It was August 28, 1937. Retreating Chinese Nationalist Troops had left behind them a blockade across the Whampoo River in Shanghai. At two P.M. that day, the Japanese Navy was scheduled to blow it up. On the roof of the Butterfield Swires Building, which faced the Whampoo, were many correspondents and cameramen. They waited to record the bombing. By three o’clock the Japanese had not shown up. Word came through that the bombing had been postponed. The newsmen left. All but H.S.”Newsreel” Wong of Hearst Metrotone News; he decided to wait a little longer.
About four P.M. he heard the sound of planes. Three Japanese bombers came in low. They circled the temporary Japanese airfield and passed over Wong again. Seconds later, he felt the concussion of bomb exploding. Black smoke arose in the direction of Chinese Arsenal, two miles away. Wong grabbed his 35mm Eyemo camera and film. He raced his car toward the arsenal. As he approached it, he realized that the railroad station had been hit.
“It was a horrible sight. People were still trying to get up. Dead and injured lay strewn across the tracks and platform. Limbs lay all over the place. Only my work helped me forget what I was seeing. I stopped to reload my camera. I notices that my shoes were soaked with blood. I walked across the railway track, and made many long scene with the burning overhead bridge in the background. Then I saw a man pick up a baby from the track, and carry him to the platform. He went back to get another badly injured child. The mother lay dead on the tracks. As I filmed this tragedy, I heard the sound of planes returning. Quickly, I shot my remaining few feet on the baby, I ran toward the child, intending to carry him to safety, but the father returned. The bombers passed overhead. No bombs were dropped.”
“The next morning’s papers said there had been more than 1800 people, mostly women and children. on the railway platform, waiting to be evacuated to the inland. The Japanese airmen had mistaken them for a troop movement.” Fewer than 300 survived. The film was sent by U.S. Navy ship from Shanghai to Manila, then to New York by Pan American Airlines. Two weeks later, the crying baby, sitting in the bombed South railway station in Shanghai, was seen in the Hearst newsreels and newspapers.
It was a story with international repercussions. The U.S, protested the Japanese bombing open cities, killing defenseless men, women, and children. Wong’s life was threatened by the Japanese. He said, “To their embarrassment, the Japanese blamed me that the picture was a fake*. They put a price on my head to prove they were right.” He was under the protection of the British Authorities, and shortly after fled with his family to Hong Kong.
The October 14, 1937, issue of Life magazine estimated that 136,000,000 people had seen Wong’s “Chinese Baby.”
— John Faber, the Great News Photos and Stories behind them.
* They claimed Hearst News’ previous records and the scene of the child’s father placing the baby on the track (below) as the evidence that the reel was manipulated.