1997: The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust

In 1997, Iris Chang’s book, The Rape of Nanking: the Forgotten Holocaust, broke a six-decade-long international silence about the 1937 massacre at Nanking (Nanjing). A catastrophe perpetrated by the Japanese Imperial Army who butchered more than 300,000 Chinese civilians and raped more than 80,000 women within a span of six to eight weeks. Three hundred thousand people massacred in Nanking is greater than the number of casualties in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

The book is a moving testament to the Chinese victims of the sack of Nanking, in which Chang graphically detailed the horror and scope of Japan’s crime. The bestselling book (10 weeks on the NYT best seller list) spurred a tremendous amount of interest in Japan’s wartime conduct in China, Korea, the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific.

“She sort of threw the curtain back on a period that the Chinese Communist Party and the Japanese hoped was shrouded in official declarations of a new collaboration. But it turned out there was a lot of unfinished business.” (The New York Times, Nov. 12, 2004)

The Rape of Nanking is an indictment of the Japanese government and people for their collective amnesia about the wartime army’s atrocities. It also raised many issues that demand further explanation — in particular:

  • Why were the Japanese not punished as severely as the Nazis for their crimes?
  • Did the US suppress evidence of the criminal responsibility by the emperor to ensure a smoothly running occupation of Japan?
  • Did the U.S. government protect Japanese medical officers in exchange for data on human experimentation?

Chang also charged the U.S. government with “inexplicably and irresponsibly” returning confiscated wartime records which provide evidence of the scope of Japan’s guilt. Others were convinced that the U.S. government retained highly classified documents that would prove Japanese guilt beyond doubt and implicate the highest levels of Japanese government and society in the crimes.( Read more. . . Researching Japanese War Crimes Records, Published by the National Archives, 2006)

The answer is that the Japanese were allowed to erase Unit 731 from the archives by the American government, which wanted Ishii’s biological warfare findings for itself. In the autumn of 1945, General MacArthur granted immunity to members of the Unit in exchange for research data on biological warfare. (Christopher Hudson, Doctors of Depravity, Daily Mail (UK), 2007)

A riveting interview with Iris Chan on C-SPAN, Jan. 11, 1998:
She describes, photographic evidence of atrocities; for example, Japanese newspapers reported a “killing contest” — in which two sublieutenants competed in who could kill 100 Chinese first… each  chopped off more than 100 heads of Chinese victims. The Japanese media covered the killing contest avidly, as if it was some kind of sporting event. The news report was accompanied by grizzly photographs… one headline: “In Nanking, the Japanese turned murder into sport.”

Chang noted that “there are thousands of pages of primary source documents on this event in four different languages that pretty much describe with words these very pictures. And many of these pictures– they’re not–they didn’t all come from Japan and China. Many of them can be found in the United States, in the missionary collections.” (Read more here)

Excerpts from The Rape of Nanking: the Forgotten Holocaust, 1997:

“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.” (pp. 87-88.)

“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.” (p. 85)

“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.” (p. 119)

“Many soldiers went beyond rape to disembowel women, slice off their breasts, nail them alive to walls. Fathers were forced to rape their daughters, and sons their mothers, as other family members watched. Not only did live burials, castration, the carving of organs and the roasting of people become routine, but more diabolical tortures were practiced, such as hanging people by their tongues on iron hooks or burying people to their waists and watching them torn apart by German shepherds. So sickening was the spectacle that even Nazis in the city were horrified.”

“Chinese men were often sodomized or forced to perform a variety of repulsive sexual acts in front of laughing Japanese soldiers. 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.” (p. 95.)