On our last day in Nanjing we accompanied our friend, Shi Jun, a philosophy professor at Nanjing University of Science and Technology, and some of his students to the Nanjing Memorial Museum. Because it was a weekend, and it was China, the museum was very crowded. The students we were with had been to this museum before on class trips. One of them told me that she had a friend who went on a class trip here and vowed never to go again because it was so sad. She was right. The museum is world-class and lays out the story of the massacre of 300,000 citizens of Nanjing in 1937 by the Japanese when they were at war with China. Nanjing was the capital at the time, called Nanking, and the Japanese knew that if Nanjing fell, the rest of China would fall, too.
On December 13, 1937, the city of Nanking was invaded, following the fall of Shanghai, by the Japanese Imperial Army, who had received orders not to take prisoners and to rape and loot as they saw fit. So began the massacre of 300,000 citizens and unarmed soldiers in the city of Nanking. The Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall has been built near a site where thousands of bodies were buried in mass graves, known as “The Pit of Ten Thousand Corpses.” It was a very moving experience to go to the Hall. I will attempt to repeat the history that is told by the people of Nanjing at the Memorial Massacre Hall in memory of those who died during the massacre.
During the battle for Shanghai, it was very bloody on both sides. Chiang-Kai-shek commanded the Chinese troops and knew that if Shanghai fell, Nanjing would be next. Following advice from a German advisor, Chiang-Kai-shek took his elite troops out of Nanjing and brought them into the Chinese countryside. The plan was to use the great distances of China as a weapon in the war to wear out the enemy and to keep his forces viable to fight another day. While this might have been a great strategy for him, it left Nanjing a sitting duck for the Japanese Army.
The city announced it would not surrender and would fight to the death. Under orders, the Chinese military that were left in the city, mostly untrained soldiers from the countryside, prevented the citizens of Nanjing from leaving the city thus setting the city up for the coming disaster.
The Japanese Imperial Army was given tacit approval from its commanders as it moved from Shanghai to Nanjing, to murder, rape, and loot as they wished. They used a scorched earth policy and moved very quickly to Nanjing from Shanghai. As the Japanese got closer to the city, people tried to flee, fearing both the war and the deprivation that would follow. Most Westerners fled the city but 27 people stayed, mostly missionaries, and they set up the International Committee for Nanking Safety Zone. On December 1st they told all of the citizens who were left to move into this zone. People thought they would be safe there but such was not to be the case.
Prince Asaka from the Japanese Royal Family, was put in charge of the Japanese Army invading Nanjing. He was informed that the Japanese Army had surrounded the city and that the Chinese would probably surrender. Prince Asaka gave the order to “kill all captives” thus giving official sanction to the massacre.
There was a demand made for surrender which supposedly would have allowed the Chinese Army to leave the city but Chiang-Kai-shek refused. The Japanese Army then attacked the city from several sides.
On December 12, the Chinese Army was ordered to retreat and this led to utter chaos in the city. Some of the retreating soldiers stripped civilians of their clothing to “blend in” with the civilian population. Others were shot in the back as they attempted to flee.
On December 13, the Japanese Imperial Army entered the city without resistance. Accounts of the slaughter that followed came from survivors, both Chinese and Japanese, and from the diaries of foreigners who stayed in the Safety Zone. There were even photographs and movies taken of the slaughter.
One famous incident was a “contest” between two Japanese officers to see who would be the first to kill 100 people with a sword. They each killed slightly over 100 but lost count as to who was first so they continued to 150. The Japanese newspaper headline read, “Incredible Record [in the contest to] Behead 100 People – Mukai 106 – 105 Noda – Both 2nd Lts. Go into Extra Innings.”
These two officers were arrested and tried as war criminals and were executed when Japan surrendered in 1945. Prince Asaka was granted immunity as part of the surrender agreement with the Japanese after World War II because he was a member of the Royal Family. He committed suicide.
The men, women, and children of Nanjing were systematically raped and killed during the six weeks of Japanese occupation. The Japanese documented their own actions but, later, were ordered to hide and destroy all evidence of the massacre. Bodies and documents were buried in mass graves or burned.
In 1995 on the 50th anniversary of the surrender of Japan following World War II, the Prime Minister of Japan, Tomiichi Murayama, gave a formal apology for Japan’s actions in World War II. The people of China do not consider this apology to be “formal” enough. They are still waiting for Japan to own up to what it did in Nanjing.
In 1994, 2007, and 2012, high-ranking Japanese officials, mostly right-wing or nationalists, said that they don’t believe that the massacre happened or that if it did, there weren’t as many people killed as China has stated. The Mayor of Nagoya was one of these people.
Just like the Holocaust, people today are denying that the “Rape of Nanjing” ever happened or that it wasn’t as bad as is being reported or that it is propaganda. I believe that it did happen. That it was part of the horror of war. That a very well-trained Japanese Army ran amuck due to the poor decisions of its leaders. That is not an excuse for the violence visited on Nanjing but every country has had its moments of insanity, particularly in war, the US included.
An enigma for us being here in Japan today is witnessing the everyday kindness and politeness that the Japanese people exhibit and reconciling it with the horrors of Nanjing. Let there be an end to war in all its forms and an end to killing and violence.