One of the most terrifying atrocities in human history occurred in Nanking over a six-week period beginning on 12/13/1937, when the Japanese troops entered and controlled Nanking, the then capitol of the Republic of China. During this short six-week period, about 300,000 Chinese (mostly civilians) were killed and over 20,000 Chinese females (women, girls, and even very young girls) were raped, and one-third of the city of Nanking was burned to the ground.
Unlike Germany which later admitted its holocaust atrocities during WWII and paid compensations to the victims or their families, the Japanese government has never officially (i.e., with a resolution passed by their Parliament) admitted to the Nanking Massacre. As a matter of fact, many Japanese leaders and the Japanese mass media have said on many occasions that there was no Nanking Massacre, or any of the other WWII atrocities committed by the Japanese, such as sex slaves (estimated by historians to be as many as 200,000, and euphemistically referred to as Comfort Women). The most recent such statement was by the current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who in 3/07 denied that the Japanese military had forced foreign women into sexual slavery during WWII.
The reality of the Nanking Massacre is undeniable for any unbiased human being, as those events were witnessed and well documented at that time by many people, including western journalists, businessmen, diplomats, missionaries, and other international observers. I recently interviewed a friend and a fellow resident of Middletown, NJ who was an eyewitness and victim of the Nanking Massacre.
In 1937 Chu-Yeh Chang was a 14-year old boy living in Nanking with his parents, his 80-year old great-grandmother, an 11-year old sister, and eight-year-old and six-year-old brothers. At first, his family wanted to flee Nanking to central China by train. However, the last trains were over-packed with people and the ticket prices skyrocketed, so they had to stay behind in the Nanking area, at first in Wu Yi, a town about 150 kilometers northwest of Nanking, and later back in Nanking.
One night, a group of Japanese soldiers came to the inn in Wu Yi where they were staying, and ordered all the males outside. Later after the Japanese soldiers left, Chu-Yeh and his father discovered to their horror that Chu-Yeh’s 80-year-old great-grandmother, his mother, and his 11-year-old sister had all been raped, and his great-grandmother was also killed. Both his mother and younger sister were also seriously injured, injuries that most likely contributed to their dying relatively young in the early 1950s. At the time of her death, his sister was only in her 20s.
His experience at that time also showed that at least some of the Japanese soldiers had a good heart. In particular, there was a Japanese mid-level officer who befriended Chu-Yeh, because Chu-Yeh reminded him of his own 14-year-old son. This officer often asked Chu-Yeh to accompany him on his rounds and also gave Chu-Yeh and his family additional rations.
After Chu-Yeh discovered that his great-grandmother, mother, and younger sister were raped and his great-grandmother was murdered, he verbally lashed out at the Japanese soldiers, and he was hit very hard on his left ear by one of the Japanese lower-level officers. That hit has permanently partially damaged his hearing from his left ear. If it weren’t for the interference of the mid-level officer who had befriended him, Chu-Yeh surely would have been killed by the other Japanese soldiers.
This mid-level officer also advised Chu-Yeh and his family to leave Wu Yi, because it was no longer safe for them to stay behind after the above incident. So they left, and lived in a small village west of Wu Yi where a distant relative let them stay with them for about a month. After the six-week Nanking Massacre was over, they returned to their old home in Nanking. While crossing the Yangtze River by boat, they saw piles of corpses lying on both sides of the river bank and on the three sandbars in the middle of the river, and smell the rotten, foul air of decaying human flesh. These bodies were often the result of killing practices and competitions among the Japanese troops, and many of the bodies were without their heads as decapitation was one of the Japanese’s favorite execution methods. Their house was also ransacked, the windows were broken, and the door was gone.
In spite of the grave dangers posed by the Japanese troops in Nanking, many heroic acts were performed by many people, including many foreigners (Germans, Americans, British, Danish, etc.) who were living in the international zones in Nanking (at that time, many foreign powers had jurisdictions over certain parts of Nanking). These westerners set up an International Safety Zone and helped save about 200,000 Chinese from being killed and about 20,000 women from being raped. After the war, many Japanese retired soldiers confessed and provided their criminal photos to the public. Also, many Japanese lawyers and people volunteered to help the Chinese victims to file claims for reparation in Japanese courts.
In spite of the atrocities committed by the Japanese soldiers against his family, Chu-Yeh is not seeking any revenge, and does not hold any animosity against the Japanese people. He tells his three children and eight grandchildren that they must not hate, but they must never forget this part of history. He doesn’t want this kind of things happen again to anyone else in the future. However, for that to happen, Japan must recognize their misdeeds during WWII and apologize. Unfortunately, less and less of the Japanese school textbooks now acknowledge the existence of the Nanking Massacre and other atrocities committed by Japan during WWII.
In the west, although almost everyone knows about the holocaust in Europe, very few people have even heard of the Nanking Massacre. Recently, the U.S. and Canadian chapters of the “Alliance for Learning and Preserving the History of WW II in Asia” (ALPHA) have organized “Peace and Reconciliation Study Tours to China” to provide opportunities for western school teachers to learn more about this part of history. These teachers are currently preparing curriculum guides to facilitate other teachers teaching this subject. For example, these curriculum guides prepared by the NJ teachers will be provided to the NJ Commission on Holocaust and Genocide Education, which works closely with the NJ Department of Education to develop educational material for teachers. Having such curriculum guides available should help NJ achieve its legislative mandate that requires “Every board of education shall include instruction on the Holocaust and genocides in an appropriate place in the curriculum of all elementary and secondary school pupils.”
We must keep in mind what the great American/Spanish philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” This year being the 70th anniversary of the Nanking Massacre, it is equally important to remind ourselves of another famous quote by the 18th century Anglo-Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke, “All that is needed for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
Free access to award-winning film “Nanking”
One can see the full-length documentary film “Nanking,” produced by Ted Leonsis, former Vice Chairman of AOL. This film won the 2008 Peabody Award for excellence in radio and television broadcasting. To see the 90-minute film, click here.