Richard C. KAGAN

The Nanjing Massacre was one of the worst atrocities committed by the Japanese in China during the eight-year period from 1937 to 1945. The massacre—resulting in the deaths of approximately 250,000 Chinese civilians and unarmed soldiers, the rape of many women and girls, and the destruction of cattle and other animals—remains a painful scar on China’s collective memory.

Japanese troops invaded and occupied Nanjing from November 1937 to February 1938. More than 200,000—possibly as many as 300,000, although exact numbers are in dispute—unarmed Chinese civilians and soldiers were killed during the six-week massacre.

The Nanjing Massacre (also known as the “Nanking Massacre” or the “Rape of Nanjing”) is the name given to the war crimes committed by Japanese troops during their invasion and occupation of Nanjing from November 1937 to February 1938. These crimes included the execution or murder of at least 200,000 unarmed Chinese soldiers and civilians, the rape and torture of about twenty thousand women and girls, the dismembering of human bodies, and the slaughter of domestic and farm animals.

The massacre was not restricted to Nanjing, which was the capital of Republican China (1912–1949) but rather occurred along the line of march of Japanese general Matsui Iwane’s Tenth Army and the Shanghai Expeditionary Force from Hangzhou—the landing site—through Shanghai and into Nanjing. The massacre was contained only after establishment of the Japanese puppet government of Nanjing in March 1938. General Matsui was found guilty of crimes against humanity by the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal and was sentenced to hang.

The massacre was well reported by the English-language press, but its memory was obscured for some years by the refusal of the Japanese government to admit to the massacre and by the failure of the Chinese government to raise the issue internationally. Not until the 1980s did the Chinese begin a serious study of the massacre. After careful research of burial records, documents, and interviews, researchers concluded that the massacre took the lives of nearly 300,000, a figure significantly greater than the estimate of 200,000 given by the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

Corroboration of these numbers is important because the nationalist movement in Japan is attempting to deny the legitimacy of the war crimes tribunal. For the nationalist movement the war was a just and patriotic struggle against Western domination. China confirms and possibly exaggerates the tribunal’s findings in order to convince Asians that Japan has been and remains a threat to other Asian nations. The massacre has inspired artistic representations by both Japanese and Chinese artists, and the International Committee to Study the Nanjing Massacre has commissioned a symphonic requiem entitled Hun Qiao (Bridge of Spirits) to honor the victims. The search for the truth and meaningfulness of the Nanjing Massacre will be remembered in various ways for decades.

Further Reading

Brook, T. (Ed.). (1999). Documents on the Rape of Nanking. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Chad, M. (1996). A choice of evils. London: Orion Publishing.

Chang, Iris. (1997). The Rape of Nanking: The forgotten holocaust of World War Two. New York: Penguin.

Honda, K. (1999). The Nanjing Massacre: A Japanese journalist confronts Japan’s national shame. Armonk NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Source: Kagan, Richard C.. (2009). Nanjing Massacre. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1546–1547. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

General Matsui Iwane, leader of the Nanjing Massacre, entering the city. After years of increasing Japanese aggression, the Japanese general and his Tenth Army invaded Nanjing in November 1937. The massacre and invasion of the city lasted until February 1938; a Japanese puppet government was established in Nanjing in March 1938.

Nanjing Massacre (Nánj?ng Dà Túsh? ?????)|Nánj?ng Dà Túsh? ????? (Nanjing Massacre)

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