The Nanjing Massacre,
The Nanjing Massacre, also known as "The Rape of Nanking," is a rare example of simultaneous gendercides against women and men.
It is generally remembered for the invading forces' barbaric treatment of Chinese women. Many thousands of
them were killed after gang rape, and tens of thousands of others brutally injured and traumatized. Meanwhile,
approximately a quarter of a million defenseless Chinese men were rounded up as prisoners-of-war and murdered
en masse, used for bayonet practice, or burned and buried alive.
The Second World War began in Asia. Japan's military dictators had long viewed China as the main outlet for
their imperial and expansionist ambitions (for an overview, see Saburo Ienaga, The Pacific War 1931-1945).
Japanese forces invaded and occupied Manchuria in northeast China in 1931, setting up the puppet state of
Manchukuo. After the manufactured "Marco Polo Bridge Incident" of July 1937, the Japanese launched a
fullscale invasion of China, capturing Shanghai on 12 November and the imperial capital, Nanjing, on 13
December. Numerous atrocities were committed en route to Nanjing, but they could not compare with the epic
carnage and destruction the Japanese unleashed on the defenseless city after Chinese forces abandoned it to the
The gendercide against Chinese women
Murdered Chinese women and children are strewn
across the steps of a Nanjing building.
Women were killed in indiscriminate acts of terror and execution, but the large majority died after extended
and excruciating gang-rape. "Surviving Japanese veterans claim that the army had officially outlawed the rape of
enemy women," writes Iris Chang. But "the military policy forbidding rape only encouraged soldiers to kill their
victims afterwards." She cites one soldier's recollection that "It would be all right if we only raped them. I
shouldn't say all right. But we always stabbed and killed them. Because dead bodies don't talk ... Perhaps when
we were raping her, we looked at her as a woman, but when we killed her, we just thought of her as something
like a pig." (Chang, The Rape of Nanking, pp. 49-50). Kenzo Okamoto, another Japanese soldier, recalled:
"From the time of the landing at Hangzhou Bay, we were hungry for women! Officers issued a rough rule: If you
mess with a woman, kill her afterwards, but don't use bayonets or rifle fire. The purpose of this rule was probably
to disguise who did the killing. The military code with its punishment of execution was empty words. No one was
ever punished. Some officers were even worse than the soldiers." (Yin and Young, The Rape of Nanking, p. 188)
One eyewitness, Li Ke-hen, reported: "There are so many bodies on the street, victims of group rape and murder.
They were all stripped naked, their breasts cut off, leaving a terrible dark brown hole; some of them were
bayoneted in the abdomen, with their intestines spilling out alongside them; some had a roll of paper or a piece of
wood stuffed in their vaginas" (quoted in Yin and Young, The Rape of Nanking, p. 195). John Rabe, a German
(and Nazi) businessman who set up a "Nanking Safety Zone" in the city's international settlement and thereby
saved thousands of Chinese lives, described in his diary the weeks of terror endured by the women of Nanjing.
Though young and conventionally attractive women were most at risk, no woman was safe from vicious rape and
exploitation (often filmed as souvenirs) and probable murder thereafter. "Groups of 3 to 10 marauding soldiers
would begin by traveling through the city and robbing whatever there was to steal. They would continue by raping
the women and girls and killing anything and anyone that offered any resistance, attempted to run away from them
or simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There were girls under the age of 8 and women
over the age of 70 who were raped and then, in the most brutal way possible, knocked down and beat up."
(Chang, The Rape of Nanking, p. 119.) In addition to those killed after the violation, historian David Bergamini
notes that "Many immature girls were turned loose in such a manhandled condition that they died a day or two
later. ... Many young women were simply tied to beds as permanent fixtures accessible to any and all comers.
When they became too weepy or too diseased to arouse desire, they were disposed of. In alleys and parks lay the
corpses of women who had been dishonored even after death by mutilation and stuffing." (Yin and Young, The
Rape of Nanking, p. 195.)
Not all of the victims of rape were female. "Chinese men were often sodomized or forced to perform a variety of
repulsive sexual acts in front of laughing Japanese soldiers," writes Chang. "At least one Chinese man was
murdered because he refused to commit necrophilia with the corpse of a woman in the snow. The Japanese also
delighted in trying to coerce men who had taken lifetime vows of celibacy to engage in sexual intercourse. ... The
Japanese drew sadistic pleasure in forcing Chinese men to commit incest -- fathers to rape their own daughters,
brothers their sisters, sons their mothers ... those who refused were killed on the spot." (Chang, The Rape of
Nanking, p. 95.)
The gendercide against Chinese men
Young Chinese men, their hands bound, are
led away for mass execution.
On 5 December, even before Nanjing's fall, Prince Yasuhiko Asaka -- uncle of Emperor Hirohito -- issued a
secret order to "Kill all captives." When Nanjing was taken, "All military-age men among the refugees were
taken prisoner," whether or not they had actually been soldiers (Yin and Young, The Rape of Nanking, p. 76.
Note that the Chinese Nationalist government's press-ganging of young men was possibly the most brutal and gendercidal in
history -- see the case-study of Military Conscription).
At wharves along the Yangtze River, tens of thousands of these prisoners -- up to 150,000 in all -- were
massacred in cold blood. A typical order, issued to the 66th Regiment 1st Battalion on 13 December, read as
Battalion battle report, at 2:00 [p.m.] received orders from the Regiment commander: to comply with orders
from Brigade commanding headquarters, all prisoners of war are to be executed. Method of executed:
divide the prisoners into groups of a dozen. Shoot to kill separately. ... It is decided that the prisoners are to
be divided evenly among each company ... and to be brought out from their imprisonment in groups of 50 to
be executed. ... The vicinity of the imprisonment must be heavily guarded. Our intentions are absolutely not
to be detected by the prisoners. Every company is to complete preparation before 5:00 p.m. Executions
are to start by 5:00 and action is to be finished by 7:30. (Quoted in Yin and Young, The Rape of Nanking,
pp. 110, 115.)
According to Iris Chang, "The Japanese would take any men they found as prisoners, neglect to give them water
or food for days, but promise them food and work. After days of such treatment, the Japanese would bind the
wrists of their victims securely with wire or rope and herd them out to some isolated area. The men, too tired or
dehydrated to rebel, went out eagerly, thinking they would be fed. By the time they saw the machine guns, or the
bloodied swords and bayonets wielded by waiting soldiers, or the massive graves, heaped and reeking with the
bodies of the men who had preceded them, it was already too late to escape." (Chang, The Rape of Nanking, p.
83.) The Japanese held grotesque killing contests, including "a competition to determine who could kill the
fastest. As one soldier stood sentinel with a machine gun, ready to mow down anyone who tried to bolt, the eight
other soldiers split up into pairs to form four separate teams. In each team, one soldier beheaded prisoners with a
sword while the other picked up heads and tossed them aside in a pile. The prisoners stood frozen in silence and
terror as their countrymen dropped, one by one." (Chang, The Rape of Nanking, p. 85)
Atrocious tortures were also inflicted on the captive men. "The Japanese not only disemboweled, decapitated, and
dismembered victims but performed more excruciating varieties of torture. Throughout the city they nailed
prisoners to wooden boards and ran over them with tanks, crucified them to trees and electrical posts, carved long
strips of flesh from them, and used them for bayonet practice. At least one hundred men reportedly had their eyes
gouged out and their noses and ears hacked off before being set on fire. Another group of two hundred Chinese
soldiers and civilians were stripped naked, tied to columns and doors of a school, and then stabbed by zhuizi --
special needles with handles on them -- in hundreds of points along their bodies, including their mouths, throats,
and eyes. ... The Japanese subjected large crowds of victims to mass incineration. In Hsiakwan [along the
Yangtze] a Japanese soldier bound Chinese captives together, ten at a time, and pushed them into a pit, where they
were sprayed with gasoline and ignited." (Chang, The Rape of Nanking, pp. 87-88.)
How many died?
After the war, the International Military Tribunal of the Far cited "indicat[ions] that the total number of civilians
and prisoners-of-war murdered in Nanking and its immediate vicinity during the first six weeks of the Japanese
occupation was over 200,000. That these estimates are not exaggerated is borne out by the fact that burial
societies and other organizations counted more than 155,000 bodies which they buried ... these figures do not take
into account those persons whose bodies were destroyed by burning or by throwing them into the Yangtze River
or otherwise disposed of by [the] Japanese." As well, "According to Japanese Lieutenant colonel Toshio Ohta's
statement, between December 14 and December 18 the Japanese commanding headquarters of Nanjing Port
disposed of 100,000 bodies while other troops disposed of 50,000." (Yin and Young, The Rape of Nanking, pp.
78, 90.) With the sole exception of the Nazi gendercide against Soviet POWs, this was the most
concentrated massacre of prisoners-of-war in recorded history. The rapes and rape-murders of women were also of
staggering proportions. "Certainly it was one of the greatest mass rapes in world history," writes Iris Chang. She
notes that "it is impossible to determine the exact number of women raped in Nanking. Estimates range from as
low as twenty thousand to as high as eighty thousand." (Chang, The Rape of Nanking, p. 89)
Who was responsible?
Senior members of the Japanese high command bearing direct responsibility for the mass atrocities in China
included the Emperor Hirohito, who made all major military decisions, including the one to invade China in 1937;
Hirohito's uncle, Prince Asaka, who issued the order to "Kill all captives" and was thus the main architect of the
gendercide against Nanjing's men; General Yanagawa Heisuke; and Lieut. General Nakajima Kesago, commander
of the 16th division, who "supervised the beheading of two prisoners-of-war to test his new sword, thus setting an
example for his troops in mass-scale killing in Nanking" (Yin and Young, The Rape of Nanking, p. 284).
The massacres and mass rapes in Nanjing continued for a full six weeks, extending into January 1938. Eventually the genocidal
rampage was replaced by a brutal occupation conducted under a puppet authority, the "Nanking Self-Government
Committee." Life began to return to the city, and its population eventually re-stabilized at around 700,000, two-thirds of the prewar population. In August 1945, after atomic-bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the
Japanese surrendered to the United States and other allies. The Second World War was over.
In 1946-47, war-crimes trials were held in Nanjing. "Only a handful of Japanese war criminals were tried in
Nanking," notes Chang, "but they gave the local Chinese citizens a chance to air their grievances and participate in
mass catharsis." (Chang, The Rape of Nanking, p. 170.) Tani Hisao, a commander of the 6th Division which had
committed many atrocities in Nanjing and elsewhere, was sentenced to death in March 1947 and executed the
following month. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East tried nearly 30 key Japanese commanders,
including Matsui Iwane, commander of the Central China Expeditionary Force. Iwane, however -- according to
Chang -- "may have served as the scapegoat for the Rape of Nanking. A sickly and frail man suffering from
tuberculosis, Matsui was not even in Nanking when the city fell" (Chang, The Rape of Nanking, p. 174). He was
nonetheless executed along with six other "class A" war criminals in this Japanese equivalent of the Nuremberg
trials. General Yanagawa Heisuke and Lieut. General Nakajima Kesago, two of the main Japanese field
commanders in charge of the occupation of Nanjing, died of natural causes in 1945, and thus could not be
prosecuted. Controversially, the Japanese imperial family, including Emperor Hirohito and Prince Asaka, received immunity.
A conscious attempt has been made by "revisionists" in Japan to deny or downplay the involvement of the
Japanese military in massive atrocities during World War II. In September 1986, the Japanese education minister,
Fujio Masayuki, referred to the Rape of Nanking as "just a part of war." In 1988, a 30-second scene depicting the
Rape of Nanking was removed from Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor by the film's Japanese distributor.
In 1991, censors at the Ministry of Education "ordered textbook authorities to eliminate all reference to the
numbers of Chinese killed during the Rape of Nanking because authorities believed there was insufficient evidence
to verify those numbers" (Chang, The Rape of Nanking, p. 208). And General Nagano Shigeto, a Second World
War veteran appointed justice minister in Spring 1994, told a Japanese newspaper that "the Nanking Massacre and
the rest was a fabrication."
Until the recent resurgence of interest in the Nanjing Massacre, the atrocities and their survivors had been largely
forgotten. "After the war some of the survivors had clung to the hope that their government would vindicate them
by pushing for Japanese reparations and an official apology. This hope, however, was swiftly shattered when the
People's Republic of China (PRC), eager to forge an alliance with the Japanese to gain international legitimacy,
announced at various times that it had forgiven the Japanese." Despite the fact that "the PRC has never signed a
treaty with the Japanese relinquishing its right to seek national reparations for wartime crimes," no such
reparations have been sought -- or offered. Overseas Chinese have, however, mounted increasing activist efforts.
"The 1990s saw a proliferation of novels, historical books, and newspaper articles about the Rape of Nanking ...
The San Francisco school district plans to include the history of the Rape of Nanking in its curriculum, and prints
have even been drawn up among Chinese real estate developers to build a Chinese holocaust museum." (Chang,
The Rape of Nanking, pp. 223-24.) Chang concludes her book, itself an important contribution to the revival of
interest in these ghastly events, with a call for justice, however delayed:
Japan carries not only the legal burden but the moral obligation to acknowledge the evil it perpetrated at
Nanjing. At a minimum, the Japanese government needs to issue an official apology to the victims, pay
reparations to the people whose lives were destroyed in the rampage, and, most important, educate future
generations of Japanese citizens about the true facts of the massacre. These long-overdue steps are crucial
for Japan if it expects to deserve respect from the international community -- and to achieve closure on a
dark chapter that stained its history. (Chang, The Rape of Nanking, p. 225.)
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