1937 - 1941: Doubling Down

Between 1937 and 1941, Japan began to fully mobilize for war and in the process crossed a “point of no return.” Japan had already been involved in a conflict with China since 1931, and by the end of the decade, had begun to move into South East Asia in search of resources necessary for war. In 1938 the National Mobilization Law was passed acknowledging the country’s need to mobilize the population and economy for war. The article “Quality of Life under the National Mobilization Law” discusses how the bureaucracy of Japan was given total control of the economy, and was able to direct industry and conscript workers without the approval of the diet.

During this time there was an atmosphere of xenophobia, or fear of outsiders, in Japan. For example, many Japanese officials were paranoid that there may be foreign spies in their country. The article “Sorge – The Spy in Their Midst” demonstrates the fear of espionage within wartime Japan, as well as the impact espionage could have on all countries involved. Facing a tremendous amount of pressure from within, and the knowledge that many Chinese Nationalist troops had abandoned their uniforms and were in disguise as citizens within Nanjing, Japanese troops committed atrocities without precedence. For six weeks from December 1937 to January 1938, Japanese soldiers ravaged the city of Nanjing killing between 100,000 to 300,000 Chinese civilians and soldiers. The articles “A Japanese Soldiers Experience During the Massacre of Nanking” and The Nanjing Massacre: an Unforgivable Past” (Unpublished) discuss what is commonly known as “The Rape of Nanking.” This incident crossed the line between strategic warfare and war crimes, and Japan knew that China would not forgive this act.

After this, it was clear that war was inevitable and Japan needed to seek resources, especially oil, for its war effort. America’s decision to embargo oil against the Japanese led to Emperor Hirohito’s decision to bomb Pearl Harbour. This reflected Japan’s need for oil and the attack was intended to weaken the American navy in the Pacific in order to buy time. The article “Hirohito’s Decision on Pearl Harbour” examines the decision making process which led to the Pearl Harbour incident. Hirohito’s decision was made in part because he understood that Japan was at the point of no return and war could no longer be avoided. This decision left Japan with the only one choice: to win the war.


Quality of Life Under the National Mobilization Law (1938)

In the years leading up to the Second World War, the Japanese government was heavily influenced by the military. War with China in the 1930s ate up much of Japan’s resources and began to be very costly. In 1937, the army put immense pressure on the government of Japan by demanding a budget of ¥2.5 million, a figure close to the entire national budget for 1937, which was ¥2.8 million.1 For this to be possible, it was obvious that the Japanese government would have to do serious economic planning, especially taking control of imports and exports, and the economy would have to be completely mobilized for production in the appropriate industries. The National Mobilization Law, passed in 1938, came into effect in these years, and gave the Japanese bureaucracy the authority, among other things, to conscript workers for war industries. Throughout the war, many workers were taken away from their homes and livelihoods in order to serve in the factories of these industries. Mandatory service in factories in wartime Japan decreased quality of life for factory workers and other citizens by taking away freedom, limiting the food supply, and providing poor working conditions, and although factory workers received living wages, this was not enough to compensate for the negative impacts of conscription.

By the late 1930s, Japan was at war with China. Following the Manchurian incident in 1931, the Japanese invasion and occupation of Eastern China in 1937 marked the beginning of a conflict between these two countries that lasted until the end of the Second World War in 1945.2 This occupation put a strain on Japan’s economy because it meant that all resources were being used for the war effort, rather than for exports, Japan’s main source of income.3 Japan attempted economic mobilization in this time, but it was not enough to compensate for the resources being lost to the war. The need to mobilize became more urgent as the war progressed and the military demanded more from the government, and in 1938, the economic planning board of Japan decided it was necessary to take total control of the economy and focus on the production of armaments and the development of heavy industry. 4 These new economic initiatives lasted throughout the duration of the Sino-Japanese war as well as Japan’s involvement in the Second World War, and funneled more manpower and resources into the war effort than ever before.

The National Mobilization Law was a major vehicle for the bureaucracy’s control of the economy. The National Mobilization Law, passed in the Japanese Diet in July 1938, gave the Japanese emperor or government ministers the power to give orders regarding the economy without the approval of the Diet.5 The hope, inspired by the Soviet Union’s five year plans, was to effectively control the economy in order to increase efficiency and modernize industry for war.6 The law included the authority of the bureaucracy to change the purpose of private businesses, manage and expropriate factories, order the construction of transportation facilities, manage hiring in industry, and conscript workers, among many other things.7 Many members of the Diet protested the passing of this legislation, as it seemed that it would take away power from the Diet all together. 8 Eventually, the Diet succumbed to extreme pressure from the military, and the National Mobilization Law was passed with the agreement that it would only be invoked in a time of national emergency, not including the current situation in China. 9 However, only a month after its passing, the law was invoked anyway. 10 This was allowed by a discreet inclusion in the bill that it could be invoked in “incidents analogous to war,” allowing it to be applied to the conflict with China. 11 The invocation of this law had a great effect on the Japanese people, slowly at first, but more rapidly as Japan’s involvement in the Second World War increased. The law, and the results of its invocation came to affect not just working conditions, but the quality of life in general.

Many Japanese people were drafted into industrial service under the National Mobilization Law. This was due to the fact that war industries were being expanded and created, causing a need for more employees, as well as because many young men, who had previously worked in factories, had been drafted into military service, leaving behind vacant jobs in factories.12 The identity of the workers that were being drafted not only opposed national tradition, but also affected the overall quality of life for Japanese citizens. The workers that were drafted were not always men, and in fact, were not even always adults. Although only adult men were drafted in the beginning, as fewer became available to work, and the war grew increasingly demanding of Japan’s economy, it became necessary to draft women. This began in 1941, when unmarried women between the ages of 16 and 25 began to be drafted into industrial service. 13 This was very controversial, as it was believed by most at the time that a woman should be at home supporting her family. 14 This is reflected in the fact that only unmarried women were drafted; there was an effort to preserve traditional family values at this time. Women were not the only unlikely workers drafted into service. By the later years of the war, school children too, were being conscripted to work in factories.

Millions of children in Japan were forced to miss out on their education in order to work in factories. Between 1943 and 1945, approximately three million school children, ranging in age from elementary to secondary schools, were drafted into service, causing them to leave school and instead spend their days working in factories next to adults in order to feed the war effort. 15 Not only did this likely cause emotional trauma by taking children away from their families, but it also would have deprived them of a chance to get an education. Taking away their right to learn and forcing them to work in factories is a clear indicator that the quality of life for children plummeted during wartime Japan. Even the children who were not drafted during their schooling years were not safe from the oppression of the factories. Bureaucrats began to collaborate with school principals, planning the industries that future graduates would be best suited for, and drafted in to. 16 Children were not just missing out on their education during their schooling years, but even after those years, the war, and its consequent economic mobilization, caused young people to have very little freedom to live their lives the way they wanted to.

Small business owners also were deprived of their freedom under these conditions. Under the National Mobilization Law, the bureaucracy not only had the power to draft business owners away from their own businesses, but also to assign these businesses new purposes. 17 This had a profoundly negative impact on many business owners because it forced many of them to give up the trade that had formed their own livelihood, and the livelihood of their family for many generations. 18 This obviously would be upsetting for many people, and decrease the quality of their lives in a qualitative way. Some businesses were forced to change their purpose, whereas some were shut down altogether in order to free up the workers of that business to do something more vital to the nation. For example, the textiles industry, which had employed many families for generations, was essentially halted, its factories and machinery being used for scrap metal. 19 Like women and school children, these people were force to leave their traditional lifestyles behind in order to serve Japan by aiding its economic development. The loss of freedom experienced by these people, viewed through our own cultural norms, can be seen as a decline in the quality of living because their own pursuits of happiness were taken away and replaced with the goals of the nation.

Not only did conscription take Japanese people away from their livelihoods, but the conditions under which they were working were sub-par. Factory work was physically demanding for some, and hours were long. In addition to the physical strain of working long hours, factories were regularly subjected to bombings, which threatened the safety of the employees within, and repeatedly disrupted the work day. By the end of the war, with allied bombing of Japan at its height, this problem caused employees to be in and out of the factories all day, and constantly fearing for their lives. Conditions in the factory hostels were hardly more pleasant than within the factories themselves. Workers living in these hostels were rarely fed enough, as the food supply during the war was diminishing. They were forced to work long hours with very little sustenance; often workers were only fed twice a day, and their meals contained very little rice, which was a staple of the Japanese diet. Forced labour, along with the lack of proper food, caused serious declines in the quality of life for Japanese workers. The food shortage would have caused exhaustion, as well as malnutrition among the population.

The food shortage did not just affect people working in factories. The food supply, which diminished in response to farmers and agricultural workers being drafted into the war effort, was dwindling and caused inflation of prices and hunger all across the country. Also, with international conflicts at its height, Japan was unable to rely on outside sources for the imports of necessary goods, and most of what was being imported was channeled directly into the war effort. For these reasons, there was a severe shortage of food in Japan during the war. In response to this, food was being rationed, but it was not enough to overcome the diminished production of food, and rations were not big enough to provide proper sustenance. Because of this, many people resorted to purchasing food on the black market in order to survive. There is no doubt that a shortage of food would cause a decline in the quality of life. Like the factory workers, all citizens were susceptible to experience hunger and potential malnutrition, opening up possibilities for illness and fatigue. This decline in life can be linked directly to the agricultural workers being drafted away from farms, and therefore directly to the National Mobilization Law.

Despite the horrendous working conditions faced by the people who were drafted into the factories, there were some benefits to service. All workers were to receive a ‘living wage,’ and received regular raises based on seniority. By 1943, these raises were happening twice per year for each employee. However, even this one upside to mandatory factory service had its negative attributes. Although the raises were meant to be given based on seniority in order to provide a living wage, in reality, it did not always work this way. Often, young employees would be offered large incentive premiums by individuals on the spot, even though this contradicted the rule that wages and raises would be based on seniority. This would be disheartening to older employees who had provided more years of service, who would expect more compensation than their newer counterparts. The system of raises based on seniority had its problems, even when it was being followed properly. With regular raises based on seniority alone, there was little incentive for employees to work hard, and employees who were working hard did not receive compensation or recognition based on the effort they put in. Although in this case, it would be impossible to satisfy employees new, old, hard-working and lazy, some sort of balance, which did not involve corruption, would have helped to compensate employees for their forced service in the factories. The raise system was not enough to make up for the loss of freedom and poor conditions suffered by conscripted workers.

The National Mobilization Law took away freedom, food, and health from the people of Japan. Although the quantitative data for the decline in quality of life is clear, that is not to say that Japanese people at the time did not support their mobilization. The mentality of Japanese people was heavily influenced by propaganda during the war; the government mobilized artists and authors to create media that supported the aims of the regime. Japanese culture was in general more open to the idea of giving everything to the nation than Western countries, a characteristic that became useful during this process of mobilization. Through state control of the economy and ideology, all Japanese people were slowly incorporated into the war effort in one way or another. The war altered the way of life for the Japanese people, and it would have been hard for anyone to avoid feeling its effects.


  • Die for Japan. Online Video. Directed by Jeffrey Dym. 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFavUjEYc7Y.
  • F., S. M. "National Mobilization Law Enforced in Japan." Far Eastern Survey 7, no. 13 (June 1938): 154-155, http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/stable/3022373.
  • Farley, Miriam S. "Japan Moves toward Wartime Economy." Far Eastern Survey 6 no. 16 (August 1937): 183-185, http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/stable/302331.
  • Gordon, Andrew. A Modern History of Japan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Miwa, Yoshira. Econmic Planning and Mobilziation in Wartime, 1930s-1940s. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
  • Rice, Richard. "Economic Mobilization in Wartime Japan: Business, Bureaucracy, and Military in Conflict." The Journal of Asian Studies 38, no. 4 (August 1979): 689-706.
  • Takafusa, Nakamura. Lectures on Modern Japanese Economic History 1926-1994. Japan: LCTB International Library Foundation, 1994.
  • Tzu-chin, Huang. “Sino- Japanese Peace Negotiations over the Mukden Incident.” Institute of Modern History Academia Sinica: 68: 12-32. http://www.chinajapan.org/articles/05.2/05.2huang12-32.pdf (accessed 17 November 2015).
  • Young, Carl. “Glorify the Empire: Japanese Avant-Garde Propaganda in Manchukuo” Canadian Journal of History 50, no. 2 (Autumn 2015). https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-428998044/glorify-the-empire-japanese-avant-garde-propaganda

  • 1. [292] Lectures on Modern Japanese Economic , Nakamura, Takafusa , Japan: LTCB International Library Foundation, p.89, (1994)
  • Sorge: The Spy In Their Midst

    By: Dan Hitchen

    In the annals of history, there has rarely (if ever) existed a spy of the same calibre as Richard Sorge. Sorge is a legend in the world of espionage because of the quantity and quality of the intelligence he passed on to the Soviet government. Sorge, with his primary Japanese contact Ozaki Hotsumi, was the head of a spy ring in Japan from 1933 until 1941. Sorge’s arrest in October of that year stunned all who knew him, most of all his friends at the German embassy who saw him as the jovial, alcoholic, womanizing intellectual he demonstrated himself to be. With his arrest came a subsequent halt of information to the Soviet Union, but the damage had already been done. Much of Sorge’s information had a resonating impact on the rest of the war, ultimately providing a noteworthy contribution to the total victory over Axis forces in 1945.

    Like most authoritarian regimes, the Japanese government was acutely paranoid of subversive activities, and police organizations, such as the notorious Kempeitai and the Tokkō (Tokubetsu Kōtō Keisatsu), were resolute in their search for foreign agents and their accomplices. With that in mind, it is worth exploring how Richard Sorge and his group spent eight years successfully spying on a government that was actively looking for them. The key to Sorge’s success rested on his uncanny ability to manipulate and charm those around him while masterfully coordinating the various intrigues of a multitude of informants from all levels of government. In addition, and most glaringly, it is important to examine just what kinds of information Sorge was able to extract from his contacts and how he used that information to influence events throughout the Second World War.

    However, the story of Richard Sorge does not begin in 1933. He was born in Baku, in modern-day Azerbaijan, on October 4, 1895. His father was a German engineer working in the oilfields, and when Sorge was eleven years old the family returned to Germany. When the First World War erupted, Sorge patriotically joined the army and saw action on both the Western and Eastern fronts, wounded on each occasion. As the war progressed, however, the horror and disenchantment it festered within him influenced young Sorge to turn to Communism. Sorge was a natural convert; his great-uncle Friedrich Adolf Sorge, whom he deeply admired, was a contemporary of Marx and Engels, as well as a prominent Communist emigre to the US. With the encouragement of the radically Socialist doctor and nurse who cared for him in a military hospital, Sorge returned to university, finishing with a PhD in Political Science. It was at university, with the Russian Revolution in the background, that Sorge was radicalized and became a card-carrying member of the German Communist Party.

    Moving forward to September 1933, and after a considerable period of time spent in the Soviet Union (where he learned tradecraft), Germany (where he built his cover as a legitimate journalist), and China (where he worked for the Soviets aiding the Communists against the Guomindang), Sorge found himself in Tokyo. Recognizing the very capable work he had accomplished in China during the previous three years, the Soviet government sent Sorge to Tokyo to head what later became known as the Sorge Spy Ring. Before leaving, he first returned to Germany to secure assignments from a number of newspapers in order to establish a reason to live in Japan indefinitely. Upon his arrival, Sorge began the delicate task of probing the government for informants, a dangerous proposition in “notoriously spy-conscious” Japan. In order to avoid suspicion during his search, Sorge stayed clear of both the Soviet embassy and the underground Japanese Communist Party (it is worth mentioning that this separation from his Soviet handlers and the Japanese left wing is one of the reasons Sorge was so successful in the future).

    By May 1934, Sorge had established a spy ring with a number of Soviet agents in his charge, a safe house from which he could make radio transmissions to Moscow and develop microfilm, and couriers to deliver the microfilm to the Soviet embassy. Though it was a sophisticated enterprise, the Sorge Spy Ring was useless without a high-level government informant, which is where Ozaki Hotsumi enters the picture. An acquaintance of Sorge’s from his days in China and a secret Communist agent, Ozaki was a trusted advisor (due to his expertise on Chinese affairs) to Prime Minister Konoe. Through Ozaki, Sorge was finally capable of gaining concrete military intelligence and accessing top level government policy, allowing him to more effectively alert the Soviet Union to outside aggression. Sorge was now in command of one of the most efficient espionage units in history, having infiltrated all levels of a regime in pursuit of a fifth column, having done so without arousing meaningful suspicion, and all the while maintaining his ability to do so indefinitely.

    It was his ability to do so indefinitely that became one of Sorge’s most spectacular achievements. Despite the Japanese being especially suspicious of foreigners, Sorge rented a house in a cramped residential area across the street from a police station, from which the inside of his house was clearly visible. Sorge shrewdly assumed that he was under constant surveillance by the authorities, and accordingly kept to a strict daily routine; he rose at five every morning, exercised, read the paper, took an hour’s nap after lunch, then went to work. Following work, he would head to the German embassy and then usually to a bar to drink copiously with the friends, especially Lt. Colonel (later ambassador) Eugen Ott, he made there upon his arrival in Tokyo. Sorge was viewed by his German compatriots as a loyal Nazi, an astute observer of international affairs, and a keen liaison between German and Japanese officials. That the German embassy saw Sorge as such a reliable asset played directly into Sorge’s hands, as it gave him “free run of the embassy.” It was not with the slightest difficulty that Sorge was from then on able to sort through wastebaskets, to peruse and photograph secret files, or to literally have documents delivered to him in the embassy’s conference room. The immeasurable trust placed in him by German officials, in conjunction with his deliberately repetitive daily routine, is what allowed Richard Sorge to survive for so long as a secret spymaster.

    With a solid cover and an extraordinary team, the Sorge Spy Ring’s activities went into full swing. Initially the group’s mission was to discover any change in the Japanese government’s policy towards the Soviet Union as well as to detect any aggression from the Japanese military towards the Soviet Far East. Later, as the Wehrmacht drew ever closer to the Soviet frontier, the ring’s attention would turn towards intercepting intelligence on European affairs as well. Sorge’s broadcasts were received mostly without alarm in Moscow, having consisted largely of mundane check-ins and minor reports on Japanese activities. On a number of occasions however, Sorge’s intel would or, tragically in one case, could have proven decisive had it been acceptable to Stalin. Three such occasions are worth discussing for these reasons: the Soviet-Japanese border conflict of May-September 1939, the lead-up to Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, and the prelude to the Battle of Moscow in October 1941.

    The Soviet-Japanese border conflicts (sometimes referred to as the Nomonhan Incident) arose at a time when the Japanese military was deciding what direction it wished to expand the Empire in. A long-popular goal had been to establish Japanese hegemony in Siberia, and so the army began probing the Soviet positions along the border for weaknesses. Unfortunately for the Japanese, Sorge was able to send their troop movements to Moscow, and as a consequence the Japanese were decisively defeated by the Red Army. Sorge further conveyed that the Japanese did not intend to follow up their defeat with an escalation into full-scale war against the Russians, and so the Russians “conducted themselves accordingly,” averting another devastating war in the Far East. However, an even greater consequence of Sorge’s influence at Nomonhan was that it convinced the Japanese that the road to empire did not lead north through Siberia, but south through the European and American colonies in Southeast Asia and east through the Pacific Ocean.

    Not all of Sorge’s findings were heeded though, and in June 1941 the ignorance resulting from one such instance manifested itself in the most apocalyptic conflict in human history. The Tokyo ring had come across compelling evidence that Hitler would invade the Soviet Union, evidence which the top Red Army commanders believed to be the truth. Sorge already believed a Russo-German War to be inevitable, and by May 1941 his suspicions were confirmed for him by senior German officials sent to advise the ambassador on wartime precautions. Sorge even set the date for the German invasion as “June 20 [with perhaps] two or three days delay.” Despite the veracity of his claims, and endorsement from the Red Army high command, Sorge’s intel was ruthlessly dismissed by Stalin, who referred to him as a “bastard who’s set up factories and brothels . . .” Had Stalin listened to his generals’ pleas, history may have taken a different course, but as a result of his stubbornness millions of Soviet soldiers and civilians paid the price during Wehrmacht’s onslaught towards Moscow.

    In spite of the immense calamity now facing the Soviet regime, Sorge had one final coup to carry out. With the German Army nearing Moscow, and the Red Army lacking in manpower, the Soviets were searching desperately for a solution. That solution lay in the Far East, where they had stationed a large, well-trained and well-equipped army to defend against a Japanese attack. But, without reassurance that the Japanese would not attack, the Russians could do nothing to help themselves. However, the Sorge ring had, by October 4, received definitive proof that the Japanese had no plans to attack the USSR unless the most impossibly favourable conditions were met (ie: that the Kwantung Army outnumber the Soviets three to one and that there be a civil war in Siberia). With the firm knowledge that the Japanese would not attack them, the Red Army secretly transferred 400,000 of their finest troops westward to defend Moscow. This action proved decisive in halting the German advance before the onset of winter, giving the Soviet Union much-needed time to regroup and organize a series of counter-attacks. Though it did not mark the beginning of the end for the Nazis, the Russian victory at Moscow helped rally the Soviet people and prevented the total collapse of the USSR, which had far-reaching effects on the rest of the war as well as the twentieth century.

    Two weeks after transmitting his fateful report, Sorge was arrested in Tokyo on espionage charges. Tokkō detectives had suspected for some time that there was a cell working in Tokyo. On October 10, the Tokkō cleverly extracted a damning statement from Kitabayashi Tomo, a suspected Communist spy. Detectives duped Kitabayashi into revealing more about the Sorge contact she had accidentally named during her interrogation; when she mentioned him, piquing their interest, the detectives accused her of being a liar on the [false] basis that they had conflicting statements from the man. Upon discovering his location, they arrested the man in question, Miyagi Yotoku, and tortured him relentlessly until he finally gave up details of the group’s activities, learning of both Ozaki and Sorge in the process. Hardly a week after first hearing of the spy ring, the Tokkō arrested Sorge at his home. Sorge spent the next three years locked up at the notorious Sugamo Prison in Tokyo awaiting his fate. On the morning of November 7, 1944, Richard Sorge was hanged in the Sugamo Prison courtyard, where his accomplice Ozaki had suffered the same fate earlier in the day (incidentally becoming the sole Japanese citizen executed for treason during the war).

    Though he ended up losing his life in the process, Richard Sorge has gone down in history as one of the greatest spies of all time, even serving as one of the primary inspirations for James Bond. Despite their feverish efforts to discover individuals like Sorge and Ozaki, the police were unable to do so for a long time. Only when chance landed in their laps were the Tokkō finally able to unravel the labyrinthian complexity of his spy ring. Sorge’s outgoing, playboy charisma disguised the machinations of a cunning agent and allowed him to avoid discovery for the better part of a decade while influencing events far beyond his lifetime.


    • Deakin, F.W., and G.R. Storry. The Case of Richard Sorge. London: Chatto & Windus, 1966.
    • Prange, Gordon W. Target Tokyo: The Story of the Sorge Spy Ring. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984.
    • Sebag Montefiore, Simon. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. New York: Vintage Books, 2005.
    • Whymant, Robert. Stalin’s Spy: Richard Sorge and the Tokyo Espionage Ring. London: St. Martins, 1998.
    • Willoughby, Charles A. Sorge: Soviet Master Spy. London: William Kimber, 1952.

    The Nanjing Massacre - An Unforgivable Past


    It was a tragedy that is unforgettable; a painful past forever entrenched into the minds of the people of China; the Nanjing Massacre took away the lives of more than 300,000 civilians and soldiers in a brutal massacre so brutal it is hard to imagine. The Nanjing Massacre also known as “The Rape of Nanking” occurred during the second Sino-Japanese War in the Asia-Pacific battlefield of World War II when the capital city of the Nationalists China, Nanjing fell to the hands of Imperial Japan on December 13th 1937. “As soon as Nanking fell, Japanese soldiers went on a rampage of killing, burning, looting and raping … within a few days Nanking is reduced to a ‘hell of earth’ ” “Not until the establishment of the Weixin Zhengfu (Renovation Government) by the Central China Army on March 28th, [1938] can be considered the conclusion of the Nanking Massacre.” For the unfortunate civilians who were victimized by the Imperial Japan army force this experience was a scar that is permanently imprinted into their hearts; it is a painful past for survivors to revisit. The fall of the nation’s capital evoked the patriotism of the Chinese nation, who saw their nation fall to the hands of the foreigners. The “anti-Japanese” sentiment settled in the minds of the Chinese people, which mark that although the Japanese were able to conquer the land but they failed to win over the hearts of the people. In another concept, Japan has power in China during WWII, but not authority. The “anti-Japanese” sentiment carried on throughout and after war times had significant impact on the Sino-Japanese relation in the modern era.

    Life of Civilians

    In August of 1937, prior to the fall of Nanjing, fear had already struck the people of the city. “According to the reports of the Japanese Imperial armed forces, from 15 August to 13 December when Nanjing fell, the planes of the Japanese Navy flew more than fifty missions over Nanjing, using more than 800 airplanes, and unleashing 160 tons of bombs.” Bombing targeted the city of Nanjing through raids of rapid fire were conducted to instill fear in the civilians populations. It was reported on August 27 of 1937 that about four-hundred to five hundred houses were destroyed and over a hundred people were killed as a result to the bombing. As a result of fear, many residents began to flee the city of Nanjing; the wealthier ones were able to load up their carriers and fled to the interior up the Yangtze River, while the poor residents planned to flee to the country side. In the midst of the citizens in the city of Nanjing, there were many who believed the war had nothing to do with the regular city and they believed that no matter who is in power, the common people would still be allowed to live. Little did the remaining citizens know that they would be victimized by the war and were about to face a cruel reality. At the fall of Nanjing on December 13th, the Imperial Japanese army immediately began the infamous Nanjing Massacre through the city of Nanjing and the country side. In general, there were two types of crimes that are conducted by the Imperial Japanese Army in Nanjing: killing and bodily injuries and violations of property rights. At the fall of Nanjing its residents immediately became the victims of the encirclement of the Japanese troops. Japanese soldiers claimed that they are searching for Chinese nationalists troops in disguise as civilians as an excuse to proceed towards massive killing. In “mopping up” operations, many adult men were murdered in groups or individually. Many innocent civilians and peasants were also killed in random as the army marched across the city and country-sides around Nanjing. According to eighty-six-year-old women Ai Yiying, a survivor of the massacre, in her testimony meeting in Japan, Ai stated:

    “I was only nine years old. One day, the Japanese soldiers came to my village, raped and killed people and burned houses. … The atrocities continued in the following months. There were dead bodies everywhere. I was afraid of dead bodies. But my mother told me what was frightening was not the dead bodies, but the Japanese soldiers, who killed them.” [This is a great quote; however, you might want to provide some analysis of it (explain how it is valuable in illuminating your topic/argument) before moving on to your next subject/example. You can also probably shorten this quote, as it is quite long].

    Many civilians were tortured before they were killed; some were buried alive. Survivor of the Massacre eighty-three-year-old Li Huiru recalled the memory of the murders of multiple family members to reporter Jia Lei of the China News Network in an interview “as my grandfather rushed towards the door, the Japanese soldier pinned him to the door with a bayonet. My dad was shot in his chest and my oldest brother who was only fourteen at the time was also killed with a bayonet.” Li also told Jia that she along with a group of people who were captured were forced by the Japanese soldiers to watch the torturing and killing of one of her neighbours, a peasant she refered to as “uncle Wang.” Li said: “Uncle Wang was hung on a tree as they would first cut-off his ears then poke off his eyes before disembowelling him. And I could hear his screams and moans until his death.”

    Japanese troops were also engaged in pillaging and arson on properties that had nothing to do with the strategic combat grounds of the city. Most buildings and business areas in Nanjing were looted by the Japanese troops; business areas in the center of the city were looted multiple times by the troops with organized military trucks before it was set in fire.

    “According to the International Safety Zone Committee, 73 percent of all buildings in Nanking were looted. … Arson began after Japanese troops entered the city and lasted till early February, and 24 percent of the city was burnt down. Across the fields of Nanking’s suburbs 40 percent of peasant houses were burnt[.] … Crop field became the feed for military horses, and vegetables were taken freely by soldiers. Almost half the vegetables in the Jiangnin and Jurong Counties were damaged. Large quantities of food and cattle were taken away under the name of requisition.”

    Women's Experiences

    The fate of women in Nanjing was extremely brutal. Large number of women were raped and gang raped by the Japanese soldiers. It was estimated that more than ten thousands women were raped. Rape didn’t only damage the women physically it also left deep psychological scars for the women. Many women who were raped were immediately killed. Many of the ones that weren’t killed took their own lives. Some were pregnant after being raped, and they looked towards abortion; some chose to damage their own bodies and health because they felt being raped was a sin. Women tried various ways to avoid being discovered and raped. Many young girls cut their hair short and disguise themselves as young men.

    “Almost all young women had their face covered and smeared with soot from the bottom of cooking pots, and dressed in old, ragged oversized jackets making themselves look dirty, old, and ugly. In order to avoid being raped, [women] pasted lots of medicinal plasters (gaoyao) all over their bodies. When Japanese soldiers saw them, they turned away with disgust. At first this worked, but later this trick didn’t work either.”

    An eighty-two-year-old-woman, Ding-Rongsheng, revealed in an interview conducted in 1998 that when she was hiding in the safety zone she did not wash her face for a whole month. Japanese troops raped girls and women in various age groups. In American missionary Vinnie Vautrin’s diary on the Japanese Occupation of Nanking, Vautrin noted on December, 17th that “twelve-year old girls up to sixty-year old women [were] raped.” Vautrin also noted that pregnant women were raped as their husbands were forced to leave their bedroom at point of bayonet. The psychological damage to these women was unbearable and may never be able to recovered.


    After six weeks of continuous torturing, killing, looting and raping, the city of Nanjing had suffered massive damaged. Life in Nanjing was intensively difficult. “According to a survey made by Professor Lewis S.C. Smythe in 1938, 11.7 percent of families remain in Nanjing, or 5,500 households, could be considered to be incomplete households.” To this day, there isn’t a formal acknowledgement or a public apology from Japan regarding the Massacre. The anti-Japanese sentiment followed through to the Chinese generation today. On October 11th, 2015, the People Republic of China has announced that it will set up a special database and upgrade the protection of documents regarding the Nanjing Massacre after files. Despite the protest of the current government of Japan, “eleven sets of Nanjing Massacre files, including film, photographs and text taken and written between 1937 and 1948 were listed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.” It is a message that the Chinese government is delivering that the massacre is part of history, a concrete fact that could not be denied. As China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said “China will ensure these valuable documents are protected and circulated, and make them play a positive role in remembering history, cherishing peace, looking into the future and safeguarding human dignity.” As of today, there are less than two hundred survivors the Nanjing Massacre is still alive; along with the citizens of China and Chinese in various diaspora communities around the world are all waiting for a formal acknowledgement from the Japanese government, until then, the Nanjing Massacre would be considered an unforgivable past.


    • Bai, Yang Rui. 86-year-old Nanjing Massacre survivor attends testimony meeting in Japan. Xinhua, August12, 2014. http://english.cntv.cn/2014/12/08/ARTI1417997599505117.shtml
    • Hu, Huang-ling, and Lian-hong Zhang. The Undaunted Women of Nanking: The Wartime Diaries of Minnie Vautrin and Tsen Shui-fang. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2010.
    • Jia, Lei. Survivor of Nanjing Massacre: Mother was Raped but lived to Look-after her Children. China News Network, August 21, 2012. http://jsnews.jschina.com.cn/system/2012/08/21/014224506_01.shtml
    • Sabella, Rober, David Liu and Fei Fei Li. Nanking 1937: Memory and Healing. New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2002.
    • Zhang, Lianhong. The Nanjing Massacre: The Socio-Psychological Effects. East Asia 18(3), 2000,. – 36-48
    • Zhang, Rui. China to set up database for Nanjing Massacre files after UNESCO listing. Xinhua, October 12, 2015 http://english.cntv.cn/2015/10/12/ARTI1444608321245955.shtml

    A Japanese Soldier's Experience during the Massacre at Nanking

    By Steven Larsen

    The massacre at Nanjing occurred during the Second Sino-Japanese War when Japanese forces occupied the Chinese Capital of Nanjing starting on December 13, 1927. Commonly referred to as “The Rape of Nanking,” the massacre is famous for its savagery and senseless brutality. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that by referring to the war with China as an “incident” (as opposed to an actual war) the Japanese could rationalize their behavior because they were not fighting legitimate combatants. Furthermore, by providing an example of orders given to soldiers by their superiors I will illustrate how de-humanizing the enemy allowed for a ruthless kind of pragmatism that allowed for large scale murder. To begin I will give a brief summary of the days leading up to, and during, the massacre at Nanjing. Next, I will narrow my focus and relay the experiences of actual Japanese soldiers present at Nanjing and how they viewed the events both at the time and after the war.

    The conflict in China began in earnest following the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in July, 1937. Just over four months later the Japanese had captured Shanghai and Chinese forces had to make a “hasty retreat.” (Lu, 28) General Matsui, the Japanese officer in charge of the Central Chinese Expeditionary Forces, followed the Chinese retreat to the capital Nanjing. On the way to Nanjing, however, the Japanese troops left a trail of atrocities in many of the towns and villages between Shanghai and Nanjing. (Lu, 27) The Japanese arrived at Nanjing on December 9 and, after their demands for surrender were not met, entered the city on December 12 and were fully in control of the city by December 13. (Russell, 45) Most of the Chinese soldiers that retreated to Nanjing ahead of the Japanese removed their uniforms and either attempted to blend in with the citizens of Nanjing or made their way to an international safety zone which had be set up. The Chinese soldiers who attempted to surrender were simply shot or bayoneted on the banks of the Yangtze River. An estimated twelve thousand Chinese soldiers and civilians were killed in the first three days of the occupation. Further, it is estimated that somewhere between one hundred to three hundred thousand more were killed in the following six weeks including over twenty thousand cases of rape. (Russell, 45) The savagery and brutality of many of the Japanese acts are to heinous to put into print. What allowed this to happen? Why were international laws banning the killing of civilians and POW’s so easily disregarded? The answer it seems comes down to a case of semantics in terms of how the Japanese viewed the conflict in China.

    The Japanese did not regard the conflict with Japan as a war, instead they referred to it as an “incident.” (Russell, 48) The Japanese viewed their involvement in China as protecting their substantial investment in a country that was mainly ruled by a collection of warlords. It is in this way that the Japanese were able to view Chinese soldiers as bandits and not as legitimate enemy combatants. Combined with intense indoctrination which frowned upon ‘dishonorable’ surrendering, the Japanese felt justified in ignoring international laws which prohibited the murder of civilians and POW’s. Furthermore, with no way to feed the enormous amount of prisoners a “ruthless logic” was employed in the decision to kill the enemy prisoners in lieu of feeding them. (Chang, 41)

    The cold and calculated pragmatism of the Japanese viewed murder as an acceptable substitute for providing their prisoners with food. The following order issued to a Japanese battalion on December 13 illustrates just how calculated these acts of murder really were: “Battalion battle report, at 2:00 received order from the regiment commander: to comply with orders from brigade commanding headquarters, all prisoners of war are to be executed. Method of execution: divide the prisoners into groups of a dozen. Shoot to kill separately. 3:30 p.m. A meeting is called to gather company commanders to exchange opinions on how to dispose of POW’s. From the discussion it is decided that the prisoners are to be divided evenly among each company and brought out from their imprisonment in groups of 50 to be executed. The vicinity of the imprisonment must be heavily guarded. Our intentions are absolutely not to be detected by the prisoners” (Chang, 41)

    It is hard to comprehend the ability to de-humanize the enemy to such extent that this brand of cold ‘reason’ can be applied to their murder. The same brand of pragmatism was practised when deciding how to dispose of the corpses following the prisoner’s murder. General Nakajima wrote in his diary how he stressed that it was “hard to locate ditches large enough to bury heaps of seven to eight thousand corpses.” (Chang, 46) Commenting on the failed attempt to burn corpses due to a lack of fuel, a Japanese corporal noted that they ran out of gasoline before the corpses could be burned to ash which “result[ed] [in] a mountain of charred corpses.” (Chang, 74) Only when reading, or hearing, from the Japanese soldiers themselves, I believe, does a clear picture begin to emerge of how this brand of savagery could be personally justified.

    In her book The Rape of Nanking, Iris Chang relates the post war recollections of a Japanese soldier, Azuma Shiro. Shiro describes how during the first week of the occupation he and his group of soldiers were ordered to “round up about 20, 000 soldiers.” (Chang, 42) After walking some ten miles in search of their prisoners the soldiers began to hear a shuffling noise and soon thousands of Chinese prisoners came into view. Coming from a culture which issued “swords instead of parachutes” (Chang, 42) Shiro was amazed that the Chinese soldiers had given up so easily when they outnumbered the Japanese and, in Shiro’s view, could have overwhelmed them if them wanted to. Shiro describes how he was disgusted by what he viewed as cowardice and that “his automatic impulse was to dehumanize the prisoners by comparing them to insects and animals.” (Chang, 44) The Japanese soldier’s dehumanization of the Chinese was not limited to murder. Despite the fact that there was, reportedly, orders prohibiting rape it is estimated that during the occupation over twenty thousand cases of rape occurred. Another Japanese soldier, Takokoro Kozo, describes how: “women suffered most [...] no matter how young or old, they all could not escape the fate of being raped. We sent out coal trucks to the city streets and villages to seize a lot of women. And then each of them was allocated to 15 to 20 soldiers for sexual intercourse and abuse.” (Chang, 101) According to Kozo the orders banning rape meant that the victims were murdered afterwards “because dead bodies don’t talk.” (Chang, 101) To many, including myself, it is unfathomable how one can dehumanize another to such extent that these sorts of heinous acts become possible.

    During the Second Sino-Japanese War Japanese forces occupied the Chinese Capital of Nanjing and for six weeks committed many acts of atrocity culminating in what is referred to as “The Rape of Nanking.” The Japanese regarded the conflict with China not as a war but as an “incident” which worked to rationalize Japanese behavior on the basis that they were fighting bandits and not legitimate enemy combatants. Superiors issued orders to their soldiers demonstrate how Japanese ‘war culture’ allowed a ruthless brand of pragmatism to be developed in order to decide what was to be the fate of the Chinese prisoners. The experience of Japanese soldiers, as related by the soldiers themselves, demonstrate the extent to which many of the Japanese soldiers in Nanjing regarded the enemy as subhuman and disposable.

    Bibliography Chang, Iris. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. New York: Penguin, 1998.

    Lu, Suping, Ed., A Dark Page in History: The Nanjing Massacre and Post-Massacre Social Conditions Recorded in British Diplomatic Dispatches, Admiralty Documents, and U.S. Naval Intelligence Reports. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2012.

    Russell , Edward Frederick Langley. The Knights of Bushido: A Short History of Japanese War Crimes. London: Corgi Books, 1976.
    Shudo, Higashinakano. The Nanking Massacre: Fact Versus Fiction. Tokyo: Sekai Shuppan, Inc, 2005.