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Nanking Massacre denial

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Nanking Massacre denial

Nanking Massacre denial is denial that Imperial Japanese forces murdered tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers and civilians during the Second Sino-Japanese War, and is a highly controversial episode in Sino-Japanese relations. It is considered as a revisionist viewpoint and is not accepted in mainstream academia, even within Japanese academia. Most historians accept the findings of the Tokyo tribunal with respect to the scope and nature of the atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army after the Battle of Nanking. In Japan, however, there has been a heated debate over the extent and nature of the massacre. Relations between Japan and China have been complicated as a result, as denial of the massacre is seen as part of an overall unwillingness on Japan's part to admit and apologize for its aggression, or a perceived insensitivity regarding the killings.[1] Estimates of the death toll vary widely, ranging from 40,000 to over 300,000.[2][3] Some scholars, notably the revisionists in Japan, have contended that the actual death toll is far lower, or even that the event was entirely fabricated and never occurred at all.[4][5] These revisionist accounts of the killings have become a staple of Japanese nationalist discourse.[6]

In Japan, only a small but vocal minority deny the atrocity outright.[7][6] Some Japanese journalists and social scientists, such as Tomio Hora and Katsuichi Honda, have played prominent roles in countering revisionist historiography, in the decades since the killings. Nonetheless, denialist accounts, such as those of Shūdō Higashinakano, have often created controversy in the global media, particularly in China and other East Asian nations.[6][8] Coverage of the massacre in Japanese school textbooks also troubles Sino-Japanese relations, as in some textbooks, the massacre is usually only briefly mentioned.[9]

The denial of the atrocity is among the key missions of the influential lobby Shinzo Abe himself.[10]

National identity

Takashi Yoshida asserts that, "Nanjing has figured in the attempts of all three nations [China, Japan and the United States] to preserve and redefine national and ethnic pride and identity, assuming different kinds of significance based on each country's changing internal and external enemies."[11]


In Japan, interpretation of the Nanking Massacre is a reflection upon the Japanese national identity and notions of "pride, honor and shame." Takashi Yoshida describes the Japanese debate over the Nanjing Incident as "crystalliz[ing] a much larger conflict over what should constitute the ideal perception of the nation: Japan, as a nation, acknowledges its past and apologizes for its wartime wrongdoings; or... stands firm against foreign pressures and teaches Japanese youth about the benevolent and courageous martyrs who fought a just war to save Asia from Western aggression."[12] In some nationalist circles in Japan, speaking of a large-scale massacre at Nanjing is regarded as "'Japan bashing' (in the case of foreigners) or 'self-flagellation' (in the case of Japanese)."[13]


David Askew characterizes the Nanjing Incident as having "emerged as a fundamental keystone in the construction of the modern Chinese national identity." According to Askew, "a refusal to accept the "orthodox" position on Nanjing can be construed as an attempt to deny the Chinese nation a legitimate voice in international society".[13]

Issues of definition

The precise definition of the geographical area, duration of the massacre, as well as the definition of who was a victim to be considered for counting deaths in the massacre forms a major part of both the definition of the massacre and in the arguments of denialists. Among the most extreme denialists, such as Tanaka Masaaki, revisionist claims of several dozen or several hundred are claimed,[14] while figures within the range of 50,000-300,000 is typically articulated among mainstream historians.[2][3]

The common revisionist viewpoint, made by denialists such as Higashinakano Shudo is that the geographical area of the incident should be limited to the few square kilometers of the city known as the Nanjing Safety Zone, typically estimated to be about 200,000-250,000. However, this geographic definition is almost universally unheard of outside of revisionist circles.

Most historians include a much larger area around the city, including the Xiaguan district (the suburbs north of Nanjing city, about 31 km2 in size) and other areas on the outskirts of the city, the population of greater Nanjing was running between 535,000 and 635,000 civilians and soldiers just prior to the Japanese occupation.[15] Some historians also include six counties around Nanjing, known as the Nanjing Special Municipality. With the six surrounding counties included, the population of Nanjing is estimated to be more than 1 million.[16]

The duration of the incident is naturally defined by its geography: the earlier the Japanese entered the area, the longer the duration. The Battle of Nanking ended on December 13, when the divisions of the Japanese Army entered the walled city of Nanking. The Tokyo War Crime Tribunal defined the period of the massacre to the ensuing six weeks. More conservative estimates say the massacre started on December 14, when the troops entered the Safety Zone, and that it lasted for six weeks.

Most scholars have accepted figures between 50,000-300,000 dead as an approximate total.[2][3] Revisionists in Japan, however have contended at times that the actual death toll is far lower, or even that the event was entirely fabricated and never occurred at all.[4][5]

History and censorship during the War

During the war, Japanese media and newspapers typically portrayed a positive view of the war in China. Reports on the massacre were generally muted, and newspaper reports and photos typically emphasized cooperation between Chinese civilians and Japanese soldiers. Massacre denialists claim that the news published in the Japanese media and newspapers were "true" and "reliable" stories. However, most mainstream historians counter that it is well known that the Naikaku Johōkyoku (Cabinet Information Bureau), a consortium of military, politicians and professionals created in 1936 as a "committee" and upgraded to a "division" in 1937, applied censorship of all the media of the Shōwa regime and that this office held a policing authoring over the realm of publishing.[17] Therefore, the Naikaku Johōkyoku's activities were proscriptive as well as prescriptive. Besides issuing detailed guidelines to publishers, it made suggestions that were all but commands.[17] From 1938, printed medias "would come to realize that their survival depended upon taking cues from the Cabinet Information Bureau and its flagship publication, Shashin shūhō, designers of the "look" of the soldier, and the "look" of the war."[18]

Article 12 of the censorship guideline for newspapers issued on September 1937 stated that any news article or photograph "unfavorable" to the Imperial Army was subject to a gag. Article 14 prohibited any "photographs of atrocities" but endorsed reports about the "cruelty of the Chinese" soldiers and civilians.[19]

Owing to the censorship, none of the hundred Japanese reporters in Nanking when the city was captured wrote anything unfavorable to their countrymen. In 1956, however, Masatake Imai, correspondent for the Tokyo Asahi who reported only about the "majestic and soul-stirring ceremony" of the triumphal entry of the Imperial Army, revealed he witnessed a mass execution of 400 to 500 Chinese men near Tokyo Asahi '​s office. "I wish I could write about it", told his colleague Nakamura. "Someday, we will, but not for the time being. But we sure saw it", he answered.[20] Shigeharu Matsumoto, the Shanghai bureau Chief of Domei News Agency, wrote that the Japanese reporters he interviewed all told him they saw between 2,000 and 3,000 corpses around the Xiaguan area and a reporter, Yuji Maeda, saw recruits executing Chinese prisoners-of-war with bayonets.[21] Jiro Suzuki, a correspondent for the Tokyo Nichi Nichi, wrote, "When I went back to the Zhongshan Gate, I saw for the first time an unearthly, brutal massacre. On the top of the wall, about 25 meters high, the prisoners of war were rounded up in a line. They were being stabbed by bayonets and shoved away off the wall. A number of Japanese soldiers polished their bayonets, shouted to themselves once and thrust their bayonets in the chest or back of POWs."[22]

Historian Tokushi Kasahara notes, "Some deniers argue that Nanjing was much more peaceful than we generally think. They always show some photographs with Nanjing refugees selling some food in the streets or Chinese people smiling in the camps. They are forgetting about Japanese propaganda. The Imperial Army imposed strict censorship. Any photographs with dead bodies couldn't get through. So photographers had to remove all the bodies before taking pictures of streets and buildings in the city (...) Even if the photos were not staged, the refugees had no choice but to fawn on the Japanese soldiers. Acting otherwise meant their deaths..."[23]

Revived international interest in the Nanking Massacre

[25] The text, however, was not without controversy. Chang's account drew on new sources to break new ground in the study of the period. Japanese ultra-nationalists maintained that the Nanking Massacre was a fabrication which sought "to demonize the Japanese race, culture, history, and nation."[26]

Massacre affirmation vs. massacre denial

Takashi Hoshiyama characterizes opinion in Japan about the Nanking Massacre as "broadly divided into two schools of thought: the massacre affirmation school, which asserts that a large-scale massacre took place, and the massacre denial school, which asserts that, a certain number of isolated aberrations aside, no massacre took place."[27]

Hijacking of the debate by layperson activists

David Askew asserts that the debate over the Nanking Massacre has been hijacked by "two large groups of layperson activists".[28]

"Chinese" are turned into a single, homogenised voice and portrayed as sinister and manipulative twisters of the truth, while the similarly homogenized "Japanese" are portrayed as uniquely evil, as cruel and blood-thirsty beyond redemption, and as deniers of widely accepted historical truths. Both positions are victimisation narratives. One depicts the Chinese as helpless victims of brutal Japanese imperialism in the winter of 1937–38, while the other depicts the gullible Japanese, innocent in the ways of the world, as victims of Chinese machinations and propaganda in the post-war era.

Japanese perspectives on the massacre

Japanese affirmationists not only accept the validity of these tribunals and their findings, but also assert that Japan must stop denying the past and come to terms with Japan's responsibility for the war of aggression against its Asian neighbors. Affirmationists have drawn the attention of the Japanese public to atrocities committed by the Japanese Army during World War II in general and the Nanking Massacre in particular in support of an anti-war agenda.[29]

The most extreme denialists, by and large, rejects the findings of the tribunals as a kind of "victor's justice" in which only the winning side's version of events are accepted. Described within Japan as the Illusion School (maboroshi-ha), they deny the massacre and argues that only a few POWs and civilians were killed by the Japanese military in Nanjing. More moderate denialists argue that between several thousand and 38,000–42,000 were massacred. Both schools generally run contrary to the mainstream figure of between 150,000-300,000.[13][30]

These claims are generally unsupported by mainstream historians.

Prominent Japanese denialists

A Chinese POW about to be beheaded by a Japanese officer with a shin gunto during the Nanking Massacre.

Shudo Higashinakano

Massacre denialists such as Higashinakano argue that the "Nanking Massacre" was a fabrication and war-time propaganda spread by the Chinese Nationalists and Communists. He argues that the activities of the Japanese military in Nanking were in accordance with international law and were humane.[31] Among other claims, he has denied that there was execution of POWs in uniform,[31] and cited anecdotes claiming that Chinese POWs were treated humanely by Japanese soldiers.[32] However, Higashinakano has also claimed at times that the executed POWs were illegitimate combatants, and so their execution was legitimate under international law. Higashinakano believes some several thousand 'illegitimate combatants' may have been executed in such a fashion.[31]

However, historian Akira Fujiwara notes that on August 6, 1937, Hirohito had personally ratified his army's proposition to remove the constraints of international law on the treatment of Chinese prisoners. This directive also advised staff officers to stop using the term "prisoner of war". During the massacre, Japanese troops in fact embarked on a determined search for former soldiers, in which thousands of young men were captured, most of whom were killed.[33] In another case, Japanese troops gathered 1,300 Chinese soldiers and civilians At the Taiping Gate and killed them. The victims were blown up with landmines, then doused with petrol before being set on fire. Those that were left alive afterward were killed with bayonets.[34] F. Tillman Durdin and Archibald Steele, American news correspondents, reported that they had seen bodies of killed Chinese soldiers forming mounds six feet high at the Nanking Yijiang gate in the north. Durdin, who was working for the New York Times, made a tour of Nanking before his departure from the city. He heard waves of machine-gun fire and witnessed the Japanese soldiers gun down some two hundred Chinese within ten minutes. Two days later, in his report to the New York Times, he stated that the alleys and street were filled with civilian bodies, including women and children.

A claim that Harold Timperley, whose report formed the basis of the Tribunal's findings, was reporting only hearsay, and that thus, the figure of 300,000 dead was "unreal" drew a response from Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, who suggested that Higashinakano's assertions and conclusion were not "sensible":

Higashinakano jumps to this conclusion in all earnestness because he clings to a hypothetical fixation that the Atrocity never happened. This forces him to seize any shred of evidence, whether sound or not, to sustain and systematize that delusion.[35]

Higashinakano has also at times denied the occurrence of mass rape on the part of Japanese troops, at times ascribing it to Chinese soldiers, and at other times simply denying its occurrence. The occurrence of rape during the massacre is testified to by John Rabe, elected leader of the Nanjing Safety Zone, who writes:

" Two Japanese soldiers have climbed over the garden wall and are about to break into our house. When I appear they give the excuse that they saw two Chinese soldiers climb over the wall. When I show them my party badge, they return the same way. In one of the houses in the narrow street behind my garden wall, a woman was raped, and then wounded in the neck with a bayonet. I managed to get an ambulance so we can take her to Kulou Hospital. (...) Last night up to 1,000 women and girls are said to have been raped, about 100 girls at Ginling College Girls alone. You hear nothing but rape. If husbands or brothers intervene, they're shot. What you hear and see on all sides is the brutality and bestiality of the Japanese soldiers."[36]

Minnie Vautrin, a professor at Ginling College,wrote in her diary on that day, "Oh God, control the cruel beastliness of the Japanese soldiers in Nanking tonight..," and on the 19th, "In my wrath, I wished I had the power to smite them for their dastardly work. How ashamed women of Japan would be if they knew these tales of horror."[37]

Vautrin also wrote in her diary that she had to go to the Japanese embassy repeatedly from December 18 to January 13 to get proclamations to prohibit Japanese soldiers from committing crimes at Ginling because the soldiers tore the documents up before taking women away.

Xia Shuqin, a woman testifying that she had been a massacre victim sued Higashinakano for defamation, for a claim made in a book written in 1998 that the murder of her family had been performed by Chinese, rather than Japanese soldiers. on 5 February 2009, the Japanese Supreme Court ordered Higashinakano and the publisher, Tendensha, to pay 4 million yen in damages to Mrs. Xia. According to the court, Higashinakano failed to prove that she and the girl were different persons, and that she was not a witness of the Nanking massacre, as Higashinakano had claimed in his book.[38]

Masaaki Tanaka

In his book "The Fabrication of the 'Nanjing Massacre', Masaaki Tanaka argues that there was no indiscriminate killing at all in Nanjing and that the massacre was a fabrication manufactured by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE) and the Chinese government for the purpose of propaganda. He has in addition argued that the Tokyo Tribunal was 'victor's justice' and not a fair trial.[39] He provides a figure of roughly 2000 deaths for the entirety of the massacre. Tanaka has also argued the claim that many civilians were killed by the Chinese military.[40] These claims have come under heavy fire both within and outside of Japan.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ "I'm Sorry?". NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. 1998-12-01.
  2. ^ a b c Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, ed. (2008). The Nanking Atrocity, 1937-38: Complicating the Picture. Berghahn Books. p. 362. ISBN 1845451805.
  3. ^ a b c James Leibold (November 2008). "Picking at the Wound: Nanjing, 1937-38". Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies.
  4. ^ a b Fogel, Joshua A. The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography. 2000, page 46-8
  5. ^ a b Dillon, Dana R. The China Challenge. 2007, pp. 9–10
  6. ^ a b c Yoshida, pp. 157–158
  7. ^ Yoshida, Takashi. The Making of the "Rape of Nanking". 2006, page 157–58.
  8. ^ Gallicchio, Marc S. The Unpredictability of the Past. 2007, page 158
  9. ^ Kasahara, Tokushi. "Reconciling Narratives of the Nanjing Massacre in Japanese and Chinese Textbooks". Tsuru Bunka University. 
  10. ^ "Abe’s reshuffle promotes right-wingers" (Korea Joongang Daily - 2014/09/05)
  11. ^ Yoshida, p. 5
  12. ^ Yoshida
  13. ^ a b c Askew, David (2002-04-04). "The Nanjing Incident – Recent Research and Trends". Electronic journal of contemporary Japanese studies. Retrieved 2009-03-24. 
  14. ^ Masaaki Tanaka claims that very few civilians were killed, and that the massacre is in fact a fabrication in his book "Nankin gyakusatsu" no kyokÙ (The "Nanking Massacre" as Fabrication).
  15. ^ "Data Challenges Japanese Theory on Nanjing Population Size". Retrieved 2006-04-19. 
  16. ^ Historian Tokushi Kasahara states "more than 100,000 and close to 200,000, or maybe more", referring to his own book Nankin jiken Iwanami shinsho (FUJIWARA Akira (editor) Nankin jiken o dou miruka 1998 Aoki shoten, ISBN 4-250-98016-2, p. 18). This estimation includes the surrounding area outside of the city of Nanking, which is objected by a Chinese researcher (the same book, p. 146). Hiroshi Yoshida concludes "more than 200,000" in his book (Nankin jiken o dou miruka p. 123, YOSHIDA Hiroshi Tennou no guntai to Nankin jiken 1998 Aoki shoten, ISBN 4-250-98019-7, p. 160). Professor Tomio Hora at Waseda University in Tokyo writes 50,000–100,000 (TANAKA Masaaki What Really Happened in Nanking 2000 Sekai Shuppan, Inc. ISBN 4-916079-07-8, p. 5).
  17. ^ a b David C. Earhart, Certain Victory : Images of World War II in the Japanese Media, M.E. Sharpe, 2007, p.89, 108, 143
  18. ^ David C. Earhart, Certain Victory : Images of World War II in the Japanese Media, M.E. Sharpe, 2007, p.99
  19. ^ Shinichi Kusamori, Fukyoka Shashi Ron: Hūkoku no Shashi 2 (An Essay on Disapproved Photographs: Journalistic Photos on Japan 2), Mainichi Shinbun Hizū Fukyoka Shashin 2, Mainichi Shinbun 1999, p.177-178
  20. ^ Masatake Imai, Nankin Shinai no Tairyo Satsujin (Mass Murders in the City of Nanking), Mokugekisha ga Kataru Showashi 5: Nichi Chu Senso (Showa History told by Witnesses), Shin Jinbutsu Orai, 1989, p. 49-58.
  21. ^ Shigeharu Matsumoto, Shanghai Jidai: Journalist no Kaiso (The Shanghai Age: A Journalist's Memoirs), Cho Koron 1975, p.251-252.
  22. ^ Yutaka Yoshida, Tenno no Guntai to Nankin Jiken (The Emperor's Military and the Nankin Incident), Aoki Shoten, 1986, p. 117
  23. ^ "The Nanking Atrocities, Psychological Warfare: I Chinese Propaganda". 
  24. ^ "History's Shadow Foils Nanking Chronicle". The New York Times (article hosted by 1999-05-20. Retrieved 2007-07-21. 
  25. ^ "Media Praise For The Rape of Nanking". Retrieved 2007-07-21. 
  26. ^ Takashi Yoshida. The making of the "Rape of Nanking". 2006, page 146
  27. ^ Hoshiyama, Takashi (November 2007). "The Split Personality of the Nanking Massacre". 
  28. ^ Askew, David (2004). "The Contested Past: History and Semantics in the Nanjing Debate". Ritsumeikan International Affairs 2: 63–78. 
  29. ^ Penney, Matthew (2008). "Far from Oblivion: The Nanking Massacre in Japanese Historical Writing for Children and Young Adults". Holocaust and Genocide Studies 22 (1): 25–48.  
  30. ^ Hata Ikuhiko 1993
  31. ^ a b c Higashinakano (2005) pp. 219–223
  32. ^ Higashinakano (2003) p. 165
  33. ^ Fujiwara, Akira (1995). "Nitchû Sensô ni Okeru Horyotoshido Gyakusatsu". Kikan Sensô Sekinin Kenkyû 9: 22. 
  34. ^ Bristow, Michael (2007-12-13). "Nanjing remembers massacre victims". BBC News. Retrieved 2007-12-13. 
  35. ^ Wakabayashi, Bob Tadashi. The Nanking atrocity, 1937-38: complicating the picture. 2007, page 327
  36. ^ Woods, John E. (1998). The Good man of Nanking, the Diaries of John Rabe. p. 77. 
  37. ^ Hua-ling Hu, American Goddess at the Rape of Nanking: The Courage of Minnie Vautrin, 2000, p.90, 95 96
  38. ^ Chinese hail Nanjing massacre witness' libel suite victory, [1], Author on Nanjing loses libel appeal, [2]
  39. ^ Joshua A. Fogel, ed. (2002). The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography. University of California Press.  
  40. ^ Tanaka, Masaaki. Kodansha-kan "Nankin no Shinjitsu" wa Shinjitsu dehanai ("The Truth of Nanking" is not true). 


Academic sources

Denialist sources

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