The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography
Historiography is those things that relate to an event in history, such as all the research done, all the books, magazines, photographs, etc, that relate to the event.
This book examines the Nanjing Massacre in relation to how the U.S., Chinese and Japanese learned about it and what they think about it. It goes into a lot of material on Japanese textbooks and how they handled, or did not handle, the massacre. It also brings up a lot of very interesting material on how China itself did not really take that much interest in the history of the massacre until it served their government's political purposes to do so.
The author also spends a lot of time examining how Japan dealt with the massacre, and goes into a lot of detail about the differences between the group that is apologetic for the massacre, and the group that holds that the massacre either did not take place at all, or was much, much smaller than the other side believes.
"...the Japanese army's killing spree at Nanjing at the close of 1937...remains the epitome of the cruelty and aggression that the Japanese militarist regime unleashed."" The author points out that the killings were totally unnecessary, as the Japanese army had already taken the city and there was no reasonable chance of any form of counter-attack.
The author then notes that, of various man-made atrocities, only the Rape of Nanking has developed entire schools of thinking, ranging from those who believe around 300,000 or more were killed, all the way down to those who either outright deny the event totally, or say that the number killed was very, very small.
Early examination of the city resulted in death counts of around 40,000, although the number increased as more evidence was accumulated.
The author also talks about how the Japanese troops looted houses and stores in Nanking, using trucks to haul away their takings. Also, he says that Japanese officers "...not only ordered atrocities but took part in them as well, encouraging their men through words and actions to ignore their own misgivings and act in beastly ways."
Some of the evidence includes photos that Japanese soldiers themselves took and then sent back to their families in Japan.
Next, the author discusses pre-war Japanese school textbooks, and how they taught that Japan was superior to China, and that the Chinese people were "morally deficient." China was "Japan's destiny."" This carried over to the population at large and the military, and so it was easy for soldiers to consider non-Japanese automatically below them, which helped the soldiers do terrible things to the same “inferior” people.
Something I had not read elsewhere: Chinese courts passed sentence on more than 10,000 Chinese collaborators. 342 were executed, and 847 got life imprisonment.
The Tokyo War Crimes Trial determined that more than 200,000 Chinese had died. A Chinese court established the number of 300,000. Yet, amazingly, only six Japanese were executed for what happened.
After the war and the Communists taking control of China, "The Nanjing Massacre continued to be more a political too manipulated by the Chinese government than a large event in China's public history."" In other words, the massacre wasn't considered important enough to really press the matter and demand further trials, and it wasn't important enough to get really upset about, unless that upset could be turned to somehow benefit the Chinese government.
The author then goes into a lot of discussion about how Japanese post-war textbooks altered their outlook about what happened in China.
The author sites some specific problems in determining just how many were killed:
1. Burial documents are a mix of actual numbers and estimates.
2. Burial documents do not say which burials were of Chinese, and which of Japanese.
3. Higher estimates include deaths that occurred outside of the city, not just inside.
4. Some bodies were thrown into the Yangzi River and drifted away. No one knows how many bodies that was.
The research results also depend on the predisposition of the researcher; is he or she from the camp that hates the Japanese, or the camp that wants to downplay the results, or somewhere in-between?
The International Military Tribunal for the Far East (May 1946-November 1948) concluded that more than 20,000 Chinese men of military age were killed, and that there were around 20,000 cases of rape. The total number of people killed was around 200,000, but this included those killed both within the city and outside the city.
A great part of the rest of the book goes into the disagreements between the revisionists and the progressives as far as what actually happened in the Nanjing Massacre (which is also called the Nanking Massacre, and the Nanking Incident.)
The author notes that only about 30% of all military records of the battle have ever been found. (Most of the others were probably burned, as the Japanese military burned documents and even movies just before the Allied Occupation began.)
"From a historiographical point of view, all aspects of the event known as the Nanjing Massacre have to be constantly re-examined, just like any other event in history. Even if a certain conclusion seemed most plausible half a century ago, the new evidence that has come to light in the past several decades should form the basis for re-evaluation."
One example: a photo of Japanese soldiers beheading a Chinese man was used as proof of the massacre, yet later examination of the photo showed that the Japanese soldiers were in their summer uniforms, not the winter ones which they would have been wearing since the massacre took place in winter. Thus, the photo was from some other time and place.
The author points out that there are many factors involved in the massacre, and just looking at the massacre itself is not enough. For example, there was the Japanese attitude towards non-Japanese. Other things included an already brutal war being waged by the Japanese; training in the Japanese military that emphasized violence towards others; the Chinese military pulling out of the city in a chaotic fashion, leaving many soldiers behind; ethnic hatreds and so on.
Another thing which I found very interesting was that this was not the first Nanking Massacre.
1. 1853, Taiping takeover of the city. 30,000 plus killed.
2. 1913, Zhang Xun warlord has 1000 students killed.
3. 1927: Northern Expedition, Chiang Kai-shek's troops attack foreign legations in the city.
It's a very interesting book to read, especially the parts that examine how the Nanking Massacre is studied in different ways, and just how complex everything involved in the Massacre was, and still is. This is more a studious examination of the events and their surroundings rather than, as in most books, just an examination of what happened there at that time.
Japan main page
Japanese-American Internment Camps index page
Japan and World War II index page