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Rape of Nanjing

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The Rape of Nanjing or Nanjing Massacre or Nanking Massacre was a wartime atrocity committed by Japanese soldiers in between December 1937 and March 1938[1] during the Second Sino-Japanese War, following their successful invasion and capture of the city of Nanjing (南京, usually Anglicised as Nanking at the time) which was then the capital of the Republic of China.

During the following massacre, between 250,000 and 300,000 civilians were killed, and according to Western witnesses 20,000 women were raped.[1] The Japanese invaders also raped men, children, and the elderly, mutilated and murdered many of their rape victims, and forced some families to engage in incest.

The carnage was so bad that the local Nazi leadersWikipedia's W.svg decided to intervene and put a stop to it.

War crimes tribunals[edit]

Shortly after the surrender of Japan, the primary officers in charge of the Japanese troops at Nanjing were put on trial. General Matsui was indicted before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East for "deliberately and recklessly" ignoring his legal duty "to take adequate steps to secure the observance and prevent breaches" of the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907.Wikipedia's W.svg Hisao Tani,Wikipedia's W.svg the lieutenant general of the 6th Division of the Japanese army in Nanjing, was tried by the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal.Wikipedia's W.svg

Other Japanese military leaders in charge at the time of the Nanjing Massacre were not tried. Prince Kan'in,Wikipedia's W.svg chief of staff of the Imperial Japanese Army during the massacre, had died before the end of the war in May 1945. Prince Asaka was granted immunity because of his status as a member of the imperial family.[2]:583[3] Isamu Chō, the aide to Prince Asaka,Wikipedia's W.svg and whom some historians believe issued the "kill all captives" memo, had committed suicide during the Battle of Okinawa.[4]

On May 1, 1946, officials interrogated Prince Asaka, who was the ranking officer in the city at the height of the atrocities, about his involvement in the Nanjing Massacre and the deposition was submitted to the International Prosecution Section of the Tokyo tribunal. Asaka denied the existence of any massacre and claimed never to have received complaints about the conduct of his troops.[5]

Matsui's defence varied between denying the mass-scale atrocities and evading his responsibility for what had happened. Eventually he ended up making numerous conflicting statements. In the interrogation in Sugamo prison preceding the trial Matsui admitted that he heard about the many outrages committed by his troops from Japanese diplomats when he entered Nanjing on December 17, 1937.

In court, he contradicted the earlier testimony and told the judges that he was not "officially" briefed at the consulate about the evildoings, presumably to avoid admitting any contact with the consulate officials such as Second Secretary (later Acting Consul-General) Fukui Kiyoshi and Attaché Fukuda Tokuyasu who received and dealt with the protests filed by the International Committee.

In the same interrogation session before the trial, Matsui said one officer and three low-ranking soldiers were court-martialled because of their misbehavior in Nanjing and the officer was sentenced to death. In his affidavit Matsui said he ordered his officers to investigate the massacre and to take necessary action. In court, however, Matsui said that he did not have jurisdiction over the soldiers' misconduct since he was not in the position of supervising military discipline and morals.

Matsui asserted that he had never ordered the execution of Chinese POWs. He further argued that he had directed his army division commanders to discipline their troops for criminal acts, and was not responsible for their failure to carry out his directives. At trial, Matsui went out of his way to protect Prince Asaka by shifting blame to lower ranking division commanders.[2]:734

On November 12, 1948, Matsui and Hirota, along with five other convicted Class-A war criminals, were sentenced to death by hanging. Eighteen others received lesser sentences. The death sentence imposed on Hirota, a six-to-five decision by the eleven judges, shocked the general public and prompted a petition on his behalf, which soon gathered over 300,000 signatures but did not succeed in commuting the Minister's sentence.[6][7]

Continued denial[edit]

As with a majority of mass injustices, there are those who deny the Rape of Nanjing even occurred. Many officials and historians claim that, while deaths and rapes did occur, they were on a far smaller scale than reported.[1] The heightened problem in this particular case is that denial of this horror is part of mainstream Japanese politics. In fact, current Prime Minister Shinzō Abe (a grandson of former-Prime Minister and unprosecuted Class A war criminal Nobusuke KishiWikipedia's W.svg) is a long-time denier.

Despite the efforts of the nationalist textbook reformers,Wikipedia's W.svg by the late 1990s the most common Japanese schoolbooks contained references to, for instance, the Nanjing Massacre, Unit 731, and the comfort women of World War II, all historical issues which have faced challenges from ultranationalists in the past.[8] The most recent of the controversial textbooks, the New History Textbook, published in 2000, was shunned by nearly all of Japan's school districts.[9]

Critics claim that the government textbook authorization system has been used to reject textbooks that depict Imperial Japan in a negative light. This includes a case in the 1960s where a description of the Nanjing Massacre and other war crimes committed by the Japanese military before and during World War II was rejected by the Ministry of Education. The author sued the Ministry, finally winning the case decades later. Recent controversy focuses on the approval of a history textbook published by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, which placed emphasis on the achievements of pre–World War II Imperial Japan, as well as a reference to the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere with fewer critical comments compared to the other Japanese history textbooks. Reflecting Japanese tendency towards self-favoring historical revisionism, historian Stephen E. Ambrose noted that "The Japanese presentation of the war to its children runs something like this: 'One day, for no reason we ever understood, the Americans started dropping atomic bombs on us.'"[10]

Former Justice Minister Shigeto Nagano has called the massacre a Chinese fabrication.[1]


  • The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II by Iris Chang (1997) Basic Books, ISBN 0465068367.
  • Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone by Shuhsi Hsü (1939) Kelly & Walsh, Limited. A summary of original material written by independent eyewitness sources.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Scarred by history: The Rape of Nanjing (BBC News)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Herbert Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan (1998) University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 082481925X.
  3. John W. Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (1999) Norton, p. 326. ISBN
  4. Thomas M. Huber, Japan's Battle of Okinawa, April–June 1945, Leavenworth Papers Number 18, Combat Studies Institute, 1990, p. 47
  5. Awaya Kentarô, Yoshida Yutaka, Kokusai kensatsukyoku jinmonchôsho, dai 8 kan, Nihon Tosho Centâ, 1993., Case 44, pp. 358–66.
  6. Dower, John (2000). Embracing defeat: Japan in the wake of World War II (Paperback ed.). New York: Norton. p. 459. ISBN 978-0-393-32027-5. 
  7. Brackman, Arnold C. (1988). The other Nuremberg: the untold story of the Tokyo war trials. New York: Quill. p. 395. ISBN 0-688-07957-1. 
  8. "Foreign Correspondent - 22/04/2003: Japan - Unit 731". 2003-04-22. Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  9. "EXAMINING THE JAPANESE HISTORY TEXTBOOK CONTROVERSIES". Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education. November 2001. Retrieved 2008-06-27. 
  10. Stephen Ambrose, To America: Personal Reflections of an Historian, 112.

See also[edit]