Massacre of Chinese in Singapore
and its Coverage in Postwar Japan

Hirofumi Hayashi




Shortly after the British forces surrendered in Singapore on 15 February 1942, the Japanese military began an operation, called Kakyo Shukusei or Dai Kensho in Japanese and known in Chinese community of Singapore as the Sook Ching (Purge through Purification), in which many local Chinese were massacred. [1] Although the killings have been investigated extensively by scholars in Malaysia and Singapore , the sources available to them are limited, and Japanese documents have not been fully utilized in such research. One purpose of this chapter is to consider what Japanese sources can contribute to an understanding of what took place.

The first point to be considered is why the massacre took place, and the second is how the massacre has been presented in postwar Japan . Although even ex-Kempeitai officers involved have admitted the killings were inhumane and unlawful, little attention has been paid to the episode. While there has been valuable research carried out on the Japanese military administration of Malaya and Singapore , no reliable study has appeared in Japan . Moreover, while the Singapore Massacre is well known to scholars in Japan, similar killings carried out in the Malay Peninsula only came to the attention of the Japanese public in the late 1980s after I discovered documents relating to the Japanese military units involved.


Why did the Japanese Military Massacre the Chinese in Singapore ?

Aspects of the Massacre

On the night of 17 February 1942 , Major General Kawamura Saburo, an infantry brigade commander, was placed in charge of Japan ’s Singapore Garrison. The next morning, he appeared at the Army Headquarters and was ordered by the 25th Army commander, Lieutenant General Yamashita Tomoyuki, to carry out mopping-up operations. He received further detailed instructions from the chief of staff, Lieutenant General Suzuki Sosaku, and a staff officer, Lieutenant Colonel Tsuji Masanobu. Kawamura then held consultations with the Kempeitai commander, Lieutenant Colonel Oishi Masayuki. The plan for a Purge through Purification of the Chinese population was drawn up in the course of these meetings. Under this scheme, Chinese males between the ages of 18 and 50 were ordered to report to mass screening centers for inspection. Those regarded as anti-Japanese were detained, loaded onto lorries, and taken away to the coast or to other isolated places where they were machine-gunned and bayoneted to death. [2]   In my survey of official documents of the Japanese military at the time, I found two sources that give a figure for the number massacred. One is Kawamura’s diary that shows the figure of 5,000. [3]  The other is an issue of the Intelligence Record of 25th Army (No.62, dated 28 May 1942) prepared by the staff section of the 25th Army.[4]  This secret record states that the number missing as a result of bombing and the purge was 11,110. This second record was important because it was drawn up as a secret document shortly after the purge took place. However, as this description is ambiguous and offers no basis for the figure, its credibility is open to question. This issue remains unsettled.

The mass-screening was carried out mainly by Kempeitai personnel between 21 and 23 February in urban areas, and by the Imperial Guard Division at the end of February in suburban districts. Most accounts of the killings include a map that shows the island divided into four sections, and explain that three divisions, the Imperial Guards, the 5th Division, and the 18th Division carried out the mass screening in suburban districts.[5] However, on 21 February, the 25th Army ordered both the 5th and 18th Divisions to move up into the Malay Peninsula and carry out mopping-up operations there.[6] The order assigned the Imperial Guard Division to mass-screening of non-urban areas of Singapore , and made the 5th and the 18th Divisions responsible for the rest of the Malay Peninsula . According to war diaries and other documents relating to these two divisions, neither played a role in the mass screening in Singapore . The British war crimes trial prosecuted the commander of the Imperial Guard Division, Lieutenant General Nishimura Takuma, on charges related to the Singapore Massacre, but not the commanders of the 5th or 18th Divisions. This version of events is correct, and the conventional map is wrong.

With regard to the background to the massacre, it is important to stress that the Purge through Purification was planned before Japanese troops landed in Singapore . The military government section of the 25th Army had already drawn up a plan entitled, "Implementation Guidance for Manipulating Overseas Chinese" on or around 28 December 1941.[7] This guidance stated that anyone who would not obey or cooperate should no longer be allowed to live. It is clear that the headquarters of the 25th Army had decided on a harsh policy toward the Chinese population of Singapore and Malaya from the beginning of the war. According to Onishi Satoru,[8] a Kempeitai officer who was in charge of Jalan Besar screening centre, Kempeitai commander Oishi Masayuki was instructed by the chief of staff, Suzuki Sosaku, at Keluang, Johor, to prepare for a purge operation following the capture of Singapore . Although the exact date of this instruction is not known, the Army headquarters was stationed in Keluang from 28 January to 4 February 1942 .

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[1] The Japanese term “Shukusei” was used by the Japanese Army at the time. In Chinese community of Singapore it is usually called “Sook Ching”.  

[2] Regarding details of the decision-making in the 25th Army, see Hayashi Hirofumi, Sabakareta Senso Hanzai [Tried War Crimes: British War Crimes Trials of Japanese](Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1998) and ‘Singaporu Kakyo Shukusei[Massacre of Chinese in Singapore ]’ Nature-People-Society: Science and the Humanities, Kanto-Gakuin University ,  No.40, Jan. 2006.

[3]  Kawamura’s diary is preserved in the National Archives of the UK in London .

[4]  This document is preserved in the Library of the National Institute for Defense Studies [LNIDS], Defense Agency, Tokyo .

[5] For example, National Archives of Singapore , The Japanese Occupation, 1942-1945 (Singapore: Times, 1996), p. 68.

[6] The operational order of the 25th Army and the order of the 5th Division dated 21 February 1942 in LNIDS.

[7] “Kakyo Kosaku Jisshi Yoryo [Implementation Guidance for Manipulating Overseas Chinese]” in LNIDS.

[8] Onishi Satoru, Hiroku Shonan Kakyo Shukusei Jiken [Secret Memoir Overseas Chinese Massacre in Singapore ] (Tokyo: Kongo Shuppan, 1977), p. 69 and p. 78.









Hayashi graduated from the University of Tokyo in 1979, and then obtained Master's degree from Hitotsubashi University. In 1985, he was accepted as a full-time lecturer in the College of Economics at the Kanto Gakuin University, became an assistant professor, and was granted his current position as professor in 1999.