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Zhang Zuolin was an early 20th century Chinese warlord of Manchuria. He was fatally wounded by the Japanese Army on June 4, 1928, using a bomb laid beneath tracks where his armoured train travelled over.

There is a colourful description of his last words soon after the explosion:

Although the Grand Marshal [Zhang] was heavily injured, he was conscious, and asked who did it. His subordinates answered: "the Japanese!"

Zhang Zuolin only said the word "fight [them]!" and passed out, never to awaken...

大元帅虽然身负重伤,但神志很清醒,问谁干的。部下回答:是日本人!

张作霖只说了一个“打”字,就昏死过去,再也没有醒来……。

This account is repeated in many places, including books like this: 抗日战争的细节.

My concern is with the laconic last word "fight". Although it fits his persona as an uncultured military despot, it conveniently paints him as a patriot. So I tried to dig up whether he actually said this, where this account came from, and if not, what really happened.


I found this secondary source for the account. Secondary, because it references what looks like an old magazine 《旧闻新读》, with OCR errors too (l3本人 instead of 日本人, presumably). I don't know how to find that magazine, or whether it's reliable.

But I was able to find an alternate account. Apparently his subordinate, an officer (校尉处长) by the name of Wen Shoushan (温守善) was present. According to the book 太陽旗下的罪惡: 不為人知的日本遠東戰爭罪行, which references 我所知道的张作霖 page 212:

When Zhang Zuolin was carried onto the car, he seemed to be in great pain, and although incoherent, could still speak. He first asked, "did we catch them?" Wen Shoushan lied, "we caught them." Zhang asked, "who [sent them]?" Wen Shoushan answered, "we're still questioning." Zhang said, "I want to go home and see [my fifth son]." He continued, "I'll take a piss, after I'm done pissing I'll go!" At the time everyone thought that Zhang was heavily concussed, and was saying nonsense."

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The accounts further differ. Instead of dying on the scene, this book references another source, 究竟是谁杀死了张作霖, another magazine article published in Culture Journal (文化学刊), which continues as he's been taken back to his residence:

When Zhang Zuolin was on his last breath, his last words were, "I'm too injured, lost both legs, I won't make it! Tell [my sixth son (Zhang Xueliang)] to put country first, and do his best! This old bag doesn't matter, tell [my sixth son] to hurry back to Fengtian (Shenyang)."

enter image description here

But that's not all; I've found a third article, which unfortunately doesn't name sources, but combines a little from both accounts; he did say "fight", among his other ramblings, which puts the meaning of "fight" into question.

Out of all these overlapping, conflicting accounts, what did Zhang Zuolin actually say? What were the original sources? If it was primarily recollections from Wen Shoushan, did he give conflicting accounts due to faulty recollection?

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    Nice to see a question with lots of research effort. Definite upvote! – Lars Bosteen Nov 8 '18 at 2:52
  • It clearly took a while for his injuries to cause death Don't discount that he said all or some subset of these things, or more. Eyewitness accounts are also unreliable in this regard because people tend to remember what they heard in terms of their own words, not the literal words spoken. Multiple eyewitness accounts would be needed for reasonable certainty that the quote was exactly accurate. – Pieter Geerkens Aug 12 at 18:53
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    Anyone else waiting for a punch-line after reading the title? – colmde Aug 13 at 10:57
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张作霖只说了一个“打”字,就昏死过去,再也没有醒来……。

"打" could be the verb in a sentence. That means 'make a phone/telegraph to call his fifth son back soon'. Because he was in a lethal condition and could not finish the whole sentence. This matches the following return of Xueliang Zhang disguised as a wound soldier.

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    Welcome to History:SE. A source for the quote would greatly improve this answer. – sempaiscuba Sep 7 at 2:56
  • @sempaiscuba: This is a part of the first blockquote from the OP. – Jan Sep 10 at 21:30
  • @Jan Yes, and the OP states that the quote is "repeated in many places", so it would be helpful to know if this is just citing the OP and clarifying the translation, or citing one of those sources. Hence my request for the source. – sempaiscuba Sep 10 at 21:37
  • This answer only offers an alternate guess of what Zhang meant to say (something with 打电话 instead of something like 打仗), but no answer about the questions re. contradicting accounts and primary sources. – Jan Sep 10 at 21:40
  • Hi @sempaiscuba, I am locating it in a documentary book. Will show you if i find it. – Bob Lew Sep 11 at 0:30

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