Lest We Forget – The 1938 Changsha Inferno 文夕大火

At the base of Tianxin Pavilion 天心閣 in Changsha, Hunan, there stood a solitary bell to commemorate one of the darkest day in Changsha’s history.

On 7 July 1937 after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident 七七卢沟桥事件, as the Imperial Japanese Army drove straight into China, large quantities of people in the coastal and occupied areas moved to Changsha. It was then that a devastating disaster was approaching Changsha. On 25 October 1938, Wuhan was annexed by the Imperial Japanese Army, the rear base Hunan was turned into the frontline of the Second Sino-Japanese War.

On November 7, holding a military meeting in Changsha, Chiang Kai-shek said that all strategic materials that were not evacuated in time and ground architecture were used by the enemy after Wuhan fell fuelled the strength of the enemy. Chiang Kai-shek directly telegraphed to Zhang Zhizhong, the then governor of Hunan government to tell him that if Changsha fell, Zhang must burn and destroy the whole city. Zhang Zhizhong drew up a plan of burning the city. As Tianxin Pavilion was located at the highest point of the ancient city Changsha, it was chosen as the sign point of setting on fire.

Tianxin Pavilion 天心阁

Late at the night of November 12, outside of the south gate of Changsha, a hospital for wounded soldiers caught fire accidentally. As the geographical location and height of the hospital were nearly the same as those of Tianxin Pavilion. At the sight of the fire, team members that were assigned everywhere in the city to set on fire misunderstood it as the fire signal of Tianxin Pavilion, so they lit up fire at the same time. Before long, the entire Changsha city was on fire. Tianxin Pavilion stood loftily on the city wall was not immune from the fire. The fire rose up around the main building of Tianxin Pavilion. In less than one hour, Tianxin Pavilion was engulfed by the fire. The big fire burnt for five whole nights and five whole days, from the city wall of Tianxin Pavilion, there were dozens of meters of broken walls and debris everywhere which was miserable.

As the code of the telegram on 12th was “Wen” (文), and the fire was set up at night, Xi (夕) means night, the fire was referred by people as “Wenxi Fire“. Although Changsha was burnt and destroyed by Wenxi Fire, but it didn’t stop the Imperial Japanese Army’s attacks on Changsha. From September 1939 to December 1941, they massively attacked Changsha for three times, all repelled by the guarding army. Changsha finally fell to the Japanese on the forth attack in 1942.

Photos taken : Feb 2014

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