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9.18 Mukden Incident – What Is It and Where Can I Learn More?

The 18th of September is an important date in the Chinese calendar. It is the day, when, in 1931, the Japanese Army attacked and occupied the city of Shenyang (called Mukden at the time) and started their invasion of Northeastern China. The Japanese claimed this strike was in retaliation to a terrorist act attacking a railway line of the Japanese South Manchurian Railway near the town. In reality, it was a Japanese lieutenant who detonated some dynamite, which actually failed to destroy the railway track at all.

Mukden insident - railway sabotage in China

But the Imperial Japanese Army said Chinese dissidents were the culprits and used this incident as a pretext to invade China’s Northeast and occupy Manchuria. A report from 1932 looking into the incident concluded that Japan tried to deceive the public with their account, which lead to the diplomatic isolation of the Japanese Empire and its withdrawal from the League of Nations.

Historical Background

For those less familiar with Chinese history of the mid-19th to mid-20th century, let me give you a (very, very brief) overview of the situation at the time. The Opium Wars (1839–1842 and 1856-1860) had weakened the Qing empire so much that China was forced to start trading with foreign countries and make territorial concessions to them. This trend continued when China lost the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895, called the War of Jiawu in China) and had to give up further territories and rights after the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), which was fought over who would get more influence over Northeast China – Russia or Japan.

Mukden incident - russo-japanese war

When Japan won the Russo-Japanese War, they received territorial rights, amongst which was the right to operate the South Manchurian Railway. It was there that the explosion was staged, to make it look like Chinese dissidents had committed an act of terror against Japanese troops. And it was that incident that would provide the pretext for Japan to invade all of China’s Northeast.

9.18 Today

In China, the Japanese invasion of China’s Northeast, the war crimes by the Japanese army, and the establishment of the puppet state Manchukuo are still very much present for the entire nation. The Nanjing Massacre for instance is remembered every year in the entire country, with cultural events, plays, books, operas, etc.

And Shenyang, where it all started, has had its very own ritual of remembering the Japanese invasion in general and the 9.18 Mukden Incident in particular. Since 1994, every year on September 18th, at exactly 9:18 am, the civil defense sirens of the entire city of Shenyang sound for a full three minutes, with a high, even tone. This is the sound that signifies the post-raid warning, i.e. the one used when an air raid is over or a wartime situation has cooled down.

The 9.18 Mukden Incident Museum

Mukden incident museum in Shenyang China

If you would like to know more about this interesting bit of Chinese and Shenyang history, there is an entire museum dedicated to the 9.18 Mukden Incident (九·十八历史博物馆 in Chinese, jiǔ·shíbā lìshǐ bówùguǎnin pinyin). It is located in Dadong District, at 46, Wanghua South Street (望花南街46号 in Chinese, wànghuānán jiē 46 hào in pinyin). Unfortunately, all explanations in the museum are in Chinese only, so if you don’t read Chinese well, a visit without local support might be difficult.

If you like the article about this museum, maybe you would also be interested in reading about the Liaoning Provincial Museum?

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