The Rape of Nanjing was a period of wartime atrocities committed by Japanese forces in the Chinese city of Nanjing. Around the end of 1937 and the beginning of 1938, hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers and civilians were killed, raped, and tortured. The city of Nanjing was looted, and many of the buildings were burned. Though some of the people responsible were later tried, the Rape of Nanjing has remained a topic of controversy between China and Japan since the end of WWII.
In the fall of 1937, Japanese troops had attacked and taken the city of Shanghai, which is slightly south of Nanjing. After the defeat, they began raping and looting their way up to Nanjing, which was then the capital of China. The Chinese commander, General Chiang Kai Shek, knew that it would be impossible to defend Nanjing, so he removed the majority of his troops to the interior of the country. About 100,000 soldiers remained to defend Nanjing, who were ordered to burn down and destroy anything around the city that could help the Japanese troops. As the Japanese soldiers started to approach the city, many of the residents left the city, though some, including some non-Chinese, chose to stay.
Battle and Atrocities
Japanese troops laid siege to Nanjing on 9 December, and after Chiang Kai Shek rejected a proposal for surrender via telegram, began attacking the city on 10 December. The battle was basically over by the 13th, with the Chinese troops routed. After the city fell, Japanese troops began a six week period of looting, raping, burning, and killing an estimated 200,000 Chinese people, many of whom were women and children. Gang rapes were common, as were forced incest, torture, and killing contests.
Some of the non-Chinese who had chosen to stay in Nanjing had established the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone, which allowed them to create an area that was left largely alone. Some people tried to save Chinese citizens by hiding them in the safety zone, and a number of these foreign observers wrote about the Rape of Nanjing, sending out news reports and even video footage, in the case of John Magee, an American missionary. Numerous photographs from Nanjing are held in national archives around the world.
In tribunals held after the WWII, the leading officer, General Iwane Matsui, was convicted of war crimes and hanged. Prince Asaka Yasuhiko, who had taken over for Matsui temporarily during the battle, was also implicated, but had previously been granted immunity in an agreement between the American General MacArthur and the Japanese Emperor Hirohito. During the trials, some Japanese officers claimed that their actions during the Rape of Nanjing were defensible, as they felt that they were at risk from Chinese soldiers, but the evidence of mass graves filled with bound women and children indicated otherwise.
The events of the Sino-Japanese Wars has been a continual source of friction between Japan and China, particularly since the end of WWII. Though both have officially recognized some culpability for war crimes committed during this time period, Japan did not make a formal apology for the Rape of Nanjing until 1995. One particular sticking point has been the visits of Japanese Prime Ministers to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors many Japanese soldiers, including some war criminals. The shrine also has a plaque that says that the massacre did not occur. Additionally, some nationalists and revisionists in Japan insist that the event did not actually happen, or that its brutality was greatly exaggerated. Despite this, many Japanese people disagree with the government's official stance on the incident, and few deny that the event happened.