Bloody Saturday

1937
Photograph by H.S. Wong

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.

H.S. Wong

Bloody Saturday

  • H.S. Wong
  • 1937

The same imperialistic desires festering in Europe in the 1930s had already swept into Asia. Yet many Americans remained wary of wading into a conflict in what seemed a far-off, alien land. But that opinion began to change as Japan’s army of the Rising Sun rolled toward Shanghai in the summer of 1937. Fighting started there in August, and the unrelenting shelling and bombing caused mass panic and death in the streets. But the rest of the world didn’t put a face to the victims until they saw the aftermath of an August 28 attack by Japanese bombers. When H.S. Wong, a photographer for Hearst Metrotone News nicknamed Newsreel, arrived at the destroyed South Station, he recalled carnage so fresh “that my shoes were soaked with blood.” In the midst of the devastation, Wong saw a wailing Chinese baby whose mother lay dead on nearby tracks. He said he quickly shot his remaining film and then ran to carry the baby to safety, but not before the boy’s father raced over and ferried him away. Wong’s image of the wounded, helpless infant was sent to New York and featured in Hearst newsreels, newspapers and life magazine—the widest audience a picture could then have. Viewed by more than 136 million people, it struck a personal chord that transcended ethnicity and geography. To many, the infant’s pain represented the plight of China and the bloodlust of Japan, and the photo dubbed Bloody Saturday was transformed into one of the most powerful news pictures of all time. Its dissemination reveals the potent force of an image to sway official and public opinion. Wong’s picture led the U.S., Britain and France to formally protest the attack and helped shift Western sentiment in favor of wading into what would become the world’s second great war.

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