Defining the victims

Another point of contention is the question of whom to count as the victims of the atrocities. All historians agree that numerous civilians were killed in Nanjing. Throughout the war in China, neither side took many prisoners of war. The Japanese Army often summarily executed captured and surrendered Chinese soldiers. They also executed many men whom they believed to be plain-clothed guerilla combatants hiding amongst civilian populations. It is unclear how many innocent civilians were wrongly accused and were dispatched in this manner.

While all historians agree that civilians should be counted in the death toll of the massacre, different groups have different positions on the legitimacy of the following: soldiers killed during combat; surrendered/captured soldiers summarily executed after battle; plain-clothed guerilla combatants; plain-clothed soldiers hiding among civilians; civilians wrongly suspected of being guerilla combatants; women, children and elderly who are patently civilian but were slaughtered regardless. Unfortunately, archival evidence, such as burial records, state only the number of bodies, and not to which group each of the dead belonged. Therefore, they provide no means to distinguish who was killed "legitimately" and "illegitimately". The debate continues.

Various estimates

The International Military Tribunal for the Far East estimated in two (seemingly conflicting) reports that "over 200,000" and "over 100,000" civilians and prisoners of war were murdered during the first six weeks of the occupation. That number was based on burial records submitted by charitable organizations—including the Red Swastika Society and the Chung Shan Tang (Tsung Shan Tong)—the research done by Smythe, and some estimates given by survivors.

In 1947, at the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal, the verdict of Lieutenant General Tani Hisao—the commander of the 6th Division—quoted a figure of more than 300,000 dead. This estimate was made from burial records and eyewitness accounts. It concluded that some 190,000 were illegally executed at various execution sites and 150,000 were killed one-by-one. The death toll of 300,000 is the official estimate engraved on the stone wall at the entrance of the "Memorial Hall for Compatriot Victims of the Japanese Military's Nanking Massacre" in Nanjing.

Some modern Japanese historians, such as Kasahara Tokushi of Tsuru University and Fujiwara Akira, a professor emeritus at Hitotsubashi University, take into account the entire Nanjing Special Municipality, which consisted of the walled city and its neighboring six counties, and have come up to an estimate of approximately 200,000 dead. Other Japanese historians, depending on their definition of the geographical and time duration of the killings, place the death toll on a much wider scale from 40,000 to 300,000. In China today most estimates of the Nanking Massacre range from 200,000 to 400,000, with no notable historian going below 100,000.

A 42-part ROC documentary produced in 1995, entitled "An Inch of Blood For An Inch of Land"asserts that 340,000 Chinese civilians died in Nanking City as a result of the Japanese invasion, 150,000 through bombing and crossfire in the 5-day battle, and 190,000 in the massacre, based on the evidence presented at the Tokyo Trials.

The judgments

Following evidence of mass atrocities, General Iwane Matsui was judged for "crimes against humanity" and, in 1948, sentenced to death by the Tokyo tribunal. Matsui went out of his way to protect Prince Asaka by shifting blame to lower ranking division commanders. Generals Hisao Tani and Rensuke Isogai were sentenced to death by the Nanking tribunal.

According to the pact concluded between General MacArthur and Hirohito, the Emperor himself and all the members of the imperial family were not prosecuted. Prince Asaka, who was the ranking officer in the city at the height of the atrocities, made only a deposition to the International Prosecution Section of the Tokyo tribunal on 1 May 1946. Asaka denied any massacre of Chinese and claimed never to have received complaints about the conduct of his troops.

Historiography and debate

At present, both China and Japan have acknowledged the occurrence of wartime atrocities. However, disputes over the historical portrayal of these events have been at the root of continuing political tensions between China and Japan.

The widespread atrocities committed by the Japanese in Nanjing were first reported to the world by the Westerners residing in the Nanjing Safety Zone. For instance, on January 11, 1938, a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, Harold Timperley, tried to cable his estimate of "not less than 300,000 Chinese civilians" killed in cold blood in "Nanjing and elsewhere". His message was relayed from Shanghai to Tokyo by Koki Hirota, to be sent out to the Japanese embassies in Europe and the United States. Dramatic reports of Japanese brutality against Chinese civilians by American journalists, as well as the Panay incident, which occurred just before the occupation of Nanjing, helped turn American public opinion against Japan. These, in part, led to a series of events which culminated in the American declaration of war on Japan after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.


Post-1972 Japanese interest

Interest in the Nanking Massacre waned into near obscurity until 1972, the year China and Japan normalized diplomatic relationships. In China, to foster the newly found friendship to Japan, the People's Republic of China under Mao Zedong ostensibly suppressed the mention of the Nanking Massacre from public discourse and the media, which the Communist Party directly controlled. Therefore, the entire debate on the Nanking Massacre during the 1970s took place in Japan. In commemoration of the normalization, one major Japanese newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, ran a series of articles entitled "Travels in China" chugoku no tabi?), written by journalist Katsuichi Honda. The articles detailed the atrocities of the Japanese Army within China, including the Nanking Massacre. In the series, Honda mentioned an episode in which two officers competed to slay 100 people with their swords. The truth of this incident is hotly disputed and critics seized on the opportunity to imply that the episode, as well as the Nanking Massacre and all its accompanying articles, were largely falsified. This is regarded as the start of the Nanking Massacre controversy in Japan.

The debate concerning the actual occurrence of killings and rapes took place mainly in the 1970s. The Chinese government's statements about the event came under attack during this time, because they were said to rely too heavily on personal testimonies and anecdotal evidence. Also coming under attack were the burial records and photographs presented in the Tokyo War Crime Court, which were said to be fabrications by the Chinese government, artificially manipulated or incorrectly attributed to the Nanking Massacre.

On the other hand, recent excavation activities and efforts at historical re-evaluation have suggested that the original casualties may have been underestimated largely due to the fact that the large number of refugees fleeing from other provinces and killed in Nanking was uncertain until recently.

The Japanese distributor of The Last Emperor (1987) edited out the stock footage of the Rape of Nanking from the film.

The Ienaga textbook incident

Controversy flared up again in 1982, when the Japanese Ministry of Education censored any mention of the Nanking Massacre in a high school textbook. The reason given by the ministry was that the Nanking Massacre was not a well-established historical event. The author of the textbook, Professor Saburo Ienaga, sued the Ministry of Education in an extended case, which was won by the plaintiff in 1997.

A number of Japanese cabinet ministers, as well as some high-ranking politicians, have also made comments denying the atrocities committed by the Japanese Army in World War II. Some subsequently resigned after protests from China and South Korea. In response to these and similar incidents, a number of Japanese journalists and historians formed the Nankin Jiken Chosa Kenkyukai (Nanjing Incident Research Group). The research group has collected large quantities of archival materials as well as testimonies from both Chinese and Japanese sources.

The more hardline members of the government cabinet feel that the extent of crimes committed has been exaggerated as a pretext to surging Chinese nationalism. Such conservative forces have been accused of gradually reducing the number of casualties by manipulating data.


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