LEGACY OF THE RAPE OF NANKING
Many Chinese feel the Japanese need to apologize for the Rape of Nanking and other atrocities committed in China. In 1995, Jiang Zemin said: "Japan should make a correct recognition of its past imperialism which forced calamities on [Asian] people."
In November 1937 , Chinese forces abandoned the imperial capital of Nanking—before the Japanese even arrived. From December 1937 to March 1938, Japanese terrorized the people of Nanjing. POWs and men suspected of being Chinese soldiers in civilian clothes were marched by Japanese soldiers to execution sites and gunned down en masse. Women were gang-raped in front of their families; streets were filled with rotting corpses; Japanese soldiers pulled carts full of loot; children were casually murdered. The world was shocked by Japan's brutal aggression. Even swastika-wearing Nazis set up safety zones for Chinese. In many Japanese cities, by contrast, people held lantern parades to celebrate the capture of Nanking. [Source: Ian Buruma, New York Review of Books, October 13, 2011]
The Japanese government has requested that China tone down the exhibitions in the Memorial Hall to Victims in the Nanjing Massacre in Shanghai on the grounds they “inspire anti-Japanese feeling and animosity” among Chinese citizens. For their part the Chinese want the museum to be given UNESCO World heritage status like Auschwitz and the Hiroshima Peace Park.
Massacres also occurred in other places. Describing a mass slaughter in Beijing by soldiers who killed everyone they thought might be soldiers, one eyewitness wrote, “The area was filled with crumpled, twisted corpses, piled on top of each other in bloody mounds. Coolie laborers were set to work throwing bodies into the river...An officer said, “There are about 20,000 dead Chinese here.”
Good Websites and Sources on China during the World War II Period: Wikipedia article on Second Sino-Japanese War Wikipedia ; Nanking Incident (Rape of Nanking) : Nanjing Massacre cnd.org/njmassacre ; Wikipedia Nanking Massacre article Wikipedia Nanjing Memorial Hall humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/NanjingMassacre ; CHINA AND WORLD WAR II Factsanddetails.com/China ; Good Websites and Sources on World War II and China : ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; U.S. Army Account history.army.mil; Burma Road book worldwar2history.info ; Burma Road Video danwei.org Books: "Rape of Nanking The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II" by Chinese-American journalist Iris Chang; “China's World War II, 1937-1945" by Rana Mitter (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013); “The Imperial War Museum Book on the War in Burma, 1942-1945" by Julian Thompson (Pan, 2003); “The Burma Road” by Donovan Webster (Macmillan, 2004). You can help this site a little by ordering your Amazon books through this link: Amazon.com.
Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge; 5) Gutenberg.org e-book gutenberg.org/files ; Links in this Website: Main China Page factsanddetails.com/china (Click History)
City of Life and Death
"City of Life and Death" (2009) is a Chinese-made film by Lu Chuan about the invasion of Nanking in 1937 that has been both praised and condemned for portraying the Japanese in a somewhat sympathetic light. The film depicts the Nanking massacre through the eyes of a Japanese soldier who is shocked and terrified by the atrocities committed by his compatriots and ultimately kills himself after letting a Chinese prisoner of war escape. Even though the film attracted a large audience and was approved by the Communist Party, Lu was accused by some as being a traitor.
"City of Life and Death" has been both praised and condemned for portraying the Japanese in a somewhat sympathetic light. The film has been lauded for its gritty, unflinching depiction of the horrors of the massacre, and its portrayal of Japanese characters as actual people instead of faceless demons has been both praised and deplored, depending on political leanings of the individual viewer. In its first week in China it brought in more than 100 million yuan. [Source: Danwei.org]
Shelly Kraicer wrote in Cinema-scope: “It is a full-out war epic, massively budgeted and vast in ambition. Huge sets of devastated Nanjing were built, and thousands of extras mobilized to illustrate the battle scenes that open the film. Lu films his striking set pieces in a beautifully modulated black and white, where cinematography, art direction, staging, music, and sound design all conspire to create massive, intentionally overwhelming images of violence, horror, and devastation.”
Perceptions of the Rape of Nanking
Ian Buruma wrote in the New York Review of Books, “Much nonsense has been written about the Nanjing Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanking. We know this much: in December 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army, after taking the Chinese Nationalist capital of Nanjing, went on a six-week rampage, looting, murdering, and raping large numbers of people. Since no records were kept of these atrocities, the exact number of victims is unknown. The official Chinese figure is 300,000 dead, which is probably an exaggeration. Some conservative Japanese historians put the number in the tens of thousands, which may be too low. Some Japanese nationalists, more interested in their political agenda than historical accuracy, claim that the “so-called” massacre never really occurred at all, but is a fiction of Chinese propaganda. [Source: Ian Buruma, New York Review of Books, October 13, 2011]
Such nationalist claims have led to further misconceptions. It is widely believed, for example, that the horrible events of 1937 have been consistently denied by most Japanese, and that the true story only emerged in 1998 with Iris Chang’s US best seller, The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. This notion of Nanking as the forgotten Holocaust, on a par with Nazi mass murder, was promoted by Chang and her many admirers. For example, Chang likened the brave American missionary Minnie Vautrin, who tried to protect Chinese women from rape and murder, and committed suicide in the US three years later, to Anne Frank. This type of loose comparison, as well as some factual mistakes, made it easier for nationalists in Japan to dismiss her work entirely. Chang took her own life in 2004. The drawing of parallels between the Rape of Nanking and the Nazi Holocaust actually goes back to the Tokyo War Crime Trials in 1946, when Japanese wartime leaders were held accountable for “crimes against humanity,” thought to be comparable to the planned Nazi genocide. Nanking became a symbol of Japanese evil. And the comparisons stuck. In an otherwise sensible review of the film City of Life and Death, J. Hoberman talks about “the presentation of downtown Nanking as a de facto Auschwitz.”
Nanking was not Auschwitz, nor, in fact, does the movie lay claim to such parallels. To distinguish between atrocities does not diminish the horror, but without clarity on these matters history recedes into myth and becomes a form of propaganda. Auschwitz is the symbol of a systematic program to exterminate an entire people. What happened in Nanking is that a large ill-disciplined army ran amok among the mostly civilian population of a great city.
Perceptions of Rape of Nanking in Japan and China
Ian Buruma wrote in the New York Review of Books, “Far from being forgotten in Japan, the massacre has been the subject of heated debates in the mass media at least since the early 1970s, when the journalist Honda Katsuichi wrote a best seller about it, based on his interviews with Chinese survivors. Honda stuck closely to the official Chinese version of the massacre, which prompted his right-wing opponents to denounce him as a promoter of leftist propaganda. But the controversy also spurred serious Japanese historians to reconsider the matter. Even a conservative scholar such as Hata Ikuhiko, who believes that the death toll was closer to 40,000, which is less than most mainstream Japanese historians think, would not dream of denying the atrocious nature of the Rape of Nanking. [Source: Ian Buruma, New York Review of Books, October 13, 2011]
There is also a misunderstanding about the official Chinese attitude toward the history of the massacre. Until the mid-1980s, the Communist government barely mentioned it, but not because it wished to maintain good relations with Japan, as some have claimed. The fact is that Nanking, in 1937, was the capital of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists. The Communists were far away when the massacre occurred. And in any case, Mao’s regime was interested in heroic narratives, not martyrology.
If anything, the Nationalists were often blamed by Chinese for what happened in Nanking. Before the Japanese breached the city walls, the Chinese officer corps, crack army units, and the entire government administration, as well as their families, had already fled the city. Without any government left, the hastily improvised ‘safety zone,’ filled with terrified Chinese refugees, had to be organized by a handful of foreign missionaries and a Nazi representative of the Siemens company named John Rabe, who naively sent a letter after the event to his Führer, informing him of the Japanese atrocities. The Führer was not impressed, and Rabe, on his return to Germany, was detained by the Gestapo for stirring up trouble between allies. The rest of the Chinese population, including thousands of soldiers who had quickly changed into civilian clothes, was at the mercy of Japanese troops, who were brutalized by their own officers, undersupplied with food, often badly trained, demoralized by a succession of bloody battles, and indoctrinated with views of Japanese superiority and contempt for the Chinese. What occurred, then, was terrible enough without having to reach for parallels with the Holocaust.
Since the 1980s, when China began to open up to the capitalist world, including Japan, a new form of Chinese nationalism began to replace Maoist dogma. The government promoted the idea that only the firm leadership of the Communist Party could wipe out the shame of two centuries of humiliation at the hands of foreign powers, and ensure that the Chinese would never suffer this fate again. From then on, martyrology dominated so-called patriotic education. Museums sprang up on the Opium Wars. And in 1985, in Nanking, the Memorial for Compatriots Killed in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Forces of Aggression was erected. It is something between a museum and patriotic shrine. Adorning the entrance are the words, in English and Chinese: “Victims, 300,000.”
Nanjing Massacre Museum
The Nanjing Massacre Museum — officially known as the Memorial Hall for Compatriots killed in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Forces of Aggression — is a massive museum devoted to the Nanjing massacre built on a former mass grave where 8,000 bodies were exhumed. Opened in 1985 and greatly enlarged in 1995, it contains galleries, exhibits, walkways on rough granite blocks, and beds of stones representing the dead. The galleries display photographs taken by Japanese of Japanese soldiers holding up severed heads, placing their feet on dead women and babies, and standing besides dead people hung from ropes as if they were prized fish. There are also pictures of rape victims begging for mercy.
According to the museum’s website: “The Memorial Hall for Compatriots killed in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Forces of Aggression is located in the southwestern corner of Nanjing known as Jiangdongmen, which used to be one of the execution grounds and mass burial places of the cruel holocaust. [Source: Official Website of the Museum of Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders http://www.nj1937.org/en/index.htm]
“Occupying an area about 28000 square meters with a floor space of 3000, it was built in 1985 in memory of the 300,000 victims in the event. Later, in 1995 it was enlarged and renovated. The buildings in the complex are fashioned out of black and white granite blocks, looking spectacular and magnificent, rendering a feeling of solemnity and reverence. It is an exhibition site with historical records and objects as well as architecture, sculptures and video and film projections to unfold a specific chapter of history concerning one of the ugliest experiences forced on mankind.
“The memorial consists of three parts: the outdoor exhibits, the remaining bones of the killed and the museum for historical material displaying. In the outdoor sector, group sculptures, full-length statues, relief carvings, signboards, monuments, redeeming and repentant tablets, withered trees and broken walls as well as a wall carved with the names of part of the victims so far that have been located cluster together with green shrubs and lawns to suggest a graveyard-style architecture with the themes of life and death, grief and indignation. A building shaped like a coffin is to shelter some of the victims’ bones excavated from the “pits of thousands of bodies” right in the site when the memorial was in construction-an iron evidence for the bloody crimes committed by the aggressive Japanese troops. The museum lies half buried in the ground like a colossal tomb. Inside, an immense collection of pictures, objects, charts and photographs relate the horror of the Rape of Nanjing. Through a versatility of means for exhibitions such as lighted cabinets, sand trays, clay moldings, oil paintings, micro-computers appliances, documentary shows and so on, the tragedy of the cruel holocaust in Nanjing and the beastly atrocities of the Japanese militarists are pictured and recounted.
“Past experience, if not forgotten, is the guide for the future. The Nanjing Memorial has become an important site for international communities to pray for PEACE as well as a site for historical and cultural exchanges. In China, it is also a “national demonstrative educational base for patriotism”.”
Xi Jinping Leads Nanjing Massacre Commemoration
In December 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping has presided over his country's first state commemoration of the Nanjing massacre. The BBC reported: “President Xi told survivors that to deny a crime was to repeat it but insisted the ceremony was to promote peace, not prolong hatred. The ceremony, which came on the 77th anniversary of the massacre, is part of three new public holidays intended to mark the conflict between the two countries. A crowd of about 10,000 people attended the event in Nanjing, taking part in a minute's silence to honour those killed. They included survivors of the massacre, as well as soldiers and students. [Source: BBC, December 13, 2014]
"Anyone who tries to deny the massacre will not be allowed by history, the souls of the 300,000 deceased victims, 1.3 billion Chinese people and all people loving peace and justice in the world," Mr Xi said. But he added that China should not "bear hatred against an entire nation just because a small minority of militarists launched aggressive wars," according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
Also in December 2014, The first volume of an encyclopedia detailing the Nanking Massacre was released in Nanjing. The encyclopedia, composed of four volumes of over 8,000 entries, exposes the crimes of Japanese troops in Nanjing in over 40 days from late 1937 to early 1938. The China Daily reported: Historians from some 10 countries, including China, Japan, the United States, Russia and Germany have contributed to the compendium. Zhu Chengshan, curator of the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, believes that publication of the book will promote historical truth and refute some right-wing Japanese slander. Qi Houjie, one of the compilers and a former researcher with the Second Historical Archives of China, describes the work as mainly about the invaders’ slaughter and sexual violence.” The first volume deals mainly with the eve of the massacre. The other three volumes will be published by the end of 2015.[Source: China Daily, December 8, 2014]
Los Angeles Nanjing Massacre Museum
According to CCTV: “A Nanjing Massacre-themed museum, the L.A. Memorial Hall of American Heroes during Nanjing Massacre, opened in Los Angeles on the last day of 2015. The opening exhibition at the museum honors 22 Americans who risked their lives to stay in Nanjing and help the locals during the 40 days of carnage - from December 1937 to January 1938 - that saw over 300,000 Chinese civilians and soldiers being slaughtered by Imperial Japanese soldiers. [Source: CCTV Xinhua News Agency January 4, 2016 +++]
“Among the 22 individuals, 14 experienced the entire massacre after the city fell into the hands of the Japanese army; four witnessed the brutality of the Japanese invaders during the first few days of the massacre; and four entered Nanjing city at the end of massacre and witnessed some of the crimes committed by Japanese troops. The museum's exhibit currently features 335 photos, 94 historical objects and 115 books and videos, with the aim of sharing the truth about the Nanjing Massacre. +++
“One of the photos on display shows Dr. Robert O. Wilson treating a 14-year-old boy, who had been stabbed by a Japanese bayonet, in Gulou Hospital. Wilson was the only foreign surgeon in the city at the time and had saved thousands of Chinese people, according to his daughter Marge Garrett. +++
According to Zhu Chengshan, the co-curator of the memorial hall, some 30 cities across the world have held Nanjing Massacre-themed exhibitions, with 10 of them being in the US. The previous exhibitions were temporary, lasting at the most for a period of 20 days, but the one in Los Angles will be permanent. "There are many people in the world who do not know about the historical fact of the Nanjing Massacre, especially people overseas. So we need not only to inform people in China; more importantly, we have to let people outside China know about the truth," said Zhu. +++
Nanjing Massacre UNESCO Listing
In October 2015, documents on the Nanjing Massacre were added the International Memory of the World Register. China Real Time reported: “According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization website (UNESCO), documents about the Nanjing Massacre, submitted by the Chinese government, were added this year under the program, which aims to preserve and offer universal access to the world’s documentary heritage.[Source: Jun Hongo, China Real Time, October 13, 2105]
“According to the UNESCO website, the documents about the Nanjing massacre consist of three parts including information about the postwar investigation and the trials of war criminals. China’s nomination letter said the materials include photos taken by the Japanese army and documentary film shot by an American priest.
Japan May Cut UNESCO Funds Following Nanjing Massacre Listing
In October 2015, following the decision to add the Nanjing Massacre to the International Memory of the World Register, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan may cut its financial contribution to an agency of the United Nations because of the decision. [Source: Jun Hongo, China Real Time, October 13, 2105]
The authenticity of the documents added to the U.N. list “hasn’t been verified by experts,” Mr. Suga said at his regular news conference, adding that the Japanese government hasn’t been able to confirm the details of the Chinese documents yet. The government will consider suspending its financial contribution to Unesco because it has concerns about how the organization operates, he said.
According to China Real Time: “Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying blasted Japan’s response as “shocking and totally unacceptable,” adding that China’s filing of Nanjing Massacre documents met Unesco requirements. “The Japanese side may threaten to reduce its financial contributions to Unesco, but it can never remove the stain of history. The harder it tries to remove it, the darker the stain gets,” she said.
Image Source: Nanjing History Wiz, Wiki Commons, History in Pictures Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2016