The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang

The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang


"To forget a holocaust is to kill twice" - Elie Wiesel

The Rape of Nanking provides graphic detail from eyewitness and survivor testimonies of the war crimes committed by the invading Japanese troops in Nanking.

Chang was biting in her criticism of Japan. She argues that unlike Germany, which sought to atone for the horrors of Nazism, Japan simply moved on.

This book is uncomfortable because it reveals the depth of depravity humans are capable of. Yet, she shows that even in the darkest of times, humans are capable of great heroism.

This book is not for the faint-hearted.

What I Internalized

Humanity is capable of great evil.

Chang documents in excruciating detail the brutal practices Japanese soldiers implemented.

The assault was fittingly called Rape in Nanking because of the widespread sexual assault soldiers committed.

For example, the soldiers would force incest upon the Chinese, gang rape women and kill anyone who tried to resist any sexual advance.

There is a temptation to think, “Surely, I won’t act in such a barbaric way”. But, when you consider how many of these men were conscripts who came from otherwise normal Japanese society, you realize that you, too, are probably capable of despicable things.

Doing the right thing is way harder than you think.

The Establishment of the Nanking Safety Zone saved over 250,000 Chinese civilians from death and violence.

Movie Review - 'John Rabe' - In A Grim Nanking, False Notes of Hope : NPR
John Rabe (The Movie)

Ironically, it was led by John Rabe, a German businessman and member of the Nazi party. (It was said that during the massacre, and unaware of the developments in Germany, he would write to Hitler to intervene on behalf of the Chinese)

He worked tirelessly with heroines like American missionary Minnie Vautrin to care for the Chinese refugees.

When their peers left for a guaranteed passage of safety, they chose to stay in the warzone.

They set up camps, food and water for refugees, patrols to repel Japanese incursions, and even taught refugees survival skills. Such work took a huge psychic toll on many of them. Had they left, no one would have faulted them. But, they chose to stay - not knowing how the war would shake out.

When you choose the right thing, you accept that a reward likely won't come and you often must pay huge costs in perpetuity.

That’s what often makes it hard in the first place.

No War is Won Without Information Controls

Propaganda in Japan during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II -  Wikipedia
Japanese propaganda poster saying "Peace across the earth, with China and Japan as great friends."

It is not sufficient to win the territory; you must win the hearts and minds of your people.

If your citizens believe they are fighting a lost cause, or that you are in fact the suppressor and not the liberator, you will lose all support for your cause.

Thus, all governments at war invest significantly in managing information flow. The narratives must converge to paint yourself as the 'good guy'. Stories that contradict these, regardless of their 'factuality' must be suppressed.

For those of us who wish to be independent minded, its worth noting that in real time, it's hard to distinguish between truth and propaganda.

We want to think we can do it in this unique day and age. But, remember even when there were reports on the rape of Nanking being shared to Americans, many thought it was ‘rank of propoganda.’

When looking at the facts of wars today, know that what we see might not be a true thing.

Arm Yourself to the Teeth

The Nanjing Massacre: Scenes from a Hideous Slaughter 75 Years Ago |
Chinese soldiers being arrested

When you read about the complete and comical breakdown of the Chinese military, you find out that many of them were all poorly trained and had no concept of defending China as their motherland.

Naturally, when an organized and ruthless opponent in Japan came, they scrambled.

I appreciate the Singaporean Government’s obsession with building a competent military.

The whole endeavour of this project is to counter-programme against your survival instincts of self-preservation. The professional military aims to inculcate in its forces two counterintuitive but important ideas- the confidence to believe you can triumph over a formidable hostile and the willingness to die for your country.

It's only by seeding these two ideas deep into the minds of your soldiers that you won't see them scramble in times of war.

(As an aside, It is also no surprise that The Rape of Nanking figures heavily in the Chinese narrative of the Century of Humiliation. The humiliation was two-fold. First, they were utterly defeated and subjugated by a smaller country. Second, they lacked the strength to muster a spirited and meaningful resistance against the invading Japanese)

Key Takeaways

  • The Willful evil the Japanese soldiers committed. "The Japanese drew sadistic pleasure in forcing Chinese men to commit incest—fathers to rape their own daughters, brothers their sisters, sons their mothers. Guo Qi, a Chinese battalion commander stranded in Nanking for three months after the city fell, saw or heard of at least four or five instances in which the Japanese ordered sons to rape their mothers; those who refused were killed on the spot. His report is substantiated by the testimony of a German diplomat, who reported that one Chinese man who refused to rape his mother was killed with sabre strokes and that his mother committed suicide shortly afterwards."
  • Deprivation as a tactic for subservience. "The Japanese would take any men they found as prisoners, neglect to give them water or food for days, but promise them food and work. After days of such treatment, the Japanese would bind the wrists of their victims securely with wire or rope and herd them out to some isolated area. The men, too tired or dehydrated to rebel, went out eagerly, thinking they would be fed. By the time they saw the machine guns, or the bloodied swords and bayonets wielded by waiting soldiers, or the massive graves, heaped and reeking with the bodies of the men who had preceded them."
  • Using Deception to start wars. "On September 18, 1931, the Japanese army blew up the tracks of a Japanese-owned railway in southern Manchuria, hoping to incite an incident. When the blasts failed to derail an express train, the Japanese killed the Chinese guards instead and fabricated a story for the world press about Chinese saboteurs. This incident gave the Japanese an excuse to seize Manchuria, renamed Manchukuo and where the Japanese installed Pu Yi, the last emperor of China and heir of the Manchu dynasty, as puppet ruler."
  • Most people only care about what affects them. In 1937, Japan sunk an American gunboat that saw a total of 3 killed and 43 wounded. However, "the sinking of the Panay caused more of an uproar in the United States than all the wholesale rape and slaughter in Nanking combined."
  • Be careful of State-Sponsored Tours. "The Japanese government authorized carefully prepared tours of the city for Japanese visitors. A week after the Domei report, a Japanese merchant ship arrived in Nanking from Shanghai, crowded with Japanese sightseers. “Carefully, they were herded through the few streets now cleared of corpses,” George Fitch wrote of the visit. “Graciously they passed sweets to Chinese children and patted their frightened heads.” A number of ladies accompanied Japanese business representatives on a tour of the city, and Fitch observed that they seemed “tremendously pleased with themselves, also with Japan’s wonderful victory, but of course, they hear nothing of the real truth—nor does the rest of the world, I suppose."
  • The Psychic Toll of being brutalized. “We will never know the full psychic toll, because many of the women who survived the ordeal found themselves pregnant, and the subject of Chinese women impregnated by Japanese rapists in Nanking is so sensitive that it has never been completely studied. To my knowledge and to the knowledge of the Chinese historians and officials at the memorial hall erected in memory of the Nanking massacre, not a single Chinese woman has to this day come forward to admit that her child was the result of rape. Many such children were secretly killed; according to an American sociologist in the city at the time of the massacre, numerous half-Japanese children were choked or drowned at birth.”
  • Tragicomedy of Chinese soldiers. "As soldiers grew desperate to blend into the populace and thereby elude capture, they broke into shops to steal civilian clothes and undressed in the open. The streets soon filled not only with half-naked soldiers but with half-naked police officers, who had discarded their uniforms to avoid being mistaken as soldiers."
  • Its hard to tell fact and fiction apart in war. When the article “The Sack of Nanking” appeared in Reader’s Digest, one subscriber wrote: “It is unbelievable that credence could be given a thing which is so obviously rank propaganda and so reminiscent of the stuff fed the public during the late war.”
  • Japan’s turn to expansionism. In the 1920s, Lieutenant Colonel Hashimoto Kingoro wrote in his book, Addresses to Young Men as to why Japan ought to pursue colonialism - “There are only three ways left to Japan to escape from the pressures of surplus population . . . emigration, advance into world markets, and expansion of territory. The first door, emigration, has been barred to us by the anti-Japanese immigration policies of other countries. The second door . . . is being pushed shut by tariff barriers and the abrogation of commercial treaties. What should Japan do when two of the three doors have been closed against her?”
  • The Need for Conditioning in Conscription. You must get your population accustomed to sending their sons to war. So, you start young.. “Japanese schools operated like miniature military units. Indeed, some of the teachers were military officers, lecturing students on their duty to help Japan fulfill its divine destiny of conquering Asia and standing up to the world’s nations as a people second to none. They taught young boys how to handle wooden models of guns and older boys how to handle real ones. Textbooks became vehicles for military propaganda.”
  • The Paradox of Auschwitz and Nanking. Iris Chang's critique on the lack of mainstream awareness of the Rape of Nanking- "Is there a child today in any part of the United States, and perhaps in many other parts of the world, who has not seen the gruesome pictures of the gas chambers at Auschwitz or read at least part of the haunting tale of the young Anne Frank? Indeed, at least in the United States, most schoolchildren are also taught about the devastating effects of the atomic bombs the United States dropped over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But ask most Americans—children and adults alike, including highly educated adults—about the Rape of Nanking, and you will learn that most have never been told what happened in Nanking sixty years ago."

In her epilogue, Iris Chang lamented,

Whatever the course of postwar history, the Rape of Nanking will stand as a blemish upon the honor of human beings. But what makes the blemish particularly repugnant is that history has never written a proper end for the story.

I wonder if we have learnt from this dark chapter of human history or simply forgotten it.

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