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The Nanking Massacre

Updated on September 21, 2014

The Rape of Nanking, commonly referred to as “The Nanking Massacre”, was a massacre which occurred in the past capital of the Republic of China, Nanking. In this massacre, somewhere between 300,000 and 600,000 individuals were murdered in addition to thousands of women and children being raped and tortured (Winn & Davis, 2002). However, there are ultranationalists that strongly disagree that this massacre even occurred; this research paper will analyze and explore the concept of revisionist history in regards to the rejection that is prevalent surrounding the Nanking Massacre.

In order to understand the atrocity which occurred at Nanking, China, it is vital to understand what incidents occurred beforehand. When the Second World War was still in infancy, certain Japanese military officials regarded China as being an “outlet for their imperial and expansionist ambitions” (Yamamoto, 2000).

Approximately 50,000 Japanese soldiers in 1931 began occupying Manchuria, in which they committed multiple crimes (such as rape, murder, and looting) called the “Marco Polo Bridge Incident” in July 1937 (Rabe, 2000). However, the Japanese launched a full scale attack of China on 12 November 1937 (Winn & Davis, 2002).

Unfortunately, there are still many individuals who deny that The Rape of Nanking occurred, or even at best, believe that the “incident” was grossly exaggerated (Rabe, 2000). However, there have been genocide deniers since the beginning of wars. Interestingly, there are many similarities between the deniers of the holocaust and the Rape of Nanking; both groups deny that the numbers are accurate for both atrocities. For the holocaust, the accepted number of victims is approximately 6 million (Yamamoto, 2000).

For Nanking, the commonly accepted number of victims is somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 Chinese military soldiers and civilians, including women, elderly, and children (Yamamoto, 2000). One institution that has dismissed the significance of both the holocaust and the Rape of Nanking is the California-based organization the Institute for Historical Review (Yamamoto, 2000). “This publishing house is noted for its inclination toward the revisionist stance of the Rape of Nanking Issues (Rabe, 2000).

Except for these indirect links, so far there have been no known Japanese scholars who have discussed the Rape of Nanking and the Holocaust at the same time at deny both (Hu, 2000). It is probable that the Western Holocaust deniers in the near future will approach the Japanese revisionist in a bid to form a united revisionalist front (Yamamoto, 2000, p. 264).

Also, genocide deniers have sounded concern on the photographic evidence which has been produced concerning the Holocaust and the Rape of Nanking (Yamamoto, 2000, p. 264). “Revisionists Suzuki Akira and Tanaka Maasaki in their respective books disputed the authenticity of several photos that allegedly captured the scenes of Japanese atrocities. In the same way, a booklet published by camp inmates. As for the Haulocaust deniers, they did admit that the conditions of the concentration camps deteriorated toward the end of the war and caused a substantial amount of deaths in the camps, but blamed them on the allies’ bombing and the resulting shortage” (Yamamoto, 2000, p. 265).

On December 7, 1937, (exactly four years from the day that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor) the Japanese had captured the city of Nanking. Even though it made little sense, the Japanese military on December 9, 1937 launched a massive attack on the Republic of China’s capital Nanking. Unfortunately, on December 12, 1937 the Chinese troops retreated across the Yangzi Jiang River (Rabe, 2000). After this occurred, the Japanese army entered Nanking through the Zhongshan and Pacific Gates, at the same time the Japanese Navy fleet ships arrived (Rabe, 2000).

Even though the Japanese have stated that they were primarily concern was the 90,000 Chinese soldiers that were stationed in Nanking, China, these soldiers had either retreated or had surrendered (Hu, 2000). The fact that so many Chinese soldiers had surrendered had outraged the Japanese who saw this as disgrace, cowardness, in which broke the military code of honor (Yamamoto, 2000)

“The actual military invasion of Nanking was preceded by a tough battle at Shanghai that began in the summer of 1937. Chinese forces there put up surprisingly stiff resistance against the Japanese Army which had expected an easy victory in China. The Japanese had even bragged they would conquer all of China in just three months. The stubborn resistance by the Chinese troops upset that timetable, with the battle dragging on through the summer into late fall. This infuriated the Japanese and whetted their appetite for the revenge that was to follow at Nanking” (Kamen, 2007).

It is estimated that the attack upon Nanking, China was approximately six weeks. Interestingly, there were fifteen safety zones created to protect civilian Chinese civilians, created by United States missionaries, embassy leaders, and the International Committee (Hu & Simon, 2000). Even though Japan did not reply whether they would agree to the zone, the United States missionaries and embassy leaders declared multiple buildings within a two-square-mile radius a safety zone (Hu & Simon, 2000).

"Pregnant women were not spared. In several instances, they were raped, then had their bellies slit open and the fetuses torn out. Sometimes, after storming into a house and encountering a whole family, the Japanese forced Chinese men to rape their own daughters, sons to rape their mothers, and brothers their sisters, while the rest of the family was made to watch” (Yamamoto, 2000).

Throughout the city of Nanking, random acts of murder occurred as soldiers frequently fired their rifles into panicked crowds of civilians, killing indiscriminately (Fogel, 2000). Other soldiers killed shopkeepers, looted their stores, then set the buildings on fire after locking people of all ages inside. They took pleasure in the extraordinary suffering that ensued as the people desperately tried to escape the flames by climbing onto rooftops or leaping down onto the street (Kamen, 2007).

One trigger for the anti-Nanking scholars is the influential and informative book by Iris Chang The Rape of Nanking. Many Japanese ultranationalists state that no one knows how many Chinese civilians, if any, died during the Japanese’s six weeks of occupation of Nanking, China. However, most deniers state that the probable number of civilians which were an “unfortunate” cost of war was approximately 3,000, not 300,000 (Chang & Kirby, 1999).

Sadly, for nearly three decades after the invasion of China by Japan, Japanese text books were strictly forbidden to mention the atrocities that Japan committed during World War II, by order of the Emperor (Hayder, 2006). However, in the 1970s, multiple international journalists researched the genocide and rapes which occurred in Nanking, which is approximately the West began judging, and the East started denying. “The 1980s saw a rise in conservatism in Japan and textbooks once again came under scrutiny. Once again the government tried to tone down the wording of school textbooks. A few examples of this are Japan's aggression in China was replaced with 'Japan's occupation of Manchuria' Also, ‘the Meiji government's repeated wars and aggressions' was toned down to 'the Meiji government's continued expansion policy'” (Fogel, 2000)

According to Chang and Kirby (1999), the Nanking Massacre was summarized at the International Military Tribunal as "The Japanese soldiers swarmed over the city and committed various atrocities. According to one of the eyewitnesses they were let loose like a barbarian horde to desecrate the city. It was said by eyewitnesses that the city appeared to have fallen into the hands of the Japanese as captured prey, that it had not merely been taken in organized warfare, and that the members of the victorious Japanese Army had set upon the prize to commit unlimited violence. Individual soldiers and small groups of two or three roamed over the city murdering, raping, looting, and burning.

There was no discipline whatever. Many soldiers were drunk. Soldiers went through the streets indiscriminately killing Chinese men, women, and children without apparent provocation or excuse until in places the streets and alleys were littered with the bodies of their victims. According to another witness, Chinese were hunted like rabbits, everyone seen to move was shot. At least 12,000 non-combatant Chinese men, women and children met their deaths in these indiscriminate killings during the first two or three days of the Japanese occupation of the city”.

To conclude, the Rape of Nanking, second to the Holocaust, was one of the worst genocides of the 20th century. In this massacre, over 300,000 civilians were brutally murdered, and thousands of women, children, even infants were raped and gang raped. The greatest atrocity of the Rape of Nanking is that certain individuals deny that this genocide even occurred.


Chang, I., & Kirby, W. C. (1999). The Rape of Nanking : The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. New York: Penguin Books, Limited.

Fogel, J. A. (2000). The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography. New York: University of California P.

Hayder, M. (2006). The Devil of Nanking. New York: Penguin (Non-Classics).
Higashinakano, O. (2005). The Nanking Massacre : Fact Versus Fiction: A Historian's Quest for the Truth. New York: BPR.

Hu, H., & Simon, P. (2000). American Goddess at the Rape of Nanking : The Courage of Minnie Vautrin. New York: Southern Illinois UP.

Hu, H. (2000). American Goddess at the Rape of Nanking : The Courage of Minnie Vautrin. Danbury: NetLibrary, Incorporated.


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    • Alli Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Alli Rose Smith 

      4 years ago from Washington, DC

      I agree with you KonaGirl.

    • KonaGirl profile image


      4 years ago from Slingerlands

      It is disturbing just how cruel human beings can be. The country is not relevant. Atrocities have been committed by men from all countries in the name of power, religion and war.

    • Sulabha profile image

      Sulabha Dhavalikar 

      4 years ago from Indore, India

      Informative as also very frightening. I wouldn't like to comment on any country. But , one thing is sure. Deep down, we human beings are very cruel, sometimes worse than animals.I don't think I have the courage to ask my children to read this, but yes I will ask my husband to read it.

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 

      4 years ago from Hawaii

      Alli, I can see that you have put a lot of research into this. And although I am not one to dwell on history far before I was born, I must say that whether the numbers were 3,000 or 300,000, it does not change the fact that these atrocities happened. And that it is regrettable that governments always try to downplay this wrongdoing instead of making amends, be they American or Japanese.

    • rebelogilbert profile image

      Gilbert Arevalo 

      4 years ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      You remind us Allison from a tragic historic act of terrorism that modern acts of terrorism isn't anything new. Censorship has been a problem among people living in China, Japan, and Korea for many years. Those countries want to control the minds and actions of their people as much as possible. Very interesting article.

    • Swisstoons profile image

      Thomas F. Wuthrich 

      4 years ago from Michigan

      One lesson to be learned from your excellent hub is that expansionist fanaticism and savagery fueled by religious fervor (the Emperor was God and the Japanese were doing "God's work") is nothing new. The invasion of China was only the first stage of what Japanese militarists hoped would be the conquest of Asia, the Pacific and (no doubt) eventually the world. Another lesson to be drawn, not touched on here, is that such evil is never defeated by half-measures. Once identified, like cancer, it needs to be destroyed completely--and the sooner, the better.

    • Kailua-KonaGirl profile image

      June Parker 

      4 years ago from New York

      I have always found it very interesting that the United States protected Emperor Hirohito , who was never tried as a war criminal at the end of WWII along with all of the other government leaders who were. When Herohito surrendered he pretended he was just a figure head without any political power when the reality was he was Commander in Chief responsible for the Nankings genocide and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, just to name a few. More attrocities were committed in the Asia Pacific under his command. The Australian government wanted Hirohito to stand trial as a war criminal, but the United States Supreme Commander, General Douglas MacArthur, protected Hirohito. MacArthur wanted the advanced knowledge in biological and chemical warfare the Japanese had obtained from their horrific biological experiments conducted on POWs. Unfortunately, because Japan refused to acknowledge its war crimes guilt and the Emperor was never prosecuted, the people of today's Japan will never know or believe the truth.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Well done on a very disturbing topic. How horrible.

    • Sayyeda Zonah profile image


      4 years ago from Pakistan

      Oh thank you so much! Alli Rose and Barack James!

      And hey, how'll i know about ur hub related to bibliography?

    • Barack James profile image

      Barack James 

      4 years ago from Green City in the Sun

      Sayyeda; you can learn about bibliography and citation styles at The Purdue OWL

    • Alli Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Alli Rose Smith 

      4 years ago from Washington, DC

      Sayeeda, I will try to write a hub about that soon. Thank you for stopping by.

    • Sayyeda Zonah profile image


      4 years ago from Pakistan


      How do you cite? I really need help with that...and do you also know how to write a bibliography?

    • Alli Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Alli Rose Smith 

      4 years ago from Washington, DC

      Thank you so much, Mr. James.

    • Barack James profile image

      Barack James 

      4 years ago from Green City in the Sun

      Interesting and horrible: Sorry; but I love your citation skills:)


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