What Westerners Witnessed: Letters and Diaries

What Westerners Witnessed: Letters and Diaries

[Note] The following letters, diaries and other documents were selected from various sources. Most of them are available at Yale Divinity School Library. To know about the books that feature those historical documents, see Works Cited.

Robert Wilson, letter to his family on December 14, 1937:

Refugees who gathered to receive the cash relief issued by the International Committee. February 1938.

Refugees who gathered to receive the cash relief issued by the International Committee. February 1938.

On Monday morning the 13th, exactly four months after the trouble started in Shanghai, the Japanese entered the city by several gates at one. Some came in Hoping Men [Gate] in the north and some in Hansi and Kwanghua Mens in the west and south-east respectively. By night they had complete control of the city and numerous Japanese flags flew from various places including their former embassy. The entire remaining population of Nanking, some 150,000 or 200,000 thousand individuals, were crowded into the zone….

A civilian who shows no sign of fear and goes about his business in the daytime seems relatively safe. No one is safe at night… any civilian that shows signs of fear or tries to run away is promptly bayoneted. I sewed up one severed trachea this afternoon and we have had several dozen cases of bayoneting.

Minnie Vaurtin, diary on Dec. 13:

The city is strangely silent – after all the bombing and shelling. Three dangers are past – that of looting [Chinese] soldiers, bombing from aeroplanes and shelling from big guns, but the forth is still before us – our fate at the hands of a victorious army. People are very anxious tonight and do not know what to expect…. Tonight [13th] Nanking has no lights, no water, no telephone, no telegraph, no city paper, no radio.

Minnie Vautrin, diary on Dec. 15:

The Japanese have looted widely yesterday and today, have destroyed schools, have killed citizens, and raped women. One thousand disarmed Chinese soldiers, whom the International Committee hoped to save, were taken from them and by this time are probably shot or bayoneted. In our South Hill House Japanese broke the panel of the storeroom and took out some old fruit juice and a few other things. (Open door policy!)

John Rabe, diary on Dec. 15:

Yale Divinity School Library has a large collection of the documents relating to the Nanking Atrocities.

Yale Divinity School Library has a large collection of the documents relating to the Nanking Atrocities.

No sooner am I back in my office at Committee Headquarters, than my boy arrives with bad news – the Japanese have returned and now have 1,300 refugees tied up. Along with Smythe and Mills I try to get these people released, but to no avail. They are surrounded by about 100 Japanese soldiers and, still tied up, are led off to be shot…. It’s hard to see people driven off like animals. But they say that Chinese shot 2,000 Japanese prisoners in Tsinanfu, too. We hear by way of the Japanese Navy that the gunboat U.S.S. Pany, on which the officials of the American embassy had sought safety, has been accidentally bombed and sunk by the Japanese.

Robert Wilson, letter to his family, Dec. 15:

The slaughter of civilians is appalling. I could go on for pages telling of cases or rape and brutality almost beyond belief. Two bayoneted cases are the only survivors of seven street cleaners who were sitting in their headquarters when Japanese soldiers came in without warning or reason and killed five of their number and wounded the two that found their way to the hospital.

Robert Wilson, letter to his family, Dec. 18:

Today marks the sixth day of the modern Dante’s Inferno, written in huge letters with blood and rape. Murder by the wholesale and rape by the thousands of cases. There seems to be no stop to the ferocity, lust and atavism of the brutes…. Last night the house of one of the Chinese staff members of the university was broken into and two of the women, his relatives, were raped. Two girls about 15 were raped to death in one of the refugee camps…. They [Japanese soldiers] bayoneted one little boy, killing him, and I spent an hour and a half this morning patching up another little boy of eight who had five bayonet wounds including one that penetrated his stomach, a portion of omentum was outside the abdomen. I think he will live.

James McCallum, letter to his family, Dec. 19:

It is a horrible story to relate; I know not where to begin nor to end. Never have I heard or read of such brutality. Rape: Rape: Rape: We estimate at least 1,000 cases a night and many by day. In case of resistance or anything that seems like disapproval there is a bayonet stab or a bullet. We could write up hundreds of cases a day; people are hysterical; they get down on their knees and “Kowtow” any time we foreigners appear; they beg for aid. Those who are suspected of being soldiers as well as others, have been led outside the city and shot down by hundreds, yes, thousands.

John Magee, letter to his wife, Dec. 19:

A farmer who was just treated for gunshot wounds inflicted by Japanese troops. March 1938.

A farmer who was just treated for gunshot wounds inflicted by Japanese troops. March 1938.

The Horror of the last week is beyond anything I have ever experienced. I never dreamed that the Japanese soldiers were such savages. It has been a week of murder and rape, worse, I imagine, than has happened for a very long time unless the massacre of the Armenians by the Turks was comparable. They not only killed every prisoner they could find but also a vast number of ordinary citizens of all ages…. Just day before yesterday we saw a poor wretch killed very near the house where we are living.

Miner Searle Bates, letter to Japanese embassy, Dec. 21:

In accordance with your request this morning, I submit the following facts, most of which have been observed by myself since I saw you, and the reminder I have carefully investigated after they were told me by reliable people.

[Nine cases of rape, looting and forcing labor are described]

I feel sure that not so many people were raped or wounded last night as the night before. But the robbery, illegal entry, and terrible burning continues as bas or worse than before. Two members of the International Committee who have driven several miles in a car have not yet seen a gendarme. They are not effective. If the generals intend to destroy the people’s homes and take away their last food and clothing, it is better to say so honestly than to deceive them and us with false hopes of orders….

Miner Searle Bates, letter to Japanese embassy, Dec. 23:

I have tried for a couple of days to refrain from troubling you further. However, many difficulties occur every day, and today they are worse than usual. New parties of stray soldiers without discipline or officers are going everywhere stealing, raping, and taking away women. Some cases follow:

  1. Just now soldiers forcibly entered the University and towed away a truck used to supply rice to refugee.
  2. In our Sericulture Building along there are on the average of more than ten cases per day of rape of abducting women.
  3. Our residences continue to be entered day and night by soldiers who injure women and steal everything they wish. This applies to residences in which Americans are now living, just the same as to the others.
  4. Soldiers frequently tear down the proclamations put up by your military police.
  5. This morning an American member of our staff was struck by an officer who suddenly approached him and angrily tried to tear off the armband supplied by your Embassy.
  6. Other buildings not mentioned above are daily entered several times each by soldiers who utterly disregard your proclamations, looking for women and for loot.
  7. Despite this disorder caused entirely by soldiers, we have no guard whatever and no military police have been sent near us.

John Rabe, diary, Dec. 24:

Bodies of executed Chinese in Ku LIng Temple.

Bodies of executed Chinese in Ku LIng Temple.

I have had to look at so many corpses over the last few weeks that I can keep my nerves in check even when viewing these horrible cases. It really doesn’t leave you in a “Christmas” mood; but I wanted to see these atrocities with my own eyes, so that I can speak as an eyewitness later. A man cannot be silent about this kind of cruelty!

Robert Wilson, letter to his family, Dec. 24:

This seems anything but Christmas Eve. It is sort of tough to sit in a small X-ray room to keep Japanese soldiers from looting a hospital in the center of what was a few weeks ago a great city while the rest of my family is scattered all over the globe. My baby will be six months old in four days and I have only seen her for seven weeks of that time….

One of the two burned wretches died this morning but the other is still hanging on fro a while. Bates went over this afternoon to a place described as the scene of the burning and found the charred bodies of the poor devils. And now they tell us that there are twenty thousand soldiers still in the Zone, (where they get their figures no one knows), and that they are going to hunt them out and shoot them all. That will mean every able-bodied male between the ages of 18 and 50 that is now in the city. How can they every look anybody in the face again?

Minnie Vautrin, Diary, Dec. 26:

All the refugees on University campus registered today. We shall probably go through the same process in a day or two, so tonight I started Mr. Chen making a list. Weather still clear and warm during the day. We still have no news of outside world, and, as far as we know, they have no news of us excepting that furnished by Domei. This will be a year without Christmas. Did not even have time to think of my friends.

Miner Searle Bates, letter to Japanese embassy, Dec. 27:

The life of the whole people is filled with suffering and fear – all caused by soldiers. Your officers have promised them protection, but the soldiers every day injure hundreds of persons most seriously. A few policemen help certain places, and we are grateful for them. But that does not bring peace and order. Often it merely shifts the bad acts of the soldiers to nearby buildings where there are no policemen. Does not the Japanese Army care for its reputation? Do not Japanese officers wish to keep their public promises that they do not injure the common people? While I have been writing this letter, a soldier has forcibly taken a woman from one of our teachers’ houses, and with his revolver refused to let an American enter. Is this order?

Ernest Forster, letter to his wife, Dec. 28:

Young refugees in the Ginling Women's Arts and Science College.

Young refugees in the Ginling Women’s Arts and Science College.

They are still scared as stray soldiers are still looting and raping, and men suspected of having been soldiers are still being executed. But it is still much better in many respects than it has been and we are no end thankful…. The problem of finding food for so many is getting very acute. We hare that farmers outside the city are destitute, too, since their grain, farm animals and implements are largely gone. Fires are still being set in some sections of the city, so the southern part is mostly ruin. No plea on the ground of humanity seems to be of any avail. Don’t worry about us. We are O.K.

John Rabe, diary, Dec. 28:

He [Fukui Kiyoshi of the Japanese embassy] also informs me that our Zone has now been surrounded by Japanese guards, who will see to it that no prowling soldiers are allowed into the Zone. I’ve now had a better look at these guards and discovered that they did not stop and interrogate a single Japanese soldier. I even saw soldiers carrying looted items out of the Zone, and with absolutely no questions asked by the guards. What sort of protection is that?

James McCallum, letter to his family, Dec. 29:

We have met some very pleasant Japanese who have treated us with courtesy and respects. Others have been very fierce and threatened us, striking or slapping some. Mr. Riggs has suffered most at their hands. Occasionally have I seen a Japanese helping some Chinese or pick up a Chinese baby and play with it. More than one Japanese soldier told me he did not like war and wished he were back home. Altho’ the Japanese Embassy staff has been cordial and tried to help us out, they have been helpless. But soldiers with a conscience are few and far between.

Robert Wilson, letter to his family, January 1, 1938:

A three-day holiday was declared though no one knew just what to do about it. There aren’t any shops to close. They apparently imported or resurrected countless firecrackers that have been popping off all day. The soldiers feel that it is the time to get drunk and go on rampages. After several days of comparative quiet the raping broke out afresh.

Minnie Vautrin, diary, Jan. 2:

A Japanese Christian who brought some soap, towels, and biscuits for the refugees on February 20, 1938.

A Japanese Christian who brought some soap, towels, and biscuits for the refugees on February 20, 1938.

Warm, bright sunshine day. What a blessing for those whose homes have been burned and those whose building has been looted. As rice was being served this morning a car drove in with three elderly Japanese women, who were representatives of a Women’s National Defense Organization. They did not make many comments but seemed interested in looking about. How I wish I could speak Japanese in order to explain something of what these refugees have suffered.

James McCallum, letter to his family, Jan. 3:

I must report a good deed done by some Japanese. Recently several very nice Japanese have visited the hospital. We told them of our lack of food supplies for the patients. Today they brought in 100 chin of beans along with some beef. We have had no meat at the hospital for a month and these gifts were mighty welcome. They asked what else we would like to have. But each day has a long list of bad reports. A man was killed near the relief headquarters yesterday afternoon. In the afternoon a Japanese soldier attempted to rape a woman; her husband interfered and helped her resist. But in the afternoon the soldier returned to shoot the husband.

Robert Wilson, letter to his family, Jan. 6:

Three more busy days have passed with some new developments but beyond the gradual quieting down of the troops there is little to report. This morning three members of the American diplomatic service returned. Mr. Allison, who was formerly in Tsinan, and has been a guest here since we took up residence in the Buck house, is now the American consul.

James McCallum, letter to his family, Jan. 6:

The biggest news of the day has just come. The American Consular representatives told us that the families of McCallum, Trimmer, Mills, and Smythe left Hankow for Hong Kong on the 30th. He also delivered some letters of yours written the last of November. It is the first news or mail we’ve received for more than a month and how welcome it was! …. The loss of life has been appalling. Men, women and children of all ages have paid a terrible price. Why does war have to be so beastly?

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Japanese Soldiers' Diaries

Japanese Soldiers’ Diaries

Prisoners of War at Mufu Mountain

Charred bodies on the Yangtze bank. Photo taken by Murase.

Charred bodies on the Yangtze bank. Photo taken by Murase.

A correspondent for Asahi Newspaper reported that on December 13 and 14, 1937, the Morozumi Unit (the 65th Infantry Regiment of the Yamada Detachment in the 13th Division) took prisoners of 14,777 Chinese soldiers in the vicinity of the artillery fort of Wulong Mountain and Mufu Mountain that lay at the south bank of the Yangtze River.

However, there had been no further follow-up report since then and for decades it was unknown what had become of those prisoners of war.

In Japan one theory told that half of them were released, a quarter of them escaped and the rest started a riot and consequently got killed.

Another theory told that all of the captives were dragged to the banks of the Yangtze and executed.

In the late 1980s, as stated earlier, a chemical factory worker in Japan, Ono Kenji, investigated the incident by interviewing 200 or so war veterans and gathering 24 wartime diaries and other historical materials. [75]

Ono collected 24 wartime diaries in the course of his investigation.

Ono collected 24 wartime diaries in the course of his investigation.

Ono’s research made it clear that the 15,000 captives and additional 2,000 to 3,000 prisoners taken after the 14th were all massacred by military order.

The mass executions of those POWs are possibly the largest in the Nanking Atrocities. They were conducted in two days on the banks of the Yangtze near Mufu Mountain.

The dead bodies were quickly covered with gasoline and burnt. And many corpses were later thrown into the Yangtze River.

Following are some quotes from the confessions Ono videotaped and the diaries he collected.

Upon his and his interviewees’ request, they are all assigned pseudonyms.

Private Kurosu Tadanobu (Pseudonym):

Japanese troops throwing bodies into the Yangtze River. Photo taken by Murase.

Japanese troops throwing bodies into the Yangtze River. Photo taken by Murase.

[Interview on the videotape] I joined the Army two days after I got the draft paper. I was determined to fight, but couldn’t possibly tell my wife that I would most likely die. So I simply told her to keep our house intact. Those drafted for the first time were delighted to serve their country and the Emperor, but I knew that going to the front meant facing death. When I got on the train, I kept thinking that it was the last time to see my brothers and others. I couldn’t help crying. [76]

[His diary on November 25, 1937] Upon arriving the quarters we killed two big pigs. And now we are eating them. War is such fun. Those who like drinking could drink as much as they want. The weather has been, finally, pleasant for the last few days and so is our mind. [77]

[His diary on December 16] We took about 5,000 prisoners of war, some of those we captured a couple of days ago, to the bank of the Yangtze and mowed them down by machine guns. Then we stabbed them with bayonets to our satisfaction. I probably bayoneted 30-odd hateful Chinese soldiers. Climbing up the heap of dead bodies and bayoneting them gave me a courage, which made me feel I could even vanquish ogres. I stabbed them with all my might while hearing them groan. There were some old ones and kids. I killed them all. I even borrowed a sword and severed a head. It was the most unusual experience I’ve ever had. [78]

[Interview on the videotape] The next day there was another call [for an execution] but I wasn’t assigned for it. I did it only once. I believe we killed all the prisoners of war our unit captured. I heard that we had some 20,000 in total… Before I crossed the river [to go to another front in China], I was shocked to see a long stretch of hundreds of charred bodies on the banks. Then I was sure we killed tens of thousands…. It [the Nanjing Massacre] is true, indeed. It is not a lie…. To be honest, I wanted the war to end in Nanking. I really wanted to come back [to Japan]. [79]

Private Kawata Senji (Pseudonym):

[Interview on the videotape] I heard they [the captives] were conscripted soldiers. I saw various prisoners, from younger ones to really old ones…. There were 20,000 of them. We took them out to the bank of the Yangtze River and machine-gunned them. It took us two nights to finish it off. We threw the bodies into the river later on, but the stream was so slow that many of them didn’t float right away.

[Interview on the videotape] At the time I didn’t think it was wrong. I was ordered to do so. After the war this story [of the mass executions by the Yamada Detachment] came up occasionally. Then I started asking myself, “Did I do something wrong?” [80]

Second Lieutenant Endo Takaaki (Pseudonym):

[His diary on Dec. 16] The prisoners of war amounted to 17,025. In the evening received military order, took out one third of them to the banks and the 1st Battalion shot them. [81]

[His diary on Dec. 17] At night sent out five soldiers for the execution of the 10,000-odd remaining prisoners. [82]

Second Lieutenant Takayanagi Shinichi (Pseudonym):

A cenotaph to those massacred near Mufu Mountain. These kinds of memorials can be found at major execution sites in today's Nanking.

A cenotaph to those massacred near Mufu Mountain. These kinds of memorials can be found at major execution sites in today’s Nanking.

[Interview on the videotape] We tied them [the captives] up and began dragging them [to the execution site] in the morning…. It took all day to get them there. Then at night we machine-gunned them all…. There was corpse after corpse. Had it been in the daylight, I don’t think I could have faced the scene straight. I went back there to dispose of the bodies the next day. They were all charred and smelled awful. Even now I remember the smell.

[Interview on the videotape] The order to ‘do it’ came through all the way from the top…. Those high-rankings don’t know what it was like. They just order and never come to the scene…. I don’t know how they could talk about it. They haven’t even seen it. We, noncommissioned officers and men, were the ones who actually carried it out…. I wonder who on earth are those people to claim that such a miserable incident was “fabrication”…. Well, those “professional Army officers” were always behind the scene. [83]

Sergeant Kawashima Noriyasu (Pseudonym):

[Interview on the videotape] I had experienced so much combat before Nanking. Compared with those, the Battle of Nanking was nothing. The Chinese soldiers were gone out of sight pretty quickly…. They [prisoners of war] were not all soldiers. I don’t remember clearly but I might have seen a few women, even…. Of course it was an order from above [to execute all the captives]. It wasn’t like five or ten captives…. I was not in a position to know the whole picture, but it was an official order. [84]

Private Hayashi Junzo (Pseudonym):

[Interview on the videotape] I made the pedestals to mount the machine guns. It was about one meter [3 feet 4 inches] high…. I did it [killed the prisoners] on the second day at the foot of Mufu Mountain…. I fired some 200 bullets in about ten minutes and that was it. I was allowed to go back and was lucky enough not to be assigned to dispose of the dead bodies. [85]

Private Taniguchi Toshimitsu (Pseudonym):

[Interview on the videotape] Many groups of 100 or 200 Chinese soldiers came from here and there to surrender while hanging out a white cloth or something of that kind. I didn’t count them by myself, but I heard we had about 18,000 to 20,000…. I am sure that other units, like the 6th Division, have done the same…. I don’t think it could be 300,000. I guess it was probably about 80,000 to 100,000.

[Interview on the videotape] Well, in retrospect we were crazy. When I was taking them [to the execution site], I knew I was going to kill them. But I didn’t feel any guilt. Of course I can’t imagine doing it now. [86]

Noncommissioned officer Yamazaki Kohei (Exact title not to be revealed / Pseudonym):

[Interview on the videotape] There were many prisoners of war who survived the machine-gunning. So we bayoneted those who were moving…. Some screamed like mad men when I stabbed them. It was so loud. Their voices haunted me for a week since then…. I heard that there were a few female prisoners of war. But I don’t think there was any elderly or children. They were all soldiers…. We just did what our superiors told us to do…. We burnt the bodies and they stank so badly…. I didn’t think much about it [the cruelty] at the time. I just thought war was like that. [87]

Interview: Ono Kenji [88]

"If you read his [Mr. Kurosu's] diary, you know it is something that you can't easily talk about," says Ono. Interview by author on March 11, 2000.

“If you read his [Mr. Kurosu’s] diary, you know it is something that you can’t easily talk about,” says Ono.

“I think those former soldiers used to have racial hatred toward Chinese. Many war veterans I interviewed still unconsciously use the word, Chankoro [derogatory term in Japanese literally meaning, “Chinese brat”], or something of that kind. But at the same time, many of those who committed the massacre have been tormented by their consciences for more than 50 years….”

“I became really close to Mr. Kurosu (pseudonym) through my research. I visited his house quite often and talked a lot. He seemed deeply repentant…. I was really surprised and couldn’t say a word when he gave me his wartime diary, which, he’d been telling me, he ditched before he landed in Japan. It was one and a half years after we met and made friends! Then I realized how hard it was for him to come to terms with the past. If you read his diary, you know it is something that you can’t easily talk about….”

“These [former soldiers’] diaries are candidly describing how normal, average persons had developed their animosity through combat and how they became mentally anesthetized through slaughtering captives and looting houses on the way to Nanjing. Once those cruel acts became their daily lives, they no longer had inhibitions….”

“After all, they were following orders from the Army. Most of those who massacred Chinese were noncommissioned officers and common soldiers. For them the orders were absolute…. Of course I feel compassion for the victims. But now I know the perpetrators were also psychologically scarred….”

“A veteran told me that he couldn’t forget the face of one prisoner he killed in Shanghai. He executed thousands of POWs on the banks of the Yangtze River later on, but those victims were already faceless for him. But the one he killed in Shanghai for the first time, he still dreams of the face once in a while. I think it really tells something about the psychological state of the soldiers in the Yamada Detachment in Nanjing.”

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  1. Ono, “Gyakusatsu ka Kaihou ka: Yamada Shitai Horyo Yaku Niman no Yukue” [Massacre or Discharge? Fate of the About 20,000 Prisoners of War Captured by the Yamada Detachment],” 140-156.
  2. Tadanobu Kurosu (pseudonym), interview by Kenji Ono, 4 June 1994.
  3. Ono, Nanking Daigyakusatsu o Kirokushita Kogun Heishitach [Imperial Army Soldiers Who Recorded the Nanjing Massacre], 346.
  4. Ibid., 350-351.
  5. Kurosu (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 4 June 1994.
  6. Senji Kawata (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 12 June 1994.
  7. Ono, Nanking Daigyakusatsu o Kirokushita Kogun Heishitach [Imperial Army Soldiers Who Recorded the Nanjing Massacre], 219.
  8. Ibid., 220.
  9. Shinichi Takayanagi (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 11 June 1994.
  10. Noriyasu Kawashima (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 21 August 1994.
  11. Junzo Hayashi (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 26 June 1994.
  12. Toshimitsu Taniguchi (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 5 June 1994.
  13. Kohei Yamazaki (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 11 June 1994.
  14. Kenji Ono, interview by author, Iwaki (Fukushima Prefecture), Japan, 11 March 2000.

©2000 Masato Kajimoto. All Rights Reserved.

Rape and Pillage

Rape and Pillage

Policy to Take No Prisoners

"Pregnant with her first child, this 19-year-old woman was bayoneted when she sought to resist raping at the hands of a Japanese soldier. When admitted to a refugee hospital, she was found to have no less than 23 wounds," noted an American Missionary, John Magee, in his film, China Invaded.

“Pregnant with her first child, this 19-year-old woman was bayoneted when she sought to resist raping at the hands of a Japanese soldier. When admitted to a refugee hospital, she was found to have no less than 23 wounds,” noted an American Missionary, John Magee, in his film, China Invaded.

“Women were the main victims, indeed…. We would pick some sunny place, like around a storehouse for example, then make a screen by hanging up branches with leaves,” answered Private Tadokoro Kozo of the 114th Division when interviewed by the Pacific War Research Group in 1971. “We would get a ticket called Sekken [Red Ticket], which had the company commander’s stamp on, to wait for our turn with our loincloth off.”

“One day I was assigned a leader to kidnap women. When we showed up, all the women frantically ran off. It was hard to chase and catch them because we couldn’t kill them yet.”

“There wasn’t any soldier who didn’t rape. After things were done, usually we killed them. We’d let the women go, they’d run off, and we’d shoot them from the back. We didn’t want to leave any trouble behind. If the gendarmes found out, we would be tried by court-martial. So, although we didn’t really want to kill them, we did it – though, in fact, there was hardly any gendarme in Nanjing. I served in Nanjing for about two months.” [89]

Unlike the relentless mopping-up operations and the executions of the POWs that were in some cases recorded as a part of official military operations, the cases of rape naturally did not leave any documented evidence.

As observed by the foreigners in the Safety Zone, however, without doubt many Japanese soldiers abducted Chinese women, sexually assaulted them and in many cases, in order to leave no evidence, they killed the victims after the acts.

A poster to advertise Ianjo, or official brothels, on the North Chung Shan Road. "Chinese Beauties" "Designated by the Base Camp Authorities" "House of restful consolation" "At the No. 4 Hall for Japan-China friendship" "600 meters ahead from here along the bank of the stream"

A poster to advertise Ianjo, or official brothels, on the North Chung Shan Road. “Chinese Beauties” “Designated by the Base Camp Authorities” “House of restful consolation” “At the No. 4 Hall for Japan-China friendship” “600 meters ahead from here along the bank of the stream”

Although many former soldiers of the Imperial Army came forward to admit butchering Chinese captives and civilians in Nanking, many fewer veterans were willing to talk about their perpetration of rapes.

In China many survivors of rapes began telling of their painful past in the last two decades, but probably a lot of rape victims have already passed away in the last 60 years, if not killed right after being molested.

Theses conditions altogether make it rather hard today to grasp the scale of the violations of women committed by Japanese troops.

However, the establishment of Ianjo, or official brothels (literally, “house of restful consolation,”) in as early as late December 1937 by the Shanghai Expeditionary Force and the 10th Army, clearly indicates how desperate the Japanese government was to keep its troops away from raping and spreading venereal diseases among themselves.

Today more than ten such institutions were known to have operated under the Japanese government in Nanking although the idea seemed to have had little effect in stopping the rape criminals for the first several weeks. [90]


On the day the Japanese troops entered Nanjing, the wholesale looting that was initiated by the retreating Chinese troops significantly escalated to the level of what Tillman Durdin of the New York Times called “plundering of the entire city.”

Once gaining a control of a district, the Japanese soldiers broke into shops, houses and other buildings and took away anything they wanted. The commander of the 16th Division, Lieutenant General Nakajima Kesago, wrote in his diary on Dec. 19:

When we enter, the houses have generally been rummaged in by the Chinese troops, and many things are gone. Nevertheless, the army soldiers rush to break in and loot, whether it is their assigned district or not. This tendency is especially true about the houses in suburban areas. After all, those impudent gain the most….

Although the plate stated “Division Headquarters,” when I went into the building, every room had been ransacked including the government chairman’s office. They [Japanese soldiers] took away everything, even the old displays….

Supervising the privates wouldn’t be of much help since, to my surprise, even high-ranking officers are candidly being thieves. [91]

A scene from the U.S. propaganda documentary, Frank Capra's The Battle of China (1944).

A scene from the U.S. propaganda documentary, Frank Capra’s The Battle of China (1944).

Nakajima himself was not at all the exception. Apparently he did not have any guilt about looting Chinese property. On January 23, 1938, when asked about the furniture in the Nationalist Government Building by Matsui Iwane, the commander-in-chief of the Central China Area Army, Nakajima replied, “What is the matter of taking furniture when we are taking over a country and taking away people’s lives? No one is going to be pleased even though we leave it there.” [92]

Nakajima was later found stealing Chiang Kai-shek’s treasures such as rugs and paintings and sending them to Kyoto in 23 boxes when he was serving as the commander of the 4th Army in Manchuria. [93]

As typified by Nakajima’s attitude toward plundering, even commissioned officers joined the lower ranking soldiers to ransack every building in Nanking. No one tried to abide by the international law on wartime requisition, according to which one had to pay in military currency or leave a kind of promissory note when commandeering any article that could be later exchanged into real currency.

Most soldiers just looted things and robbed people without a word. As observed by foreign journalists and missionaries, many times the Japanese troops shot the Chinese who tried to stop the plundering or resisted while being robbed. Some soldiers left the notes supplied by the Army, but as an accounting officer of the 9th Division recalled, those notes were written with no faith, having such false names as “Commander of the Retreating Unit, Chiang Kai-shek,” or simply stating, “Idiot!” [94]

As a consequence, when the Chinese refugees who survived the most intensive reign of terror for weeks finally went back home, there was absolutely nothing left for them to start over their normal lives again.

It is recorded that as early as the beginning of January 1938, the Japanese Army encouraged Chinese people to start business, trade money and produce food as a way to restore order in the city, but they had no stock to begin with, no money to spend, and no livestock or grain to grow. [95]

Interview: Wang Weixing [96]

"We should put our emotional feelings aside when discussing the Nanjing Massacre between the two nations," says Wang Weixing. Interview by author on March 30, 2000.

“We should put our emotional feelings aside when discussing the Nanjing Massacre between the two nations,” says Wang Weixing.

Wang Weixing is a historian at the Jiangsu Academy of Social Sciences. He is also a member of the Research Center of Nanjing Massacre by the Japanese Aggressors located in Nanjing Normal University. He has recently published an essay on the psychological backgrounds of the Japanese troops in Nanking.

“There are four aspects we should always look at to understand why Japanese soldiers went on the rampage in Nanjing.”

“First, they were vindictive towards Chinese because of the large number of casualties in Shanghai and other places in China. They carried out reprisals against even ordinary citizens. For instance, one diary of a former soldier tells us that he avenged his brother’s death in Northern China by killing many Chinese.”

“Second, they had to give absolute obedience. To Japanese soldiers it was a holy war. They were fighting for the Emperor. So they did whatever they were told to do. Considering that the massacres took place in many parts of the city during the same period of time by different groups or units of the Japanese troops, there must have been an order from the higher echelon of the Japanese Army.”

“Third, as a national policy, Japan was trying to be on a par with Europe and openly contemptuous of Asian countries. Their chauvinism as the Yamato race took a great role in their attitudes toward Chinese. They probably thought they could do whatever they want because they are superior to Chinese.”

“Lastly, it was an unexpectedly long war for Japanese soldiers. Japan took it for granted that the war in Shanghai would end soon. But in fact the war was long and drawn out. That made many soldiers mentally unstable. They were fierce, homesick, anxious and worn out. The only comfort and joy they could find was to murder prisoners of war and to rape women. It may sound strange but in a sense those criminal acts became their amusement….”

“But it should be noted that although killing prisoners of war was an order, the way to kill them depended solely on individual soldiers. I am against the idea to emphasize the insanity of the Japanese troops by pointing out grotesque ways of murder such as eating up internal organs, etc. There is no evidence to prove such things happened, at least not in Nanjing.”

Go back to: Table of Contents


  1. Taiheiyou Senso Kenkyukai, “Nanking Gyakusatsu de Tairitsu suru Shougenshatachi [Conflicting eye-witness accounts of the Nanjing Massacre],” in Mokugekisha ga Kataru Showashi 5: Nichi Chu Senso [Showa History Told by Witnesses 5: Sino-Japanese War], 75-76.
  2. Yoshiaki Yoshimi, Jugun Ianfu [Comfort Women], (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1995), 22-25; Fumiko Kawata, “Nanking Senryo Chokugo ni Hajimatta Ianjo Setchi [The Establishment of Consolation Houses Started Right After the Capture of Nanjing],” Kinyobi 8.9 (10 March 2000): 39-41.
  3. Nanking Senshi Shiryoshu I [Historical Records of the Battle of Nanjing I] (Tokyo: Kaiko, 1989), 226.
  4. Ibid., 247-248.
  5. Yutaka Yoshida, Tenno no Guntai to Nanking Jiken [The Emperor’s Military and the Nanjing Incident], 153.
  6. Fujiwara, Nanking no Nihongun [The Japanese Army in Nanjing], 110.
  7. See for example, James McCallum’s letter to his family on January 6 in American Missionary Eyewitnesses to the Nanking Massacre, 1937-1938, 42.
  8. Wang Weixing, interview by author, Nanjing, China, 30 March 2000.

©2000 Masato Kajimoto. All Rights Reserved.

What Foreign Journalists Witnessed

What Foreign Journalists Witnessed

Five Western Journalists in the Doomed City

War damage in the southern section of Nanking. Photo taken by an American missionary, Ernest Forster, in March 17, 1938.

War damage in the southern section of Nanking. Photo taken by an American missionary, Ernest Forster, in March 17, 1938.

“Wholesale looting, the violation of women, the murder of civilians, the eviction of Chinese from their homes, mass executions of war prisoners and the impressing of able-bodied men turned Nanking into a city of terror,” wrote Frank Tillman Durdin of the New York Times on December 17, 1937, two days after he escaped from the “reign of terror” aboard the U. S. S. Oahu. [18]

Archibald Steele of the Chicago Daily News called the siege and capture of Nanking “Four Days of Hell” in his dispatch on Dec. 15. [19]

C. Yates McDaniel of the Associated Press jotted down the following sentence in his diary on Dec. 16, which was wired to the United States the following day, “My last remembrance of Nanking: Dead Chinese, dead Chinese, dead Chinese.” [20]

Although there were a number of foreign correspondents in the capital of China before the siege, most of them fled Nanking along with ambassadors and other foreign senior officials by Dec. 11.

To this day, the only foreign journalists known to have stayed in the doomed city during the siege and the first few days of Japanese occupation are the three correspondents mentioned above, L. C. Smith of Reuters, and a Paramount newsreel cameraman, Arthur Menken. Consequently they all witnessed the beginning of the carnage.

“Orgy of Burning”: China’s Scorched-Earth Policy

A village outside Nanking in 1936. Forster noted that the village was destroyed by the Chinese military for strategic reasons in December 1937.

A village outside Nanking in 1936. Forster noted that the village was destroyed by the Chinese military for strategic reasons in December 1937.

“The advance of the Japanese beyond Kuyung was the signal for an orgy of burning by Chinese troops,” described Durdin on China’s military strategy known as the “scorched earth” policy.

The principle behind it was not to leave anything that could be useful to the conquerors. As they beat a retreat from Jurong (Kuyun), about 25 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of Nanking, Chinese troops apparently set torches to not only buildings but also “trees, bamboo groves and underbrush.”

Within the distance of 16 miles (26 kilometers) between Tangshan and Nanking, the New York Times reporter saw whole villages burned to ruins, including barracks, mansions in Mausoleum Park, and numerous other buildings. Durdin estimated the loss caused by “Chinese military incendiarism” at $20,000,000 to $30,000,000. [21]

Inside the city wall the Chinese troops continued to set fire to shops and houses. Even the most ornate building in Nanking, the Ministry of Communication, which, according to a correspondent for the Times (London), cost £250,000, was set ablaze.

Though not in Nanking at the time, the Times reporter later interviewed foreign eyewitnesses, who told him that the building was filled with munitions and the explosions caused a “tremendous racket.” [22] McDaniel also recorded the finest edifice in Nanking blowing up and blazing away in his diary on Dec. 12. [23]

City under Projectiles

The U.S. propaganda documentary, the Battle of China, shows how Japanese troops attacked the walled city of Nanking.

The U.S. propaganda documentary, the Battle of China, shows how Japanese troops attacked the walled city of Nanking.

Since the beginning of the siege on Dec. 10, Nanking had been caught in the rain of bombs and shrapnel. “From a point of vantage today I watched shell after shell burst into Nanking’s central and southern districts. They came at the average of four a minute,” wrote Steele on Dec. 11. [24]

The same day, as the battle of Nanking was entering a critical phase, the defense commander, General Tang Sheng-chi, declared via the military headquarters in Hankow that Chinese morale was still high and the situation favored their side. According to the Chicago Daily News on Dec. 11 (no byline), he also insisted that he would defend Nanking “to the bitter end.” [25]

But in reality, heavy artillery was brought up and the constant explosions of projectiles shook the ancient city day and night. McDaniel reported to have seen the Purple Mountain being “sprayed by shrapnel” on Dec. 12, [26] one day before the city fell into the hands of the Japanese troops.

Retreat in Panic

Retreating Chinese troops shed their uniforms, firearms and other supplies. A scene from a Japanese propaganda documentary, Nanking.

Retreating Chinese troops shed their uniforms, firearms and other supplies. A scene from a Japanese propaganda documentary, Nanking.

As it became definite that the Japanese Army would conquer the city in a matter of time, panic swept through the city.

When Nanking’s defense commander, General Tang Sheng-chi, finally ordered his men to retreat at about 5 o’clock in the evening on Dec. 12, it only threw the military into uproar and created confusion since many troops had already been running away toward Xiaguan (Hsiakwan) riverfront, the northern port suburb, and the only way to escape from the city without encountering the enemy. [27]

By late evening the unorganized retreat became a rout. Frank Tillman Durdin of the New York Times and Archibald Steele of the Chicago Daily News saw many of the Chinese troops loot shops for food and other supplies, cast away their arms and shed their uniforms in the street.

Some of them donned civilian clothes, sometimes by robbing civilians of their garments, and others ran away in their underwear. “Streets became covered with guns, grenades, swords, knapsacks, coats, shoes, and helmets,” wrote Durdin. [28]

However, at Yijiang (Ichang) Men (Gate), the northwest gate of the city leading to the riverfront that foreign correspondents called Hsiakwan Gate in their reports, the 36th Division of the Chinese Army, which had formerly been ordered to stop any retreat, confronted those who tried to go through the tiny openings of the gate.

The streets toward the Yijiang Gate became congested with thousands of retreating Chinese soldiers and civilians. Soon panic followed as the crowd fought to squeeze through the only path to the wharf.

Yijiang Men (Gate) after the fall of the city as filmed in the documentary, Nanking.

Yijiang Men (Gate) after the fall of the city as filmed in the documentary, Nanking.

To make matters worse, the Chinese Army fired machine guns at the retreating soldiers. Many were killed in this fashion and others fell and plummeted to death while attempting to scale the walls near the gate with makeshift ropes made of clothing.

Those who made it to the Yangtze riverbank were ordained to face another tragedy. There was little or no transport to get them across the river.

Tens of thousands of people fought over scarce vessels, quite a few dove into the cold water of winter and drowned, and many others frantically reentered the city, taking a risk of encountering the Japanese troops who were about to complete the encirclement at the Yijiang Men (Gate). [29]

Once back inside the city walls many soldiers turned themselves into the Safety Zone, the refuge camps organized by the remaining Westerners, so that they would be treated as noncombatants by the Japanese troops.

It turned out, however, to be a futile effort.

Instead of answering an ardent plea for mercy put forward by John Rabe, the chairman of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone, [30] the invaders began systematic mopping-up operations the moment they entered the city.

Relentless Search for Stragglers

On December 13, 1937, the Japanese Army completed the encirclement. They opened the Zhongshan (Chungshan) Gate, the eastern pivot of China’s defense, and made a triumphal entry into the city.

“After the complete collapse of Chinese morale and the blind panic which followed, Nanking experienced a distant sense of release when the Japanese entered, feeling that the behavior of the Japanese could not possibly be worse than that of their own defeated army,” wrote Steele. “They were quickly disillusioned.” [31]

Japanese troops intensively searched for stragglers and plain-clothes soldiers. A scene from the film Nanking.

Japanese troops intensively searched for stragglers and plain-clothes soldiers. A scene from the film Nanking.

The Japanese soldiers did not show any sign of mercy. What the New York Times reporter called “a tremendous sense of relief” soon transformed into an immense fear of death, rape and robbery. As soon as they entered the city, the Japanese troops began an intensive search for stragglers and ex-soldiers.

“The helpless Chinese troops, disarmed for the most part and ready to surrender, were systematically rounded up and executed,” noted Durdin. [32]

They entered into the refugee camps, assembled any able-bodied men for capricious inspections, and marched off the suspects to execution sites. As most historians indicate today, many of the “suspects” probably had no connection with the Chinese Army.

The streets were littered with bodies including some old men who could never have been harmful. Japanese soldiers frequently shot anyone running in sight on the spot and searched house after house in the course of hunting plainclothes soldiers.

Steele saw scores of those “plainclothes suspects” being shot one by one while “their condemned fellows sat stolidly by, awaiting their turn.” [33]

“This afternoon [I] saw some of the soldiers I helped disarm dragged from houses, shot, and kicked into ditches,” read the diary report of C. Yates McDaniel of the Associated Press on Dec. 15. [34]

Looting in the Entire City and Rape All Over

The Japanese soldiers plundered the entire city and looted anything they pleased in Nanking. “Nearly every building was entered by Japanese soldiers, often under the eyes of their officers, and the men took whatever they wanted,” reported Durdin. [35]

“I saw Chinese troops looting shop windows, but later I saw the Japanese troops outdo them in a campaign of pillage which the Japanese carried out not only in the shops but in homes, hospitals and refugee camps,” wrote Steel. [36]

McDaniel saw one soldier collecting some $3,000 by threatening poor civilians in the Safety Zone with a bayonet. [37]

They robbed Chinese houses and shops, ripped off refugees and occasionally broke into the foreign properties. The Times (London) reported that the Japanese soldiers paid a visit to the American-operated University Hospital and “robbed the nurses of their wrist watches, fountain pens, flashlights, ransacked the buildings and property, and took the motor-cars, ripping the American flags off them.” [38]

A woman being carried into the hospital for gunshot wounds inflicted by a Japanese soldier who threatened to rape her. Photo taken by Forster.

A woman being carried into the hospital for gunshot wounds inflicted by a Japanese soldier who threatened to rape her. Photo taken by Forster.

According to the diaries and letters of remaining Westerners, their houses were also sporadically invaded.

Many Chinese women were molested freely and violently. However, because the five foreign journalists fled Nanking within three or four days after the collapse of the city, they could not possibly grasp the extent of rape cases. Compared to the relentless executions and looting by the Japanese troops reported in their articles, rape cases were mentioned rather briefly.

It was the Western members of the Nanking Safety Zone who first revealed the countless rape cases committed by the Imperial Army soldiers to the world.

Many years later, long after the war ended in 1945, a number of Japanese journalists (see Reign of Terror) and former soldiers (see Confessions) also came forward to speak up about what they had seen or what they had done in Nanking.

As urged by Japanese authorities, Durdin, Steele, Smith and Menken were evacuated to Shanghai on Dec. 15th aboard the gunboat Oahu, on which they had telegraphed their first reports on the Nanking Atrocities. [39] McDaniel stayed a day longer and headed for Shanghai on the Japanese destroyer, Tsuga. [40]

Go back to: Table of Contents


  1. Tillman Durdin, “All Captives Slain,” the New York Times, 18 December 1937.
  2. A. T. Steele, “Nanking Massacre Story: Japanese Troops Kill Thousands,” Chicago Daily News, Red Streak Edition, 15 December 1937.
  3. C. Yates McDaniel, “Nanking Horror Described in Diary of War Reporter,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 18 December 1937.
  4. Durdin, “Japanese Atrocities Marked Fall of Nanking After Chinese Command Fled,” the New York Times, 9 January 1938.
  5. “Terror in Nanking,” the Times (London), 18 Dec. 1937.
  6. McDaniel.
  7. Steele, “Big Guns Rake Nanking, Defense Is Abandoned,” Chicago Daily News, 13 December 1937.
  8. “Retreat Course Changed,” Chicago Daily News, 11 December 1937.
  9. McDaniel.
  10. Kasahara, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident], 128-133.
  11. Durdin, “All Captives Slain” and “Japanese Atrocities Marked Fall of Nanking After Chinese Command Fled”. See also Steele, “War’s Death Drama Pictured by Reporter,” Chicago Daily News, 17 December 1937.
  12. Kasahara, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident], 128-133.
  13. A series of the official documents written by the members of the International Committee to the Japanese authority were collected in Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone, ed. Hsü Shushi (Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, 1939). The whole book is reprinted in Documents of the Rape of Nanking, ed. Timothy Brook (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1999).
  14. Steele, “Nanking Massacre Story.”
  15. Durdin, “Japanese Atrocities Marked Fall of Nanking After Chinese Command Fled.”
  16. Steele, “War’s Death Drama Pictured by Reporter.”
  17. McDaniel.
  18. Durdin, “All Captives Slain.”
  19. Steele, “War’s Death Drama Pictured by Reporter.”
  20. McDaniel.
  21. “Terror in Nanking,” the Times (London).
  22. Hata, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Massacre], 2-3.
  23. McDaniel.

©2000 Masato Kajimoto. All Rights Reserved.

Reference: The New York Times Article, 18 December 1937

[Note] The following text is copyrighted material. Permission for the electronic copy is granted for this project in 1999. No part may be copied, downloaded, stored, further transmitted, transferred, distributed, altered, or otherwise used, in any form or by any means, for commercial use.

Butchery Marked Capture of Nanking


Civilians Also Killed as the Japanese Spread Terror in Nanking


Capital’s Fall Laid to Poor Tactics of Chiang Kai-shek and Leaders’ Fight

By F. Tillman Durdin

ABOARD THE U. S. S. OAHU at Shanghai, Dec. 17 – Through wholesale atrocities and vandalism at Nanking the Japanese Army has thrown away a rare opportunity to gain the respect and confidence of the Chinese inhabitants and of foreign opinion there.

The collapse of Chinese authority and the break-up of the Chinese Army left many Chinese in Nanking ready to respond to order and organization, which seemed in prospect with the entry of the Japanese troops. A tremendous sense of relief over the outlook for a cessation of the fearful bombardment and the elimination of the threat of serious disorders by the Chinese troops pervaded the Chinese populace when the Japanese took over control within the walls.

It was felt Japanese rule might be severe, at least until war conditions were over. Two days of Japanese occupation changed the whole outlook. Wholesale looting, the violation of women, the murder of civilians, the eviction of Chinese from their homes, mass executions of war prisoners and the impressing of able-bodied men turned Nanking into a city of terror.

Many Civilian Slain

The killing of civilians was widespread. Foreigners who traveled widely through the city Wednesday found civilians dead on every street. Some of the victims were aged men, women and children.

Policemen and firemen were special objects of attack. Many victims were bayoneted and some of the wounds were barbarously cruel.

Any person who ran because of fear or excitement was likely to be killed on the spot as was any one caught by roving patrols in streets or alleys after dark. Many slayings were witnessed by foreigners.

The Japanese looting amounted almost to plundering of the entire city. Nearly every building was entered by Japanese soldiers, often under the eyes of their officers, and the men took whatever they wanted. The Japanese soldiers often impressed Chinese to carry their loot.

Food apparently was in first demand. Everything else that was useful or valuable had its turn. Peculiarly disgraceful was the robbing of refugees by soldiers who conducted mass searches in the refugee centers and took money and valuables, often the entire possessions of the unfortunates.

The staff of the American Mission University Hospital was stripped of cash and watches. Other possessions were taken from the nurses’ dormitory. The faculty houses of American Ginling College were invaded by soldiers who took food and valuables.

The hospital and the Ginling College buildings were flying American flags and bore on the doors official proclamations in Chinese from the United States Embassy denoting American ownership.

U. S. Envoy’s Home Raided

Even the home of the United States Ambassador was invaded. When informed by excited embassy servants of this incursion, Arthur Menken, Paramount newsreel cameraman, and the writer confronted five soldiers in the Ambassador’s kitchen and demanded that they leave. The men departed sullenly and sheepishly. Their only loot was a flashlight.

Many Chinese men reported to foreigners the abduction and rape of wives and daughters. These Chinese appeared for aid, which the foreigners usually were powerless to give.

The mass executions of war prisoners added to the horrors the Japanese brought to Nanking. After killing the Chinese soldiers who threw down their arms and surrendered, the Japanese combed the city for men in civilian garb who were suspected of being former soldiers.

In one building in the refugee zone 400 men were seized. They were marched off, tied in batches of fifty, between lines of riflemen and machine gunners, to the execution ground.

Just before boarding the ship for Shanghai the writer watched the execution of 200 men on the Bund. The killings took ten minutes. The men were lined against a wall and shot. Then a number of Japanese, armed with pistols, trod nonchalantly around the crumpled bodies, pumping bullets into any that were still kicking.

The army men performing the gruesome job had invited navy men from the warship anchored off the Bund to view the scene. A large group of military spectators apparently greatly enjoyed the spectacle.

When the first column of Japanese troops marched from the South Gate up Chungshan Road toward the city’s Big Circle, small knots of Chinese civilians broke into scattering cheers, so great was their relief that the siege was over and so high were their hopes that the Japanese would restore peace and order. There are no cheers in Nanking now for the Japanese.

By despoiling the city and population the Japanese have driven deeper into the Chinese a repressed hatred that will smolder through years as forms of forms of the anti-Japanism that Tokyo professes to be fighting to eradicate from China.

Disaster in Nanking’s Fall

The capture of Nanking was the most overwhelming defeat suffered by the Chinese and one of the most tragic military debacles in the history of modern warfare. In attempting to defend Nanking the Chinese allowed themselves to be surrounded and then systematically slaughtered.

The defeat caused the loss of tens of thousands of trained soldiers and millions of dollars worth of equipment and the demoralization of the Chinese forces in the Yangtze Valley whose courage and spirit in the early phases of the warfare enabled the Chinese troops to hold up the Japanese advance around Shanghai nearly two months. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek was responsible to a great degree because against the unanimous counsel of his German military advisers and the opinions of his chief of staff, General Pai Chung-hsi, he permitted the futile defense of the city.

More immediately responsible was General Tang Sheng-chih and associated division commanders who deserted their troops and fled, not even attempting to make the most of a desperate situation following the entry of the first Japanese troops inside the city’s walls.

The flight of the many Chinese soldiers was possible by only a few exits. Instead of sticking by their men to hold the invaders at bay with a few strategically placed units while the others withdrew, many army leaders deserted, causing panic among the rank and file.

Those who failed to escape through the gate leading to Hsiakwan and from there across the Yangtze were caught and executed.

The fall of Nanking was predicted in most details two weeks before the Japanese entered. Overwhelming the ill-equipped Chinese troops pitted against them around Kwang-teh and northward, the Japanese broke through and captured Wuhu and other points above Nanking on the Yangtze some days before entering the capital. They thus blocked the Chinese Army’s chance to retire upriver.

Defense Strong at First

The superficial Chinese defense some miles around Nanking were passed without great difficulty. By Dec. 9 the Japanese had reached the wall outside Kwanghwa gate. Driven back within the wall, 50,000 Chinese at first put up a stiff resistance. Japanese casualties were heavy as Chinese units on the wall and for miles outside contested the Japanese infiltration.

However, Japanese big guns and airplanes soon wiped out the Chinese near the wall, both outside and inside, shrapnel taking a particularly heavy toll. Meanwhile, the Japanese pushed around the wall, first threatening the Hsiakwan gate from the west.

When the invaders scaled the wall near the west gate Sunday noon behind a heavy barrage they started the Chinese collapse. Raw recruits of the Eighty-eighth Division bolted first and others soon followed. By evening masses of troops were streaming toward Hsiakwan gate, which was still in Chinese hands.

Officers gave up their attempt to handle the situation. Their men threw away their guns, shed their uniforms and donned civilian garb.

Driving through the city Sunday evening, I witnessed wholesale undressing of an army that was almost comic. Many men shed their uniforms as they marched in formation toward Hsiakwan. Others ran into alleys to transform themselves into civilians. Some soldiers disrobed completely and then robbed civilians of their garments.

While some stubborn regiments continued on Monday to hold up the Japanese, the flight of most of the defenders continued. Hundreds surrendered to foreigners. Dozens of guns were thrust upon me by cowed men who only wanted to know what they could do to be saved from the approaching Japanese.

Hordes surrounded the safety zone headquarters, turning in their guns, and even throwing them over the gate of the compound in their haste to shed military arms. The foreign committeemen at the safety zone accepted their surrender and interned them in buildings in the zone.

Third of Army Trapped

When the Japanese captured Hsiakwan gate they cut off all exit from the city while at least a third of the Chinese Army still was within the walls.

Because of the disorganization of the Chinese a number of units continued fighting Tuesday noon, many of these not realizing the Japanese had surrounded them and that their cause was hopeless. Japanese tank patrols systematically eliminated these.

Tuesday morning, while attempting to motor to Hsiakwan, I encountered a desperate group of about twenty-five Chinese soldiers who were still holding the Ningpo Guild Building in Chungshan Road. They later surrendered.

Thousands of prisoners were executed by the Japanese. Most of the Chinese soldiers who had been interned in the safety zone were shot en masse. The city was combed in a systematic house-to-house search for men having knapsack marks on their shoulders or other signs of having been soldiers. They were herded together and executed.

Many were killed where they were found, including men innocent of any army connection and many wounded soldiers and civilians. I witnessed three mass executions of prisoners within a few hours Wednesday. In one slaughter a tank gun was turned on a group of more than 100 soldiers at a bomb shelter near the Ministry of Communications.

A favorite method of execution was to herd groups of a dozen men at entrances of dugouts and to shoot them so the bodies toppled inside. Dirt then was shoveled in and the men buried.

Since the beginning of the Japanese assault on Nanking the city presented a frightful appearance. The Chinese facilities for the care of army wounded were tragically inadequate, so as early as a week ago injured men were seen often on the streets, some hobbling, others crawling along seeking treatment.

Civilian Casualties Heavy

Civilian casualties also were heavy, amounting to thousands. The only hospital open was the American managed University Hospital and its facilities were inadequate for even a fraction of those hurt.

Nanking’s streets were littered with dead. Sometimes bodies had to be moved before automobiles could pass.

The capture of Hsiakwan Gate by the Japanese was accompanied by the mass killing of the defenders, who were piled up among the sandbags, forming a mound six feet high. Late Wednesday the Japanese had not removed the dead, and two days of heavy military traffic had been passing through, grinding over the remains of men, dogs, and horses.

The Japanese appear to want the horrors to remain as long as possible, to impress on the Chinese the terrible results of resisting Japan.

Chungshan Road was a long avenue of filth and discarded uniforms, rifles, pistols, machine guns, fieldpieces, knives and knapsacks. In some places the Japanese had to hitch tanks to debris to clear the road.

The Chinese burned nearly all suburbs, including fine buildings and homes in Mausoleum Park. Hsiakwan is a mass of charred ruins. The Japanese seemingly avoided wrecking good buildings. The scarcity of air bombardments in the capture indicated their intention to avoid the destruction of buildings.

The Japanese even avoided bombing Chinese troop concentrations in built-up areas, apparently to preserve the buildings. The fine Ministry of Communications building was the only big government structure destroyed inside the city. It was fired by Chinese.

Nanking today is housing a terrorized population who, under alien domination, live in fear of death, torture, and robbery. The graveyard of tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers may also be the graveyard of all Chinese hopes of resisting conquest by Japan.

Go back to: Table of Contents

Reference: The New York Times Article, 9 January 1938

[Note] The following text is copyrighted material. Permission for the electronic copy is granted for this project in 1999. No part may be copied, downloaded, stored, further transmitted, transferred, distributed, altered, or otherwise used, in any form or by any means, for commercial use.

Japanese Atrocities Marked Fall of Nanking After Chinese Command Fled

Nanking Invaders Executed 20,000

Mass Killings by the Japanese Embraced Civilians – Total of Chinese Dead Was 33,000


Deep-Rooted Hatred Instilled by Barbarities – Burning by Chinese Caused Vast Loss

By F. Tillman Durdin

SHANGHAI, Dec. 22. – The battle of Nanking will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the most tragic episodes in modern military annals.

In defending the city as they did – against all the dictates of modern military strategy – the Chinese allowed themselves to be trapped, surrounded and wiped out to the number of at least 33,000, about two-thirds of their army there. Of this number, it is estimated, about 20,000 were executed.

The siege as a whole was feudal and medieval in many aspects. The Chinese defense within a city wall, the wholesale Chinese burning of villages, mansions and populous business districts for miles around the metropolis and the slaughter, rape and looting by the Japanese after their occupation of the city all seem to belong to a more barbaric, vanished period.

In losing Nanking the Chinese lost more than the capital of their country. Their army lost invaluable morale and thousands of men. Chinese forces who had fought a frontal battle against Japanese from Shanghai up through the lower Yangtze Valley were shattered, and it is doubtful if they can be rallied again for effective mass resistance against the Japanese military machine.

For the Japanese, the capture of Nanking was of paramount military and political importance. Their victory was marred, however, by barbaric cruelties, by the wholesale execution of prisoners, the looting of the city, rape, killing of civilians and by general vandalism, which will remain a blot on the reputation of the Japanese Army and nation.

City Vulnerable Geographically

To understand the indefensibility of Nanking it is necessary to note that the city lies in a bend in the Yangtze at a point where the river turns from a northward course and flows east. It can easily be seen that a defending force occupying only the area within the city walls and the immediate suburbs could be surrounded on three sides by an attacking force gaining possession of the right bank of the river both above and below the city.

Knowing the concentrated attacking power of the Japanese, the Chinese military leaders should have realized the ability of the invaders to do this, as, indeed, they did, by breaking through and capturing Wuhu and points between Wuhu and Nanking fully three days before they entered the walls of the former capital. Having advanced in the first place along the right bank of the Yangtze above Nanking, the Japanese, after having taken Wuhu, were able to press in upon Nanking along a semicircular front converging upon the city at all points except from the Yangtze river side.

It might be argued that the Chinese could have relied upon exit in case of need through the waterfront district and across the Yangtze. Into this waterfront, or Hsiakwan, section, the Hsiakwan gate gives access. Reliance upon the Yangtze outlet was unwise primarily because of the likelihood that the Japanese fleet – despite the booms intended to bar its passage below Nanking – would eventually in the course of the siege by the Japanese Army arrive off Hsiakwan and make escape by the Chinese over to the left bank of the river impossible.

No Retreat Was Contemplated

It is evident that the Chinese command never contemplated that any but a few thousand of the defending Nanking troops could evacuate across the river. The absence of all means of conveyance across the river except a few junks and steam launches throughout the siege period was proof of this.

Indeed, the conclusion is inescapable that statements of Defense Commander Tang Sheng-chi and division commanders subordinate to him – made before the siege – that no Chinese withdrawal was ever contemplated were sincerely meant and were expressions of the real intentions of the Chinese command.

In other words, the Chinese command, fully realizing the practical certainty that the Chinese Army would be completely surrounded in the walled city of Nanking – trapped like rats while Japanese land and naval artillery and airplanes would be in a position to pound them to pieces – chose voluntarily to place themselves in just such a situation, apparently with the intention of making the capture of the city as costly to the Japanese as possible in a final heroic gesture of the kind so dear to the Chinese heart.

The disgraceful part of the whole business is that the Chinese command proved lacking in the courage needed to carry through their oft-announced and apparent intentions. When Japanese troops had succeeded in breaking over the southwestern wall and while the Hsiakwan back door was still open, though threatened by a rapidly encircling Japanese Army and the approaching fleet, General Tang and a few close associates fled, leaving subordinate commanders and well-nigh leaderless troops to the mercy of a hopeless situation, which probably had never been explained to them in the first place.

Officers Were Uninformed

Tang Sheng-chi made his getaway at 8 o’clock Sunday evening, Dec. 12, doubtless by boat to the left bank of the Yangtze. Many officers of his own headquarters staff were uninformed of his intentions, and this writer knows of one captain who, learning near midnight that his chief had departed, himself tried to get away, only to discover the advance of the Japanese Army had by then swept around the city walls from the west and was taking over the Hsiakwan district. The captain, utilizing ropes made from uniforms left by Chinese soldiers who had climbed the wall from the inside, made his way back into the city to seek safety in ultimate surrender.

But the hopelessness of the Chinese strategic position in trying to defend Nanking can best be shown by details of the siege itself and of the occupation of the city.

After having captured the Kiangyin forts and taken Changchow, the Japanese advanced their entire Yangtze Valley line from Wuhsing northward to the Yangtze River with dramatic rapidity and within a few days had taken Kwangteh on the south, skirted Chinkiang on the north and, after having occupied Tanyang, were attacking the so-called outer defenses of Nanking near Kuyung.

The Kuyung defense line as well as seven others radiating from Nanking, each a few miles from the other, in concentric circles symmetrical with the city wall had been for months declared to be heavily fortified and well-prepared. As a matter of fact, permanent defenses through Kuyung, which is about twenty-five miles from Nanking, were superficial, consisting only of occasional pillboxes, so far as could be ascertained by neutral foreign visitors who inspected the fortifications.

Other defenses were hastily erected in the form of barricades made of bed frames supporting piles of bags, debris of amazing variety and loose dirt. In addition, machine-gun emplacements were put up and the roads and bridges dynamited as the Chinese troops retreated.

Cantonese Troops Decimated

Opposed to the Japanese forces as they closed in on Nanking were a number of Cantonese divisions, a few Kwangsi troops, some Hunanese and – within the city itself – the Thirty-sixth and the Eighty-eighth Divisions and a number of other so-called Nanking divisions. The Cantonese troops had been decimated by weeks of shelling as they retreated before the Japanese from around Shanghai.

The Thirty-sixth and Eighty-eighth Divisions, former crack troops of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, had been badly shattered around Shanghai. Withdrawn to Nanking, they had been replenished with raw recruits. Szechwan troops who had been in the forefront of resistance to the Japanese advance between Soochow and Kuyung were mostly withdrawn toward Wuhu and from there across the Yangtze and they did not participate in the battle for the former capital.

It is difficult to say just what the strength of the Chinese Army in and around Nanking was. Some observers estimated that there were as many as sixteen divisions participating in the battle for the city. This could be true. Chinese divisions even in normal times have an average of only 5,000 men; the battered divisions that defended Nanking were, possibly, at least in some cases, composed of only 2,000 or 3,000 men each. It is fairly safe to say that some 50,000 troops took part – and were trapped – in the defense of Nanking.

Kuyung fell to the Japanese on the night of Monday, Dec. 6. The Japanese then launched drives toward the Nanking walls from three directions. From Kuyung a column deployed northward through Mentang and attacked Tangliuchen; from Lihsui another column attacked Molingkwan, and from Tienwangze a central column drove on Chenchuachen.

Orgy of Burning by Chinese

The advance of the Japanese beyond Kuyung was the signal for an orgy of burning by Chinese troops, apparently as a part of last-minute preparations for resistance around the city walls.

From Tangshan – China’s “West Point,” where are situated the artillery school, the infantry school and General Chiang’s provisional Summer headquarters – on across fifteen miles of countryside into Nanking almost every building was set afire. Whole villages were burned. Barracks, mansions in Mausoleum Park, the modern chemical warfare school, the agricultural research experimental laboratories, the police training school and dozens of other institutions were reduced to ruins. The torch was applied to districts around the South Gate and in Hsiakwan, which were in reality small cities in themselves.

Calculated Chinese military incendiarism accounted for destruction of property easily worth $20,000,000 to $30,000,000, more destruction than had been wrought by Japanese air bombardment of Nanking for the months warfare preceding the Nanking siege, but equaled, probably, by the damage caused by Japanese explosives during the actual siege and by Japanese troops after the occupation of the city.

Chinese military leaders usually explained the wholesale burning around the city as dictated by military necessity. It was said to be essential to destroy all obstructions, all shelters, all facilities that might be utilized by the Japanese in the final struggle around the city walls. To this end not only buildings but trees, bamboo groves and underbrush were cleared away.

Neutral observers believe the burning was to a great extent another Chinese “grand gesture,” an outlet for rage and frustration, the result of a desire to destroy everything that the Chinese were to lose and that might be used by the Japanese, a manifestation of the extremist “scorched earth” policy, which calls for leaving the Chinese districts to be occupied by the Japanese only blackened wastes of no use to the conquerors.

At any rate, neutral military observers agree the Chinese burning served little military purpose. In many cases, charred walls were left standing that furnished almost as good shelter for Japanese machine-gunners as the unburned buildings would have provided.

Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 6 and 7, the Japanese spent in pressing forward their advance to Tungliuchen, Chenhuachen and Molingkwan and consolidating on their left flank by occupying Chinkiang, where the Chinese also indulged in an orgy of burning before evacuating. Meanwhile, the Japanese right flank had broken through Chinese resistance around Kwangteh and pushed rapidly on Wuhu, which was occupied on Thursday and Friday.

Wednesday at dawn Generalissimo Chiang, his wife and close associates left the city by two of the general’s private planes for Hengshan, near Changsha in Hunan. The commander in chief’s departure was a virtual admission that the siege of the city had begun. Coincident with his departure the few government civil officials and military leaders not directly connected with the defense army also left by motor care. From Wednesday onward General Tang Sheng-chi was the supreme authority in Nanking.

On Wednesday Japanese airplanes rained bombs on Chinese positions at the little village of Chenhauchen and that night Japanese troops occupied the place. Chengauchen is only six miles from the Nanking wall.

Chinese troops no doubt bitterly contested the Japanese advance from Kuyung and Lishui. But defense works were inadequate and the Chinese equipment made a resolute stand impossible. Japanese planes were able to spot and bomb Chinese troops at will and report their positions to field batteries. Tanks and armored cars led the Japanese advance, and against these, Chinese machine-guns and Mauser pistols were of no avail.

Artillery of Little Value

What artillery the Chinese had was of little use because the gunners did not know the positions of the enemy. Chinese airplanes ceased to participate in the Nanking battle days before the Japanese laid siege to the city. Consequently, there were no observers for the Chinese Army, which fought its battle “blind” and which was ignorant of the positions of the invading forces until enemy troops were actually encountered.

With no position reports on the Japanese, most of the expensive fort guns placed by the Chinese on Lion Hill near Hsiakwan, on Purple Mountain, outside the South Gate and on hills near Taikoo Shan inside the walls were of little use to the defenders. Once they opened up they were soon shelled into silence by the Japanese.

Terror seized the city on Thursday as the Japanese started pushing toward the wall from Chenhauchen. Rimmed in smoke from the hundreds of fires raging around the walls at all points on the compass, the safety zone packed with refugees, the streets jammed with soldiers, the iron discipline of frontline martial law ruling all sectors outside the safety zone, Japanese planes carrying out day-long bombing operations in the outlying districts and streams of mangled wounded pouring into the city, Nanking indeed presented an appearance of awesome frightfulness.

Advised by the Chinese authorities that the situation had worsened, the rear guard of foreign diplomatic officials, including George Atcheson Jr., senior second secretary in charge of the United States Embassy; J. Hall Paxton, second secretary assisting him, and Captain Frank Roberts, assistant military attaché Thursday evening vacated quarters ashore and took refuge on boats off Hsiakwan. The Americans boarded the United States gunboat Panay.

Japanese Aided by Spies

Thursday night the Japanese forces at Chenhuachen suddenly pushed in to the very walls of the city. Learning through spies that the Chinese garrison at the Tachiaochang military airdrome was being changed, the Japanese rushed up and captured the airfield and the surrounding barracks before midnight. They were even able to threaten entry of Kwanghua Men (Gate), outside of which the airdrome is situated, but Chinese defenders rallied in time and beat off the attempt.

Later, Chinese plainclothes men set fire to the Tachiaochang barracks and the Japanese suffered a general repulse in the ensuing conflagration, but their advance was not to be denied and by mid-morning on Friday they were threatening not only Kwanghua Men but had also maneuvered advance units to within striking distance of nearby Tungchi Men and the more distant South Gate, or Chunghua Men, which is the city’s biggest gate.

On Friday artillery was brought up and it began pounding at the city gates while airplanes bombed these massive structures and unloaded explosives among Chinese troop concentrations all around the city walls.

Foreign diplomatic representatives came ashore for a short time on Friday, but after another warning from Chinese authorities returned to their ships at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Shortly thereafter Japanese planes raiding Pukow, on the left bank of the Yangtze, dropped bombs in the river only 200 yards from the Panay. Lieut. Commander J. J. Hughes soon thereafter moved the ship a mile up-river to San Cha Ho.

At San Cha Ho, the Panay on Friday and until Saturday afternoon remained in touch with Americans staying inside the walls by means of a telephone ashore at the British Asiatic Petroleum Company installation, but on Saturday afternoon the position at San Cha Ho became untenable because of Japanese long-range shelling of Chinese positions nearby. The Panay left Nanking, with her load of diplomatic and civilian refugees, never to return.

The ship was attacked the next day by the Japanese with results that have since resounded round the world.

Meanwhile, by Friday it could definitely be said that the Japanese had laid siege to the ancient battlements of Nanking.

Chinese Still Held Out

Many Chinese troops on Friday and the following day were still holding out for miles around the walls to the east and southeast of the city. Sometimes surrounded on hills, they sold their lives dearly as Japanese swarmed in to conduct mopping-up operations. The Mausoleum Park area was the scene of bitter machine-gun encounters. Most of the Chinese forces, however, by late Friday had been withdrawn into the walled city.

A week before the siege the Chinese had completed a thorough barricading of all the gates, completely closing some and leaving only a narrow passage way through the most important. The gates were backed up inside by layers of sandbags twenty feet thick, and concrete had been added.

The writer had no opportunity – after the siege – to inspect all the gates bombarded by the Japanese, but the Chungshan Gate and the South Gate showed no signs of having been breached by Japanese shelling, and the Chinese barricading gave every evidence of having provided its efficacy.

The Japanese first entered the walls of Nanking not through any of gates but over the walls by means of scaling ladders.

After the Japanese had reached the walls Thursday night the intramural area took on all the appearance of a battlefield. The Chinese rushed building of street barricades through the city, and barbed wire bristled at almost every intersection. Meanwhile, the burning continued in the suburban areas still unoccupied by the Japanese, particularly in Hsiakwan.

The Japanese settled down to intensive attack on Saturday. Having brought up heavy artillery, they began shelling many areas within the walls. Shells fell at many points within the safety zone. Many civilians were killed by missiles landing in front of and behind the Foochong Hotel on Chungshan Road. Others struck on Wu Tai Shan near the American mission Nanking Theological Seminary. The shelling in the safety zone, however, did not appear to be intentional nor consistent and possibly was done when newly placed guns were finding their range.

Bitter Machine-Gun Duels

Saturday was marked by intensive conflict. Rival forces engaged in savage machine-gun engagements all around the walls, the Chinese firing from the top of the battlements and in many cases still contesting the Japanese just outside the walls. The Japanese intensified their artillery attack, directing their fire in particular against heavy Chinese troop concentrations just inside the South Gate and against Chinese batteries on hills with the city.

The Japanese also began an extensive use of shrapnel, spraying districts held by Chinese troops with high bursts of shot. Planes continued their bombardment of Chinese positions.

Gradually, the Japanese troops pushed their way around the walls so that by Saturday night they were attacking the West Gate, or Han His Men, and threatening Hoping Men, or the main North Gate.

A certain feeling of hysteria was becoming noticeable among the Chinese defenders. Apparently the realization was becoming general that the majority were trapped and must die. The writer noted one little squad, which had just completed erection of a street-corner barricade, solemnly gathered in a semicircle taking an oath to die in defense of their position.

Looting of the shops of the city by the Chinese troops also became general on Saturday. There was no molestation of homes, and the destruction was only such as was necessary to effect entry into buildings. Apparently the object of the looting was food and other supplies. The Nanking shops, deserted by the proprietors except in the safety zone, were still well stocked with food.

The Japanese continued intensive shelling on Sunday morning, and the district just inside the walls between the West Gate and the South Gate became the object of a barrage. A deterioration of the Chinese defense was noticeable. Officers with whom foreigners came into contact admitted a growing apprehension, and a falling off in discipline was apparent.

The Japanese broke over the walls for the first time shortly after noon on Sunday, after having guilt temporary bridges across the moat. They operated behind a heavy artillery barrage and scaled the walls not far from Han His Men.

Chinese troops in the vicinity bolted and came streaming through the city and across the safety zone. Units of the Eighty-eighth Division tried to stop them but were unsuccessful.

Soon a general retreat toward the Hsiakwan Gate was in progress. For a time it was an orderly one. Certain contingents continued to give battle at the walls and succeeded in staving off Japanese occupation of any considerable area within the city until Monday morning.

By late afternoon terrific congestion had developed as thousands of Chinese soldiers attempted to crowd through a single narrow opening in Hsiakwan Gate. Panic seized the men as they fought to get through. Hundreds tied their clothing together and made ropes for scaling the wall. At 8 p.m., General Tang secretly fled the city; other high commanders likewise left.

By dusk the Chinese retreat had become a rout. The Chinese collapse was complete. Leaderless and ignorant of what was happening, the Chinese troops could only realize that the fight was over and try to save themselves.

Foreigners within the city had feared that the Chinese collapse would be accompanied by excesses of all kinds committed by trapped and defeated Chinese soldiers, but nothing but isolated incendiarism occurred. The Chinese troops were pathetically docile.

Shed Uniforms and Arms

Sunday evening they appeared all over the safety zone and thousands began shedding their uniforms. Civilian clothes were stolen or begged from passing civilians, and when no “civvies” could be found the soldiers nevertheless discarded army garb and wore only their underclothing.

Arms were discarded along with uniforms, and the streets became covered with guns, grenades, swords, knapsacks, coats, shoes and helmets. The amount of military equipment abandoned near Hsiakwan Gate was appalling. In front of the Ministry of Communications and for two blocks further on, trucks, artillery, busses, staff cars, wagons, machine-guns and small arms became piled up as in a junk yard. At midnight the $2,000,000 building, the finest in the city, was set afire, and munitions stored inside exploded for hours in a spectacular display.

The dump outside also caught fire and burned far into the next day. Horses drawing artillery wagons were caught in the blaze, and their screaming added to the frightfulness of the scene. The holocaust blocked Chungshan Road, the main artery to the Hsiakwan Gate, and added to the congestion along side streets.

Doubtless some thousands of the Chinese troops were able to get into Hsiakwan and utilize the few junks and launches off the Bund to cross the Yangtze. Many were drowned in periods of panic at the riverbank.

But some time Monday Japanese troops took over the Hsiakwan area and completed their encirclement of the city walls. The Chinese left inside were completely hemmed in. Troops caught in the Hsiakwan district were systematically wiped out.

Mass Surrenders by Chinese

Throughout Monday certain Chinese units continued to give battle to the Japanese in the eastern part of the city and in the northwestern districts. But the majority of trapped Chinese soldiers had no fight left in them. Thousands presented themselves to the foreign Safety Zone Committee and turned in their arms; the committee had no alternative but to accept their surrender, believing, at the time, that the Japanese would treat the captives generously. Many bands of Chinese troops surrendered to individual foreigners and pleaded like children to be protected.

By late Monday the Japanese had taken over the southern, southeastern and western districts of the city after only isolated skirmishes. By Tuesday noon all Chinese soldiers still armed and resisting had been eliminated and the Japanese were in complete control of the city.

In taking over Nanking the Japanese indulged in slaughters, looting and rapine exceeding in barbarity any atrocities committed up to that time in the course of the Sino-Japanese hostilities. The unrestrained cruelties of the Japanese are to be compared only with the vandalism in the Dark Age in Europe or the brutalities of medieval Asiatic conquerors.

The helpless Chinese troops, disarmed for the most part and ready to surrender, were systematically rounded up and executed. Thousands who had turned themselves over to the Safety Zone Committee and been placed in refugee centers were methodically weeded out and marched away, their hands tied behind them, to execution grounds outside the city gates.

Small bands who had sought refuge in dugouts were routed out and shot or stabbed at the entrance to the bomb shelters. Their bodies were then shoved into the dugouts and buried. Tank guns were sometimes turned on groups of bound soldiers. Most generally the executions were by shooting with pistols.

Every able-bodied male in Nanking was suspected by the Japanese of being a soldier. An attempt was made by inspecting shoulders for knapsack and rifle butt marks to single out the soldiers from the innocent males, but in many cases, of course, men innocent of any military connection were put in the executed squads. In other cases, too, former soldiers were passed over and escaped.

The Japanese themselves announced that during the first three days of cleaning up Nanking 15,000 Chinese soldiers were rounded up. At that time, it was contended that 25,000 more were still hiding out in the city.

These figures give an accurate indication of the number of Chinese troops trapped within the Nanking walls. Probably the Japanese figure of 25,000 is exaggerated, but it is likely that about 20,000 Chinese soldiers fell victim to Japanese executioners.

Civilians of both sexes and all ages were also shot by the Japanese. Firemen and policemen were frequent victims of the Japanese. Any person who, through excitement or fear, ran at the approach of the Japanese soldiers was in danger of being shot down. Tours of the city by foreigners during the period when the Japanese were consolidating their control of the city revealed daily fresh civilian dead. Often old men were to be seen face downward on the pavements, apparently shot in the back at the whim of some Japanese soldiers.

Wholesale looting was one of the major crimes of the Japanese occupation. Once a district was in their full control, Japanese soldiers received free rein to loot all houses therein. Food seemed to be the first demand, but all articles of value were taken at will, particularly things easily carried. Occupants of homes were robbed and any who resisted were shot.

Foreign Properties Looted

Refugee camps were entered and in many cases the few dollars of unfortunate refugees were taken. Houses that were barricaded were broken into. Foreign properties were not immune. Japanese soldiers entered faculty houses of the American mission Ginling College and took what they pleased.

The American mission university Hospital was searched and belongings of nurses taken from the dormitory. Foreign flags were torn from buildings and at least three motorcars were taken from foreigners. The home of the Untied States Ambassador, Nelson T. Johnson, was entered, but the five intruding Japanese soldiers were made to leave before they gad obtained any loot except a flashlight.

Chinese women were freely molested by Japanese soldiers, and American missionaries personally know of cases where many were taken from refugee camps and violated.

It should be said that certain Japanese units exercised restraint and certain Japanese officers tempered power with generosity and compassion. But the conduct of the Japanese Army as a whole in Nanking was a blot on the reputation of their country. Responsible high Japanese officers and diplomats who visited Nanking some days after the occupation admit all the excesses reported by foreigners who saw them. These Japanese explain the Nanking barbarities by saying that a section of the Japanese Army got out of hand and that the atrocities were being committed unknown to high command in Shanghai.

When the final collapse of the Chinese came in Nanking, so great was the feeling of relief among the populace and such was the bad impression created by the breakup of the Chinese municipal regime and the defense command that the people were ready to welcome the Japanese troops. Indeed, scattered bands of civilians actually cheered Japanese columns as they marched in from the South Gate and the West Gate.

But feelings of relief and of welcome soon gave up to terror when Japanese barbarities began. The Japanese might have gained a wide measure of support and confidence from the Nanking Chinese. Instead they drove deeper into the Chinese soul a hatred of Japan and set back to a distant future prospects for gaining the Chinese “cooperation” for which they profess to be fighting China.

An account of the siege of Nanking would not be complete without reference to the safety zone and the role of the foreigners who remained the city.

Not an unqualified success, the Nanking safety zone was nevertheless instrumental in saving thousands of civilian lives. It was the aim of its foreign promoters to obtain its complete demilitarization and have its neutrality respected throughout the siege. Full demilitarization was never attained and during the last days of the battle for Nanking Chinese soldiers streamed through the area. When the Japanese entered the city they also entered the zone freely.

However, the Japanese never subjected the zone to concentrated shelling or air bombardment, and as a result civilians who took refuge there were comparatively safe. It is estimated that 100,000 had sought sanctuary in the zone, which occupied an area of three or four square miles in the western district of the city.

The head of the safety zone committee was John H. D. Rabe, a white-haired German respected by every one who knew him in Nanking. The director was George Fitch of Soochow, a China-born American who did an admirably competent job in a time of great danger and stress, a job that involved all the responsibilities that would be demanded in directing a small American city during a period of flood or other catastrophe.

The secretary of the committee was Dr. Lewis S. C. Smythe, Professor of Sociology at the University of Nanking, a man of much force and initiative. Prominent particularly in the negotiations for establishing the zone was Dr. M. Searle Bates, Professor of History at the university. Dr. Bates was in the forefront, too, of efforts to obtain an armistice at Nanking, during which it was planned to have Chinese troops withdraw and Japanese occupy the city peacefully.

Fifteen Americans, besides two American newspaper correspondents and one American newspaper photographer, remained in Nanking during the siege. Six Germans, one Briton and two Russians comprised the remainder of the foreign contingent who stayed for the siege.

From the time of the departure of the Panay on Saturday, Dec. 11, until contact had been made with the Japanese Fleet on Tuesday, Dec. 14, this little foreign group was without connection with the outside world, trapped like the Chinese troops within the Nanking walls. The city water supply had failed, there was no electricity, no telephones and many food staples were unobtainable.

All the foreigners of the city except the publicity contingent actively associated themselves with safety zone or war relief work. Managing the safety zone involved more than attempting to keep it demilitarized. Thousands of penniless refugees had to be fed and housed. Policing had to be attended to. Medical facilities had to be provided; even a skeleton banking service had to be set up.

The Rev. John Magee, Episcopalian missionary, headed a foreign committee that made heroic efforts to provide some care for the thousands of Chinese soldiers wounded during the siege.

Chinese Army facilities for treating wounded were extremely sketchy. There hospitals, but the number of doctors and nurses was hopelessly inadequate and many hospitals were restricted to men from certain divisions.

The Rev. Mr. Magee’s committee during the actual siege concentrated efforts on marshalling the medical resources of the city for the existing hospitals and on transporting wounded men to these institutions. They were unable to cope with the tremendous number of casualties, and the Chinese wounded to be seen everywhere on the streets of Nanking during the siege were one of the more appalling sights of the whole tragic spectacle. Injured men hobbled about, dragged themselves through alleyways, died by the hundreds on the main streets.

The American mission University Hospital operated throughout the battle, and an effort was made to keep it reserved for civilian casualties. However, a few soldiers were admitted. Two American doctors, Frank Wilson and C. S. Trimmer, and two American nurses, Grace Bauer and Iva Hynds, labored day and night with only a few Chinese helpers to care for the nearly 200 patients in their charge.

When the Japanese had occupied the city, the war wounded relief committee within a few minutes organized themselves as a chapter of the International Red Cross and took over the main hospital of the Chinese Army in the Foreign Ministry building. What transport could be marshaled was sent throughout the city to bring in wounded soldiers, and Chinese doctors and nurses still in the city were rallied to work at the institution.

The Japanese at first permitted free function of this hospital, but on Wednesday morning, Dec. 15, they barred foreign access to the place and would make no commitments as to the fate of the 500 Chinese soldiers within.

Nothing had come of the Safety Zone Committee’s efforts to arrange an armistice. General Chiang Kai-shek replied in only the most perfunctory manner to the committee’s truce proposal, the Japanese not at all. Representatives of General Tang made it clear that he was anxious for an armistice, and their attitude became one of almost frantic appeal for intervention as the outlook for the Chinese worsened. However, the collapse came before negotiations could progress to formulation of any program for Chinese withdrawal definite enough for submission to the Japanese.

In any case, after the Panay with her radio facilities had left, there were no means of communicating with the Japanese except by a visit to their lines, which would have been an exceedingly dangerous business.

Nanking knew practically nothing of the Japanese ultimatum to General Tang, and apparently the Chinese commander never replied.

Casualties Heavy on Both Sides

Casualties during the fighting for the city were no doubt heavy on both sides, with the Chinese taking the heaviest losses. Japanese casualties during the actual siege probably totaled 1,000, Chinese casualties 3,000 to 5,000, perhaps, more.

Many Chinese civilians who failed to leave the southern and southwestern sections of the city were killed, the total probably running as high as the total of military dead. This writer, visiting the South City after the Japanese had occupied the area, found sections of it almost demolished by Japanese shelling, and Chinese civilian dead were lying everywhere.

Just where the blame is to be put for the sorry military debacle that the defense of Nanking turned out to be for the Chinese is difficult to say.

The defense was carried out against the earnest exhortations of the German military advisers of the Chinese Army. Generalissimo Chiang’s chief of staff, General Pai Chunkg-hsi, was strongly against the defense. General Chiang himself at first was said to favor a stand at Nanking, pointing out the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on fortifying the city and the desirability of at least making a fight for the country’s capital.

It was generally reported that General Chiang was won over from this point of view: many of the best informed Nanking observers say that the defense was finally made because of the attitude of General Tang Sheng-chi and a number of other army leaders who insisted on such a course and who themselves offered to make the stand with the army in the city.

Certainly, General Chiang should not have permitted the blunder that occurred. Certainly, General Tang, too, is to be strongly censured for starting on a course of sacrifice that he failed to carry through or at best managed badly.

It may be that Tang made some efforts to save the situation on Sunday by arranging for a general withdrawal under protection of small units left to hold up Japanese penetration far into the city. Appearances indicate otherwise, and in any case the situation was not saved and Tang’s departure, unknown even to many members of his own staff, left the army leaderless and was the signal for complete collapse.

There was little glory for either side in the battle of Nanking.

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Battle of Shanghai

Battle of Shanghai

Close combat in the city of Shanghai. Photo used by P. R. Dept. of the China Expeditionary Force of Japan.

Close combat in the city of Shanghai. Photo used by P. R. Dept. of the China Expeditionary Force of Japan.

Precipitated by a skirmish between Japanese and Chinese troops at Lugouqiao (Lu-kou-ch’iao), or the Marco Polo Bridge, on the outskirts of Beijing on July 7, 1937, the bilateral conflict between the two nations developed into a full-scale war.

During the early stage of the “North China Incident,” the Imperial forces of Japan quickly captured major cities in northern China and advanced southward.

By mid-August the mutual hostility, which had been growing since Japan’s conquest of Manchuria in 1932 and the subsequent formation of the puppet Manchukuo regime, inevitably goaded the two countries into another war in central China as well, involving one of the most developed, international cities in Asia, Shanghai.

At this point the Second Sino-Japanese War that eventually bogged down the two neighboring countries in a bloody, eight-year-long war became irreversible.

Having tasted easy victories in northern China, the Japanese Army and Navy apparently underestimated the Chinese troops in Shanghai, but that expectation soon proved to be a wrong one.

That August the Japanese troops found themselves at a major standstill as they encountered stern resistance by the Chinese main forces, while the Japanese government clung to the hope that the Chinese forces could be easily subdued.

Japanese troops marching about 12 miles (20 km) north of Shanghai.

Japanese troops marching about 12 miles (20 km) north of Shanghai.

House-to-house fighting broke out, bombs detonated in the war-shattered city and naval gunfire backed up the infantry units. Both sides continuously reinforced their troops in order to make up their losses. [1]

The war in Shanghai was indeed a decisive battle that caused both sides exorbitant damages, left them with a deep-rooted loathing for each other, and begot vengeance.

Many historians today say the Battle of Shanghai nurtured the psychological conditions for Japanese soldiers to go on a berserk rampage in Nanking later on. [2]

A sergeant from the Amadani Detachment of Japan’s 11th Division, for instance, described what he saw when the unit made a landing at Wusong on September 3. His postwar memoirs partly read:

I crawled up onto the embankment at Wusong and beheld the sight of perdition. It was brutal. A bloodbath in the battlefield of Ashura [a demon who is eternally fighting] couldn’t have been merciless like this. As far as my eyes could see, there was corpse after corpse on top of the embankment, heaps of which covered the entire ground.

The bodies of thousands of soldiers were all piled up in a jumble just like blue-fin tuna in a market. A nauseating stench of death assailed my nostrils. This was what had become of the officers and men of the 3rd Division from Nagoya…. They must have been mowed down the moment they landed. These soldiers must have died without knowing what was happening to them….

Due to the decay of the internal organs, all the bodies were in ferment and swollen up, and the soft parts of the bodies had gushed out by pressure, such as the eyeballs bulging five or six centimeters [about 2 inches] out of their faces. [3]

The fierce battle in Shanghai ended in mid-November when a successful landing of Japan’s 10th Army at Hangzhou Bay in the south, and of the 16th Division at Baimaokou in the north, threatened the Chinese forces’ flank and forced them to withdraw to the west. The General Staff Headquarters in Tokyo, which had been concerned about the exhausted troops and their declining military discipline, decided not to expand the war front any further.

Japanese troops marching toward Nanking.

Japanese troops marching toward Nanking.

However, on November 19, the 10th Army led by Lieutenant General Yanagawa Heisuke cabled to the Headquarters, “The group [the 10th Army] commanded [its troops] to put on a spurt in pursuit [of the retreating Chinese] to Nanking.”

The second in command of General Staff, Lieutenant General Tada Shun, was surprised to receive the message. He immediately ordered a stop to the arbitrary act, which turned out to be of no avail.

Three days later, the Central China Area Army (CCAA) that supervised the 10th Army also sent a report that emphasized the necessity to attack Nanking. On December 1, 1937, the Imperial Headquarters, which had just been established as the highest authority on strategic matters in the “China Incident” in late November, finally ordered the CCAA to capture “the capital of the enemy state.”

Meanwhile the Imperial Headquarters reappointed General Matsui Iwane as the commander-in-chief of the Central China Area Army and newly appointed Lieutenant General Prince Asaka Yasuhiko, Emperor Hirohito’s uncle, to take command of the Shanghai Expeditionary Force that made up the CCAA along with the 10th Army. [4]

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  1. Frank Dorn, The Sino-Japanese War, 1937-41: From Marco Polo Bridge to Pearl Harbor (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1974), 69-78.
  2. See, for instance, Akira Fujiwara, Nanking no Nihongun [The Japanese Army in Nanjing] (Tokyo: Otsuki Shoten, 1997), 18; Yutaka Yoshida, Tenno no Guntai to Nanking Jiken [The Emperor’s Military and the Nanjing Incident] (Tokyo: Aoki Shoten, 1986), 42-43; Ikuhiko Hata, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident] (Tokyo: Chuo Koron, 1986), 67.
  3. Quoted in Katsuichi Honda, Nanking he no Michi [The Road to Nanjing] (Tokyo: Asahi Bunko, 1989), 41-44.
  4. Hata, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident], 73-78; Fujiwara, Nanking no Nihongun [The Japanese Army in Nanjing] 23-25; Yutaka Yoshida, Tenno no Guntai to Nanking Jiken [The Emperor’s Military and the Nanjing Incident] 66-70; Tokushi Kasahara, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident] (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1997), 62-71.

©2000 Masato Kajimoto. All Rights Reserved.