Canton, for over 1,000 years the great port of South China, lies on the delta of the Pearl River, in the centre of a broad rice-growing valley. A municipal paradox, the city's wide, clean boulevards lined with modern apartments and shops run parallel with filthy, unpaved alleys, so narrow that three people cannot walk abreast, lined with squalid one-story hovels. Fully one-third of the city's 1,000,000 Chinese live on dirty, water-logged sampans, jam-packed along the river fronts.
Last week, half of Canton's population had fled. The broad avenues were piled high with debris, thousands of hovels were leveled and the city looked like a human slaughterhouse. Japanese bombers, apparently operating from an off-sea base near the Portuguese colony of Macao, for the third successive week streaked bombs down on Canton in almost daily raids. To Canton's symphony of stenches was added another last week—that of dead, decaying flesh, intensified by sweltering heat. Rescue workers, handkerchiefs over their nostrils, scrabbled in the ruins to drag out the injured, could give no account of the total casualties. "The city is like an open grave in which the living and dead are mixed inextricably," cabled one harried United Pressman. Lowest estimates put the number of dead at over 3,000, the injured at 7,000.
Japan's objectives in bombing Canton are: 1) destruction of the city's military defenses and crushing the southern terminus of the Hankow-Canton railway, China's main pipeline for supplies now pouring in through Britain's Crown Colony of Hong Kong. 90 miles south of Canton at the mouth of the Pearl River; 2) the demoralization of the civilian population. By the end of last week the first had not been achieved—Chinese anti-aircraft batteries still blazed away at the bombers, stores of munitions were still intact, and the vital railway was still open. But the second objective was more than fulfilled. Terror-stricken thousands fled to the safety of the paddy fields and their "lucky hills," pockmarked with the huge stone armchair graves of their dead. Thousands more surged up to the gates of Hong Kong, only to be refused admission because they could not produce the required 20 Hong Kong dollars.
By last week the busy bombers, dropping pyrotechnic flares to light their work at night, had wrecked the Sun Yat-sen University, the British-owned Saichuen power station, cutting off all air-raid alarms, and the huge Fung Keng rubber plant. Scores of bombs, aimed at the Pearl River bridge, connecting the city with the industrial island suburb of Honam, fell along the waterfront, smashing sampans into wet and bloody splinters. Incendiary bombs plumped in Standard Oil storage tanks near the main Wongsha rail station, sent a 16-car train and the station roaring up in flames. The mammoth Sun Yat-sen Memorial Auditorium (the size of Manhattan's Radio City Music Hall) was blasted. Bombs fell in the grounds of the U. S.-owned Lingnan University, the oldest Christian college in South China, and ripped out a side of the French Paul Doumer Hospital, just across the narrow canal from the island of Shameen, Canton's foreign concession. Bombers power-dived over the settlement, built on a reclaimed sandbar, and released their loads directly above in order to plump them into the populous Chinese West Bund. Settlement police stood guard to beat back any Chinese who might plunge across the narrow canal and try to clamber up Shameen's steep concrete sides to safety.
The U. S., acting through Ambassador Joseph Clark Grew, lodged a protest with Tokyo against the bombing of Lingnan University, and the French Government sent a stiff protest against the attack on the French hospital, both of which were politely filed away by the Tokyo Foreign Office. Japan's real reaction was, as usual, expressed by the Navy. In Shanghai, the chief of the Navy's Press Department. Rear Admiral Kiyoshi Noda, announced that Japanese aerial bombardments would continue. He expressed "satisfaction with the progress of military operations" to date and assured that "our aviators are doing their best to avoid hitting non-combatants."
At week's end the Canton bombings slackened as Chinese anti-aircraft batteries found their range, and 14 U. S.-made planes arrived to aid the Chinese defenses. In Yunnanfu, 900 miles to the west, ten French free-lance fliers, using new high-speed French Dewoitine pursuit planes. formed a battle squadron which may be called to take the air over Canton.
On the main battle front at Chengchow, 300 miles on a direct rail line north of Hankow, the Japanese forces last week made only small gains. Retreating Chinese had cut dykes on the Yellow River north of the city and the saffron waters of "China's Sorrow" poured over the low-lying, sandy ground outside Cheng-chow, bogged down Japan's mechanized advance.
From Hankow last week came disturbing reports of dissension between Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and his military aides. Chief dissenter was General Li Tsung-jen, powerful military leader of Kwangsi, a South China province neighboring Canton, who patched up his long-standing quarrel with the Generalissimo when hostilities started eleven months ago. In the tortuous back-stepping before the Japanese the Generalissimo has repeatedly pulled his own crack German-trained divisions from the front lines first, leaving the raw, ill-equipped mass of his army, largely composed of provincial troops, to cover the retreat. This, coupled with Chiang's hesitancy in sending the Chinese Air Force, concentrated at Hankow, to the aid of Canton, led to persistent reports last week that General Li Tsung-jen would withdraw his Kwangsi levies for a defense of his home province.