The Marco Polo Bridge Incident (盧溝橋事變; also known as 七七事變, 七七盧溝橋事變 or the Lugouqiao Incident) was a battle between the Republic of China's National Revolutionary Army and the Imperial Japanese Army, marking the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). The eleven-arch granite bridge itself, Lugouqiao, is an architecturally significant structure, restored by the Kangxi Emperor (1662-1722).
The Marco Polo Bridge, located at the town of Wanping (宛平鎮) to the southwest of Beijing was the choke point on the Pinghan Railway (Beijing-Wuhan), and guarded the only passage linking Beijing to Kuomintang-controlled areas in the south. Prior to July 1937, the Japanese military had repeatedly demanded the withdrawal of the Chinese forces stationed in this area, and had attempted to purchase land to build an airfield. The Chinese refused, as Japanese control of the bridge and Wanping town would completely isolate Beijing.
At 2340 PM, General Qin Dechun, acting commander of the 29th Route Army and Chairman of the Hebei-Chahar Political Council was contacted by Japanese military intelligence with the same demand. He responded that in his opinion, the Japanese had violated China's sovereignty by conducting maneuvers without advanced notice, and refused the Japanese demand for entry into Wanping. However, Qin said that he would order Chinese troops stationed at Wanping to conduct a search on their own behalf. The Japanese, not satisfied with the reply, insisted on conducting the search themselves, and issued an ultimatum two hours later. As a precautionary measure, Qin contacted 37th Divisional commander General Feng Zhian to place his troops on heightened alert.
At around 0330 AM on the morning of 8 July, Japanese reinforcements in the form of four mountain guns and a company of machine gunners arrived from nearby Fengtai. At around 0450, two Japanese investigators were allowed into Wanping. However, notwithstanding the presence of the Japanese investigators within the town, the Japanese Army opened fire with machine guns from 0500 AM. Meanwhile, Japanese infantry backed with armored vehicles attacked the Marco Polo Bridge, along with a modern railroad bridge to the southeast of town.
Colonel Ji Xingwen led the Chinese defenses with about 1000 men, with orders to hold the bridge at all costs. After inflicting severe casualties, the Japanese forces partially overran the bridge and vicinity in the afternoon, but Chinese, after reinforcement from nearby units, soon outnumbered the Japanese. Taking advantage of mist and rain in the morning of 9 July, the Chinese were able to retake the bridge by 0600 AM. At this point, Japanese military intelligence reached a verbal agreement with General Qin, whereby control of Wanping would be left with a civilian constabulary, and not with the 219th Regiment. However, Japanese China Garrison Infantry Brigade commander General Masakazu Kawabe initially rejected the truce and continued to shell Wanping for the next three hours until prevailed upon to cease and to move his forces to the northeast of Wanping.
If the truce and ceasefire had remained in place, with both forces returning their original positions, the Marco Polo Bridge Incident would have ended as a minor skirmish. However, from midnight of July 9, Japanese violations of the ceasefire began to increase, and buildup of Japanese reinforcements continued.
Further escalation temporarily paused when Lieutenant General Kanichiro Tashiro commander of Japanese China Garrison Army fell ill and died on July 12, and was replaced by Lieutenant General Kiyoshi Katsuki, and due to political and diplomatic maneuvering by the civilian government in Tokyo and by General Kanji Ishihara in order to avoid an outbreak of war between Japan and China. These efforts failed, largely due to actions by the Japanese Northern China Area Army commanders and militarists within the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff; Wanping was shelled on 14 July and full scale fighting erupted at Langfang on 25 July. General Sung was forced to retreat behind the Yungding River by 28 July, leaving Wanping and the Marco Polo Bridge securely in Japanese hands. A few days later, Beijing and Tianjin fell to Japan.
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 Japanese Army in order to provide a pretext for the invasion of China. The missing Japanese soldier was later found to be unharmed. One Japanese historian alleges that the incident was staged by the Chinese Communist Party, who hoped that the incident would lead to a war of attrition between the Japanese army and the Kuomintang.
|Name||Military Post(s)||Non-Military Post(s)|
| General Song Zheyuan|
(宋哲元; Sung Che-Yuan)
|Commander of 29th Route Army|| Chairman of Hebei Legislative Committee|
Head of Beijing security forces
| General Qin Dechun|
(秦德純; Chin Teh-Chun)
|Vice-Commander of 29th Army||Mayor of Beijing|
| General Liu Ruming|
|Commander of the 143rd Division||Chairman of Chahar Province|
| General Feng Zhian|
|Commander of the 37th Division||Chairman of Hebei Province|
| General Zhao Dengru|
(趙登汝; Chao Teng-yu)
|Commander of the 132nd Division|
| General Zhang Zizhong|
(張自忠; Chang Tze-chung)
|Commander of the 38th Division||Mayor of Tianjin|
| Colonel Ji Xingwen|
| Commander of the 219th Regiment|
under the 110th Brigade of the 37th Division
| Lieutenant General Kanichiro Tashiro|
|Commander China Garrison Army||Tianjin|
| Major General Masakazu Kawabe|
|Commander China Garrison Infantry Brigade||Beijing|
| Colonel Renya Mutaguchi|
|Commander 1st Infantry Regiment||Beijing|
| Major Kiyonao Ichiki |
|Commander, 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment||W of Marco Polo Bridge, 510 men|