In August 1937, in the midst of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Imperial Japanese Army faced strong resistance and suffered heavy casualties at the Battle of Shanghai.
The battle was very bloody, as both sides turned to hand-to-hand fighting due to exhaustion.
On August 5, 1937, the Japanese Emperor Hirohito ratified an army proposal to lift restrictions on the treatment of Chinese prisoners. In the same proposal, staff officers were advised to stop using the term prisoner of war.
These proposals reinforced pre-existing propensities for atrocities within the Imperial Japanese Army.
The Nanking Massacre or Nanjing Massacre is a large-scale massacre committed by the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The massacre began after Japan‘s capture of the then Chinese capital Nanjing after a siege on December 13, 1937.
The event is also known as the Rape of Nanjing.
The Siege of Nanjing
On December 7, the Imperial Japanese Army issued a command to all troops that all those who commit illegal acts, dishonor, loot, cause fire, even negligence would be severely punished.
The Imperial Japanese Army continued its advance, breaking through the Chinese defenses outside the city walls on December 9.
By noon, pamphlets were dropped in the city calling for the surrender of Nanjing within 24 hours.
The Japanese expected an answer. If the Chinese courier had not arrived by 1:00 p.m. the next day, General Matsui Iwane ordered Nanjing to be taken by force.
On December 12, after two days of Japanese attacks with heavy artillery and bombardment, Chinese General Tang Sheng-chi ordered his men to withdraw. General chaos ensued. Some Chinese soldiers stripped civilians of their clothes in a desperate attempt to go into hiding.
Many others were shot in the back by their own colleagues while trying to flee. Those who managed to get outside the city walls fled north to the Yangtze, where they found no vessels to take them. Some jumped into the cold water, where they drowned.
The Horrific Events Start
Eyewitness accounts state that for a period of six weeks following the fall of Nanjing, Japanese troops engaged in rape, murder, theft, and arson.
The most reliable statements come from foreigners who chose to stay behind to protect Chinese citizens. Below are the journals of John Rabe and Minnie Vautrin. Others are the statements of survivors of the mass murder.
Even more is known from eyewitness statements by journalists, both Western and Japanese, and military logs. The statements of some Japanese veterans about their involvement can be added to this.
“Thirty children were taken from language school last night and today I heard many heartbreaking stories of girls who were taken from their homes last night — one of the girls was only twelve years old… Tonight a truck with eight or ten girls passed by, and as they passed they yelled Ging ming! Went ming! (Save our lives.)” — Minnie Vautrin’s diary, Dec. 16, 1937.
The International Military Court for the Far East stated that 20,000 women had been raped, from small children to the elderly.
The raping often happened during the day and in public, sometimes in front of husbands and relatives. Many rapes were carried out systematically; young women were taken through house-to-house searches and subjected to gang rape.
Immediately afterward, they were murdered and often mutilated.
Crimes Against Humanity
The Tokyo Trial tried General Iwane Matsui for crimes against humanity and sentenced him to death. Matsui tried to blame lower-division commanders during his trial, presumably to protect the supreme commander, Prince Asaka.
Division commanders Hisao Tani and Rensuke Isogai were sentenced to death by the Nanjing Tribunal in 1947.
According to General Douglas MacArthur’s agreement with Hirohitohad, the emperor and members of the imperial family would not be tried. Prince Asaka, who was highest in rank at the height of the horrors, was therefore only a witness at the Tokyo Tribunal.
Asaka denied all the massacres and claimed to have never received any complaints about the behavior of his troops.
Currently, both China and Japan have acknowledged that war crimes have taken place. Disagreements over the historiography of these events still lead to great tensions between Japan and China.
Interest in the Nanking Massacre waned until 1972, the year Japan and China established normal diplomatic relations.