The facts about the Chengchiatun incident are incredibly simple and merit being properly told. Chengchiatun is a small Mongol-Manchurian market-town lying some sixty miles west of the South Manchurian railway by the ordinary cart-roads, though as the crow flies the distance is much less. The country round about is “new country,” the prefecture in which Chengchiatun lies being originally purely Mongol territory on which Chinese squatted in such numbers that it was necessary to erect the ordinary Chinese civil administration. Thirty or forty miles due west of the town cultivation practically ceases; and then nothing meets the eye but the rolling grasslands of Mongolia, with their sparse encampments of nomad horsemen and shepherds which stretch so monotonously into the infinities of High Asia.
The region is strategically important because the trade-routes converge there from the growing marts of the Taonanfu administration, which is the extreme westernly limit of Chinese authority in the Mongolian borderland. A rich exchange in hides, furs, skins, cattle and foodstuffs has given this frontier town from year to year an increasing importance in the eyes of the Chinese who are fully aware of the dangers of a laissez aller policy and are determined to protect the rights they have acquired by pre-emption. The fact that notorious Mongol brigand-chiefs, such as the famous Babachapu who was allied to the Manchu Restoration Party and who was said to have been subsidized by the Japanese Military Party, had been making Chengchiatun one of their objectives, brought concern early in 1916 to the Moukden Governor, the energetic General Chang Tso-lin, who in order to cope with the danger promptly established a military cordon round the district, with a relatively large reserve based on Chengchiatun, drawn from the 28th Army Division. A certain amount of desultory fighting months before any one had heard of the town had given Chengchiatun the odour of the camp; and when in the summer the Japanese began military manoeuvres in the district with various scattered detachments, on the excuse that the South Manchuria railway zone where they alone had the right under the Portsmouth Peace Treaty to be, was too cramped for field exercises, it became apparent that dangerous developments might be expected—particularly as a body of Japanese infantry was billeted right in the centre of the town.
On the 13th August a Japanese civilian at Chengchiatun—there is a small Japanese trading community there—approached a Chinese boy who was selling fish. On the boy refusing to sell at the price offered him, the Japanese caught hold of him and started beating him. A Chinese soldier of the 28th Division who was passing intervened; and a scuffle commenced in which other Chinese soldiers joined and which resulted in the Japanese being severely handled. After the Chinese had left him, the man betook himself to the nearest Japanese post and reported that he had been grievously