The year is 1937. After a bloody Japanese victory in Shanghai during the second Sino-Japanese War, Chiang Kai-Shek—leader of the Nationalist Party—ordered the removal of troops from Nanking, fearful that if he did not, he would lose his army in the weeks to come as the enemy closed in on the back-then capital of China.
Sirens blared overhead as the Imperial Japanese Army advanced on the virtually-undefended city teeming with frightened, defenceless citizens and over a period of six weeks, saw more than 300,000 Chinese savagely slaughtered and some 20,000 – 60,000 women and children sexually assaulted; Japanese soldiers held “killing contests”, rounded up citizens to be mowed down in hordes by machine gun and that was only the beginning. This horrific event—the heinous culmination of the Japanese invasion of China—is known as the Nanking Massacre, the Rape of Nanking, and also, the Forgotten Holocaust.
To this day, this event remains as a significant source of resentment for the Chinese people in regards to Japan and it is not difficult to see why. Unlike Germany and the Holocaust of the Jews, the Japanese government have never recognize, let alone apologized, much to the anger of the Chinese people. In recent years, the anniversary has been turned into an official memorial day and is often used to emphasize the bitterness and coldness in China and Japan’s relationship.
December 13th, 2017, will mark the 80th anniversary of the Nanking Massacre. While the mood in China will certainly be sombre as people swell to memorials to remember the brutal event, it is a day when right-winged nationalists of Japan gather to drink and sing songs denying their emperor’s soldiers have ever touched the city. And even if they do admit, they are skeptical of the number of victims. While historians generally accept China’s account, it is important to note that Japan’s constant disputing over the death toll is a shrewd move—focusing on numbers rather than the atrocities committed, this distracts people from what actually happened and dehumanizes the nature of the massacre. For as Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union, once said: “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is only a statistic.”
Researching on the massacre, reading the gruesome descriptions by first-hand witnesses of what the Imperial Japanese troops did to the men, women, and children of Nanking made it so hard for me to stomach the fact that at the end of the day, these soldiers were still, and only human. And perhaps that is why the Japanese government refuses to admit their wrongdoings—no one likes to bring shame upon themselves. But that does not excuse them from attempting to erase this event from history, by excluding this from Japanese textbooks so their children would never learn of what happened at Nanking and it always goes back to the question, why?
When I was little, I always questioned why one people did this to another, or why can’t everyone just agree and be friends and live in peace. But obviously, history is not easy, and neither is it black and white. Humans have been fighting over race or religion or class for thousands of years and this is just one of the most recent cases—and one that is very close to my heart.
To me, Nanking epitomizes humanity’s evilness and at the same time, goodness. Because as Japanese soldiers descended upon the city, there were people—particularly Westerners in the city whom the Japanese spared from their cruelty—who attempted to shield and shelter the Chinese people. One such Westerner was John Rabe, a German business man and ironically, a member of the Nazi Party. He is known as the ‘Good Man of Nanking’ for his attempts to set up a safe zone amid the chaos. When the Japanese, having declared that order has been “restored” to the city after their victory, disbanded the safety zone, Rabe refused to leave and was said to have used his Nazi Party membership to stall the troops, showing them his badge whenever they demonstrated signs of aggression towards the citizens. And although this only delayed the inevitable, many were able to flee. John Rabe is estimated to have saved the lives of 200,000 – 250,000 people.
I, following the Mulgrave Gazette’s guidelines, strive to be as non-bias as possible. However, even before writing this article, I realize that was not possible. Hence, I have decided early on that this article should take on an educational purpose—or at least, I can educate readers on the perspective from one Chinese girl. I thank you, readers, for understanding my position.