Kill All, Burn All, Loot All: Japan’s Diabolical Past



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From the moment Japan set foot in China in the 1930s, it committed countless atrocities. From Nanjing to Wuhan, from monstrous medical experiments to the infamous ‘comfort women’, the Chinese endured terrible crimes that still shape relations between their countries today. However, there was one policy that caused more death and suffering than any other, one that is largely unknown in the West, one that the Chinese would give a simple, descriptive name: the Three-Alls – loot all, burn all, kill all.

Today on A Day In History, we’ll look at where this policy came from and what it meant for its millions of victims.

Atrocities before 1940

The Second Sino-Japanese War began in 1937 and dovetailed into the wider Second World War. Throughout these conflicts, Japan was known for its excessive brutality delivered to civilians and soldiers alike of all nations. A Japanese military immersed in ideas of its racial superiority, taught to despise so-called ‘weakness’ in enemies and non-combatants, and raised to give complete obedience to their superiors inevitably led to horrors for its enemies.

China knew this better than anyone else. The Japanese had been committing massacres and abuses across China from 1937 – Tianjin, Beijing, and Shanghai, for example, saw all manner of crimes. Of course, nothing compares to the six weeks of horror unleashed on Nanjing starting in December 1937 which left hundreds of thousands dead or raped.

Into 1938, the Japanese continued this pattern of war crimes. For example, during the Battle of Wuhan, the Japanese authorized hundreds, if not thousands, of gas attacks, often on civilians, as they fought to capture the city from the Nationalist forces of Chang Kai-Shek. However, while the Nationalists were the main threat in China, Japan also had to deal with another problem: Communists.

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Sources:
Rana Mitter, China’s War With Japan, 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival, (2013)

David Lague and Jane Lanhee Lee, ‘Special Report: Why China’s film makers love to hate Japan’, Reuters. 26th May 2013,

Second Sino-Japanese War: A Captivating Guide to a Military Conflict Primarily Waged Between China and Japan and the Rape of Nanking, (2021)

Mark Felton, ‘The Perfect Storm: Japanese Military Brutality During World War Two’, in C. Carmichael and R. C. Maguire (eds.), The Routledge History of Genocide, (2015)

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Herbert P. Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, (2000)

Tobe Ryoichi, ‘The Japanese Eleventh Army in Central China, 1938-1941’, in M. Peattie, E.J. Drea, and H. van de Ven (eds.), The Battle For China: Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945, (2011)

Tien-wei Wu, ‘The Chinese Communist Movement’, in J.C. Hsiung and S.I. Levine, China’s Bitter Victory: The War With Japan, 1937-1945, (1992)

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Dick Wilson, When Tigers Fight: The Story of the Sino-Japanese War 1937-45, (1982)

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