What really happened in China’s Nanking in 1937

11.05.2016 - Tony Henderson

What really happened in China’s Nanking in 1937
Kyoto on a Sunday (Image by Tony Henderson)

What really happened in Nanking – Subtitled: The refutation of a common myth
Comments on Tanaka Masaaki’s book published by Sakai Shuppan, Inc. Tokyo, in 2000.

In the Forward of this publication, Kobori Keiichiro, holding professorial positions at Meisei and Tokyo universities, plainly states in concord with the writer Tanaka Masaaki – that the creation of the ‘Nanking Massacre’ can be attributed to the Allied nations that prosecuted ‘war criminals’ at the Tokyo Trials (International Military Tribune for the Far East (IMTFE) – held 1946 to 1952. The writer also places blame on the Republic of China (of the time) which he says “entered into a conspiracy with the witnesses it dispatched to the tribunal, where they lied on the witness stand”.

Here is a typical note on the incident from Wikipedia which could be assumed is a neutral source – yet even that places blame squarely on the shoulders of the Japanese: “The massacre occurred over six weeks starting December 13, 1937, the day that the Japanese captured Nanjing. During this period, soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army murdered Chinese civilians and disarmed combatants numbering an estimated 40,000 to over 300,000, and perpetrated widespread rape and looting.

Of course, at the root of the problem is the very fact of Japan’s armies had invaded a sovereign country, China, but that is not the issue here. The issue is, without denying that thousands upon thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed in the confrontations, was there an extraordinary incident that particularly hit non-combatants and that deserves to be named a massacre.

The entire affair in Nanking could be labelled a massacre using the term generally but it would be unfair to taint the entirety of Japan and its soldiers with committing a massacre if, going against the finding of the Tokyo Trials, in fact no such massacre against non-combatants took place.

From the very start, in the introduction, readers are told unambiguously that the allegations in the book written by Chinese-American Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking (published 1997), has reignited this affair which in itself had already engendered hatred of Japan and the Japanese among many in the USA and elsewhere. Fact is, in the majority of cases these are people who have not looked at history with any objectivity and had no recourse to do so and have taken certain writings as ‘gospel truth’.

The book also early on introduces Gen. Matsui Iwane – the writer Masaaki Tanaka was an ex-secretary of General Iwane Matsui – as a most illustrious Japanese officer of his time and advocate of a united Asia. He had 16 years in China and supported Sun Yat Sen in his second revolution against Yuan Shikai. Gen. Matsui was commander-in-chief of Japan’s Central China Area Army which took the warring Japanese forces into Nanking itself and in that light is found responsible for the results of the battles that ensued. Great store is set on this soldier’s integrity, Tanaka saying Gen. Matsui was not such a man to allow or commit any massacre.

In conversations Tanaka had with Matsui after 1946 in Japan, personally, and after learning Matsui had been charged with Class A war crimes, in three subsequent meetings Matsui insisted he had not heard anything about such incident. Nor had his fellow soldier Lt. Gen. Tani Hisao commander of the Sixth Division who was also sentenced to death for war crimes.

Tanaka was so upset with the charges against Matsui whom he personally revered, and such was his ‘head of steam’, he wrote six books on the matter before this representative work here before us today.

He agrees that there was a major battle in Nanking and it claimed the lives of a great number of soldiers, however, Tanaka clarifies that combatants that lost their lives are not to be classed as victims of a massacre and gives an example that the Battle of Iwo Jima is simply that, no one calls it the Iwo Jima Massacre, though 27,000 combatants died. Rather Tanaka defines massacre as the unlawful, premeditated, methodical killing of large numbers of innocent people.

At the Tokyo Trials… “the prosecution made various assertions as to the number of persons massacred in Nanking: 127,000, 200,000, and 100,000. In recent years, the original, postwar Chinese claim of 300,000 victims has escalated to 400,000,” writes Tanaka, adding “no contemporaneous accounts refer to the mass murder of innocent civilians in Nanking”. His writing and the evidence he provides – or rather the way he dismisses the Tokyo Trials evidence – reads substantive and takes the reader to his point of view in a thorough way.

Tanaka goes into great detail on different angles, one is, doubts about figures given rise to doubts about actual population in Nanking. According to the official figures released by the municipal authorities of Nanking, the population of the city was 1,006,968 in December 1936 and 308,546 in August 1938. No figures exist for December 1937, when Nanking fell. This factor merits attention because they relate to two propositions, one, that it is impossible for the number of people killed to have exceeded the city’s population and two, that it is implausible that the number of dead civilians would have exceeded the number of dead soldiers.

The Chinese these days use a 300,000 figure for the number of people killed in the atrocities. Thus number has become a political symbol. Some commentators say that this number is used to give the impression that the Nanking atrocities were far worse than the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Considering the photographs that Iris Chang selected to illustrate her book, all readers have to go on as to their authenticity are the names of the source organizations without knowing where the originals came from.

Hata Ikuhiko, one time research associate at Harvard University, published in JAPAN ECHO Vol. 25, No. 4, August 1998, for example, says, “one used by Chang shows severed heads in a row on the ground. Chang identifies the heads as belonging to victims of the Nanking atrocities, but it is known that the photo is actually of bandits executed by the Chinese police in 1930.”

Also, “All in all, the 11 photos in the beheading and sex-crime categories are a combination of fakes, forgeries, and composites; not one of them can be clearly identified as showing Nanking or its environs in 1937.”

Speaking of Iris Chang’s book, The Rape of Nanking, how did it become a best seller? Well, it received at least three reviews, in major and influential media: in Newsweek (December 1, 1997; translated in the December 10 Japanese edition), the Washington Post (December 11), and the New York Times (December 14). Any budding writer would be delighted with such coverage.

As History Without Borders advocate and nuclear researcher Joe Ching says, “All losers of past wars, like Iraq, Afghanistan, Japan and Germany should be allowed equal times to speak up the same as the victors, like the USA, the Allies and United Nations forces, to balance the one-sided view of victors. In short, history must return to serve its intended purpose as lessons for the future generations to improve their lives.”

This cannot happen if history is wrongly recorded and in this light such as this present review is worthwhile.

Categories: Asia, International issues, Opinions
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