ⓘ Hunchun incident


ⓘ Hunchun incident

The Hunchun incident was a reported raid on a Japanese consulate in Manchuria resulting in the death of thirteen Japanese. The Japanese government used this incident to justify sending thousands of Imperial Japanese troops into Manchuria on October 5, 1920. These escalations culminated with the Battle of Qingshanli between Japan and the Korean Independence Army, where Korean rebels fought Japanese soldiers.


1. Background

For more than a decade prior to Korea’s March 1st Movement 1919 nationalist groups of Korean rebels, many of whom were former soldiers in the Korean army, organized into various pro-independence factions in Manchuria. Due to its strategic location across the Korean border, guerilla fighters could effectively launch raids on Japanese consular police stations, and then retreat back to the Chinese side of the boundary. For example, Hong Pomdo a previous Righteous Army leader created the Korean Independence Army and trained so-called independence fighters in Yanji. Additionally, the Northern Route Military Headquarters was established under the leadership of So Il, with Kim Chwajin commanding more than four hundred independence fighters at its officer training school. Separately, Yi Tonghwi also trained over 3.000 independence fighters in Hunchun and armed them with weapons provided by the Red Bolshevik army.

Responding to the March 1st Movement’s failure to secure independence and arouse international sentiments toward the Koreans’ plight under Japanese colonial rule, disaffected Koreans came together on April 13, 1919 in Shanghai to form a republican Korean provisional government with the hope of working together with the independence factions in Manchuria to eventually obtain freedom from Japan.

As the momentum behind Korean independence movements in Manchuria increased, Japanese consular police chief Suematsu Kichiji became increasingly concerned about increasing radical Bolshevism among Koreans. To try and suppress these movements, he ordered numerous illegal police raids on suspected radical Jiandao base camps, which were protested by local Chinese leaders. While it is clear that some of the Korean guerrilla fighters in Manchuria were influenced by leftist ideologies, the major factions primarily supported the Shanghai Provisional Government and were focused primarily on Korean independence and self-determination.

Angered by the Japanese suppression of the March 1st Movement, Korean independence fighters in Manchuria began increasing their raids against Japanese border posts, killing numerous Japanese guards, with the eventual goal of advancing into Korea to remove the Japanese. During the early summer months of 1920, Korean rebels fought with Japanese troops in thirty-two battles along the border. After one particular Japanese counterattack, Hong Pomdo’s forces surrounded and killed 120 Japanese soldiers and wounded more than 200.


2. Attack and Controversy

In effort to contain the Korean rebels, Japan petitioned both Tokyo and the Chinese government to help, but received little assistance. Subsequently, on October 2, 1920, a Japanese consulate in the Chinese city of Hunchun in Jilin Province was attacked and burned to the ground purportedly according to Japanese sources by the Korean Independence Army, killing thirteen Japanese people. It was further reported that the" bandits” carrying out this attack" committed indiscriminate acts of murder and pillage” and" looted local shops.”

Many South Korean historians maintain, however, that the attack on Hunchun was not carried out by the Korean rebels, but rather was staged by the Japanese to justify incursion into Manchuria. Some South Korean sources further believe that the attack was coordinated with Chinese bandit leader Chang-chiang-hao who had been bribed by the Japanese to carry out the attack with several bandits in order to incriminate the Koreans. These sources maintain that Chang went further than the Japanese had requested him to in the scale of his attack. Other South Korean scholars even maintain that the entire incident was a complete Japanese fabrication.

North Korea is likewise skeptical about the Japanese narrative of the incident, with official sources recently asserting that" the Japanese imperialists cooked up the Hunchun incident’ in which they hurled mounted bandits into attacking their consulate and kicked up a wholesale whirlwind of suppression against Koreans in Northeast China under that pretext.”

Though it is difficult for historians to determine who was behind the attack, or whether the incident actually took place, this controversial event is historically significant because Japan used it to justify its escalated military intervention in Manchuria. Japan petitioned and received permission from China to send 15.000 troops from the 19th Division of the Chosen Army of Japan to contain the Korean rebel armies in Jilin province.


3. Aftermath

In reaction to the Hunchun incident, a Japanese punitive" Jiandao Expedition” was accordingly sent to Manchuria, and used" search and destroy” patrols to suppress the guerrilla fighters by carrying out numerous arrests and executions. By December 1920, a Korean Commission report described that Japanese soldiers had burned down thirty-two villages and killed" all the male inhabitants of the district, and massacred 145 peaceful inhabitants.” One house was reportedly burned down with" women and children inside.”

Though Korean independence forces in Manchuria were never effectively organized under the leadership of the Shanghai Provisional Government, they did achieve notable military victories against the Japanese brigades. The most significant of these was the Battle of Qingshanli, where about 400 Korean rebels were able to defeat the better-trained Japanese after four days of intense combat. In this battle the Koreans killed about 1.200 Japanese soldiers while losing only 60 of their own. However, according to Japanese records, 11 soldiers were killed in action, 24 wounded.

In early 1921, after a series of skirmishes and retreats on both sides, as well as criticism from local Chinese authorities and the international community, most members of the 19th Division withdrew from eastern Manchuria. Some of the socialist-leaning Korean rebels were then recruited by the Red Bolshevik army to assist in its civil war prior to the formation of the Soviet Union.