, Japan invaded China’s Manchuria for control over natural resources and commerce routes. Japan saw the invasion of Manchuria as a way to jump-start its economy and increase its greatness as a nation. By the end of 1931 Japan had taken over Manchuria and began its conquest of China.

The Japanese violence peaked in 1937-38. While taking control of the city of Nanjing, Japanese soldiers raped, looted and killed tens of thousands of civilians. The “rape of Nanjing” is still believed to be one of history’s greatest human rights violations.

Following the defeat of Japan by allied forces in World War II, the Chinese and Japanese did not “normalize” relations until 1972.

In 2008, a meeting between China’s and Japan’s presidents was a milestone event as both countries attempt to move past hostility that has existed for over 100 years.

Later Developments: Victims Sue Japan

In March 2006, an estimated 40 survivors and relatives of victims of the bombings of Chongqing filed a lawsuit against Japan, demanding 10 million yen. Keiichiro Inchinose, the case lawyer, said, “The suit is significant in that it questions the legality of the Chongqing bombings.” In 1911 Japan had signed the Hague Convention, which prohibits attacks on unarmed cities.

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