Did 3,000 Chinese Troops Really Disappear in 1939?

By Matthew Bossons, November 24, 2016

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Tales from the Chinese Crypt is a regular web column exploring bizarre and creepy stories from across China.

Unexplained disappearances have always had a chilling effect on people. Many individual human disappearances can be chalked up to foul play, such as murder or kidnapping, while others simply runaway for personal or financial reasons. The eeriest type of disappearances, though, are the ones that happen en masse – where a group of people seem to evaporate into thin air. 

The most recent, and arguably most notorious, mass vanishing in Chinese history is the March 2014 disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 – which vanished en route to Beijing with 227 people on board, 153 of which were Chinese citizens

While MH370 may be the first China-relate mass disappearance to come to mind, it might not be the earliest. According to various print and online sources, in 1939, during the horrors of Japanese aggression against the Republic of China during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), almost 3,000 soldiers stationed in the rolling hills around Nanjing disappeared without leaving a single clue about their fate. 

The incident began in December of 1939 (or 1937, depending who you talk to), when Colonel Li Fu Sien stationed 2,988 troops amongst Nanjing’s hills – a 3.2 kilometer area, with a view to defend a bridge on the Yangtze River against an impending Japanese attack. 

READ MORE: Tales from the Chinese Crypt: 1981's Eerie Sky Spiral

When Colonel Li awoke the following morning, he was told by his assistant that the soldiers at the defensive line were not responding to calls or signals. An investigation team was formed and when they arrived at the troops' position they found it completely abandoned. There was no sign of struggle, the heavy weapons were still in place and ready to be fired, but nobody was there. 

Troops stationed at the bridge claimed that no one had slipped by in the night and that they were unsure of the missing soldiers' fate. 

Various theories have cropped up online to explain the disappearances, from the realistic, such as desertion and murder, to the absurd – a UFO abduction, or that the troops retreated into a hollow subterranean layer of the earth. Although the easiest explanation may be that the whole event never even happened...

A major problem with the various online renditions of the story is the inconsistencies about when the mass disappearance took place. Some writers suggest the incident happened in December of 1937, in the immediate run up to the Battle – and subsequent Rape – of Nanking (now Nanjing), while others place the event in 1939 – roughly half a year after the siege ended. 

While the desertion of such a large number of troops in the run-up to the Battle of Nanking might make sense, it seems strange it has received no peer-reviewed historical mention. For one, the vanishing act is not mentioned in the Basic Facts on the Nanking Massacre and the Tokyo War Crimes Trial, which is strange – considering we're talking about the possible desertion or death of almost 3,000 people. 

READ MORE: Tales from the Chinese Crypt: The Cult of Jiang Ziwen 

While a Google search of ‘Nanjing soldier disappearance 1939’ or ‘Colonel Li Fu Sien’ turns up a myriad of online conspiracy and pseudoscience blogs, essentially no reputable publications or historians seem to be chiming in with their thoughts on the myth, indicating the story may be just that – a myth. While the tale has been covered in a number of books, including World Famous Supernatural Mysteries by Sukhadev Prashad, none of them would be taken seriously as a historical expose.

Even Wikipedia’s extensive (and often spine-chilling) ‘List of people who disappeared mysteriously’ fails to mention the mass disappearance. 

If this story is true and 2,988 soldiers really did vanish into thin air in the 1930s, we like to think they ended up on the same tropical island as Amelia Earhart – sipping on rum filled coconuts and enjoying fresh seafood. 

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[Image via Pinterest

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