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Nanjing Massacre history, summary and facts

The Nanjing Massacre, also called Rape of Nanjing (December 1937–January 1938), was the mass killing and the ravaging of Chinese citizens and capitulated soldiers by soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army after its seizure of Nanjing, China, on December 13, 1937, during the Sino-Japanese War that preceded World War II.

How many people were killed during the Nanjing Massacre?

Estimates of the number of Chinese killed in the Nanjing Massacre range from 100,000 to more than 300,000.

Who ordered the Nanjing Massacre?

The destruction of Nanjing was ordered by Matsui Iwane, commanding general of the Japanese Central China Front Army. Japanese soldiers carried out Matsui’s orders, perpetrating numerous mass executions and tens of thousands of rapes. The army looted and burned the surrounding towns and the city, destroying more than a third of the buildings.

What happened to Matsui Iwane and Tani Hisao?

Shortly after the end of World War II, Matsui Iwane and Tani Hisao, a lieutenant general who had personally participated in acts of murder and rape, were found guilty of war crimes by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and were executed.

A Japanese soldier pictured with the corpses of Chinese civilians by Qinhuai River

Nanjing Massacre, conventional Nanking Massacre, also called Rape of Nanjing, (December 1937–January 1938), mass killing and ravaging of Chinese citizens and capitulated soldiers by soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army after its seizure of Nanjing, China, on December 13, 1937, during the Sino-Japanese War that preceded World War II. The number of Chinese killed in the massacre has been subject to much debate, with most estimates ranging from 100,000 to more than 300,000.

The destruction of Nanjing—which had been the capital of the Nationalist Chinese from 1928 to 1937—was ordered by Matsui Iwane, commanding general of the Japanese Central China Front Army that captured the city. Over the next several weeks, Japanese soldiers carried out Matsui’s orders, perpetrating numerous mass executions and tens of thousands of rapes. The army looted and burned the surrounding towns and the city, destroying more than a third of the buildings. In 1940 the Japanese made Nanjing the capital of their Chinese puppet government headed by Wang Ching-wei (Wang Jingwei). Shortly after the end of World War II, Matsui and Tani Hisao, a lieutenant general who had personally participated in acts of murder and rape, were found guilty of war crimes by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and were executed.

Military situation

In August 1937, the Japanese army invaded Shanghai where they met strong resistance and suffered heavy casualties. The battle was bloody as both sides faced attrition in urban hand-to-hand combat. By mid-November the Japanese had captured Shanghai with the help of naval and (aerial) bombardment. The General Staff Headquarters in Tokyo initially decided not to expand the war due to the high casualties incurred and the low morale of the troops. Nevertheless, on December 1, headquarters ordered the Central China Area Army and the 10th Army to capture Nanjing, then-capital of the Republic of China.

Japanese war crimes on the march to Nanjing

Although the massacre is generally described as having occurred over a six-week period after the fall of Nanjing, the crimes committed by the Japanese army were not limited to that period. Many atrocities were reported to have been committed as the Japanese army advanced from Shanghai to Nanjing.

According to one Japanese journalist embedded with Imperial forces at the time:

The reason that the [10th Army] is advancing to Nanjing quite rapidly is due to the tacit consent among the officers and men that they could loot and rape as they wish.

In his novel Ikiteiru Heitai (‘Living Soldiers’), Tatsuzō Ishikawa vividly describes how the 16th Division of the Shanghai Expeditionary Force committed atrocities on the march between Shanghai and Nanjing. The novel itself was based on interviews that Ishikawa conducted with troops in Nanjing in January 1938.

Perhaps the most notorious atrocity was a killing contest between two Japanese officers as reported in the Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shimbun and the English-language Japan Advertiser. The contest—a race between the two officers to see who could kill 100 people first using only a sword—was covered much like a sporting event with regular updates on the score over a series of days. In Japan, the veracity of the newspaper article about the contest was the subject of ferocious debate for several decades starting in 1967.

In 2000, historian Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi concurred with certain Japanese scholars who had argued that the contest was a concocted story, with the collusion of the soldiers themselves for the purpose of raising the national fighting spirit.

In 2005, a Tokyo district judge dismissed a suit by the families of the lieutenants, stating that “the lieutenants admitted the fact that they raced to kill 100 people” and that the story cannot be proven to be clearly false.[21] The judge also ruled against the civil claim of the plaintiffs because the original article was more than 60 years old. The historicity of the event remains disputed in Japan.

Massacre

From December 13, 1937, the Japanese Army engaged in random murder, wartime rape, looting, arson, and other war crimes. Such crime continued from three to six weeks depending on the types of crime. The first three weeks were more intense.[note 1] A group of foreign expatriates headed by Rabe had formed a 15-man International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone on November 22 and mapped out the Nanking Safety Zone in order to safeguard civilians in the city.

Massacre of civilians

For about three weeks since December 13, 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army entered the Nanjing Safety Zone to search for former Chinese soldiers hidden among refugees. Many innocent men were misidentified and killed.

The death toll of civilians is difficult to precisely calculate due to the many bodies deliberately burnt, buried in mass graves, or dumped into the Yangtze River. Robert O. Wilson, a physician, testified that cases of gun wounds “continued to come in [to the hospital of University of Nanking] for a matter of some six or seven weeks following the fall of the city on December 13, 1937.

The capacity of the hospital was normally one hundred and eighty beds, and this was kept full to overflowing during this entire period. B. Campbell described the Nanjing Massacre as a genocide, given the fact that residents were still slaughtered en masse during the aftermath, despite the successful and certain outcome in battle. However, Jean-Louis Margolin does not believe that the Nanjing atrocities should be considered a genocide because only prisoners of war were executed in a systematic manner and the targeting of civilians was sporadic and done without orders by individual actors. On 13 December 1937, John Rabe wrote in his diary:

Nanjing Massacre Rape

The International Military Tribunal for the Far East estimated that 20,000 women, including some children and the elderly, were raped during the occupation, with Yale University claiming over 80,000 rapes. A large number of rapes were done systematically by the Japanese soldiers as they went from door to door, searching for girls, with many women being captured and gang-raped. The women were often killed immediately after being raped, often through explicit mutilation, such as by penetrating vaginas with bayonets, long sticks of bamboo, or other objects.

On 19 December 1937, the Reverend James M. McCallum wrote in his diary:

I know not where to end. Never I have heard or read such brutality. Rape! Rape! Rape! We estimate at least 1,000 cases a night and many by day. In case of resistance or anything that seems like disapproval, there is a bayonet stab or a bullet…. People are hysterical… Women are being carried off every morning, afternoon and evening. The whole Japanese army seems to be free to go and come as it pleases, and to do whatever it pleases.

On March 7, 1938, Robert O. Wilson, a surgeon at the university hospital in the Safety Zone administrated by the United States, wrote in a letter to his family, “a conservative estimate of people slaughtered in cold blood is somewhere about 100,000, including of course thousands of soldiers that had thrown down their arms.” Here are two excerpts from his letters of 15 and 18 December 1937 to his family:

The slaughter of civilians is appalling. I could go on for pages telling of cases of rape and brutality almost beyond belief. Two bayoneted corpses are the only survivors of seven street cleaners who were sitting in their headquarters when Japanese soldiers came in without warning or reason and killed five of their number and wounded the two that found their way to the hospital. Let me recount some instances occurring in the last two days. Last night the house of one of the Chinese staff members of the university was broken into and two of the women, his relatives, were raped. Two girls, about 16, were raped to death in one of the refugee camps. In the University Middle School where there are 8,000 people the Japs came in ten times last night, over the wall, stole food, clothing, and raped until they were satisfied. They bayoneted one little boy of eight who [had] five bayonet wounds including one that penetrated his stomach, a portion of omentum was outside the abdomen. I think he will live.

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