Presbyterian Archives Research Centre

Photo Gallery No 11 :

"The China Incident"


To coincide with Anzac Day, our Autumn Gallery takes a varied look at images taken in China during the war between Nationalist Koumintang and Imperial Japanese forces, variously known as the "Second Sino-Japanese War" or (as war was never actually declared) "The China Incident".

In 1931, and in order to pursue its own interests, Imperial Japan invaded the Chinese province of Manchuria and set up a 'puppet' Government. Using brutal military force, Imperial Japan continued to extend its sphere of occupation and control further south. Shanghai and Nanjing fell in 1937, Wuhan following in 1938. Incursions into Chinese territory were also made further south. After violent aerial bombings, Canton [Guangzhou] fell in October 1938, enabling the Japanese to blockade the Pearl River and thus cut off the flow of supplies.

From 1938 until 1941, when America entered the war, our Missionaries based around Canton within 'occupied China' carrried on their Mission activites under the 'supervision' of the Japanese military. Although no physical ill-treatment took place, staff were subjected to a myriad of new bureaucratic regulations and often outright harassment. Untold patience was required of Mission staff.

From the end of 1938, our Mission assisted homeless Chinese by setting up a refugee camp, setting them to work on mission owned land in return for a ration of food. Between March 1940 to March 1941, our mission distributed 48 tons of rice to refugees and starving local Chinese. These activities were curtailed in Dec 1941 when the Allies declared war on Japan, the flow of funds from New Zealand ceased, and the Japanese Military Commander effectively 'imprisoned' the Missionaries on the Kong Chuen Mission Compound. In November 1942, the New Zealand Missionaries were moved to dedicated internment camps in Canton, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Our Mission hospital continued to operate under difficult circumstances with Dr Grätzer [link], our loyal Austrian (but anti-Nazi) Hospital Superintendent, and his dedicated band of Chinese staff continuing to provide medical assistance as best they could.

Respite for China only came when occupying Imperial Japanese forces formally surrendered in September 1945. A weakened and corrupt Nationalist Koumintang (KMT) Government resumed governance of China until itself losing control to the well-organised and increasingly popular Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The majority of these images were not taken merely for curiosity value. With the occasional notable exception most were taken by our Missionaries not only to encourage continuing financial support in New Zealand for Mission and refugee support but also to vividly demonstrate the sufferings to which the Chinese people were being subjected. This in itself engendered growing public sympathy for the plight of the Chinese. It is significant that after the war the New Zealand Presbyterian Church, with considerable support from their members, used its influence to successfully push for New Zealand citizenship for those Chinese already living in New Zealand. By means of a special Thanksgiving Appeal, the Church also raised almost £22,000, a relatively large sum of money, specifically for the Church of Christ in China to use towards post-war Christian outreach work and rebuilding of war damaged buildings.

A number of images we hold are simply too graphic or disturbing to display in this gallery. While one needs to remember that these images were taken almost 70 years ago, we are mindful that this period in Chinese history is still painful. In the conflict China lost approximately 3.22 million soldiers, 9.13 million civilians died in the crossfire, and another 8.4 million died as non-military casualties. The Japanese recorded around 1.1 to 1.9 million military casualties, killed, wounded and missing.

We would value your comments and feedback :

Presbyterian Church Archives Research Centre Home Page

Donald Cochrane
Curator of Photographs (Retired)

China Flag

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Chinese Machine Gunners


Chinese Soldiers with a machine gun on duty close to the main Canton to Hankow Railway line, which ran only 400 yards away from the Mission Compound at Kong Chuen, c. late 1939.
Sea (scout) bi-planes taking off from a base near Canton, c.1938


Sea Planes Taking Off



Planes Under Fire


Smoke from ack ack guns trailing three scout planes, 1938


Graphic damage to a derailed train, the carriages having 'telescoped' into each other after running into a bomb hole on the Canton to Hankow main line at Kong Chuen, only 400 yards from the Mission Compound (located 40 miles east of Canton). Jan 1938


Derailed Train at Kong Chuen



Japanese Ambulance Corps


Japanese Ambulance Corps at Mukden [now known as Shenyang] standing by their vehicle clearly marked with a red cross symbol. Mukden was then part of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo in Northern China. The following three images would appear to have been taken by the Japanese for 'propaganda' purposes, c.1938.

Chinese Doctors and Nurses attending to wounded Chinese soldiers brought into the Japanese Red Cross Hospital at Mukden, c.1938.


Japanese Doctors Attending to Wounded Chinese Soldiers



Wounded Chinese Soldiers in Japanese Hospital Mukden


Wounded Chinese soldiers lying in beds at the Japanese Red Cross Hospital Mukden. A Doctor and two Nurses in attendance, c.1938

"Sitting Ducks" :

At some considerable risk to the occupants, Sr Annie James' Ford V8 car (complete with cross on radiator), is shown bogged down in a rice field after having been driven off the road to avoid a mud (bomb?) hole. Only a few miles before, and in what could have easily ended up a tragic situation, the car had been shot at then bombed by Japanese planes, forcing the occupants to dive for cover into ant infested and muddy rice fields. It is fortuitous that the Japanese pilots were such bad shots. The indomitable Sr James had in fact been more worried about losing her precious car than her life!

The party included Sr James, the Rev EG (Paddy) Jansen and the Director of Missions and his wife, the Rev Don and Mrs Phoebe McDiarmid, who were then visiting our Chinese Mission Field. Due to the worsening situation and inherent risk, the Director's visit was cut short. Canton soon fell to the Japanese Military Forces. Taken 12th October 1938.


Sr James' Ford V8 Car



Kong Chuen & Ko Tong in Flames


The adjoining twin towns of Kong Chuen and Ko Tong in flames after aerial bombardment from Japanese forces, 7th Nov 1938.

It was at Ko Tong in 1901 that the Rev George McNeur stepped ashore from his boat and ascended the white granite steps to the village to begin the work of the New Zealand Presbyterian Church Mission in the Poon Yue District.

A row of Chinese (?) anti-aircraft guns and a field tractor, all painted in camouflage paint. c.1938


Anti-Aircraft Guns


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