Sook Ching, a Chinese term which means “purging through cleansing”, refers to the operation carried out by the Japanese military during the Japanese Occupation to identify and eliminate suspected anti-Japanese elements among the Chinese community in Singapore.
On 18 February 1942, a Sook Ching directive was issued by the 25th Army, which was under the command of Lieutenant-General Yamashita Tomoyuki. The directive ordered Chinese males between the ages of 18 and 50 to report to designated screening centres, which were located all over the island. The directive was specifically on the search for members of volunteer forces, communists, looters, those possessing weapons, and those whose names appeared in lists of anti-Japanese suspects maintained and distributed by the Japanese. In general, anyone perceived as obstructing Japanese operations or threatening law and order were singled out as being anti-Japanese.
The mass-screening was conducted mainly by the 2nd Field Unit of the Kempeitai (Japanese military police) in urban areas between 21 and 23 February. At the end of February, soldiers from the Imperial Guards Division were assigned to carry out the operation in non-urban districts. The local police and ordinary citizens were also coerced into assisting the Kempeitai. The screening process at the various centres was carried out in an arbitrary and disorganised manner. For instance, at the Jalan Besar centre, men who wore glasses were considered educated and, therefore, guilty of having carried out anti-Japanese activities. At another centre, soft hands were evidence of “education”. At the Telok Kurau School centre, people were selected based on their occupations.
Those unfortunate to be selected were loaded into lorries and taken to remote sites to be summarily executed. There was little attempt to conceal these killings. People living near the massacre sites and prisoners of war were ordered to dispose the bodies. The Japanese estimated that there were between 5,000 and 6,000 executions, while the local Chinese put it between 40,000 and 50,000 (which may have included those killed by shelling and bombardment during the Malaya Campaign). The true numbers are unlikely ever to be known.
After the war, seven Kempeitai and Imperial Japanese Army officers were tried for the Sook Ching atrocities during the “Chinese Massacre” War Crimes trial held in Singapore in March 1947. Two officers were sentenced to death, while the remaining five were given life sentences.
1. Lee, G. B. (2005). The Syonan years: Singapore under Japanese rule 1942–1945 (p. 105). Singapore: National Archives of Singapore and Epigram. Call no.: RSING q940.53957 LEE.
2. Shinozako, M. (1973). My wartime experiences in Singapore (p. 22). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Call no.: RSING 959.57023 SHI; Tan, S., et al. (2009). Syonan years, 1942–1945: Living beneath the rising sun (p. 15). Singapore: National Archives of Singapore. Call no.: RSING 940.530745957 TAN.
3. Lee, 2005, p. 105; Singapore Japs kept ‘register’. (1947, March 19). The Straits Times, p. 1; Plan to kill 50,000 Chinese in Singapore: Jap correspondent’s affidavit read. (1947, March 19). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. The Straits Times, 19 Mar 1947, p. 5.
5. Lee, 2005, p. 105; Hayashi, H. (2008). Massacre of Chinese in Singapore and its coverage in postwar Japan. In Akashi, Y., & Yoshimura, M. (Eds.), New perspectives on the Japanese occupation in Malaya and Singapore, 1941–1945 (p. 235). Singapore: NUS Press, National University of Singapore. Call no.: RSING 940.5337 NEW.
6. Shinozaki, 1973, pp. 15-17.
7. Tan, et al, 2009, p. 20.
8. Shinozaki tells his story. (1947, March 11). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Lee, 2005, p. 108; Tan, et al, 2009, p. 21.
10. Lee, 2005, p. 108.
11. Tan, et al, 2009, p. 22.
12. Tan, et al, 2009, p. 27.
13. Shinozaki, 1973, p. 124; Lee, 2005, p. 110; Tan, et al, 2009, p. 28.
14. Japs’ stories of the “Chinese massacre”. (1947, March 11). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Singapore massacre Japs guilty. (1947, 3 April). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.