Sook Ching 1942: Mass Execution and National Identity In Singapore

Robert Cribb

 2ANU, Canberra, Australia, 3Monash University, Clayton, Australia

In February 1942, Japanese forces entered Singapore following the surrender of British and Allied forces in the city. The Japanese commander, General Yamashita Tomoyuki, was reportedly keen to avoid an undisciplined atrocity such as had occurred in Nanjing in December 1937 and January 1938 but feared the presence of anti-Japanese forces among the Chinese population of the city. He ordered a ‘screening’ of the Chinese community to identify and remove such forces. In the process, some thousands of Chinese men were taken to remote parts of the island and executed. The atrocity was not comparable to the Rape of Nanjing, but it was one of the largest mass executions carried out by Japanese forces in occupied Southeast Asia. Using evidence presented at the later war crimes trials of senior Japanese officers, in Singapore and elsewhere, this paper examines the likely intentions of the Japanese commanders and the processes by which victims were selected. It assesses the likely death toll and the meaning attributed to the massacre in the subsequent development of a Singaporean national narrative.


Robert Cribb is Professor of Asian History at the Australian National University. He has written widely on mass violence in Southeast Asian history and is currently engaged (with Sandra Wilson) in a study of Japanese war crimes in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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