Japan had occupied Manchuria in 1931 and had created an nominally independent state of Manchukuo with Henry Pu-yi, the last monarch of the Qing Dynasty, as its sovereign.
That state is widely regarded to have been a puppet government with real power concentrated in the hands of the Japanese, which constituted the only significant military forces in Manchuria. Although the Kuomintang and the international community refused to recognize the legality of the Japanese occupation, a truce had been negotiated in 1931.
At the end of 1932, Japanese Guandong Army invaded Chahar Province. (The Kuomintang's 29th Army, lead by General Song Zhe Yuan and armed only with spears and obsolete rifles, resisted the attack, resulting in the War of Resistance at the Great Wall. The province fell to the Japanese after the predictable victory therefore areas to the west of Beijing fell to the Japanese.
In 1933, Japan annexed Rehe Province using the security of Manzhouguo as a pretext. Consequently all areas north of the Great Wall and hence north of Beijing fell to Japan. In 1935, Japan annexed eastern portion of Hebei Province and established yet another puppet government, Eastern Ji Anticommunist Automated Government.
Later that year, Ho Yinqin and Mijiro Umemura signed an agreement, known as the Ho-Umemura Agreement by which the Japanese could deploy troops around Beijing at will. As a result at the start of 1937, areas occupied by Japanese surrounded Beijing at north, west and east.
Japanese installations of various puppet governments were deliberate attempts to annex whole country of China by nibbling. The puppet government at Nanjing with Wang Jingwei as head was another obvious example.
Beginning late June 1937, the Japanese army (several hundreds) deployed at the west end of the bridge was practising while Kuomintang forces, garrisoned in Wanping Town, watched closely.
At dawn of July 7, the Japanese army telegraphed the KMT forces saying that a soldier was missing and believed to be hiding inside the town. The Japanese demanded that its army should enter the town to search for the missing soldier, who was later found unharmed.
There are some disputes among historians over the incident with some historians believing that this was an unintentional accident while others believing that the entire incident was fabricated by the Kwantung Army in order to provide a pretext for the invasion of central China.
Colonel Ji denied the request backed by his superior, General Song. In the evening of July 7, Matsui gave Ji an ultimatum that KMT troops must let Japanese troops enter the town within the next hour or the town will be fired. THe Japanese artillery had already aimed at the town when the ultimatum was sent. At midnight July 8, Japanese artillery units started bombarding the town while the infantry with tanks matched across the bridge at dawn. With order from Song, Ji led the KMT forces of about 1000 to defend at all cost.
The Japanese army partially overran the bridge and vicinity in the afternoon. KMT forces, after reinforcement from nearby units, outnumbered the Japanese and retook it completely next day. Japanese army then halted the attack and offered negotiation, marking the end of Phase I. Nevertheless Japanese army still concentrated at the west end of the bridge.
During the meeting of all senior KMT officers of the 24th Army in Beijing on July 12, Qin insisted that KMT forces must remain defending and resisted any temptation of negotiating with the Japanese whom he did not trust.
Zhang in turn argued the incident on July 7 could still be settled by negotiation. Song then sent Zhang as KMT representative to Tianjin to meet General Hashimoto, the commander of all Japanese forces around the cities of Beijing and Tianjin and in Chahar and Rehe Provinces.
At the beginning Hashimoto told Zhang that the Japanese hoped the incident on July 7 to be settled peacefully. Zhang was encouraged by his friendly gesture and telegraphed Song that any increased Kuomintang (KMT) forces concentration around Beijing would be viewed as an escalation and angered the Japanese.
However Song thought Hashimoto was only buying time since he received various reconnaissance reports indicating increasing accumulation of Japanese forces from Manchuria and Korea around Beijing.
As the recent Chinese victory relied on outnumbering the opponent, he transferred Zhao's 132th accompanied by Qin to station at Nanwan Town which was between the bridge and Beijing to keep up the pressure from concentration of Japanese forces.
Similar to most KMT and Communist Party of China (CPC), 29th Army was under equipped with only rifles and just enough mortars and heavy machine guns with respect to better armed, trained and commanded Japanese troops whose tanks the Chinese armies still did not have any weapon capable of destroying them.
On July 31(?) (end of the month), Japanese promised not to invade Beijing and Tianjin upon agreement of all following terms:
Zhang accepted the first term and the commander of the battalion under Ji's command will be relieved as an agreement to the second. However Zhang told Hashimoto that he could not decide on behalf of Song, thus cannot agree on the third term at the time. He then returned to Beijing.
Hashimoto also hinted that the Japanese would prefer Zhang as the commander of KMT troops around the city. As soon as Zhang's departure, the Japanese launched full-scale attack on Beijing.
On August 10(?), three days after Zhang heading for the city, the bridge and Wanping Town fell to the Japanese. Nanwan Town fell on next day with both divisions (37th and 132th) shattered. Zhao was mortally wounded on battlefield and Qin retreated with the remnants back to the city.
In the evening after the fall of Nanwan Town, Zhang finally arrived (As he had to pass through enemy lines to reach the city.).
Several days after, Song relieved himself of all non-military posts and appointed Zhang to take his posts and Mayor of Beijing. Qin and Song then led 29th Army out of the city, which was going to be encircled within hours and left Zhang with virtually no troops.
Japanese armies enter the city on August 18 without much resistance and installed Zhang as mayor. However Zhang felt he was betrayed and left the city secretly a week later.
With the fall of Beijing on August 18 and Tianjin on 21st, the North China Plain was helpless against Japanese mechanized divisions who occupied it by the end of the year. Chinese armies (KMT and CPC) were on constant retreat until the hard fought Chinese victory at Tai er zhuang.
There are some disputes among historians over KMT handling of Japanese troops approaching Beijing with some historians believing that Zhang and Song intentionally cooperate secretly with Zhang appointment of non-military posts in Beijing.
Song and Qin can then safely retreat from the city to retain the fighting ability of 29th Army. Others believed that the Japanese completely sold Zhang out as the Japanese still invaded the cities even though KMG agreed all terms.
Zhang was vilified relentlessly by the Chinese media, some of which (like the Shanghai media) reviled him as the traitor of the country.
Upon arrival at Nanjing he apologized publicly. Since he later died fighting against the Japanese, KMT pardoned Zhang's activities in Beijing.
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