From Shanghai to Nanking

From Shanghai to Nanking

When the Imperial Headquarters gave ex post facto, or retroactive, approval to the CCAA on December 1, 1937, both the 10th Army and the Shanghai Expeditionary Force had already been marching westward, heading for the capital city of Nanking, about 170 miles (270 kilometers) northwest of Shanghai.

As yet, there was no declaration of war, for Japan feared that such a declaration would activate the Neutrality Act of the United States, which would unavoidably result in a suspension of trade on raw materials for munitions and other war supplies. The ambiguity of the war aim and the unexpected expansion of the conflict made the Japanese troops restless both physically and mentally. [5]

Japanese troops heading toward Nanking.

Japanese troops heading toward Nanking.

The CCAA held a number of army reserves who had wives and families back home. When the prolonged battle of Shanghai was finally over, those exhausted soldiers had hoped of going home.

When ordered to advance westward instead of crossing the Sea of Japan, the Imperial Army soldiers began wreaking their inflamed animosities on Chinese soldiers and civilians throughout their march to Nanking, which, according to many historians, was a prelude to the massive atrocities that would later take place in Nanking. [6]

In his memoirs, journalist Matsumoto Shigeharu, the Shanghai bureau chief of Domei News Agency, recalled a circulating rumor among his colleagues. “The reason that the Yanagawa Corps [the 10th Army] is advancing [to Nanking] quite rapidly is due to the tacit consent among the officers and men that they could loot and rape as they wish.” [7]

A novelist, Ishikawa Tatsuzo, vividly described how the 16th Division of the Shanghai Expeditionary Force committed atrocities on the march between Shanghai and Nanking in his fictional novel, Ikiteiru Heitai [Living Soldiers], for which he interviewed the troops in the vanquished city in January 1938 (see also The Reign of Terror I: What Japanese Journalists Witnessed). [8]

The Imperial Army swiftly rushed toward the ancient city in parallel formation. By December 8, columns of the Shanghai Expeditionary Force and the 10th Army converged from the east and south, taking over the pivotal Chinese defense. [9]

On December 9, while its troops surrounding the walled city, Japanese airplanes dropped leaflets to urge China’s Defense Commander Tang Sheng-chi to capitulate within 24 hours. The leaflet was written under the name of the commander-in-chief of the Central China Area Army, General Matsui Iwane, in both Japanese and Chinese. [10] Part of it read:

The Japanese Army would be kind and generous to innocent civilians and to Chinese troops with no sign of enmity, but would be relentlessly enraged by those who resist. If we do not receive any response by the deadline, the Japanese Army has no choice but begin attacking Nanking. [11]

Japanese troops entering the suburbs of Nanking.

Japanese troops entering the suburbs of Nanking.

General Tang rejected the ultimatum by commanding his troops to throw in their lots with the city and by forbidding them to retreat. [12]

Meanwhile, remaining Westerners in the walled city, who had created the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone, also contacted Tang and suggested a plan for three-day cease-fire, during which the Chinese troops could withdraw without fighting while the Japanese troops would stay in their present position (see also The Safety Zone and American Missionaries).

Tang agreed with this proposal if the International Committee could acquire permission of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, who had already fled to Hankow where he temporarily shifted the military headquarters two days earlier. [13]

A German businessman and the chairman of the International Committee, John Rabe, boarded the U.S. gunboat Panay on Dec. 9 and sent two telegrams, one to Chiang Kai-shek by way of the American ambassador in Hankow, and one to the Japanese military authority in Shanghai. The next day he was informed that Chiang Kai-shek, who once ordered Nanking be defended “to the last man,” [14] had refused to accept the proposal. [15]

At around 12 o’clock on December 10, outside of Zhongshan Gate in the eastern wall, a senior officer on the Japanese general staff, Colonel Muto Akira, and others were waiting for a Chinese envoy. If the Nanking Defense Army was to accept Japan’s “exhortation of capitulation,” the envoy should appear at the gate at noon.

“I felt personally responsible because I translated it, so I was hoping to see an envoy with a flag of truce,” translator Okada was quoted as saying by a historian, “but no one showed up even ten minutes past noon.”16 At one o’clock, Matsui commanded his troops to launch an all-out attack on the walled city of Nanking.

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  1. Yutaka Yoshida, Tenno no Guntai to Nanking Jiken [The Emperor’s Military and the Nanjing Incident], 29-38.
  2. Ibid., 41-44; Fujiwara, Nanking no Nihongun [The Japanese Army in Nanjing], 18-25.
  3. Shigeharu Matsumoto, Shanghai Jidai (Ge): Journalist no Kaiso [The Shanghai Age (3): A Journalist’s Memoirs] (Tokyo: Chuo Koron, 1975), 242.
  4. Tatsuzo Ishikawa, Ikiteiru Heitai [Living Soldiers] (Tokyo: Chuo Koron, 1938), reprint (Tokyo: Chuko Bunko, 1999).
  5. Dorn, 91.
  6. Kasahara, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Massacre], 121.
  7. Chushi wo Iku [Conquering the Central China], ed. Public Relation Department of the China Expeditionary Army (1939), 79.
  8. Kasahara, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Massacre], 121-122.
  9. John Rabe, The Good Man of Nanking: the Diaries of John Rabe, ed. Erwin Wickert, trans. John E. Woods (New York: Alfred A. Knope, 1998), 56-59.
  10. Dorn, 90.
  11. Rabe, 59.
  12. Hata, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident], 84-86.

©2000 Masato Kajimoto. All Rights Reserved.