Marco Polo Bridge Incident

From Academic Kids

The Marco Polo Bridge Incident was a battle between Japan's Imperial Army and China's National Revolutionary Army, marking the beginning of the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). The marble bridge itself (Lugouqiao) is a great work of eleven arches, restored by the Kangxi Emperor (1662-1722).



The battle goes by different names.

  • In the West
    • The Marco Polo Bridge Incident
    • Battle of Lugou Bridge
  • In China
    • Incident of July 7 (七七事變 pinyin: qi1 qi1 shi4 bian4)
    • Lugouqiao Incident (蘆溝橋事變 lu2 gou1 qiao2 shi4 bian4)
    • July 7 Lugouqiao (七七蘆溝橋 qi1 qi1 lu2 gou1 qiao2)
  • In Japan:
    • Roko Bridge Matter (盧溝橋事件 Rokokyo-jiken')
    • Roko Bridge Incident (盧溝橋事変 Rokokyo-jihen')


Japan had occupied Manchuria in 1931 and had created an nominally independent state of Manchukuo with Henry Puyi, the last monarch of the Qing Dynasty, as its sovereign. That state is widely regarded to have been a puppet government with real power concentrated in the hands of the Japanese, which constituted the only significant military forces in Manchuria. Although the Kuomintang and the international community refused to recognize the legality of the Japanese occupation, a truce had been negotiated in 1931.

At the end of 1932, the Japanese Guandong Army invaded Chahar Province. The Kuomintang's 29th Army, led by General Song Zheyuan and armed only with spears and obsolete rifles, resisted the attack, resulting in the War of Resistance at the Great Wall. The province fell to the Japanese after their predictable victory, therefore areas to the west of Beijing were under Japanese control.

In 1933, Japan annexed Rehe using the security of Manzhouguo as a pretext. Consequently all areas north of the Great Wall and hence north of Beijing fell to Japan. He Yinqin (何應欽) and Umezu Yoshijiro (1888-1949) (梅津美治郎) signed an agreement on June 9 1935, known as the He-Umezu Agreement recognizing Japanese occupation of Hebei and Chahar. Later that year, Japan established yet another puppet government, the East Ji Anti-Communist Autonomous Administration (冀東防共自治政府 abbreviated as East Ji Autonomous Government 冀東自治政府). As a result, at the start of 1937 areas occupied by Japanese surrounded Beijing at north, west and east.

Japanese installations of various puppet governments were deliberate attempts to annex the whole of China by nibbling. The puppet government at Nanjing with Wang Jingwei as head was another obvious example.


Lugou Bridge (蘆溝橋 lugouqiao) is located in Fengtai (豐台 feng1 tai2), a suburb south of Beijing. It is also known as the Marco Polo Bridge because the bridge was believed to be described in the works of Marco Polo. Lugouqia (蘆溝橋 lu2 gou1 qiao2) literally means "Reed-gutter Bridge".

Four strategic posts secured Beijing from the outside:

  • To the East : Tongzhou Town (通州鎮)
  • To the Northwest : Nankou Town (南口鎮) at Changping Prefecture (昌平縣xian)
  • To the South : Fengtai Town (豐台鎮)
  • To the Southwest : Lugou Bridge at Wanping Prefecture (宛平縣) where Wanping Town (宛平鎮) was located.

The Lugou Bridge was the choke point of the Pinghan Railway (Beijing-Wuhan), and guarded the only passage leading Beijing to KMT-controlled area from the south. Nanwan Town (南宛鎮) is located between Wanping town and Beijing.

At the start of the battle, the Japanese controlled the East, Northwest and South posts as well as the west end of the Lugou Bridge. The KMT held the east end of the bridge. If the bridge fell, Beijing would be completely cut off and easily captured.

Strategic appraisal

China: At the time of the war, the Chinese armies (KMT and CCP) were mostly infantry equipped with rifles, spears and sabers. Some soldiers were recruited from peasants and local gangsters, thus undertrained and underequipped compared to the Japanese Imperial Army. Outnumbering the enemy and exploiting the battlefield landscape to their advantages had been their only ways to defeat the Japanese.

Japan: Subduing the cities guaranteed the fall of the north of the Huang He portion of the North China Plain, since the Japanese mechanized divisions were formidable against the Chinese armies, which had virtually no aircraft or any anti-tank weaponry.

People and divisions involved

China (KMT)

The 29th Army, composed mostly of Feng Yuxiang's forces and infantry, secured the cities of Beijing and Tianjin and Hebei Province.

KMT Forces
Military Post(s) Non-Military Post(s)
General Song Zheyuan
Commander of 29th Army Chairman of the Hebei Legislative Committee (a provincial parliament)
Head of the Beijing Securities (similar to police)
General Qin Dechun
(秦德純 qin2 de2 chun2)
Vice-Commander of 29th Army Mayor of Beijing
General Liu Ruming
(劉汝明 liu2 ru3 ming2)
Commander of the 143rd Division Chairman of Chahar Province
General Feng Zhian
(馮治安 feng2 zhi4 an1)
Commander of the 37th Division Chairman of Hebei Province
General Zhao Dengru
(趙登汝 zhao4 deng1 ru3)
Commander of the 132nd Division N/A
General Zhang Zizhong
(張自忠 zhang1 zi4 zhong1)
Commander of the 38th Division Mayor of Tianjin
Colonel Ji Xingwen
(吉星文 ji2 xing1 wen2)
Commander of the 219th Regiment, under the 110th Brigade of the 37th Division N/A


The Japanese Guandong Army at the region was a combination of infantry, tanks, mechanized forces, artillery and cavalry.

Japanese Forces
Name (abbreviation hereafter) Military Post(s) Composition of the corresponding units
Matsui Taisa = Colonel Matsui (松(matsu) 井(i) 大(tai) 佐(sa)) (Matsui) Commander of the 117th (?) Battalion of the Guandong Army and troops around Beijing and Tianjin Infantry
Taii = Captain (?) Commander of the 221st (?) Mechanized Squadron Some tanks and mostly armoured vehicles
Taii (?) Commander of the 3rd (7th?) Battery Artillery with few infantry
Taii (?) Commander of the 6th (8th?) Squadron Cavalry


Phase I

KMT Forces
Unit Location of Headquarters Strength in Number of Soldiers Deployment or Duties
29th Army Beijing around 10000 Hebei Province
143rd Division Beijing just below 3000 Beijing
37th Division Beijing just below 3000 south of Beijing
132nd Division Beijing several thousands between Beijing and Tianjin
38th Division Tianjin several thousands Tianjin
219th Regiment, under the 110th Brigade of the 37th Division Wanping Town around 400 of the 3000 deployed right in front of the Japanese for security of the bridge
Japanese Forces
Unit Location of Headquarters Strength in Number of Soldiers Deployment or Duties
117th (?) Battalion ? around 400 west of Marco Polo Bridge
221st (?) Mechanized Squadron same as 117th around 400 West of Marco Polo Bridge
3rd (7th?) Battery Nankou Town around 400 Nankou Town
6th (8th?) Squadron Tongzhou Town around 400 Tongzhou Town

Phase II

KMT Forces
Same as Phase I except 132nd was moved to garrison Nanwan Town which is between Wanping Town and Beijing.

Japanese Forces
The 3rd (2nd?) Division of the Guandong Army from Chahar Province and the 15th (9th?) Division from Manchuria and troops from Phase I were all commanded by General Hashimoto (橋本大將). The strength of the Japanese Army sharply increased from around 1000 to around 3000. The 34th (?) Division of the Guandong Army was on its way from Manchuria and Korea.

The Battle

Phase I

Beginning late June 1937, the Japanese army (several hundreds) deployed at the west end of the bridge was practicing while Kuomintang forces, garrisoned in Wanping Town, watched closely. At dawn on July 7, the Japanese army telegraphed the KMT forces saying that a soldier was missing and believed to be hiding inside the town. The Japanese demanded that its army should enter the town to search for the missing soldier, who was later found unharmed. There are some disputes among historians over the incident with some historians believing that this was an unintentional accident while others believing that the entire incident was fabricated by the Guandong Army in order to provide a pretext for the invasion of central China.

Colonel Ji denied the request backed by his superior, General Song. In the evening of July 7, Matsui gave Ji an ultimatum that KMT troops must let Japanese troops enter the town within the next hour or the town would be fired upon. The Japanese artillery had already aimed at the town when the ultimatum was sent. At midnight July 8, Japanese artillery units started bombarding the town while the infantry with tanks marched across the bridge at dawn. With orders from Song, Ji led the KMT forces of about 1000 to defend at all cost. The Japanese army partially overran the bridge and vicinity in the afternoon. KMT forces, after reinforcement from nearby units, outnumbered the Japanese and retook it completely next day. The Japanese army then halted the attack and offered to negotiate, marking the end of Phase I. Nevertheless the Japanese Army remained concentrated at the west end of the bridge.

Phase II

During the meeting of all senior KMT officers of the 24th Army in Beijing on July 12, Qin insisted that KMT forces must continue defending and resist any temptation to negotiate with the Japanese, whom he did not trust. Zhang in turn argued the incident on July 7 could still be settled by negotiation. Song then sent Zhang as KMT representative to Tianjin to meet General Hashimoto, the commander of all Japanese forces around the cities of Beijing and Tianjin and in Chahar and Rehe Provinces.

At the beginning Hashimoto told Zhang that the Japanese hoped the incident on July 7 could be settled peacefully. Zhang was encouraged by his friendly gesture and telegraphed Song that any more Kuomintang forces around Beijing would be viewed as an escalation and anger the Japanese. However Song thought Hashimoto was only buying time since he received various reconnaissance reports indicating increasing accumulation of Japanese forces from Manchuria and Korea around Beijing. As the recent Chinese victory relied on outnumbering the opponent, he transferred Zhao's 132nd Division accompanied by Qin to a station at Nanwan Town which was between the bridge and Beijing to keep up the pressure from concentration of Japanese forces. Similar to most KMT and CPC (Communist Party of China) forces, the 29th Army was equipped with only rifles and just enough mortars and heavy machine guns, compared to better armed, trained and commanded Japanese troops whose tanks the Chinese armies still did not have any weapon capable of destroying.

The Japanese promised not to invade Beijing and Tianjin upon agreement of all following terms:

1) The KMT must wipe out all anti-Japanese organizations and halt all anti-Japanese activities inside the cities.
2) The KMT must take all responsibilities of the incident on July 7.
3) Song, not any other inferior officer of the 29th Army, must apologize.

Zhang accepted the first term and the commander of the battalion under Ji's command was to be relieved as an agreement to the second. However Zhang told Hashimoto that he could not decide on behalf of Song, thus could not agree on the third term at the time. He then returned to Beijing. Hashimoto also hinted that the Japanese would preferred Zhang as the commander of KMT troops around the city. As soon as Zhang left, the Japanese launched a full-scale attack on Beijing.

Three days after Zhang headed for the city, the bridge and Wanping Town fell to the Japanese. Nanwan Town fell on the next day with both divisions (37th and 132nd) shattered. Zhao was mortally wounded on the battlefield and Qin retreated with the remnants back to the city. In the evening after the fall of Nanwan Town, Zhang finally arrived (As he had to pass through enemy lines to reach the city.). Several days later, Song relieved himself of all non-military posts and appointed Zhang to take his posts and the mayorship of Beijing. Qin and Song then led the 29th Army out of the city, which was going to be surrounded within hours and left Zhang with virtually no troops. Japanese armies entered the city on August 18 without much resistance and installed Zhang as mayor. However Zhang felt he was betrayed and left the city secretly a week later.


With the fall of Beijing on July 29 and Tianjin on 30th, the North China Plain was helpless against Japanese mechanized divisions who occupied it by the end of the year. The Chinese armies (KMT and CPC) were on constant retreat until the hard fought Chinese victory at Tai er zhuang.

There are some disputes among historians over the KMT's handling of approach of Japanese troops on Beijing, with some believing that Zhang and Song secretly cooperated with Zhang's appointment to non-military posts in Beijing. Song and Qin could then safely retreat from the city to retain the fighting ability of the 29th Army. Others believe that the Japanese completely sold Zhang out as they still invaded the cities, even though the KMT agreed to all terms. Zhang was vilified relentlessly by the Chinese press, some of which (like that of Shanghai) reviled him as the traitor of the country. Upon arrival at Nanjing he apologized publicly. Since he later died fighting against the Japanese, the KMT pardoned Zhang for his activities in Beijing.

External Link

The Marco Polo Bridge Virtual Tour and Photographs (

Image:Marco polo bridge china long.jpg

de:Zwischenfall an der Marco-Polo-Brcke ja:盧溝橋事件 zh:七七事变


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