Like all racialists, the victorious Japanese on Syonan-to (Japanese for “Light of the South”, the new name for Singapore) immediately separated their adversaries and the civilian population by the color of their skin. In a process known as “Daikensho”, “The Great Inspection”, Japanese Kempeitai (secret police) categorized each prisoner and civilian based on race, and then by how likely they would resist the Japanese occupation.
After an initial bloodletting in which all of the occupants and staff of the Alexandra Hospital were murdered, and all surrendering wounded were killed, the white civilians, and officers and soldiers of the British and Australian units were marched north. They were sent to camps in Thailand where they were to be worked to death building roads, bridges, and railroad tracks in support of the Japanese invasion of Burma, and subsequently India.
The 40,000 Indian soldiers and ex-patriates were initially treated quite differently. The Japanese sought to exploit Indian nationalism, and actively recruited Indian soldiers to fight against the British in Burma. An Indian expatriate, Mohan Singh, gave a powerful speech to the assembled mass on an independent India’s role inside the Japanese Co-Prosperity Sphere. Over 12,000 volunteered to fight for Japan under the banner of the Indian National Army. The wounded from the remainder were then killed, and the rest were sent to camps on Singapore and were worked to death improving Japanese defenses and facilities around the Southeastern Pacific.
Most of the population of Singapore was ethnic Chinese, and the Japanese were concerned about their support for Chiang Kai-shek, the Nationalist leader in China. The Kempeitai set up screening centers all across the island. At first, only members of Chinese nationalist organizations were killed. Then the killing was extended to wealthy Chinese, then businessmen and capitalists, and then teachers, priests and monks. Soon, as with any bureaucracy drunk with power and evaluated by “numbers processed”, the criteria constantly changed to include more and more “undesirables”. Civil servants, Chinese who arrived after 1937 (the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War, men with tattoos (thought to be Triad), men from Hainan (thought to Communist), people who possessed weapons of any kind, even “tall” men (thought to be potential leaders), and anyone deemed a threat were all killed, many in the most gruesome manners possible.
The process dehumanized the Chinese, and in the eyes of the Japanese were unworthy of dignity. They weren’t just murdered, they were used as objects to fulfill a purpose – as training aides and playthings for the Japanese occupiers. The women were forced into brothels or raped to death in the barracks. The men were used as live bayonet dummies, targets on rifle and machine gun ranges, or tortured for fun or sport at the end of a hard day’s work.
Over the next three weeks, the Daikensho would claim the lives of at least 70,000 Chinese on Singapore, with tens of thousands more unconfirmed.
The Chinese would remember The Great Inspection of Singapore as the “Sook Ching”,