Japan History Lab

The Nanjing Massacre - An Unforgivable Past

Introduction

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.

Conclusion

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.





Bibliography

  • 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