Inhumane, evil, grim, grotesque, cruel, vicious, bitter, terrifying, heartbreaking, bloody – no epithet seems to encompass the degree of brutalities carried out during the Nanking Massacre. Take a glimpse at this Historyplex post for some startling facts on one of the most brutal chapters in the history of Asia, the Nanking Massacre.
Did you know…
… that a litany of cruelties and human rights violations was committed by the Japanese forces against the injured Chinese troops and innocent civilians in Nanking, who could not even flee the city due to large-scale destruction and jamming of the roads and waterways by the Japanese.
The year 1937 was the year of the second Sino-Japanese War that lasted till 1945. It is considered to be the largest and one of the bloodiest wars fought, between two Asian countries, on the Asian mainland in the 20th century. The war begun primarily as a military conflict between the then Republic of China and the Empire of Japan. This conflict resulted from the Japanese imperialist policy to take over China, both politically and militarily. In fact, the Japanese aimed at gaining a free hand to exploit China’s huge reserves of raw material as well as its economic resources. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the other powers of WWII came to the aid of China, and thus, the second Sino-Japanese War became one of the major fronts of WWII, which thenceforth, came to be known as the Pacific War. According to WWII records, if the period between 1937-41 is taken into consideration, the Pacific War, that ended only after Japan’s surrender in 1945, made up more than 50% of the casualties of WWII.
In the August of 1937, the Japanese army invaded Shanghai, and after facing a strong resistance, managed to capture it by November of that year. Following this, on December 1, the General Staff Headquarters in Tokyo ordered their army to attack and capture the city of Nanking in eastern China, which was the capital of the Republic of China at that time. Despite several seemingly strong defense strategies employed for saving Nanking, the city eventually fell in a bloody battle. But, the brutalities did not stop there. What followed after the fall of Nanking is the story of genocide, cruelty, and extreme violation of human rights. Given below are some really shocking and heartbreaking facts about one of the most inhuman chapters in the history of mankind – the Nanking Massacre.
➠ The Nanking Massacre is said to have occurred immediately after the fall of Nanking, over a period of six weeks. However, there are several sources telling us that the atrocities that the Japanese army committed were not just limited to that particular period. In fact, as the Japanese army advanced from Shanghai into Nanking, there have been several reports of brutalities, murders, and rapes.
➠ Following the orders from their headquarters in Tokyo, the first troops of the Japanese Central China Area Army entered the city of Nanking on December 13, 1937. Though the Chinese army seemed to be well-prepared to fight the attack, the news regarding all the brutalities and war crimes committed by the Japanese forces on their way from Shanghai to Nanking had already reached the city.
➠ Some of these atrocities were indeed cold-blooded and unbelievable, such as the killing contests and large-scale looting and pillaging.
➠ In 1937, two leading Japanese newspapers proudly reported a killing contest between two Japanese officers. Both of them reportedly killed more than 100 people each, on their way to Nanking, in order to win the contest.
➠ The Nanking Massacre a.k.a. the Nanjing Massacre or the Rape of Nanking was a period when all hell broke loose on the citizens of the Chinese capital city. The Japanese troops carried out mass executions, raped thousands of women, plundered, and burned down houses, public property, and people on a mass scale. There are a number of first-hand accounts of the survivors, as well as Japanese soldiers, giving us chilling details of one of the most tragic occurrences in the history of Asia.
Mass Murder at the Yangtze River
➠ On the 13th of December, 1937, the famous Yangtze river, the longest river in Asia flowing across southwest, central and eastern China, witnessed a tragedy that continues to haunt its banks even today.
➠ A large number of refugees and prisoners of war tried to flee from the clutches of the Japanese soldiers by attempting to cross the Yangtze river. But unfortunately, because there were no means of transport for them to escape, the refugees were trapped on the river’s eastern bank. Yet, some of them who were more determined tried to swim across the Yangtze.
➠ However, all their attempts to escape were to turn futile as the Japanese arrived just in time and opened fire on the people, both on the shore as well as in the river.
➠ Within no time, according to the account of one of the Japanese soldiers, the river and its bank was covered with innumerable bodies, including those of the adults and children. Sources tell us that at least 50,000 people were killed in this tragic incident.
Destruction of Nanking
➠ The mass murder at the Yangtze river was just one of the tragedies of the Nanking Massacre. What happened within the city limits was even more humiliating for humanity.
➠ As Nanking fell to the Japanese, and their troops entered the city on the 13th of December, the streets were already crowded with a large number of refugees, wounded Chinese soldiers, and the like.
➠ The Japanese forces opened fire at these people and killed thousands of them. The following day, this genocide continued as Japanese tanks and artillery continued to wreak havoc in the city.
➠ It did not end just there. The Japanese forces also vandalized and burned down every possible structure in the city. Many people also succumbed to these fires.
Killings of Captives
➠ When the Japanese entered the city, they had already captured a large number of soldiers from the surrounding suburbs. The remaining Chinese soldiers who were inside the city at that time, reportedly disguised themselves as civilians.
➠ On entering the city, the Japanese started making random arrests of anybody and everybody, they suspected to be a Chinese soldier. This led to the arrests of several innocent young men.
➠ WWII reports tell us that all these captives were transported out of the city limits in order to be executed. They were first shot with a machine gun, and if ever they happened to survive the bullets, they were brutally bayoneted by the Japanese soldiers.
➠ In other instances where the prisoners of war were not shot with a machine gun, they were either poisoned, burnt alive or buried alive.
Cruelty Against Women
➠ About 20,000 Chinese women, major, minor and infants, were reportedly raped by the Japanese soldiers over the period of six weeks that the Nanking Massacre lasted.
➠ According to the reports of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, most women who were raped were then, brutally murdered.
➠ There are also several accounts of gang rapes in public places and also Japanese soldiers forcing Chinese families to commit acts of incest. All these brutal accounts of atrocities against women definitely send a chill through our spines even today.
Violation of the Safety Zone
➠ When the Japanese troops were advancing towards Nanking, some concerned westerners, who were in China for business or for missionary purposes, set up a committee called the The International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone.
➠ This ‘Safety Zone’ that was set up in the western part of Nanking and was aimed at protecting the refugees, consisted of more than 20 refugee camps accommodating several thousands of people.
➠ The committee had entered into an agreement with the Japanese government that the Safety Zone would not be attacked by the Japanese troops, on account of the fact that the area did not have any deployment of the Chinese military within its range.
➠ On 1st December, 1937, the mayor of Nanking ordered all the citizens of the city to relocate themselves into the ‘Safety Zone’, and this was promptly obeyed by the people.
➠ Following this, the Japanese forces, ignoring the agreement that was made, frequently raided the ‘Safety Zone’, made random arrests of young men, and on many instances, even executed them on the spot.
Pillaging of the City
➠ According to reports, the Japanese rampantly carried out the acts of looting during those horrifying six weeks.
➠ Virtually, every building, every storehouse, and every household was raided and plundered by the Japanese soldiers, who seized every single thing from the Chinese civilians.
➠ Everything from expensive jewelry to money to clothes, domesticated animals, food, etc., was looted. Even cheap and inexpensive items such as pens, buttons, etc., were not spared.
➠ As mentioned before, the burning of public property was also organized on an enormous scale by the Japanese. It seemed as if the entire city had burnt down to ashes.
The reason why the Japanese carried out such inhuman acts is still obscure. According to historian Jonathan Spence, “there is no obvious explanation for this grim event, nor can one be found.” However, on December 18, 1937, General Iwane Matsui, the then commander of the Central China Area Army, is reported to have felt sorry for all the atrocities conducted by the Japanese forces on the Chinese civilians, but also said that the Japanese army could not be withdrawn from China unless the Chinese government surrendered.
Finally, in the latter half of January 1938, all refugees from the Safety Zone were forced to return to the city by the Japanese troops, who claimed to have restored order in Nanking. Following this declaration, the atrocities were considerably lessened and a collaborative government was set up in China. In February 1938, General Iwane Matsui and Prince Yasuhiko Asaka, the commander of the Japanese forces in Nanking, were ordered to return to Japan.
Trial and Verdict
After Japan surrendered in 1945 and the Sino-Japanese War ended, some of the important officers responsible for the Nanking Massacre were put on trial, primarily for the large-scale violation of human rights. At the end of the trial, in November 1948, General Matsui and Kōki Hirota, the then foreign minister of the Empire of Japan were sentenced to death. Several others were also implicated. However, Prince Asaka was granted immunity from prosecution.
The Death Toll
➠ The number of innocent people who succumbed to the Nanking Massacre is a highly controversial subject with respect to the Second Sino-Japanese War.
➠ There are a lot of figures and estimates that have been put forth by the historians, however, all these are subject to individual interpretations with regards to the scope of the massacre.
➠ Nevertheless, the most widely accepted figures range from about 40,000 to 200,000 deaths during those six weeks. The official estimate of China is about 300,000 casualties.
➠ Moreover, the report of the postwar investigation done by the Nanking District Court stated that about 295,525 people died during the massacre, out of which 76% were men, 22% were women, and 2% were children.
The Memorial for compatriots killed in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Forces of Aggression, commonly known as the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, was built in 1985 by the Nanking Municipal Government. It is situated near the site, called the pit of ten thousand corpses, where thousands of victims of the massacre were buried. The memorial houses an exhibition hall, designed like a tomb that contains over 1000 items reminding people of the massacre. Added to this, the building also houses several skeletal remains of the massacre victims, recovered first in 1985 and then in 1998.
Following the massacre, Nanking was almost completely destroyed. The city that was once, one of the most prosperous cities of the Republic of China, and also one of its major industrial and economic centers, was pillaged, looted, burned, and devastated. But the city did not stay in that state for long. Today, Nanking has grown; it has developed into a modern industrial district of China. It is now home to some of the largest companies of China.