Japanese War Crimes
Rape of Nanking
The Nanking Massacre
The Nanking Massacre or Nanjing Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanking or Rape of Nanjing, was an episode during the Second Sino-Japanese War of mass murder and mass rape by Japanese troops against the residents of Nanjing (then spelled Nanking), then capital of the Republic of China.
The massacre occurred over six weeks starting December 13, 1937, the day that the Japanese captured Nanjing. During this period, soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army murdered an estimated 40,000 to over 300,000 Chinese civilians and disarmed combatants, and perpetrated widespread rape and looting.
Several key perpetrators were tried and found guilty at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal, and were executed. A key perpetrator, Prince Asaka of the Imperial Family, escaped prosecution by having earlier been granted immunity by the Allies.
Extremely rare evidence of Nanjing Massacre filmed by US pastor in 1937
Since most Japanese military records on the killings were kept secret or destroyed shortly after the surrender of Japan in 1945, historians have not been able to accurately estimate the death toll of the massacre. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East estimated in 1948 that over 200,000 Chinese were killed in the incident.
China’s official estimate is more than 300,000 dead based on the evaluation of the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal in 1947. The death toll has been actively contested among scholars since the 1980s.
The event remains a contentious political issue, as aspects of it have been disputed by historical negationists and Japanese nationalists who assert that the massacre has been either exaggerated or fabricated for propaganda purposes.
Sword Killing Contest!!! First To 100 Wins – Death By Cold Steel Report
In August 1937, the Japanese army invaded Shanghai where they met strong resistance and suffered heavy casualties. The battle was bloody as both sides faced attrition in urban hand-to-hand combat. By mid-November the Japanese had captured Shanghai with the help of naval bombardment. The General Staff Headquarters in Tokyo initially decided not to expand the war due to heavy casualties and low troop morale. Nevertheless, on December 1, headquarters ordered the Central China Area Army and the 10th Army to capture Nanjing, then-capital of the Republic of China.
Relocation of the capital
After losing the Battle of Shanghai, Chiang Kai-shek knew that the fall of Nanjing was a matter of time. He and his staff realized that they could not risk the annihilation of their elite troops in a symbolic but hopeless defense of the capital. To preserve the army for future battles, most of it was withdrawn. Chiang’s strategy was to follow the suggestion of his German advisers to draw the Japanese army deep into China and use China’s vast territory as a defensive strength. Chiang planned to fight a protracted war of attrition to wear down the Japanese in the hinterland of China.
Strategy for the defense of Nanking
In a press release to foreign reporters, Tang Shengzhi announced the city would not surrender and would fight to the death. Tang gathered about 100,000 soldiers, largely untrained, including Chinese troops who had participated in the Battle of Shanghai. To prevent civilians from fleeing the city, he ordered troops to guard the port, as instructed by Chiang Kai-shek. The defense force blocked roads, destroyed boats, and burnt nearby villages, preventing widespread evacuation.
The Chinese government left for relocation on December 1, and the president left on December 7, leaving the fate of Nanking to an International Committee led by John Rabe.
The defense plan fell apart quickly. Those defending the city encountered Chinese troops fleeing from previous defeats such as the Battle of Shanghai, running from the advancing Japanese army. This did nothing to help the morale of the defenders, many of whom were killed during the defense of the city and subsequent Japanese occupation.
Approach of the Imperial Japanese Army
Japanese war crimes on the march to Nanking
Although the massacre is generally described as having occurred over a six-week period after the fall of Nanjing, the crimes committed by the Japanese army were not limited to that period. Many atrocities were reported to have been committed as the Japanese army advanced from Shanghai to Nanjing.
According to one Japanese journalist embedded with Imperial forces at the time,
“The reason that the [10th Army] is advancing to Nanking quite rapidly is due to the tacit consent among the officers and men that they could loot and rape as they wish.”
Novelist Tatsuzō Ishikawa vividly described how the 16th Division of the Shanghai Expeditionary Force committed atrocities on the march between Shanghai and Nanjing in his novel Ikiteiru Heitai (Living Soldiers), which was based on interviews that Ishikawa conducted with troops in Nanjing in January 1938.
Perhaps the most notorious atrocity was a killing contest between two Japanese officers as reported in the Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shimbun and the English language Japan Advertiser. The contest — a race between the two officers to see which could kill 100 people first using only a sword — was covered much like a sporting event with regular updates on the score over a series of days.
In Japan, the veracity of the newspaper article about the contest was the subject of ferocious debate for several decades starting in 1967.
In 2000, a historian concurred with certain Japanese scholars who had argued that the contest was a concocted story, with the collusion of the soldiers themselves for the purpose of raising the national fighting spirit.
In 2005, a Tokyo district judge dismissed a suit by the families of the lieutenants, stating that “the lieutenants admitted the fact that they raced to kill 100 people” and that the story cannot be proven to be clearly false. The judge also ruled against the civil claim of the plaintiffs because the original article was more than 60 years old.
The historicity of the event remains disputed in Japan.
Flight of Chinese civilians
As the Japanese army drew closer to Nanjing, panicked Chinese civilians fled in droves, not only because of the dangers of the anticipated battle but also because they feared the deprivation inherent in the scorched earth strategy that the Chinese troops were implementing in the area surrounding the city.
The Nanjing garrison force set fire to buildings and houses in the areas close to Xiakuan to the north as well as in the environs of the eastern and southern city gates. Targets within and outside of the city walls—such as military barracks, private homes, the Chinese Ministry of Communication, forests and even entire villages—were burnt to cinders, at an estimated value of 20 to 30 million (1937) US dollars.
Establishment of the Nanking Safety Zone
Many Westerners were living in the city at that time, conducting trade or on missionary trips. As the Japanese army approached Nanking, most of them fled the city, leaving 27 foreigners. Five of these were journalists who remained in the city a few days after it was captured, leaving the city on December 16. Fifteen of the remaining 22 foreigners formed a committee, called the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone in the western quarter of the city.
The Japanese government had previously agreed not to attack parts of the city that did not contain Chinese military forces, and the members of the Committee managed to persuade the Chinese government to move their troops out of the area.
On December 1, 1937, Nanking Mayor Ma Chao-chun ordered all Chinese citizens remaining in Nanking to move into the “Safety Zone”. Many fled the city on December 7, and the International Committee took over as the de facto government of Nanking.
Prince Asaka appointed as commander
In a memorandum for the palace rolls, Hirohito singled Prince Yasuhiko Asaka out for censure as the one imperial kinsman whose attitude was “not good”. He assigned Asaka to Nanjing as an opportunity to make amends.
It appears that Hirohito had never learned about, or had refused to admit, Asaka’s role in the ensuing massacre.
On December 5, Asaka left Tokyo by plane and arrived at the front three days later. He met with division commanders, lieutenant-generals Kesago Nakajima and Heisuke Yanagawa, who informed him that the Japanese troops had almost completely surrounded 300,000 Chinese troops in the vicinity of Nanjing and that preliminary negotiations suggested that the Chinese were ready to surrender.
Prince Asaka is alleged to have issued an order to “kill all captives”, thus providing official sanction for the crimes which took place during and after the battle.
Some authors record that Prince Asaka signed the order for Japanese soldiers in Nanking to “kill all captives”.Others assert that lieutenant colonel Isamu Chō, Asaka’s aide-de-camp, sent this order under the Prince’s sign manual without the Prince’s knowledge or assent.
Nevertheless, even if Chō took the initiative, Asaka was nominally the officer in charge and gave no orders to stop the carnage. When General Matsui arrived four days after it had begun, he issued strict orders that resulted in its eventual end.
While the extent of Prince Asaka’s responsibility for the massacre remains a matter of debate, the ultimate sanction for the massacre and the crimes committed during the invasion of China were issued in Emperor Hirohito‘s ratification of the Japanese army’s proposition to remove the constraints of international law on the treatment of Chinese prisoners on August 5, 1937.
Battle of Nanking
Siege of the city
The Japanese military continued to move forward, breaching the last lines of Chinese resistance, and arriving outside the walled city of Nanking on December 9.
Demand for surrender
At noon on December 9, the military dropped leaflets into the city, urging the surrender of Nanking within 24 hours, promising annihilation if refused.
Meanwhile, members of the Committee contacted Tang and suggested a plan for three-day cease-fire, during which the Chinese troops could withdraw without fighting while the Japanese troops would stay in their present position.
General Tang agreed with this proposal if the International Committee could acquire permission of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, who had already fled to Hankow to which he had temporarily shifted the military headquarters two days earlier.
John Rabe boarded the U.S. gunboat Panay on December 9 and sent two telegrams, one to Chiang Kai-shek by way of the American ambassador in Hankow, and one to the Japanese military authority in Shanghai. The next day he was informed that Chiang Kai-shek, who had ordered that Nanking be defended “to the last man,” had refused to accept the proposal.
Assault and capture of Nanking
The Japanese awaited an answer to their demand for surrender but no response was received from the Chinese by the deadline on December 10. General Iwane Matsui waited another hour before issuing the command to take Nanking by force. The Japanese army mounted its assault on the Nanking walls from multiple directions; the SEF’s 16th Division attacked three gates on the eastern side, the 6th Division of the 10A launched its offensive on the western walls, and the SEF’s 9th Division advanced into the area in-between.
On December 12, under heavy artillery fire and aerial bombardment, General Tang Sheng-chi ordered his men to retreat. What followed was nothing short of chaos. Some Chinese soldiers stripped civilians of their clothing in a desperate attempt to blend in, and many others were shot by the Chinese supervisory unit as they tried to flee.
On 13 December, the 6th and the 116th Divisions of the Japanese Army were the first to enter the city, facing little military resistance. Simultaneously, the 9th Division entered nearby Guanghua Gate, and the 16th Division entered the Zhongshan and Taiping gates. That same afternoon, two small Japanese Navy fleets arrived on both sides of the Yangtze River.
Pursuit and mopping-up operations
Japanese troops pursued the retreating Chinese army units, primarily in the Xiakuan area to the north of the city walls and around the Zijin Mountain in the east. Although most sources suggest that the final phase of the battle consisted of a one-sided slaughter of Chinese troops by the Japanese, some Japanese historians maintain that the remaining Chinese military still posed a serious threat to the Japanese. Prince Yasuhiko Asaka told a war correspondent later that he was in a very perilous position when his headquarters was ambushed by Chinese forces that were in the midst of fleeing from Nanking east of the city. On the other side of the city, the 11th Company of the 45th Regiment encountered some 20,000 Chinese soldiers who were making their way from Xiakuan.
The Japanese army conducted its mopping-up operation both inside and outside the Nanking Safety Zone. Since the area outside the safety zone had been almost completely evacuated, the mopping-up effort was concentrated in the safety zone. The safety zone, an area of 3.85 square kilometres, was packed with the remaining population of Nanking. The Japanese army leadership assigned sections of the safety zone to some units to separate alleged plain-clothed soldiers from the civilians.
Rape of Nanking Part I Atrocities in Asia Nanjing Massacre
Eyewitness accounts of Westerners and Chinese present at Nanking in the weeks after the fall of the city say that, over the course of six weeks following the fall of Nanking, Japanese troops engaged in rape, murder, theft, arson, and other war crimes. Some of these accounts, including the diaries of John Rabe and American Minnie Vautrin, came from foreigners who opted to stay behind to protect Chinese civilians from harm. Other accounts include first-person testimonies of Nanking Massacre survivors, eyewitness reports of journalists (both Western and Japanese), as well as the field diaries of military personnel. American missionary John Magee stayed behind to provide a 16 mm film documentary and first-hand photographs of the Nanking Massacre.
A group of foreign expatriates headed by Rabe had formed the 15-man International Committee on November 22 and mapped out the Nanking Safety Zone in order to safeguard civilians in the city, where the population numbered from 200,000 to 250,000. Rabe and American missionary Lewis S. C. Smythe, secretary of the International Committee and a professor of sociology at the University of Nanking, recorded the actions of the Japanese troops and filed complaints to the Japanese embassy.
In 1937, the Osaka Mainichi Shimbun and its sister newspaper, the Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shimbun, covered a “contest” between two Japanese officers, Toshiaki Mukai and Tsuyoshi Noda of the Japanese 16th Division.
The two men were described as vying to be the first to kill 100 people with a sword before the capture of Nanking. From Jurong to Tangshan (two cities in Jiangshu Province, China), Mukai had killed 89 people while Noda had killed 78 people. The contest continued because neither had killed 100 people.
By the time they had arrived at Zijin Mountain, Noda had killed 105 people while Mukai had killed 106 people. Both officers supposedly surpassed their goal during the heat of battle, making it impossible to determine which officer had actually won the contest. Therefore (according to journalists Asami Kazuo and Suzuki Jiro, writing in the Tokyo Nichi-Nichi Shimbun of December 13), they decided to begin another contest to kill 150 people. The Nichi Nichi headline of the story of December 13 read “‘Incredible Record’ [in the Contest to] Behead 100 People—Mukai 106 – 105 Noda—Both 2nd Lieutenants Go Into Extra Innings”.
After Japan surrendered, Mukai and Noda were arrested, each charged as a “Civilized Public Enemy”, and executed at gunpoint in Nanking
The International Military Tribunal for the Far East estimated that, in a addition to children and the elderly, 20,000 women were raped.
A large portion of these rapes were systematized in a process in which soldiers would go from door to door, searching for girls, with many women being captured and gang raped. The women were often killed immediately after being raped, often through explicit mutilationor by pentetrating vaginas with bayonets, long sticks of bamboo, or other objects. Young children were not exempt from these atrocities and were cut open to allow Japanese soldiers to rape them.
On 19 December 1937, the Reverend James M. McCallum wrote in his diary:
I know not where to end. Never I have heard or read such brutality. Rape! Rape! Rape! We estimate at least 1,000 cases a night and many by day. In case of resistance or anything that seems like disapproval, there is a bayonet stab or a bullet … People are hysterical … Women are being carried off every morning, afternoon and evening. The whole Japanese army seems to be free to go and come as it pleases, and to do whatever it pleases.
On March 7, 1938, Robert O. Wilson, a surgeon at the American-administered University Hospital in the Safety Zone, wrote in a letter to his family,
“a conservative estimate of people slaughtered in cold blood is somewhere about 100,000, including of course thousands of soldiers that had thrown down their arms”.
Here are two excerpts from his letters of 15 and 18 December 1937 to his family:
The slaughter of civilians is appalling. I could go on for pages telling of cases of rape and brutality almost beyond belief. Two bayoneted corpses are the only survivors of seven street cleaners who were sitting in their headquarters when Japanese soldiers came in without warning or reason and killed five of their number and wounded the two that found their way to the hospital.
Let me recount some instances occurring in the last two days. Last night the house of one of the Chinese staff members of the university was broken into and two of the women, his relatives, were raped. Two girls, about 16, were raped to death in one of the refugee camps. In the University Middle School where there are 8,000 people the Japs came in ten times last night, over the wall, stole food, clothing, and raped until they were satisfied. They bayoneted one little boy of eight who [had] five bayonet wounds including one that penetrated his stomach, a portion of omentum was outside the abdomen. I think he will live.
In his diary kept during the aggression against the city and its occupation by the Imperial Japanese Army, the leader of the Safety Zone, John Rabe, wrote many comments about Japanese atrocities. For 17 December:
Two Japanese soldiers have climbed over the garden wall and are about to break into our house. When I appear they give the excuse that they saw two Chinese soldiers climb over the wall.
When I show them my party badge, they return the same way. In one of the houses in the narrow street behind my garden wall, a woman was raped, and then wounded in the neck with a bayonet. I managed to get an ambulance so we can take her to Kulou Hospital … Last night up to 1,000 women and girls are said to have been raped, about 100 girls at Ginling College. . . alone. You hear nothing but rape. If husbands or brothers intervene, they’re shot. What you hear and see on all sides is the brutality and bestiality of the Japanese soldiers.
There are also accounts of Japanese troops forcing families to commit incestuous acts. Sons were forced to rape their mothers, fathers were forced to rape their daughters. One pregnant woman who was gang-raped by Japanese soldiers gave birth only a few hours later; although the baby appeared to be physically unharmed (Robert B. Edgerton, Warriors of the Rising Sun).
Monks who had declared a life of celibacy were also forced to rape women.
Massacre of civilians
Following the capture of Nanking, a massacre, which was perpetrated by the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA), led to the deaths of up to 60,000 residents in the city, a figure difficult to precisely calculate due to the many bodies deliberately burnt, buried in mass graves, or deposited in the Yangtze River by the IJA.
Japanese ultra-nationalists have strongly disputed such death tolls, with some stating that only several hundred civilians were killed during the massacre. B. Campbell, in an article published in the journal Sociological Theory, has described the Nanking Massacre as a genocide considering the fact that the residents were still unilaterally killed en masse during the aftermath, despite the successful and certain outcome in battle.
On 13 December 1937, John Rabe wrote in his diary:
It is not until we tour the city that we learn the extent of destruction. We come across corpses every 100 to 200 yards. The bodies of civilians that I examined had bullet holes in their backs. These people had presumably been fleeing and were shot from behind. The Japanese march through the city in groups of ten to twenty soldiers and loot the shops … I watched with my own eyes as they looted the café of our German baker Herr Kiessling. Hempel’s hotel was broken into as well, as [was] almost every shop on Chung Shang and Taiping Road.
On 10 February 1938, Legation Secretary of the German Embassy, Rosen, wrote to his Foreign Ministry about a film made in December by Reverend John Magee to recommend its purchase. Here is an excerpt from his letter and a description of some of its shots, kept in the Political Archives of the Foreign Ministry in Berlin.
During the Japanese reign of terror in Nanking – which, by the way, continues to this day to a considerable degree – the Reverend John Magee, a member of the American Episcopal Church Mission who has been here for almost a quarter of a century, took motion pictures that eloquently bear witness to the atrocities committed by the Japanese … One will have to wait and see whether the highest officers in the Japanese army succeed, as they have indicated, in stopping the activities of their troops, which continue even today.
On December 13, about 30 soldiers came to a Chinese house at #5 Hsing Lu Koo in the southeastern part of Nanking, and demanded entrance. The door was open by the landlord, a Mohammedan named Ha. They killed him immediately with a revolver and also Mrs. Ha, who knelt before them after Ha’s death, begging them not to kill anyone else. Mrs. Ha asked them why they killed her husband and they shot her. Mrs. Hsia was dragged out from under a table in the guest hall where she had tried to hide with her 1 year old baby. After being stripped and raped by one or more men, she was bayoneted in the chest, and then had a bottle thrust into her vagina. The baby was killed with a bayonet. Some soldiers then went to the next room, where Mrs. Hsia’s parents, aged 76 and 74, and her two daughters aged 16 and 14 [were]. They were about to rape the girls when the grandmother tried to protect them. The soldiers killed her with a revolver. The grandfather grasped the body of his wife and was killed. The two girls were then stripped, the elder being raped by 2–3 men, and the younger by 3. The older girl was stabbed afterwards and a cane was rammed in her vagina. The younger girl was bayoneted also but was spared the horrible treatment that had been meted out to her sister and mother. The soldiers then bayoneted another sister of between 7–8, who was also in the room. The last murders in the house were of Ha’s two children, aged 4 and 2 respectively. The older was bayoneted and the younger split down through the head with a sword.
Pregnant women were targeted for murder, as their stomachs were often bayoneted, sometimes after rape. Tang Junshan, survivor and witness to one of the Japanese army’s systematic mass killings, testified:
The seventh and last person in the first row was a pregnant woman. The soldier thought he might as well rape her before killing her, so he pulled her out of the group to a spot about ten meters away. As he was trying to rape her, the woman resisted fiercely … The soldier abruptly stabbed her in the belly with a bayonet. She gave a final scream as her intestines spilled out. Then the soldier stabbed the fetus, with its umbilical cord clearly visible, and tossed it aside.
According to Navy veteran Sho Mitani, “The Army used a trumpet sound that meant ‘Kill all Chinese who run away'”. Thousands were led away and mass-executed in an excavation known as the “Ten-Thousand-Corpse Ditch”, a trench measuring about 300 m long and 5 m wide. Since records were not kept, estimates regarding the number of victims buried in the ditch range from 4,000 to 20,000. However, most scholars and historians consider the number to be more than 12,000 victims.
An elderly Hui man.
The Hui people, a minority Chinese group who are mainly Muslim, also suffered during the massacre, after which one mosque was found destroyed and others found to be “filled with dead bodies”. Hui volunteers and imams buried over 100 Hui following Muslim ritual.
Extrajudicial killing of Chinese prisoners of war
On August 6, 1937, Hirohito had personally ratified his army’s proposition to remove the constraints of international law on the treatment of Chinese prisoners. This directive also advised staff officers to stop using the term “prisoner of war” (POW).
Immediately after the fall of the city, Japanese troops embarked on a determined search for former soldiers, in which thousands of young men were captured. Many were taken to the Yangtze River, where they were machine-gunned. What was probably the single largest massacre of Chinese troops occurred along the banks of the Yangtze River on December 18 in the Straw String Gorge Massacre.
Japanese soldiers took most of the morning tying all of the POWs’ hands together; in the dusk, the soldiers divided POWs into four columns and opened fire. Unable to escape, the POWs could only scream and thrash in desperation. It took an hour for the sounds of death to stop and even longer for the Japanese to bayonet each individual. Most were dumped into the Yangtze. It is estimated that at least 57,500 Chinese POWs were killed.
The Japanese troops gathered 1,300 Chinese soldiers and civilians at Taiping Gate and killed them. The victims were blown up with landmines, then doused with petrol before being set on fire. Those who were alive afterward were killed with bayonets.
F. Tillman Durdin and Archibald Steele, American news correspondents, reported that they had seen bodies of killed Chinese soldiers forming mounds six feet high at the Nanking Yijiang gate in the north. Durdin, who was working for The New York Times, toured Nanking before his departure from the city. He heard waves of machine-gun fire and witnessed the Japanese soldiers gun down some two hundred Chinese within ten minutes. Two days later, in his report to The New York Times, he stated that the alleys and street were filled with civilian bodies, including women and children.
According to a testimony delivered by missionary Ralph L. Phillips to the U.S. State Assembly Investigating Committee, he was “forced to watch while the Japs disembowled a Chinese soldier” and “roasted his heart and liver and ate them”.
Theft and arson
One-third of the city was destroyed as a result of arson. According to reports, Japanese troops torched newly built government buildings as well as the homes of many civilians. There was considerable destruction to areas outside the city walls. Soldiers pillaged from the poor and the wealthy alike. The lack of resistance from Chinese troops and civilians in Nanking meant that the Japanese soldiers were free to divide up the city’s valuables as they saw fit. This resulted in the widespread looting and burglary.
On 17 December, chairman John Rabe wrote a complaint to Kiyoshi Fukui, second secretary of the Japanese Embassy. The following is an excerpt:
In other words, on the 13th when your troops entered the city, we had nearly all the civilian population gathered in a Zone in which there had been very little destruction by stray shells and no looting by Chinese soldiers even in full retreat … All 27 Occidentals in the city at that time and our Chinese population were totally surprised by the reign of robbery, raping and killing initiated by your soldiers on the 14th. All we are asking in our protest is that you restore order among your troops and get the normal city life going as soon as possible. In the latter process we are glad to cooperate in any way we can. But even last night between 8 and 9 p.m. when five Occidental members of our staff and Committee toured the Zone to observe conditions, we did not find any single Japanese patrol either in the Zone or at the entrances!
Nanking Safety Zone and the role of foreigners
The Japanese troops did respect the Zone to an extent; until the Japanese occupation, no shells entered that part of the city except a few stray shots. During the chaos following the attack of the city, some were killed in the Safety Zone, but the crimes that occurred in the rest of the city were far greater by all accounts.
The Japanese soldiers committed actions in the Safety Zone that were part of the larger Nanking Massacre. The International Committee appealed a number of times to the Japanese army, with Rabe using his credentials as a Nazi Party member, but to no avail. Rabe wrote that, from time to time, the Japanese would enter the Safety Zone at will, carry off a few hundred men and women, and either summarily execute them or rape and then kill them.
By February 5, 1938, the International Committee had forwarded to the Japanese embassy a total of 450 cases of murder, rape, and general disorder by Japanese soldiers that had been reported after the American, British and German diplomats had returned to their embassies.
- “Case 5 – On the night of December 14th, there were many cases of Japanese soldiers entering houses and raping women or taking them away. This created panic in the area and hundreds of women moved into the Ginling College campus yesterday.”
- “Case 10 – On the night of December 15th, a number of Japanese soldiers entered the University of Nanking buildings at Tao Yuen and raped 30 women on the spot, some by six men.”
- “Case 13 – December 18, 4 p.m., at No. 18 I Ho Lu, Japanese soldiers wanted a man’s cigarette case and when he hesitated, one of the soldier crashed in the side of his head with a bayonet. The man is now at the University Hospital and is not expected to live.”
- “Case 14 – On December 16, seven girls (ages ranged from 16 to 21) were taken away from the Military College. Five returned. Each girl was raped six or seven times daily- reported December 18th.”
- “Case 15 – There are about 540 refugees crowded in #83 and 85 on Canton Road … More than 30 women and girls have been raped. The women and children are crying all nights. Conditions inside the compound are worse than we can describe. Please give us help.”
- “Case 16 – A Chinese girl named Loh, who, with her mother and brother, was living in one of the Refugee Centers in the Refugee Zone, was shot through the head and killed by a Japanese soldier. The girl was 14 years old. The incident occurred near the Kuling Ssu, a noted temple on the border of the Refugee zone …”
- “Case 19 – January 30th, about 5 p.m. Mr. Sone (of the Nanking Theological Seminary) was greeted by several hundred women pleading with him that they would not have to go home on February 4th. They said it was no use going home they might just as well be killed for staying at the camp as to be raped, robbed or killed at home. … One old woman 62 years old went home near Hansimen and Japanese soldiers came at night and wanted to rape her. She said she was too old. So the soldiers rammed a stick up her. But she survived to come back.”
It is said that Rabe rescued between 200,000 and 250,000 Chinese people.
Jonathan Spence writes “there is no obvious explanation for this grim event, nor can one be found. The Japanese soldiers, who had expected easy victory, instead had been fighting hard for months and had taken infinitely higher casualties than anticipated. They were bored, angry, frustrated, tired. The Chinese women were undefended, their menfolk powerless or absent. The war, still undeclared, had no clear-cut goal or purpose. Perhaps all Chinese, regardless of sex or age, seemed marked out as victims.”
Photo in the album taken in Nanjing by Itou Kaneo of the Kisarazu Air Unit of the Japanese Navy
A picture of a dead child. Probably taken by Bernhard Sindberg
Skeletons of victims in Nanking massacre.
Matsui’s reaction to the massacre
On December 18, 1937, as General Iwane Matsui began to comprehend the full extent of the rape, murder, and looting in the city, he grew increasingly dismayed. He reportedly told one of his civilian aides:
“I now realize that we have unknowingly wrought a most grievous effect on this city. When I think of the feelings and sentiments of many of my Chinese friends who have fled from Nanking and of the future of the two countries, I cannot but feel depressed. I am very lonely and can never get in a mood to rejoice about this victory.”
He even let a tinge of regret flavor the statement he released to the press that morning:
“I personally feel sorry for the tragedies to the people, but the Army must continue unless China repents. Now, in the winter, the season gives time to reflect. I offer my sympathy, with deep emotion, to a million innocent people.”
On New Year’s Day, Matsui was still upset about the behavior of the Japanese soldiers at Nanking. Over a toast he confided to a Japanese diplomat:
“My men have done something very wrong and extremely regrettable.”
End of the massacre
In late January 1938, the Japanese army forced all refugees in the Safety Zone to return home, immediately claiming to have “restored order”.
After the establishment of the weixin zhengfu (the collaborating government) in 1938, order was gradually restored in Nanking and atrocities by Japanese troops lessened considerably.
On February 18, 1938, the Nanking Safety Zone International Committee was forcibly renamed “Nanking International Rescue Committee“, and the Safety Zone effectively ceased to function. The last refugee camps were closed in May 1938.
Recall of Matsui and Asaka
In February 1938 both Prince Asaka and General Matsui were recalled to Japan. Matsui returned to retirement, but Prince Asaka remained on the Supreme War Council until the end of the war in August 1945. He was promoted to the rank of general in August 1939, though he held no further military commands.
Death toll estimates
Estimates of the number of victims vary based on the definitions of the geographical range and the duration of the event.
The extent of the atrocities is debated, with numbers ranging from some Japanese claims of several hundred, to the Chinese claim of a non-combatant death toll of 300,000. Historian Tokushi Kasahara states “more than 100,000 and close to 200,000, or maybe more”, referring to his own book. This estimation includes the surrounding area outside of the city of Nanking, which is objected by a Chinese researcher (the same book, p. 146). Hiroshi Yoshida concludes “more than 200,000” in his book.[Tomio Hora writes of 50,000–100,000 deaths.
Mainstream scholars consider figures from 40,000 to over 300,000 to be an accurate estimate. According to the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, estimates made at a later date indicate that the total number of civilians and prisoners of war murdered in Nanking and its vicinity during the first six weeks of the Japanese occupation was up to 200,000. These estimates are borne out by the figures of burial societies and other organizations, which testify to over 155,000 buried bodies. These figures do not take into account those persons whose bodies were destroyed by burning, drowning or by other means, or whose bodies were interred in mass graves.
According to the verdict of the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal on 10 March 1947, there are
“more than 190,000 mass slaughtered civilians and Chinese soldiers killed by machine gun by the Japanese army, whose corpses have been burned to destroy proof. Besides, we count more than 150,000 victims of barbarian acts buried by the charity organizations. We thus have a total of more than 300,000 victims.”
However, this estimate includes an accusation that the Japanese Army murdered 57,418 Chinese POWs at Mufushan, though the latest research indicates that between 4,000 and 20,000 were massacred, and it also includes the 112,266 corpses allegedly buried by the Chongshantang, a charitable association, though today mainstream historians agree that the Chongshantang’s records were at least greatly exaggerated if not entirely fabricated.
Bob Wakabayashi concludes from this that estimates over 200,000 are not credible. Ikuhiko Hata considers the number of 300,000 to be a “symbolic figure” representative of China’s wartime suffering and not a figure to be taken literally.
Some researchers estimate that between 40,000 and 60,000 people were killed, which corresponds to the figures from three sources; one is the Red Army’s official journal of the time, Hangdibao and another is that of Miner Searle Bates of the International Safety Zone Committee, and the third is the aforementioned figure written by John Rabe in a letter.
John Rabe, Chairman of the International Committee and Nanking Safety Zone, estimated that between 50,000 and 60,000 (civilians) were killed However, Erwin Wickert, the editor of The diaries of John Rabe, points out that
“It is likely that Rabe’s estimate is too low, since he could not have had an overview of the entire municipal area during the period of the worst atrocities. Moreover, many troops of captured Chinese soldiers were led out of the city and down to the Yangtze, where they were summarily executed. But, as noted, no one actually counted the dead.”
The casualty count of 300,000 was first promulgated in January 1938 by Harold Timperley, a journalist in China during the Japanese invasion, based on reports from contemporary eyewitnesses. Other sources, including Iris Chang‘s The Rape of Nanking, also conclude that the death toll reached 300,000. In December 2007, newly declassified U.S. government archive documents revealed that a telegraph by the U.S. ambassador to Germany in Berlin sent one day after the Japanese army occupied Nanking, stated that he heard the Japanese Ambassador in Germany boasting that Japanese army killed 500,000 Chinese people as the Japanese army advanced from Shanghai to Nanking. According to the archives research
“The telegrams sent by the U.S. diplomats [in Berlin] pointed to the massacre of an estimated half a million people in Shanghai, Suzhou, Jiaxing, Hangzhou, Shaoxing, Wuxi and Changzhou”.
Range and duration
The most conservative viewpoint is that the geographical area of the incident should be limited to the few km2 of the city known as the Safety Zone, where the civilians gathered after the invasion. Many Japanese historians seized upon the fact that during the Japanese invasion there were only 200,000–250,000 citizens in Nanking as reported by John Rabe, to argue that the PRC’s estimate of 300,000 deaths is a vast exaggeration.
However, many historians include a much larger area around the city. Including the Xiaguan district (the suburbs north of Nanking, about 31 km2 in size) and other areas on the outskirts of the city, the population of greater Nanking was running between 535,000 and 635,000 civilians and soldiers just prior to the Japanese occupation.
Some historians also include six counties around Nanking, known as the Nanking Special Municipality.
The duration of the incident is naturally defined by its geography: the earlier the Japanese entered the area, the longer the duration. The Battle of Nanking ended on December 13, when the divisions of the Japanese Army entered the walled city of Nanking. The Tokyo War Crime Tribunal defined the period of the massacre to the ensuing six weeks. More conservative estimates say that the massacre started on December 14, when the troops entered the Safety Zone, and that it lasted for six weeks.
Historians who define the Nanking Massacre as having started from the time that the Japanese Army entered Jiangsu province push the beginning of the massacre to around mid-November to early December (Suzhou fell on November 19), and stretch the end of the massacre to late March 1938.
Japanese historians, depending on their definition of the geographical and time duration of the killings, give wide-ranging estimates for the number of massacred civilians, from several thousand to upwards of 200,000. The lowest estimate by a Japanese historian is 40,000.
Chinese language sources tend to place the figure of massacred civilians upwards of 200,000.
For example, a postwar investigation by the Nanking District Court put the number of dead during the incident as 295,525, 76% of them men, 22% women and 2% children.
A 42-part Taiwanese documentary produced from 1995 to 1997, entitled An Inch of Blood For An Inch of Land (一寸河山一寸血), asserts that 340,000 Chinese civilians died in Nanking City as a result of the Japanese invasion: 150,000 through bombing and crossfire in the five-day battle, and 190,000 in the massacre, based on the evidence presented at the Tokyo Trials.
War crimes tribunals
Shortly after the surrender of Japan, the primary officers in charge of the Japanese troops at Nanking were put on trial. General Matsui was indicted before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East for “deliberately and recklessly” ignoring his legal duty “to take adequate steps to secure the observance and prevent breaches” of the Hague Convention. Hisao Tani, the lieutenant general of the 6th Division of the Japanese army in Nanking, was tried by the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal.
Other Japanese military leaders in charge at the time of the Nanking Massacre were not tried. Prince Kan’in, chief of staff of the Imperial Japanese Army during the massacre, had died before the end of the war in May 1945. Prince Asaka was granted immunity because of his status as a member of the imperial family. Isamu Chō, the aide of Prince Asaka, and whom some historians believe issued the “kill all captives” memo, had committed suicide during the defense of Okinawa.
Grant of immunity to Prince Asaka
On May 1, 1946, SCAP officials interrogated Prince Asaka, who was the ranking officer in the city at the height of the atrocities, about his involvement in the Nanking Massacre and the deposition was submitted to the International Prosecution Section of the Tokyo tribunal. Asaka denied the existence of any massacre and claimed never to have received complaints about the conduct of his troops. Whatever his culpability may have been, Asaka was not prosecuted before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East at least in part because under the pact concluded between General MacArthur and Hirohito, the Emperor himself and all the members of the imperial family were granted immunity from prosecution.
Evidence and testimony
The prosecution began the Nanking phase of its case in July 1946. Dr. Robert O. Wilson, a surgeon and a member of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone, took the witness stand first.
Other members of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone who took the witness stand included Miner Searle Bates and John Magee. George A. Fitch, Lewis Smythe and James McCallum filed affidavits with their diaries and letters.
Another piece of evidence that was submitted to the tribunal was Harold Timperley’s telegram regarding the Nanking Massacre which had been intercepted and decoded by the Americans on January 17, 1938.
One of the books by Hsü, Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone, was also adduced in court.
According to Matsui’s own diary, one day after he made the ceremonial triumphal entry into the city on December 17, 1937, he instructed the chiefs of staff from each division to tighten military discipline and try to eradicate the sense of disdain for Chinese people among their soldiers.
On February 7, 1938, Matsui delivered a speech at a memorial service for the Japanese officers and men of the Shanghai Expeditionary Force who were killed in action. In front of the high-ranking officers, Domei News Agency reported, he emphasized the necessity to “put an end to various reports affecting the prestige of the Japanese troops.”
The entry for the same day in Matsui’s diary read, “I could only feel sadness and responsibility today, which has been overwhelmingly piercing my heart. This is caused by the Army’s misbehaviors after the fall of Nanking and failure to proceed with the autonomous government and other political plans.”
Matsui’s defence varied between denying the mass-scale atrocities and evading his responsibility for what had happened. Eventually he ended up making numerous conflicting statements.
In the interrogation in Sugamo prison preceding the trial Matsui admitted that he heard about the many outrages committed by his troops from Japanese diplomats when he entered Nanking on December 17, 1937.
In court, he contradicted the earlier testimony and told the judges that he was not “officially” briefed at the consulate about the evildoings, presumably to avoid admitting any contact with the consulate officials such as Second Secretary (later Acting Consul-General) Fukui Kiyoshi and Attaché Fukuda Tokuyasu who received and dealt with the protests filed by the International Committee.
In the same interrogation session before the trial Matsui said one officer and three low-ranking soldiers were court-martialled because of their misbehavior in Nanking and the officer was sentenced to death.
In his affidavit Matsui said he ordered his officers to investigate the massacre and to take necessary action. In court, however, Matsui said that he did not have jurisdiction over the soldiers’ misconduct since he was not in the position of supervising military discipline and morals.
Matsui asserted that he had never ordered the execution of Chinese POWs. He further argued that he had directed his army division commanders to discipline their troops for criminal acts, and was not responsible for their failure to carry out his directives. At trial, Matsui went out of his way to protect Prince Asaka by shifting blame to lower ranking division commanders.
In the end the Tribunal convicted only two defendants to the Rape of Nanking.
Matsui was convicted of count 55, which charged him with being one of the senior officers who “deliberately and recklessly disregarded their legal duty [by virtue of their respective offices] to take adequate steps to secure the observance [of the Laws and Customs of War] and prevent breaches thereof, and thereby violated the laws of war.”
Kōki Hirota, who had been the Foreign Minister when Japan conquered Nanking, was convicted of participating in “the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy” (count 1), waging “a war of aggression and a war in violation of international laws, treaties, agreements and assurances against the Republic of China” (count 27) and count 55.
Matsui was convicted by a majority of the judges at the Tokyo tribunal who ruled that he bore ultimate responsibility for the “orgy of crime” at Nanking because, “He did nothing, or nothing effective, to abate these horrors.”
Organized and wholesale murder of male civilians was conducted with the apparent sanction of the commanders on the pretext that Chinese soldiers had removed their uniforms and were mingling with the population. Groups of Chinese civilians were formed, bound with their hands behind their backs, and marched outside the walls of the city where they were killed in groups by machine gun fire and with bayonets. — From Judgment of the International Military Tribunal
Radhabinod Pal, the member of the tribunal from India, dissented from the conviction arguing that the commander-in-chief must rely on his subordinate officers to enforce soldier discipline. “The name of Justice,” Pal wrote in his dissent, “should not be allowed to be invoked only for … vindictive retaliation.”
On November 12, 1948, Matsui and Hirota, along with five other convicted Class-A war criminals, were sentenced to death by hanging. Eighteen others received lesser sentences. The death sentence imposed on Hirota, a six-to-five decision by the eleven judges, shocked the general public and prompted a petition on his behalf, which soon gathered over 300,000 signatures but did not succeed in commuting the Minister’s sentence.
In 1985, the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall was built by the Nanking Municipal Government in remembrance of the victims and to raise awareness of the Nanking Massacre. It is located near a site where thousands of bodies were buried, called the “pit of ten thousand corpses” (wàn rén kēng).
In 1995, Daniel Kwan held a photograph exhibit in Los Angeles titled, “The Forgotten Holocaust”.
In 2005, John Rabe’s former residence in Nanking was renovated and now accommodates the “John Rabe and International Safety Zone Memorial Hall“, which opened in 2006.
On December 13, 2014, China held its first Nanjing Massacre memorial day.
China and Japan have both acknowledged the occurrence of wartime atrocities. Disputes over the historical portrayal of these events continue to cause tensions between Japan on one side and China and other East Asian countries on the other side.
Before the 1970s, China did relatively little to draw attention to the Nanking massacre. In her book Rape of Nanking Iris Chang asserted that the politics of the Cold War encouraged Mao to stay relatively silent about Nanking in order to keep a trade relationship with Japan. In turn, China and Japan occasionally used Nanking as an opportunity to demonize one another.
Debate in Japan
The major waves of Japanese treatment of these events have ranged from total cover-up during the war, confessions and documentation by the Japanese soldiers during the 1950s and 1960s, minimization of the extent of the Nanking Massacre during the 1970s and 1980s, official Japanese government distortion and rewriting of history during the 1980s, and total denial of the occurrence of the Nanking Massacre by some government officials in 1990.
The debate concerning the massacre took place mainly in the 1970s. During this time, the Chinese government’s statements about the event were attacked by the Japanese because they were said to rely too heavily on personal testimonies and anecdotal evidence. Aspersions were cast regarding the authenticity and accuracy of burial records and photographs presented in the Tokyo War Crime Court, which were said to be fabrications by the Chinese government, artificially manipulated or incorrectly attributed to the Nanking Massacre.
During the 1970s, Katsuichi Honda wrote a series of articles for the Asahi Shimbun on war crimes committed by Japanese soldiers during World War II (such as the Nanking Massacre). The publication of these articles triggered a vehement response from Japanese right-wingers regarding the Japanese treatment of the war crimes. In response, Shichihei Yamamoto and Akira Suzuki wrote two controversial yet influential articles which sparked the negationist movement.
In 1984, in an attempt to refute the allegations of war crimes in Nanking, the Japanese Army Veterans Association (Kaikosha) interviewed former Japanese soldiers who had served in the Nanking area from 1937 to 1938. Instead of refuting the allegations, the interviewed veterans confirmed that a massacre had taken place and openly described and admitted to taking part in the atrocities. The results of the survey were published in the association’s magazine, Kaiko, in 1985 along with an admission and apology that read, “Whatever the severity of war or special circumstances of war psychology, we just lose words faced with this mass illegal killing. As those who are related to the prewar military, we simply apologize deeply to the people of China. It was truly a regrettable act of barbarity.”
Apology and condolences by the Prime Minister and Emperor of Japan
On August 15, 1995, the fiftieth anniversary of the Surrender of Japan, the Japanese prime minister Tomiichi Murayama gave the first clear and formal apology for Japanese actions during the war. He apologized for Japan’s wrongful aggression and the great suffering that it inflicted in Asia. He offered his heartfelt apology to all survivors and to the relatives and friends of the victims. That day, the prime minister and the Japanese Emperor Akihito pronounced statements of mourning at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan. The emperor offered his condolences and expressed the hope that such atrocities would never be repeated. Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking, criticized Murayama for not providing the written apology that had been expected. She said that the people of China “don’t believe that an… unequivocal and sincere apology has ever been made by Japan to China” and that a written apology from Japan would send a better message to the international community.
Denials of the massacre by public officials in Japan
In May 1994, Justice Minister Shigeto Nagano called the Nanjing Massacre a “fabrication”.
On June 19, 2007, a group of around 100 Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmakers again denounced the Nanjing Massacre as a fabrication, arguing that there was no evidence to prove the allegations of mass killings by Japanese soldiers. They accused Beijing of using the alleged incident as a “political advertisement”. 
On February 20, 2012, Takashi Kawamura, mayor of Nagoya, told a visiting delegation from Nanjing that the massacre “probably never happened”. Two days later he defended his remarks, saying, “Even since I was a national Diet representative, I have said [repeatedly] there was no [Nanjing] massacre that resulted in murders of several hundred thousands of people.” On April 1, 2013, Kawamura said his position remained unchanged when the issue came up during an election debate.
On February 24, 2012, Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara said that he also believes that the Nanjing massacre never happened. He reportedly claims it would have been impossible to kill so many people in such a short period of time. He believes the actual death toll was 10,000.
On February 3, 2014, Naoki Hyakuta, a member of the board of governors of Japan’s public broadcasting company, NHK, was quoted as saying the massacre never occurred. He said that there were isolated incidents of brutality but no widespread atrocity, and criticized the Tokyo Trials figure of 200,000.
Effect on international relations
The memory of the Nanking Massacre has been a stumbling block in Sino-Japanese relations since the early 1970s. Bilateral exchanges on trade, culture and education have increased greatly since the two countries normalized their bilateral relations and Japan became China’s most important trading partner. Trade between the two nations is worth over $200 billion annually. Despite this, many Chinese people still have a strong sense of mistrust and animosity toward Japan that originates from the memory of Japanese war crimes such as the Nanking Massacre. This sense of mistrust is strengthened by the belief that Japan is unwilling to admit to and apologize for the atrocities.
Takashi Yoshida described how changing political concerns and perceptions of the “national interest” in Japan, China, and Western countries have shaped collective memory of the Nanking massacre. Yoshida asserted that over time the event has acquired different meanings to different people.
Many Japanese prime ministers have visited the Yasukuni Shrine, a shrine for dead Japanese soldiers of World War II, including some war criminals of the Nanking Massacre. In the museum adjacent to the shrine, a panel informs visitors that there was no massacre in Nanjing, but that Chinese soldiers in plain clothes were “dealt with severely”. In 2006 former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi made a pilgrimage to the shrine despite warnings from China and South Korea. His decision to visit the shrine regardless sparked international outrage. Although Koizumi denied that he was trying to glorify war or historical Japanese militarism, The Chinese Foreign Ministry accused Koizumi of “wrecking the political foundations of China-Japan relations”. An official from South Korea said they would summon the Tokyo ambassador to protest.
As a component of national identity
Takashi Yoshida asserts that, “Nanking has figured in the attempts of all three nations [China, Japan and the United States] to preserve and redefine national and ethnic pride and identity, assuming different kinds of significance based on each country’s changing internal and external enemies.”
In Japan, the Nanking Massacre touches upon national identity and notions of “pride, honor and shame”. Yoshida argues that “Nanking crystallizes a much larger conflict over what should constitute the ideal perception of the nation: Japan, as a nation, acknowledges its past and apologizes for its wartime wrongdoings; or … stands firm against foreign pressures and teaches Japanese youth about the benevolent and courageous martyrs who fought a just war to save Asia from Western aggression.” Recognizing the Nanking Massacre as such can be viewed in some circles in Japan as “Japan bashing” (in the case of foreigners) or “self-flagellation” (in the case of Japanese).
The majority of Japanese acknowledge that Japanese troops committed atrocities during the Nanking Massacre. Some Japanese officials and writers have openly denied the incident, claiming it to be propaganda designed to spark an anti-Japan movement. In many ways, how “atrocious” the massacre was is the touchstone of left–right divide in Japan; i.e., leftists feel this is a defining moment of the Imperial Japanese Army; rightists believe Perry’s opening of Japan and the atomic bombings are far more significant events.
The government of Japan believe it can not be denied that the killing of a large number of noncombatants, looting and other acts by Japanese army occurred. However, the actual number of victims is hard to be determined according to government of Japan.
The Nanking massacre has emerged as a fundamental keystone in the construction of the modern Chinese national identity. Modern Chinese (including citizens of the PRC, Taiwan, and overseas) will refer to the Nanking Massacre to explain certain stances they hold or ideas they have; this ‘national unifying event’ holds true to middle-school educated peasants and to senior government officials alike.
Although the Japanese government has admitted to the killing of a large number of non-combatants, looting, and other violence committed by the Imperial Japanese Army after the fall of Nanking, and Japanese veterans who served there have confirmed that a massacre took place, a small but vocal minority within both the Japanese government and society have argued that the death toll was military in nature and that no such crimes ever occurred. Denial of the massacre and revisionist accounts of the killings have become a staple of Japanese nationalism. In Japan, public opinion of the massacres varies, but few deny outright that it happened.
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