Sook Ching Massacre

The Sook Ching Massacre (肅清大屠殺) was a semi-systematic extermination of perceived hostile elements among ethnic Chinese Malayans and Singaporeans by the Japanese military administration, after the British colony surrendered on 15 February 1942 during World War II.

The term sook ching (肃清) is a Chinese word meaning "a purge through cleansing". Ironically, the Japanese also described the incident as such, although term daikenshō (大検証), lit. "great inspection" is also used. Although the term "Sook Ching" appeared as early as 1946, it was not commonly used in the Chinese press or other publications until the 1980s.


The Massacre

After Malaya fell to the Japanese, the Japanese military authorities became concerned about the local Chinese population. The Japanese Imperial Army had become aware that the ethnic Chinese had strong loyalties to either Great Britain or China, with wealthy Chinese financing Chiang Kai-Shek's effort in the Anti-Japanese War of Resistance, which started back in July 1937. The military authorities, led by General Tomoyuki Yamashita, decided on a policy of "eliminating" the anti-Japanese elements.

The Japanese military authorities defined the following as "undesirables":

In Singapore, the Japanese set up "screening centers" all over the colony. The blueprint was to gather and screen all Chinese males between 18 to 50 years old, and eliminating those thought to be anti-Japanese. There were trucks near these screening centers to send those anti-Japanese elements to their deaths. The Japanese Army chose remote sites such as Changi, Punggol and Bedok to perform the shootings.

In Malaya, especially the rural areas, however, the Japanese did not have the luxury of a working with a concentrated population in a certain area. So as a result, the army did not have sufficient time nor manpower to fully interrogate the entire Chinese rural population. Therefore, widespread indiscriminate killing of the Chinese population occurred, even though the Japanese made a show of screening the civilians and identifying the guerrillas.

After the Japanese military realized that they could not kill off as many as 50,000 Chinese, and that Japan's resources were being stretched with advances in other parts of Southeast Asia, the head of the authorities called off the killing on 3 March.

Death toll

Due to the lack of records, it is impossible to definitively tally up the total number of Chinese killed in the Sook Ching Massacre. There are varying figures regarding the death toll—the range goes from the deflated official Japanese figures of less than 5,000 to an inflated total of 100,000 by the Singaporeans. Postwar trial testimonies, though, strongly suggest a total between 25,000 and 50,000.


Missing image
Singapore Civilian War Memorial, also known as "Chopsticks". Officially opened in 15 February 1967, by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, it is dedicated for all civilians killed by the Japanese occupation, regardless of race. The memorial is built on one of the mass graves of the Sook Ching Massacre in the Siglap area.

In 1947, the British Colonial authorities in Singapore held a war crimes trial to bring the perpetrators of the Sook Ching Massacre to justice. Seven officers, namely Lieutenant General Takuma Nishimura, Lieutenant General Saburo Kawamura, Lieutenant Masayuki Oishi, Lieutenant Colonel Yoshitaka Yokata, Major Tomotatsu Jo, Major Satoru Onishi and Captain Haruji Hisamatsu were charged with carrying out the massacre. While Kawamura and Oishi received the death penalty, the other five received life sentences. The court accepted the Nuremberg Trials defence of just following orders." The death sentences were carried out on 26 June 1947. Even though the Chinese community urged the British authorities to stage the executions of Kawamura and Oishi in public to ease the anger in the Chinese community, the British allowed only six members of the victims' family association to witness the execution. After the trial the British colonial government in Singapore considered the matter closed, and only demanded war reparations from Japan for damage caused to British property, much to the dismay of the Chinese community.

However, with Singapore gaining independence from British colonial rule, the Chinese community began a new wave of anti-Japanese resentment and demanded reparations and an apology from Japan. The Foreign Ministry of Japan denied Singapore's request in 1963, stating the San Francisco Treaty of 1951 settled the issue of reparation with Britain, and therefore, the colony of Singapore. However, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew responded by saying that the British colonial government did not represent the voice of the people of Singapore. The Chinese staged a boycott of Japanese goods in September 1963, even though it only lasted seven days.

With Singapore's declaring independence from Malaysia on 9 August, 1965, the Government of Singapore made another request to Japan for reparation and an apology. In 25 October 1966, Japan agreed to pay $50 million in compensation, half as a grant and the other half as a loan. However, the compensation package did not come with an official apology.

Further Reading

  • Akashi, Yoji. "Japanese policy towards the Malayan Chinese, 1941-1945". Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 1, 2 (September 1970): 61-89.
  • Blackburn, Kevin. "The Collective Memory of the Sook Ching Massacre and the Creation of the Civilian War Memorial of Singapore". Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 73, 2 (December 2000), 71-90.
  • Kang, Jew Koon. "Chinese in Singapore during the Japanese occupation, 1942-1945." Academic exercise - Dept. of History, National University of Singapore, 1981.

See also

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