Nanjing’s Nightmares



War always gives birth to atrocities. There are abundant examples throughout history when the invading powers committed brutal crimes against humanity. Of course, it is understandable to a certain extent that such crimes were committed if it was before humanitarian values were properly established. However, the Nanjing Massacre of 1937 during Second Sino-Japanese War is a particularly atrocious example of what war can make a person do to its fellow human beings.



The Nanjing Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanjing, was a combination of mass murder and rape by the Japanese Imperial Army against Chinese soldiers and civilians in China’s capital city of Nanjing. It was a brutal holocaust, and one of the survivors of the massacre says he will “never forget the violence, the atrocities and the aggression that the Imperial Japanese soldiers enacted during the Nanjing Massacre.” [1]

As its two names suggest, rape and massacre were the two main acts of brutality that the Chinese had to endure. Women, ranging from an 8-year-old child to a 60-year-old woman, were often raped and shot. In the first four weeks after the fall of Nanjing, approximately 20,000 women were raped, often mutilated and killed afterwards. Families were of no exceptions to such sufferings. Sometimes, when Japanese soldiers found a whole family in a house, they forced the father to rape his daughter, son to rape his mother and brother to rape his sister while the others watched. [2]

Most Japanese soldiers, deeply ingrained with militaristic education, had no remorse in killing the Chinese; they used the Chinese as targets to practice their killing, and some junior officers even held competitions to kill the most Chinese, which was reported by the Japanese newspaper as if it was some form of sporting game. [3]

The estimate of the number of victims of the massacre varies, but the Tokyo War Crimes Trials accepted that minimum 200,000 and the maximum 370,000 of Chinese civilians and prisoners of war were killed during this period.


Why is it still relevant today?

History is the past. It is something that has already happened, and thus cannot be altered- or so people believed. Although the events of history itself cannot be changed, the present-day perception of it definitely can be distorted. In 2012 February, Japanese governor of Nagoya told both the visiting delegates from Nanjing and Japanese newspapers “such a thing as so-called Nanjing Massacre is unlikely to have taken place.”[4]

East Asia has always been troubled the most due to its painful history. The biggest controversy always arose not from economy or politics but from history, and to the present day it remains the one factor that hinders East Asian relations from improving. It is not entirely of one country’s fault- all three countries (Japan, China, Korea) have to some extent been bad neighbours. Then what is the reason behind such constant reemergence of historical controversies?

Although the answer to this question has many dimensions, one of the main reasons lies in rivalry. All three East Asian nations have been in a constant rivalry ever since Toyotomi Hideyoshi united Japan and initiated his great plan to conquer its neighbour, Korea (then named Chosun). China and Japan were always battling to gain the upper hand, and Korea has often been their battleground. Hundreds of years of bitter history interwoven with disastrous wars at various moments has formed an integral part of national identity for all three countries.

japan-china-korea.jpg“All three East Asian nations have been in a constant rivalry.”

Such rivalry has carried onto the present day, as the difference between communist China and democratic (yet far from being upholding true free democracy, as can be seen from its oppression of free media) Japan increasingly widens. As for Korea, well, it’s like having two spiteful neighbours, both of which it have less than cordial relationships with. China is obviously the biggest (and probably the sole) supporter of North Korea, while Korea’s colonial era under Imperial Japan has scarred many hearts and bodies including but not limited to those who were comfort women (a euphemism used to refer to those who forcedly became sex slaves for Imperial Japanese soldiers). Not one relationship in East Asia is likely to be more than anything simply polite, as long as such historical issues are addressed.

They say that in America, economy is the problem; in Europe, politics is the problem and in Asia, history is the problem. There is some truth to this- although remembering history and being very much aware of the nation’s scars and guilt, unless Asia (especially the three East Asian countries) can stop the never-ending war of hatred based on historical events, the Far East will never hear the spring breeze knocking on its door.











[1]: Testimony of Chen Jiashou. Translated from Mandarin Chinese. Testimony given voluntarily and based on individual experiences. Available at:





Photocredit: South Korea, Japan, China image via Shutterstock

Available at:



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