On this day, Japan establishes its own government in conquered Nanking, the former capital of Nationalist China.
In 1937, Japan drummed up a rationale for war against Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist China (claiming Chinese troops attacked Japanese troops on maneuvers in a so-called “autonomous” region of China) and invaded northeastern China, bombing Shanghai and carving out a new state, Manchukuo.
Money and supplies poured into Free China from the United States, Britain, and France, until the Burma Road, which permitted free passage of goods into China from the West, was closed after a Japanese invasion of Indochina. Making matters more difficult, Chiang was forced to fight on two fronts: one against the Japanese (with U.S. help in the person of Gen. Joseph Stillwell, Chiang’s chief of staff), and another against his ongoing political nemesis, the Chinese Communists, led by Mao Tse-tung. (Although the United States advised concentrating on the Japanese first as the pre-eminent threat, Chiang was slow to listen.)
The Japanese proceeded to prosecute a war of terror in Manchukuo. With the capture of Nanking (formerly the Nationalist Chinese capital, which was now relocated to Chungking) by the Central China Front Army in December 1937, atrocities virtually unparalleled commenced. The army, under orders of its commander, Gen. Matsui Iwane, carried out the mass execution of more than 50,000 civilians, as well as tens of thousands of rapes. Nanking and surrounding areas were burned and looted, with one-third of its buildings utterly destroyed. The “Rape of Nanking” galvanized Western animus against the Japanese.
On March 30, 1940, Nanking was declared by the Japanese to be the center of a new Chinese government, a regime controlled by Wang Ching-wei, a defector from the Nationalist cause and now a Japanese puppet.