Thirty girls were taken from the language school last night, and today I have heard scores of heartbreaking stories of girls who were taken from their homes last night--one of the girls was but 12 years old....Tonight a truck passed in which there were eight or ten girls, and as it passed they called out "Ging ming! Ging ming!"--save our lives. (Minnie Vautrin's diary, 16 December 1937)

It is a horrible story to relate; I know not where to begin nor to end. Never have I heard or read of such brutality. Rape: We estimate at least 1,000 cases a night and many by day. In case of resistance or anything that seems like disapproval there is a bayonet stab or a bullet. (James McCallum, letter to his family, 19 December 1937)

The International Military Tribunal for the Far East stated that 20,000 (and perhaps up to 80,000) women were raped—their ages ranging from infants to the elderly (as old as 80). Rapes were often performed in public during the day, sometimes in front of spouses or family members. A large number of them were systematized in a process where soldiers would search door-to-door for young girls, with many women taken captive and gang raped. The women were then killed immediately after the rape, often by mutilation. According to some testimonies, other women were forced into military prostitution as comfort women. There are even stories of Japanese troops forcing families to commit acts of incest. Sons were forced to rape their mothers, fathers were forced to rape daughters. One pregnant woman who was gang-raped by Japanese soldiers gave birth only a few hours later; the baby was perfectly healthy (Robert B. Edgerton, Warriors of the Rising Sun). Monks who had declared a life of celibacy were forced to rape women for the amusement of the Japanese. Chinese men were forced to have sex with corpses. Any resistance would be met with summary executions. While the rape peaked immediately following the fall of the city, it continued for the duration of the Japanese occupation.



Various foreign residents in Nanking at the time recorded their experiences with what was going on in the city:

Robert Wilson in his letter to his family: The slaughter of civilians is appalling. I could go on for pages telling of cases of rape and brutality almost beyond belief. Two bayoneted corpses are the only survivors of seven street cleaners who were sitting in their headquarters when Japanese soldiers came in without warning or reason and killed five of their number and wounded the two that found their way to the hospital.

John Magee in his letter to his wife: They not only killed every prisoner they could find but also a vast number of ordinary citizens of all ages.... Just the day before yesterday we saw a poor wretch killed very near the house where we are living.

Robert Wilson in another letter to his family: They [Japanese soldiers] bayoneted one little boy, killing him, and I spent an hour and a half this morning patching up another little boy of eight who had five bayonet wounds including one that penetrated his stomach, a portion of omentum was outside the abdomen.

Immediately after the fall of the city, Japanese troops embarked on a determined search for former soldiers, in which thousands of young men were captured. Many were taken to the Yangtze River, where they were machine-gunned so their bodies would be carried down to Shanghai. Others were reportedly used for live bayonet practice. Decapitation was a popular method of killing, while more drastic practices included burning, nailing to trees, live burial, and hanging by the tongue. Some people were beaten to death. The Japanese also summarily executed many pedestrians on the streets, usually under the pretext that they might be soldiers disguised in civilian clothing.

Thousands were led away and mass-executed in an excavation known as the "Ten-Thousand-Corpse Ditch", a trench measuring about 300m long and 5m wide. Since records were not kept, estimates regarding the number of victims buried in the ditch range from 4,000 to 20,000. However, most scholars and historians consider the number to be around 12,000 victims.

Women and children were not spared from the horrors of the massacres. Witnesses recall Japanese soldiers throwing babies into the air and catching them with their bayonets. Pregnant women were often the target of murder, as they would often be bayoneted in the belly, sometimes after rape. Many women were first brutally raped then killed.

Theft and arson

It is estimated that over one-third and as much as two-thirds of the city was destroyed as a result of arson. According to reports, Japanese troops torched newly-built government buildings as well as the homes of many civilians. There was considerable destruction to areas outside the city walls. Soldiers pillaged from the poor and the wealthy alike. The lack of resistance from Chinese troops and civilians in Nanjing meant that the Japanese soldiers were free to divvy up the city's valuables as they saw fit. This resulted in the widespread looting and burglary. General Matsui Iwane was given an art collection worth $2,000,000 that was stolen from a Shanghai banker.

Death toll estimates

Manchester Guardian correspondent H.J. Timperley wrote this telegram, which was stopped by Japanese censors in Shanghai. It was forwarded to the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C. on January 17th, 1938, by Japanese foreign minister Koki Hirota, where the transmission was intercepted and decoded by the Americans. "Since return (to) Shanghai (a) few days ago I investigated reported atrocities committed by Japanese Army in Nanking and elsewhere. Verbal accounts (of) reliable eye-witnesses and letters from individuals whose credibility (is) beyond question afford convincing proof (that) Japanese Army behaved and (is) continuing (to) behave in (a) fashion reminiscent (of) Attila (and) his Huns. (Not) less than three hundred thousand Chinese civilians slaughtered, many cases (in) cold blood."

There is great debate as to the extent of the war atrocities in Nanking, especially regarding estimates of the death toll. The issues involved in calculating the number of victims are largely based on the debatees' definitions of the geographical range and the duration of the event, as well as their definition of the "victims".

Range and duration

The most conservative viewpoint is that the geographical area of the incident should be limited to the few square kilometers of the city known as the Safety Zone, where the civilians gathered after the invasion. Many Japanese historians seized upon the fact that during the Japanese invasion there were only 200,000–250,000 citizens in Nanking as reported by John Rabe, to argue that the PRC's estimate of 300,000 deaths is a vast exaggeration.

However, many historians include a much larger area around the city. Including the Xiaguan district (the suburbs north of Nanjing city, about 31 square km in size) and other areas on the outskirts of the city, the population of greater Nanjing was running between 53,500,000 and 63,500,000 just prior to the Japanese occupation. Some historians also include six counties around Nanjing, known as the Nanjing Special Municipality.

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 6 weeks. Historians who define the Nanking Massacre as having started from the time the Japanese Army entered Jiangsu province push the beginning of the massacre to around mid-November to early December (Suzhou fell on November 19), and stretch the end of the massacre to late March 1938. Naturally, the number of victims proposed by these historians is much greater than more conservative estimates.

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