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.