Reference: The Judgment of the IMTFE

Reference: The Judgment of the IMTFE

Note: The following texts were excerpted from the judgment of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. The photographs of Matsui and Hirota were inserted by author.


When MATSUI was appointed Commander of the Shanghai Expeditionary Forces and left Tokyo for the fighting area, he already had thoughts of pushing on to Nanking after the intended capture of Shanghai. He requested five divisions for the Shanghai Expeditionary Force before leaving Tokyo. Actual preparations for the advance upon China’s capital were made, for he had previously made a study of the topography in the vicinity of Shanghai and Nanking. On 8 October 1937, MATSUI issued a statement in which he said:

“The devil-defying sharp bayonets were just on the point of being unsheathed so as to develop their divine influence, and that the mission of the Army was to fulfill all its duties of protecting Japanese residents and interests, and to chastise the Nanking Government and the outrageous Chinese.”

As the area of hostilities around Shanghai was likely to expand, MATSUI was appointed Commander in Chief of the Central China Expeditionary Forces.

MUTO, Akira, was appointed MATSUI’S vice-chief of staff in late November 1937. Approximately one month after the capture of Shanghai, the Japanese Army arrived outside the city of Nanking. MATSUI issued an order to the effect that as Nanking was the capital of China, its capture was an international event and careful studies should be made so as to dazzle China with Japan’s military glory. The Japanese demand for surrender was ignored by the Chinese Government. Bombardment started and the city fell on 13 December 1937. The Japanese Army that entered Nanking was a newly formed organization but it was composed of experienced troops. MATSUI made his triumphant entry on 17 December 1937. From 13 December onward, there occurred what has come to be known as the “Rape of Nanking” which will be dealt with in a later phase. On 1 January 1938, a provisional self-governing body was set up, flying the old discarded five colored Chinese flag instead of the Blue Sky and White Sun which is the official national flag of China.


As the Central China Expeditionary Force under command of MATSUI approached the city of Nanking in early December 1937, over one-half of its one million inhabitants and all but a few neutrals who remained behind to organize an International Safety Zone, fled from the city. The Chinese Army retreated, leaving approximately 50,000 troops behind to defend the city. As the Japanese forces stormed the South Gate on the night of 12 December 1937, most of the remaining 50,000 troops escaped through the North and West Gates of the city. Nearly all the Chinese soldiers had evacuated the city or had abandoned their arms and uniforms and sought refuge in the International Safety Zone and all resistance had ceased as the Japanese Army entered the city on the morning of 13 December 1937. The Japanese soldiers swarmed over the city and committed various atrocities. According to one of the eyewitnesses they were let loose like a barbarian horde to desecrate the city. It was said by eyewitnesses that the city appeared to have fallen into the hands of the Japanese as captured prey, that it had not merely been taken in organized warfare, and that the members of the victorious Japanese Army had set upon the prize to commit unlimited violence. Individual soldiers and small groups of two or three roamed over the city murdering, raping, looting, and burning. There was no discipline whatever. Many soldiers were drunk. Soldiers went through the streets indiscriminately killing Chinese men, women and children without apparent provocation or excuse until in places the streets and alleys were littered with the bodies of their victims. According to another witness Chinese were hunted like rabbits, everyone seen to move was shot. At least 12,000 non-combatant Chinese men, women and children met their deaths in these indiscriminate killings during the first two or three days of the Japanese occupation of the city.

There were many cases of rape. Death was a frequent penalty for the slightest resistance on the part of a victim or the members of her family who sought to protect her. Even girls of tender years and old women were raped in large numbers throughout the city, and many cases of abnormal and sadistic behavior in connection with these rapings occurred. Many women were killed after the act and their bodies mutilated. Approximately 20,000 cases of rape occurred within the city during the first month of the occupation. Japanese soldiers took from the people everything they desired. Soldiers were observed to stop unarmed civilians on the road, search them, and finding nothing of value then to shoot them. Very many residential and commercial properties were entered and looted. Looted stocks were carried away in trucks. After looting shops and warehouses, the Japanese soldiers frequently set fire to them. Taiping Road, the most important shopping street, and block after block of the commercial section of the city were destroyed by fire. Soldiers burned the homes of civilians for no apparent reason. Such burning appeared to follow a prescribed pattern after a few days and continued for six weeks. Approximately one-third of the city was thus destroyed. Organized and wholesale murder of male civilians was conducted with the apparent sanction of the commanders on the pretence that Chinese soldiers had removed their uniforms and were mingling with the population. Groups of Chinese civilians were formed, bound with their hands behind their backs, and marched outside the walls of the city where they were killed in groups by machine gun fire and with bayonets. More than 20,000 Chinese men of military age are known to have died in this fashion. The German Government was informed by its representative about “atrocities and criminal act not of an individual but of an entire Army, namely, the Japanese,” which Army, later in the Report, was qualified as a “bestial machinery.”

Those outside the city fared little better than those within. Practically the same situation existed in all the communities within 200 li (about 66 miles) of Nanking. The population had fled into the countryside in an attempt to escape from the Japanese soldiers. In places they had grouped themselves into fugitive camps. The Japanese captured many of these camps and visited upon the fugitives treatment similar to that accorded the inhabitants of Nanking. Of the civilians who had fled Nanking over 57,000 were overtaken and interned. These were starved and tortured in captivity until a large number died. Many of the survivors were killed by machine gun fire and by bayoneting. Large parties of Chinese soldiers laid down their arms and surrendered outside Nanking; within 72 hours after their surrender they were killed in groups by machine gun fire along the bank of the Yangtze River. Over 30,000 such prisoners of war were so killed. There was not even a pretence of trial of these prisoners so massacred. Estimates made at a later date indicate that the total number of civilians and prisoners of war murdered in Nanking and its vicinity during the first six weeks of the Japanese occupation was over 200,000. That these estimates are not exaggerated is borne out by the fact that burial societies and other organizations counted more than 155,000 bodies which they buried. They also reported that most of those were bound with their hands tied behind their backs. These figures do not take into account those persons whose bodies were destroyed by burning or by throwing them into the Yangtze River or otherwise disposed of by Japanese.

Japanese Embassy officials entered the city of Nanking with the advance elements of the Army; and on 14 December an official of the Embassy informed the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone that the “Army was determined to make it bad for Nanking, but, that the Embassy officials were going to try to moderate the action.” The Embassy officials also informed the members of the Committee that at the time of the occupation of the city no more than 17 military policemen were provided by the Army commanders to maintain order within the city. When it transpired that complaints to the Army officials did not have any result, those Japanese embassy officials suggested to the foreign missionaries that the latter should try and get publicity in Japan, so that the Japanese Government would be forced by public opinion to curb the Army. Dr. Bates testified that the terror was intense for two and one-half to three weeks, and was serious six to seven weeks following the fall of the city. Smythe, the Secretary of the Int. Committee for the Safety Zone, filed two protests a day for the first six weeks. MATSUI, who had remained in a rear area until 17 December, made a triumphal entry into the city on that day and on 18 December held a religious service for the dead, after which he issued a statement in the course of which he said:

“I extend much sympathy to millions of innocent people in the Kiangpei and Chekiang districts, who suffered the evils of war. Now the flag of the rising sun is floating high over Nanking, and the Imperial Way is shining in the southern parts of the Yangtze-Kiang. The dawn of the renaissance of the East is on the verge of offering itself. On this occasion, I hope for reconsideration of the situation by the 400 million people of China.”

MATSUI remained in the city for nearly a week. MUTO, then a colonel, had joined MATSUI’S Staff on 10 November 1937 and was with MATSUI during the drive on Nanking and participated in the triumphal entry and occupation of the city. Both he and MATSUI admit that they heard of the atrocities being committed in the city during their stay at rear headquarters after the fall of the city. MATSUI admits that he heard that foreign governments were protesting against the commission of these atrocities. No effective action was taken to remedy the situation. Evidence was given before the Tribunal by an eyewitness that while MATSUI was in Nanking on the 19th of December the business section of the city was in flames. On that day the witness counted fourteen fires in the principal business street alone. After the entry of MATSUI and MUTO into the city, the situation did not improve for weeks.

Members of the Diplomatic Corps and Press and the Japanese Embassy in Nanking sent out reports detailing the atrocities being committed in and around Nanking. The Japanese Minister-at-Large to China, Ito, Nobufumi, was in Shanghai from September 1937 to February 1938. He received reports from the Japanese Embassy in Nanking and from members of the Diplomatic Corps and Press regarding the conduct of the Japanese troops and sent a resume of the reports to the Japanese Foreign Minister, HIROTA. These reports as well as many others giving information of the atrocities committed at Nanking, which were forwarded by members of the Japanese diplomatic officials in China, were forwarded by HIROTA to the War Ministry of which UMEZU was Vice-Minister. They were discussed at Liaison Conferences, which were normally attended by the Prime Minister, War and Navy Ministers, Foreign Minister HIROTA, Finance Minister KAYA, and the Chiefs of the Army and Navy General Staffs. News reports of the atrocities were widespread. MINAMI, who was serving as Governor-General of Korea at the time, admits that he read these reports in the Press. Following these unfavorable reports and the pressure of public opinion aroused in nations all over the world, the Japanese Government recalled MATSUI and approximately 80 of his officers but took no action to punish any of them. MATSUI, after his return to Japan on 5 March 1938, was appointed a Cabinet Councilor and on 29 April 1940 was decorated by the Japanese Government for “meritorious services” in the China War. MATSUI, in explaining his recall, says that he was not replaced by HATA because of the atrocities committed by his troops at Nanking but because he considered his work ended at Nanking and wished to retire from the Army. He was never punished.

The barbarous behavior of the Japanese Army cannot be excused as the acts of a soldiery which had temporarily gotten out of hand when at last a stubbornly defended position had capitulated – rape, arson and murder continued to be committed on a large scale for at least six weeks after the city had been taken and for at least four weeks after MATSUI and MUTO had entered the city.

The new Japanese Garrison Commander at Nanking, General Amaya, on 5 February 1938, at the Japanese Embassy in Nanking made a statement to the Foreign diplomatic corps criticizing the attitude of the foreigners who had been sending abroad reports of Japanese atrocities at Nanking and upbraiding them for encouraging anti-Japanese feeling. This statement by Amaya reflected the attitude of the Japanese Military toward foreigners in China, who were hostile to the Japanese policy of waging an unrestrained punitive war against the people of China.


Matsui Iwane

Matsui Iwane

The accused MATSUI is charged under Counts 1, 27, 29, 31, 32, 35, 36, 54 and 55.

MATSUI was a senior Officer in the Japanese Army and attained the rank of General in 1933. He had a wide experience in the Army, including service in the Kwantung Army and in the General Staff. Although his close association with those who conceived and carried out the conspiracy suggests that he must have been aware of the purposes and policies of the conspirators, the evidence before the Tribunal does not justify a finding that he was a conspirator.

His military service in China in 1937 and 1938 cannot be regarded, of itself, as the waging of an aggressive war. To justify a conviction under Count 27 it was the duty of the prosecution to tender evidence which would justify an inference that he had knowledge of the criminal character of that war. This has not been done.

In 1935 MATSUI was placed on the retired list but in 1937 he was recalled to active duty to command the Shanghai Expeditionary Force. He was then appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Central China Area Army, which included the Shanghai Expeditionary Force and the Tenth Army. With these troops he captured the city of Nanking on 13th December 1937.

Before the fall of Nanking the Chinese forces withdrew and the occupation was of a defenseless city. Then followed a long succession of most horrible atrocities committed by the Japanese Army upon the helpless citizens. Wholesale massacres, individual murders, rape, looting and arson were committed by Japanese soldiers. Although the extent of the atrocities was denied by Japanese witnesses the contrary evidence of neutral witnesses of different nationalities and undoubted responsibility is overwhelming. This orgy of crime started with the capture of the City on the 13th December 1937 and did not cease until early in February 1938. In this period of six or seven weeks thousands of women were raped, upwards of 100,000 people were killed and untold property was stolen and burned. At the height of these dreadful happenings, on 17 December, MATSUI made a triumphal entry into the City and remained there from five to seven days. From his own observations and from the reports of his staff he must have been aware of what was happening. He admits he was told of some degree of misbehavior of his Army by the Kempeitai and by Consular Officials. Daily reports of these atrocities were made to Japanese diplomatic representatives in Nanking who, in turn, reported them to Tokyo.

The Tribunal is satisfied that MATSUI knew what was happening. He did nothing, or nothing effective to abate these horrors. He did issue orders before the capture of the City enjoining propriety of conduct upon his troops and later he issued further orders to the same purport. These orders were of no effect as is now known, and as he must have known. It was pleaded in his behalf that at this time he was ill. His illness was not sufficient to prevent his conducting the military operations of his command nor to prevent his visiting the City for days while these atrocities were occurring. He was in command of the Army responsible for these happenings. He knew of them. He had the power, as he had the duty, to control his troops and to protect the unfortunate citizens of Nanking. He must be held criminally responsible for his failure to discharge this duty.

The Tribunal holds the accused MATSUI guilty under Count 55, and not guilty under Counts l, 27, 29, 31, 32, 35, 36 and 54.


Hirota Koki

Hirota Koki

HIROTA is indicted under Counts 1, 27, 29, 31, 32, 33, 35, 54, and 55.

HIROTA was Foreign Minister from 1933 until March 1936 when he became Prime Minister. From the fall of his Cabinet in February 1937 for four months he held no public office. He was Foreign Minister again in the First Konoye Cabinet until May 1938. From that time forward his relation with public affairs was limited to attending meetings of the Senior Statesmen (Jushin) from time to time to advise on the appointment of Prime Ministers and on other important questions submitted.

From 1933 to 1938, when HIROTA held these high offices, the Japanese gains in Manchuria were being consolidated and turned to the advantage of Japan and the political and economic life of North China was being “guided” in order to separate it from the rest of China in preparation for the domination by Japan of the Chinese political and economic life. In 1936 his cabinet formulated and adopted the national policy of expansion in East Asia and the Southern Areas. This policy of far-reaching effect was eventually to lead to the war between Japan and the Western Powers in 1941. Also in 1936 the Japanese aggressive policy with regard to the U. S. S. R. was reiterated and advanced, culminating in the Anti-Comintern Pact.

From the 7th of July 1937 when the war in China was revived, throughout HIROTA’s tenure of office, the military operations in China received the full support of the Cabinet. Early in 1938, also, the real policy towards China was clarified and every effort made to subjugate China and abolish the Chinese National Government and to replace it with a government dominated by Japan.

In early 1938 the plan and legislation for mobilization of manpower, industrial potential, and natural resources was adopted. This plan with little change in essentials was the basis on which the preparations to continue the China War and for waging further aggressive wars were carried out during the succeeding years. All these plans and activities were fully known to and supported by HIROTA.

Thus during his tenure of office HIROTA, apparently a very able man and a forceful leader, was at times the originator and at other times a supporter of the aggressive plans adopted and executed by the military and the various Cabinets.

On his behalf Counsel in final argument urged the Tribunal to consider HIROTA’s consistent advocacy of peace and peaceful or diplomatic negotiation of disputed questions. It is true that HIROTA, faithful to his diplomatic training, consistently advocated attempting firstly to settle disputes through diplomatic channels. However, it is abundantly clear that in so doing he was never willing to sacrifice any of the gains or expected gains made or expected to be made at the expense of Japan’s neighbors and he consistently agreed to the use of force if diplomatic negotiations failed to obtain fulfillment of the Japanese demands. The Tribunal therefore cannot accept as exculpating this accused the defense offered on this point.

The Tribunal consequently finds that at least from 1933 HIROTA participated in the common plan or conspiracy to wage aggressive wars. As Foreign Minister he also participated in the waging of war against China.

As to Counts 29, 31 and 32 HIROTA’s attitude and advice as one of the Senior Statesmen in 1941 is quite consistent with his being opposed to the opening of hostilities against the Western Powers. He held no public office after 1938 and played no part in the direction of the wars referred to in these Counts. The Tribunal holds that the evidence offered does not establish his guilt on these Counts.

As to Counts 33 and 35, there is no proof of HIROTA’s participation in or support of the military operations at Lake Khassan, or in French Indo-China in 1945.

With regard to War Crimes there is no evidence of HIROTA’s having ordered, authorized, or permitted the commission of the crimes as alleged in Count 54.

As to Count 55 the only evidence relating him to such crimes deals with the atrocities at Nanking in December 1937 and January and February 1938. As Foreign Minister he received reports of these atrocities immediately after the entry of the Japanese forces into Nanking. According to the Defence evidence credence was given to these reports and the matter was taken up with the War Ministry. Assurances were accepted from the War Ministry that the atrocities would be stopped. After these assurances had been given reports of atrocities continued to come in for at least a month. The Tribunal is of opinion that HIROTA was derelict in his duty in not insisting before the Cabinet that immediate action be taken to put an end to the atrocities, failing any other action open to him to bring about the same result. He was content to rely on assurances which he knew were not being implemented while hundreds of murders, violations of women, and other atrocities were being committed daily. His inaction amounted to criminal negligence.

The Tribunal finds HIROTA guilty under Counts 1, 27 and 55. He is not guilty under Counts 29, 31, 32, 33, 35 and 54.

Go back to: Table of Contents

What Japanese Journalists Witnessed

What Japanese Journalists Witnessed

Executions After Executions

Persons executed by Japanese soldiers in Ku Ling Temple. Photo taken by an American missionary, Ernest Forster.

Persons executed by Japanese soldiers in Ku Ling Temple. Photo taken by an American missionary, Ernest Forster.

Due to the Imperial Army’s media censorship, though there were over 100 Japanese journalists in Nanking when the city was captured, those journalists did not dare to write anything “unfavorable” about their countrymen. [41]

Knowing that any atrocity story wouldn’t make news in Japan, the journalists instead described how “valorous” the Imperial troops were in combat inside and outside the walled city.

Accordingly the newspaper articles during and after the siege of Nanking were full of tales of the Japanese soldier’s heroic exploits. [42]

After the war, however, some of the journalists confided what they had witnessed. A special correspondent for Tokyo Asahi, Imai Masatake, for instance, reported only about the “majestic and soul-stirring” ceremony of the triumphal entry of General Matsui Iwane, the commander-in-chief of the Central China Area Army, and his troops into the city on December 17, 1937. But two days before the victory parade, he revealed in 1956, he witnessed a mass execution of 400 to 500 Chinese men near Tokyo Asahi’s Nanking office.

That evening Imai and his colleague also saw a “long, long” procession of hundreds or even thousands of Chinese people being led to the banks of the Yangtze near Xiaguan (Hsiakwan) riverfront. Convinced that all of them were going to be killed, they tried to follow the procession but were stopped by a sentry. Imai recalled a conversation he had with his partner while hearing the sound of bullets ricocheting nearby. A part of the article he wrote for a magazine years later read:

“While we saw what they were doing near the bureau, there was a car passing through,” said Nakamura.

“Yeah, I saw some foreigners on it.”

“I guess they were from China’s Red Swastika Society. This news will leak out to Geneva for sure.”

“I wish I could write about it.”

“Someday we will, but not for the time being. But we sure saw it.”

“Let’s go take a look again, with our own eyes.”

With that, two of us got up. The sound of gunfire had ceased by then. [43]

Chinese prisoners of war being led by Japanese troops.

Chinese prisoners of war being led by Japanese troops.

Although the reporter apparently mistook the Red Swastika Society for an organization somehow related to the Red Cross, they guessed right about the news circulating around the world.

Another Tokyo Asahi reporter, Adachi Kazuo, also saw a mass murder near the paper’s branch office with his colleague, Moriyama Yoshio. “The ‘plain-clothes soldiers’ were shot to death one after another, right in front of their wives and children, who were weeping and screaming,” wrote Adachi in 1975 in a memorial on Moriyama’s death.

“Our hearts were trembling with anger and grief while people in Japan were probably rejoicing over the collapse of Nanking.” Adachi also quoted Moriyama as saying at the scene, “With this, Japan has lost the right to win the war.” [44]

A correspondent for Tokyo Nichi Nichi, Suzuki Jiro, encountered a few execution scenes and later wrote:

“When I went back to the Zhongshan Gate, I saw, for the first time, an unearthly, brutal massacre. On top of the wall, about 25 meters [85 feet] high, the prisoners of war were rounded up in a line. They were being stabbed by bayonets and shoved away off the wall. A number of Japanese soldiers polished their bayonets, shouted to themselves once [to raise their morale], and thrust their bayonets in the chest or back of the POWs.

I saw about ten stragglers bound by wire to a big tree…. One of them [Japanese soldiers] stood up in front of them [Chinese captives], shouted, “You killed our buddies!” and raised the pickax, then swung it down to the head of a powerless prisoner of war.” [45]

Matsumoto Shigeharu, the Shanghai bureau chief of Domei News Agency, interviewed his ex-colleagues, Arai Masayoshi, Maeda Yuji and Fukazawa Kanzo, who spent a few days as correspondents in Nanking after the capture of the city. According to his book, all of the interviewees told Matsumoto that they saw a number of charred bodies around Xiaguan area, probably between 2,000 and 3,000 dead bodies, on the 16th and 17th.

"I believe only what I saw," says a former Tokyo Nichi Nichi photographer, Sato Shinju

“I believe only what I saw,” says a former Tokyo Nichi Nichi photographer, Sato Shinju.

Maeda personally saw new recruits executing Chinese POWs with bayonets. After having seen 12 or 13 of them being “stabbed to death,” he retched and left the place. Maeda also heard that the Japanese troops were carrying out extensive mopping-up operations on the 14th and 15th. But he also remembered that the streets were becoming normal around the 20th.

Matsumoto noted that his interviewees all pointed out the difficulty at the time of distinguishing “massacre” and “extension of combat.” His interviewees dismissed the so-called “Great Massacre” of hundreds of thousands of people. Instead, the three journalists gave him an estimate of the civilian death toll at ten or twenty thousand. [46]

A Domei newsreel cameraman, Asai Tatsuzo, stated a similar notion when interviewed for a magazine article, “I thought executing plain-clothes soldiers and stragglers was what the war was all about.” [47]

Sato Shinju, a photographer for Tokyo Nichi Nichi newspaper, saw a mass execution of about 200 Chinese soldiers but also dismisses the “massacre of 200,000 or 300,000 civilians.” “I believe only what I saw,” says Sato in an interview for this documentary. “Surely I witnessed a mass murder once, but I also saw some makeshift food stands and street vendors in the Safety Zone. There might have been some atrocities, but I can’t believe such a high death toll.” [48]

Living Soldiers: What A Japanese Novelist Observed

A Japanese soldier on sentry duty. March 1938.

A Japanese soldier on sentry duty. March 1938.

Probably the most contemporary account of Imperial troops’ atrocities given by a Japanese national at the time was a fictional novel titled Ikiteiru Heitai or Living Soldiers, written in February 1938.

The author, Ishikawa Tatsuzo, later said that he was frustrated by the “conventionally identical news articles” from the China theater and had been wanting to see the war with his own eyes when afforded an opportunity to become a special correspondent for a magazine, Chuo Koron, in December 1937. Ishikawa left Tokyo on the Christmas day and arrived in Nanking on January 5, 1938, three weeks after the city was taken over by the Japanese troops.

During his eight days of field research in Nanking, Ishikawa got acquainted with the soldiers from the 33rd Infantry Regiment of the 16th Division. Soon Ishikawa came up with a story featuring a fictional platoon whose march toward Nanking was clearly based on the unit.

Unlike many heroic characters appearing in general wartime stories and news articles in Japan, in Ishikawa’s Ikiteiru Heitai [Living Soldiers] the main characters such as Privates Hirao and Kondo, Sergeant Kasahara, and Second Lieutenant Kurata, were absorbed in the reality of war. They engaged in whimsical killings, looting, rape, and arson throughout their march. [49] The following passage is one of those fickle acts his characters often commit in the story:

Hirao grabbed her by the collar and pulled her up, but she didn’t let go of the dead body of her mother until one of the soldiers twisted her arm and pulled the body away. The soldiers hauled the girl outside, her legs dragging on the ground.

Hirao screamed like a madman, raised his bayonet and stabbed the girl in the chest three times. The other soldiers also took their daggers and began stabbing her head, abdomen, and other parts indiscriminately.

She was dead within ten seconds. When she collapsed like a futon [pile of bedclothes] onto the dark ground, the warm smell of fresh blood wafted up to the flushed faces of the excited soldiers.

In the trench Second Lieutenant Kurata was aware of what was going on but did not say a word. When the excited soldiers came back to the trench spitting, Sergeant Kasahara was sitting cross-legged on the bottom of the trench smoking. He muttered with a detectable smile on his lips, “What a waste, indeed!” [50]

Japanese soldiers who quartered in the Pacific Ocean restaurant in Nanking. March 17, 1938.

Japanese soldiers who quartered in the Pacific Ocean restaurant in Nanking. March 17, 1938.

The story was published in Chuo Koron March issue on February 17, 1938. And the very next day, the Ministry of Interior prohibited the sale of the magazine on the grounds that Ishikawa’s story “deliberately slandered the Imperial Army troops in the holy war” and was thus “improper in view of the state of affairs.” In August Ishikawa and his editor were indicted.

“People regard the soldiers at the front as someone like god and think there will be a heaven after they occupy the land,” testified Ishikawa in court. “People think Chinese civilians are cooperating with us to create the land of Perfect Bliss, but war is nothing like that at all. I believed it was of absolute necessity to let people know what war truly means, realize the situation is an emergency and prepare for what we are dealing with.”

In April 1939 Ishikawa was sentenced to four months in confinement suspended for three years. After being obscure for years, Ikiteiru Heitai [Living Soldiers] finally saw the light of day again a few months after Japan lost the Pacific War in 1945. [51]

Go back to: Table of Contents


  1. Shinichi Kusamori, “Fukyoka Shashin Ron: Houkoku no Shashin 2 [An Essay on Disapproved Photographs: Journalistic Photos on Japan 2],” in Mainichi Shinbun Hizou Fukyoka Shashin 2 [Stashed Photographs in Mainichi Newspaper: the Disapproved 2], (Tokyo: Mainichi Shinbun, 1999), 177-178.
  2. Hata, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident], 15-18.
  3. Masatake Imai, “Nanking Shinai no Tairyo Satsujin [Mass Murders in the City of Nanjing],” in Mokugekisha ga Kataru Showashi 5: Nichi Chu Senso [Showa History Told by Witnesses 5: Sino-Japanese War], 48-58.
  4. Quoted in Honda, 239.
  5. Quoted in Yutaka Yoshida, Tenno no Guntai to Nanking Jiken [The Emperor’s Military and the Nanjing Incident], 117.
  6. Matsumoto, 251-252.
  7. Masaaki Tanaka, Nanking Jiken no Sokatsu: Gyakusatsu Hitei 15 no Ronkyo [The Nanjing Incident Overview: Fifteen Reasons To Deny the Massacre] (Tokyo: Kenkosha, 1987), 232.
  8. Shinju Sato, interview by author, Fujisawa (Kanagawa Prefecture), Japan, 28 February 2000.
  9. Kazutoshi Hando, “Ikiteiru Heitai no Jidai [The Age of ‘Living Soldiers’],” in Tatsuzo Ishikawa, Ikiteiru Heitai [Living Soldiers] (Reprint, Tokyo: Chuko Bunko, 1999), 204; Hata, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident], 19-21.
  10. Ishikawa, 85-86.
  11. Hando, 201-208.

©2000 Masato Kajimoto. All Rights Reserved.

Chinese Propaganda

Chinese Propaganda

Media Blackout

Japanese troops marching toward Nanking. Photo used by P. R. Dept. of the China Expeditionary Force of Japan.

Japanese troops marching toward Nanking. Photo used by P. R. Dept. of the China Expeditionary Force of Japan.

“Nanking’s greatest fear, which explains the sudden evacuation of the capital despite the fact that the Japanese troops are still 110 miles east of the city gates, is looting by Chinese troops – not fear of bombardment from Japanese warships,” wrote a correspondent for the Chicago Daily News, but, according to Time magazine (January 10, 1938), the dispatch was censored by the Chinese government led by Chiang Kai-shek.

It goes without saying that not only the Japanese government but also the Chinese government imposed a strict media blackout and carried on active propaganda against Japan throughout the Sino-Japanese War.

The above article, for instance, included the following sentences but they were all slashed out by the Chinese authorities.

Inside the Chinese lines the utmost confusion prevails…. Chinese troops have not been paid since August…. There is severe lack of food for front-line troops…. Demoralization had resulted from lack of attention for the Chinese wounded….

Then, too, might be added the strong resentment of the Chinese front-line troops at the fact that while they are under constant aerial bombings from Japanese bombers no Chinese bombers have appeared during daylight hours, although every Chinese soldier had been given to understand that Chiang Kai-shek’s chief threat to Japan consisted in his air force…. What now? Japan has succeeded in plunging China into chaos which will take several years, perhaps decades, to straighten out….

With China’s near collapse understood, neither Russia nor any other nation will feel desirous of giving China military assistance.

International Department of the Board of Information

The headquarters of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone. December 13, 1937.

The headquarters of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone. December 13, 1937.

“It was not necessary for the [Chinese] Ministry of Propaganda to tell the outside world about the Rape of Nanking,” wrote a member of the Special Defense Unit of the U.S. Department of Justice, William Daugherty, in 1942.

“It was the foreigners – Americans, British, Germans – who gave to the outside world the shocking account that they had been forced to witness.”

According to Daugherty, even the official Chinese Board of Information in Hankow (Chiang Kai-shek moved the military headquarters from Nanking to Hankow before the city was taken over by the Japanese) learned of the orgy of bloodshed from foreign sources in Shanghai. [97]

Once they found out about the atrocities, however, the Board of Information availed themselves of the golden opportunity to publicize their cause in the Second Sino-Japanese War to the world.

In the United States the Board was in close contact with numerous relief organizations and pressure groups that sympathized with China such as American Friends of the Chinese People, American Committee for Non-Participation in Japanese Aggression, Associated Boards for Christian Colleges in China, United Council for Civilian Relief in China, and China Information Service led by Frank Price of the Theological Seminary at the University of Nanking, which was established in September 1938 in Washington D.C. [98]

Their propaganda efforts soon caused the stories of brutal Japanese conduct brought by those missionaries and others in Nanking to be widely circulated nationwide through newspapers, magazines and books.

The Board of Information was founded in November 1937 as an agency of the Nationalist Government of China. [99] Headed by Dr. Wang Shih-chieh, an official of ministerial rank, it was made up of two subdivisions, one for domestic propaganda and the other for foreign publicity.

The film made by an American Missionary, John Magee, was shown all over the United States.

The film made by an American Missionary, John Magee, was shown all over the United States.

Hollington K. Tong, a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a famous journalist known as “Holly” among correspondents in China, became the head of the latter subdivision called the International Department of the Board of Information. Based in the new capital of Chungking, the International Department was engaged in various propaganda activities.

James L. Shen, or “Jimmy,” commanded the organization’s English section in Chungking with six other Chinese writers, all of whom graduated from American missionary institutions in China. They published a number of bulletins, special handouts, state documents, speeches by the Generalissimo for a monthly magazine in English, China at War.

Warren Lee, a former teacher in a Chinese School in Rangoon, was in charge of the photographic section. Frederick J. Chen, or “Freddy,” headed the business section. Along with the National Military Council, the Board also briefed their “news” at the regular weekly press conference in Chungking to foreign correspondents, visitors and embassy officials. [100]

Outside of China, the International Department established bureaus in London, Montreal, Sydney, Mexico City and Singapore and employed advisors for “intelligence,” “liaison” and “public relations” in those countries. [101] The Board hired Harold John Timperley, a China correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, and sent him to Europe. Earl H. Leaf, a former China correspondent and the Far Eastern Manager of the United Press, also worked for the Board, advising various China groups in New York.

Accounts of the Nanking Atrocities: Harold John Timperley and Hsü Shuhsi

Bodies left unburied along the Yangtze River. Photo taken by a Japanese soldier, Murase Moriyasu, of the 17th Motorized Company of the Meguro Supply and Transport Regiment.

Bodies left unburied along the Yangtze River. Photo taken by a Japanese soldier, Murase Moriyasu, of the 17th Motorized Company of the Meguro Supply and Transport Regiment.

Probably the first comprehensive description of the ruthlessness and inhumanity demonstrated by the Japanese soldiers in Nanking was compiled and edited by Timperley in a book titled What War Means (in America it was titled The Japanese Terror in China).

The book featured the official statements, protests and some private letters written by the members of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone. It was translated into other languages and published as early as July 1938 in London, New York, Calcutta, Paris and Hankow. [102]

Case after case of plundering, rape and mass executions in the book not only confirmed the news stories formerly reported by Tillman Durdin of the New York Times and Archibald Steele of the Chicago Daily News but also provided more vivid imagery of what actually happened after all the foreign correspondents had left Nanking.

Although Timperley was working as an advisor to the Chiang Kai-shek’s propaganda organization, it seemed he was motivated by his strong conviction against war rather than his personal sympathy with Chinese.

In fact, Timperley took the trouble to pay homage to his two anonymous Japanese friends in the forward of What War Means. One of the two Japanese, a friend who was of “rare fineness of intellect and feeling,” [103] Matsumoto Shigeharu, the Shanghai bureau chief of Domei News Agency, recalled Timperley talking about the publication of the book with scruples to those Japanese who deserve “admiration and respect.” [104]

After the publication of the book, Timperley actively wrote essays and articles whose themes were to make sense of Japan’s “indigenous chauvinism” and “the generation of an aggressive military spirit.” [105] In his works such as “Yoshida Shoin Martyred Prophet of Japanese Expansionism,” an essay for Far Eastern Quarterly, and Japan: A World Problem, he advocated drastic internal reforms in Japan and international peacekeeping arrangements for the Far East. [106]

An old woman killed by a Japanese soldier outside Nanking near Tse Hsia Shan. Photo taken by an American missionary, Earnest Forster.

An old woman killed by a Japanese soldier outside Nanking near Tse Hsia Shan. Photo taken by an American missionary, Earnest Forster.

According to his obituary in the Times (London) and the Manchester Guardian, in 1943 Timperley started seven years of service with the United Nations and its specialized organizations including UNRRA and UNESCO. [107]

A political scientist and advisor to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hsü Shuhsi, also had an access to the reports and letters sent from Westerners in Nanking. On behalf of the Council of International Affairs, an officially subsidized association operating in Chungking, Hsü published The War Conduct of the Japanese in 1938 which featured some documents of the Safety Zone such as the report written by Miner Searle Bates on December 15 [108] that described “grim tales of massacre, looting and rape during Nanking’s capture.” [109]

The following year, he compiled the records of the International Committee’s work in a book titled Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone. The book contained numerous accounts of the atrocities written by the foreign witnesses and provided more substantial evidence in volume than Timperley’s What War Means. It was widely distributed in the United States through Chinese governmental organizations and their sympathizers to arouse international support. [110]

As a demonstration that these organizations succeeded, the library of the University of Missouri-Columbia where Hollington K. Tong, the head of the International Department of the Board of Information, graduated from holds copies of the above two books as well as A New Digest of Japanese War Conduct written by Hsü in 1941.

Of the three books, the first two were given by the Council of International Affairs to the University and the other by China Information Service, the organization headed by Frank Price of the Theological Seminary at the University of Nanking.

Propaganda and Resistance in Nanking

A Chinese propaganda poster on the wall that shows "Cruelty of the Japanese Devils!" Photo taken by Murase.

A Chinese propaganda poster on the wall that shows “Cruelty of the Japanese Devils!” Photo taken by Murase.

The atrocities committed by the Imperial Army naturally resulted in widespread resentment and fierce defiance toward the Japanese soldiers by Chinese citizens. Inside the walled city and its vicinity, thousands of peasants voluntarily formed organizations called “Red Spear Society” and ambushed the enemy soldiers.

A certain group of resisters secretly printed leaflets that called for strong patriotism, some of which read “Show your conscience, fellow countrymen,” or “The National Army will attack Nanking in a few days and kill all the Japanese devils and [Chinese] traitors.” Those leaflets were distributed in schools, movie theaters and buses in Nanking.

The Nationalist Government and the Communist Party also covertly, and sometimes overtly, established, instructed, and armed anti-Japan organizations inside and outside of the city. Once in a while those armed groups struck the Japanese troops occupying the city. Especially some underground communist rebels and the New Fourth Army were effectively deployed and fought against the invaders throughout the city’s occupation. [111]

Even in the early days, there were unprompted subversive activities in the Safety Zone by Chinese soldiers in hiding. For example, the New York Times reported the following incident with the headline, “Ex-Chinese Officers Among U. S. Refugees; Colonel and His Aides Admit Blaming the Japanese for Crimes in Nanking,” on January 4, 1938:

SHANGHAI, Jan. 3 – American professors remaining at Ginling College in Nanking as foreign members of the Refugee Welfare Committee were seriously embarrassed to discover that they had been harboring a deserted Chinese Army colonel and six of his subordinate officers. The professors had, in fact, made the colonel second in authority at the refugee camp.

The officers, who had doffed their uniforms during the Chinese retreat from Nanking, were discovered living in one of the college buildings. They confessed their identity after Japanese Army searchers found they had hidden six rifles, five revolvers, a dismounted machine gun and ammunition in the building.

The ex-Chinese officers in the presence of Americans and other foreigners confessed looting in Nanking and also that one night they dragged girls from the refugee camp into the darkness and the next day blamed Japanese soldiers for the attacks. The ex-officers were arrested and will be punished under martial law and probably executed. [112]

Dr. Robert Wilson, medical doctor at the University of Nanking, jotted down the circumstances in his diary when Japanese soldiers found buried weapons in a refugee camp. From December 30, 1937, the diary read:

Today some poor fool who was annoyed at the man in charge of one of the refugee camps in the Sericulture building brought some Japanese soldiers around and showed them where a half a dozen rifles had been buried on the grounds. There was an unholy row and four men were taken away, one being charged with the heinous crime of being a colonel in the Chinese Army. [113]

Interview: Kasahara Tokushi [114]

Japanese troops and Chinese street vendors in Nanking.

Japanese troops and Chinese street vendors in Nanking.

Kasahara Tokushi is a professor of History at Tsuru University. He has published various books and articles on the Nanking Atrocities (see Works Cited). He has also served as a visiting professor at Nanjing Normal University where the Research Center of Nanjing Massacre by the Japanese Aggressors is located.

“Of course there were propaganda activities and some resistance in Nanjing against Japanese troops. Japan invaded their land, killed their loved ones and took away their properties. Without doubt there were some Chinese who sought an opportunity to give the Japanese troops a blow.”

“But it was not systematic enough to threaten the Imperial Army. There was rather sporadic resistance. At any rate, it does not give any excuse for illegal executions, let alone rape, looting and other atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese troops….”

“Some ‘deniers’ argue that Nanjing was much more peaceful than we generally think. They always show some photographs with Chinese refugees selling some food in the street or Chinese people smiling in the camps. They are forgetting about Japanese propaganda. The Imperial Army imposed strict censorship. Any photographs with dead bodies couldn’t get through. So photographers had to remove all the bodies before taking pictures of streets and buildings in the city….”

“Vautrin [Minnie Vautrin] wrote of an occasion when a photographer told Chinese people to smile. Another member of the International Committee for the [Nanking] Safety Zone recorded that one day the Army gave out candies to kids before they took photos. Even if the photos weren’t staged, the refugees had no choice but to fawn on the Japanese soldiers. Acting otherwise meant their deaths….”

“I am certain that there were Chinese vendors in the street and even some thieves who stole things they needed. We shouldn’t forget that the refugees were struggling to survive no matter what. Had it not been for Japanese invasion, they wouldn’t have needed to go through such a horrible period in the first place.”

Go back to: Table of Contents


  1. William E. Daugherty, “China’s Official Publicity in The United States,” Public Opinion Quarterly 6.1 (Spring 1942): 73.
  2. Ibid.; Paul A. Varg, Missionaries, Chinese, and Diplomats: The American Protestant Missionary Movement in China, 1890-1952 (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1958), 260.
  3. Minoru Kitamura, “‘Nanking Daigyakusatsu’ Kenkyu Josetsu (Jo) [An Introduction to the Research on ‘The Nanjing Massacre’ (1)],” Toa 388 (October 1999): 36.
  4. Daugherty, 78-80.
  5. Joseph P. Selden, review of Japan: A World Problem, by H. J. Timperley, The Far Eastern Quarterly 2.4 (August 1943): 389; Kitamura, 34-37; Daugherty, 83.
  6. Ikuhiko Hata, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident], 9-10.
  7. H. J. Timperley, Japanese Terror in China (New York: Modern Age Books, 1938), 10.
  8. Matsumoto, 249-250.
  9. H. J. Timperley, “Yoshida Shoin Martyred Prophet of Japanese Expansionism,” Far Eastern Quarterly 1.4 (August 1942): 347.
  10. Ibid., 337-347; Timperley, Japan: A World Problem (New York: The John Day Company, 1942).
  11. The Times (London), 29 November 1954 and the Manchester Guardian, 29 November 1954.
  12. See American Missionary Eyewitnesses to the Nanking Massacre, 1937-1938, 13-15.
  13. Hsü Shuhsi, The War Conduct of the Japanese (Shanghai: Kelly and Walsh, 1938), 95-98.
  14. Timothy Brook, “Introduction: Documenting the Rape of Nanking,” in Documents of the Rape of Nanking, 12.
  15. Sun Zhaiwei, “Resistance by Citizen and Soldiers of Nanjing in the Nanjing Massacre,” in Nihongun ha Chugoku de Nani wo Shitaka [What the Imperial Army of Japan Did in China], ed. and trans. Kiyoshi Inoue and Tadashi Hiroshima (Tokyo: Aki Shobo, 1994), 82-86.
  16. The New York Times, 4 January, 1938.
  17. Documents of the Rape of Nanking, 231.
  18. Tokushi Kasahara, interview by author, Tokyo, Japan, 4 March 2000.

©2000 Masato Kajimoto. All Rights Reserved.

Japanese Propaganda

Japanese Propaganda

Media Blackout

"The day to complete the conquest of the walled city of Nanking" Tokyo Nichi Nichi newspaper evening edition on December 14, 1937.

“The day to complete the conquest of the walled city of Nanking” Tokyo Nichi Nichi newspaper evening edition on December 14, 1937.

“We heard yesterday that the Japanese News Agency, Domei, reported the population returning to their homes, business going on as usual and the population welcoming their Japanese visitors, or words to that effect,” wrote one of the missionaries in the Nanking Safety Zone, Robert Wilson, in his diary on December 21, 1937.

“If that is all the news that is going out of the city it is due for a big shake up when the real news breaks.” [120]

Throughout the Sino-Japanese War, the Imperial Army imposed a strict media blackout.

Article 12 of their censorship guideline for newspapers issued in September 1937 stated any news article or photograph “unfavorable” to the Army was subject to a gag.

The 13th Article affirmed that reports and photos concerning arrests or interrogations of Chinese soldiers and civilians that would give “an impression of torture” wouldn’t be approved.

The 14th prohibited any “photographs of atrocities” but endorsed reports about the “cruelty of Chinese” soldiers and civilians. [121]

As a result, although there were more than 100 journalists from Japan for the first week of the Japanese occupation of Nanking, stories of the brutal conduct by their countrymen never reached the Japanese general public at the time.

It was not until Wilson testified before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo on July 26, 1946, that the Nanking Atrocities made newspaper headlines. [122]

Without knowing about international condemnations, people in Japan celebrated the defeat of their enemy country’s capital nationwide with the press setting off the jubilant atmosphere by such headlines as “Banzai on the summit of Purple Mountain!” “Two great functions commemorating the victory to be held by Tokyo Asahi newspaper,” and “Nanking entirely conquered: Historical grand ceremony three days ahead in the walled city.” [123]

Propagation of Positive Images

Japanese troops giving out cigarettes to Chinese prisoners of war.

Japanese troops giving out cigarettes to Chinese prisoners of war.

The Japanese Army not only censored the news reports and photographs but also attempted to propagate peaceful images of the city.

“Some newspaper men came to the entrance of a concentration camp and distributed cakes and apples and handed out a few coins to the refugees. And a moving pictures was taken of this kind of act,” wrote another missionary, James McCallum, in his letter to his family on January 9, 1938.

“At the same time a bunch of soldiers climbed over the back wall of the compound and raped a dozen or so of the women. There were no pictures taken out back.” [124]

Sato Shinju, a photographer for Tokyo Nichi Nichi newspaper who stayed in Nanking until December 24, 1937, recalls a comparable occasion in the city. “The Army told us they were going to give some food and snacks to Chinese kids, and asked if we were interested in taking pictures of the scene,” says Sato. “They did not force us to go there, though. I assume they just wanted good publicity…. It was like an informal press conference.” [125]

The Asahi newspaper carried a photograph that might be the scene Sato was asked to take pictures of on December 24, 1937. The photo was titled “Peace restored in Nanjing” and the further caption noted, “Soldiers of the Imperial Army are giving candies to the refugees.” [126]

Other propaganda was aimed at the Chinese populace in Nanking. Upon entering the city, the Army distributed handbills that read, “Remain in your homes. Your neighbors from Japan want to restore peace.” [127]

George A. Fitch of the YMCA wrote in his diary:

While wholesale executions proceeded without interruption, Japanese army planes dropped leaflets from the air: “All good Chinese who return to their homes will be fed and clothed. Japan wants to be a good neighbor to those Chinese not fooled by monsters who are Chiang Kai-shek’s soldiers.” On the leaflet was a colored picture of a handsome Jap soldier, a Chinese child held Christ-like in his arms. At his feet a Chinese mother was bowing her thanks for bags of rice. [128]

Discrediting the Missionaries

A Japanese military postcard. Soldiers playing with Chinese children.

A Japanese military postcard. Soldiers playing with Chinese children.

To deal with the widespread condemnations abroad, the Japanese government tried to gloss over the atrocities by blaming subversive activities of some Chinese and by discrediting the “exaggerated” accounts given by the missionaries that were starting to circulate in the United States.

For instance, an American author named Frederick Vincent Williams, who was on the payroll of the Japanese propaganda organization, Jikyoku Iinkai, wrote a book called Behind the News in China in 1938 (to know more about Jikyoku Iinkai, see Appendix).

Although he did not directly mention Nanking, Williams implied that the atrocity stories were misguidedly reported in the United States. The pro-Japanese book claimed “the Chiang Kai-shek people” primed the foreign missionaries with “wild tales of alleged Japanese atrocities” and had them write “harrowing letters.” [129]

A Japanese newspaper, Osaka Mainichi, published such pamphlets as Common Sense and the China Emergency or The China Emergency in the English language that featured articles like “Japan’s Sole Aim – Peace of East Asia” or “Chinese Live in Japan Peacefully,” the tenor of which suggested Japan did not desire the “hideous war” and was by no means responsible for its provocation.

A newspaper-style four-page magazine, Japanese American, carried headlines such as “Nippon Saving China from Reds Writes Williams,” “Atrocity Stories Exploded as Real Facts Are Shown,” and “U.S. Enjoys Favorable Balance in Trade with Japan; Not with China.” [130] A leaflet printed late 1937 or early 1938 included a headline that reads “False Atrocity Stories Again Flood America!!!” referring to alleged use of poisonous gas shells, and other inhumane attacks by the Japanese troops in Shanghai and Nanking. [131]

A Japanese propaganda poster.

A Japanese propaganda poster.

The efforts to harm the reputation of the American Missionaries bore some fruits. A missionary in Japan, Arthur D. Berry, for instance, wrote to the Christian Advocate, “The stories of Japanese military forces deliberately destroying hospitals and schools in China, and deliberately slaughtering innocent Chinese people are slanderous lies.” [132]

In America a letter from one subscriber to Reader’s Digest claimed, “It is unbelievable that credence could be given a thing which is so obviously rank propaganda and so reminiscent of the stuff fed the public during the late war.” According to the magazine, it received similar comments from a number of readers. [133]

Reverend J. C. McKim apparently wrote a series of letters to the New York Times saying that it was not the Japanese but Chinese soldiers who were committing the atrocities.

“You were misinformed as far as Nanking was concerned,” wrote back John Magee, an American missionary in the Nanking Safety Zone, in a personal letter to McKim. After describing case after case of mass executions and rapes by the Japanese soldiers, Magee continued:

There was a small amount of looting of some shops by Chinese just before the Japanese entered. It is true that the homes of many people immediately outside the city walls were burnt down by the soldiers for defensive purposes, and this was certainly an outrage…. It is true that Chang Hsueh Liang’s troops, which showed up so miserably in the fighting, looted between here and Shanghai but there [they?] were executed by the hundreds. It is certainly unjust to have publicly accused the Chinese of such horrible things that happened here. [134]

An elementary school in Nanking. Chinese children receiving pro-Japanese education. Photo used by P. R. Dept. of the China Expeditionary Force of Japan.

An elementary school in Nanking. Chinese children receiving pro-Japanese education. Photo used by P. R. Dept. of the China Expeditionary Force of Japan.

Indeed, the members of the International Committee were all aware of the fact that the Japanese government tried to question the credibility of their reports.

On January 9 McCallum wrote, “Now the Japanese are trying to discredit our efforts in the Safety Zone. They threaten and intimidate poor Chinese into repudiating what we have said. Some of the Chinese are even ready to prove that the looting, raping and burning was done by the Chinese and not the Japanese.” [135]

Wilson’s diary on January 31 read, “We are branded as a lot of liars. The Japanese Embassy people tell people that everything we say is imaginative. That might be a lot truer if I were not a surgeon and have to patch up the results of their excesses.” [136]

In a letter to H. J. Timperley, a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, Miner Searle Bates wrote on March 3, “There has been a steady stream of lying charges against the University in the Sin Shun Pao, the propagandist organ widely distributed in Shanghai and East China generally.”

“I don’t think there’s any way that they [the missionaries] could bias their accounts because they were just telling the facts,” says the archivist of the Yale Divinity School, Martha Smalley.

“They were not particularly fond of the Chinese government. They recognized a lot of corruption. So I don’t think they were proponents of the ‘Chinese view.’ I really don’t think the claim [to discredit the missionaries] has too much basis.” [137]

Go back to: Table of Contents


  1. Documents of the Rape of Nanking, 219.
  2. Shinichi Kusamori, “Fukyoka Shashin Ron: Houkoku no Shashin 2 [An Essay on Disapproved Photographs: Journalistic Photos on Japan 2],” in Mainichi Shinbun Hizou Fukyoka Shashin 2 [Stashed Photographs in Mainichi Newspaper: the Disapproved 2], (Tokyo: Mainichi Shinbun, 1999), 177-178.
  3. Takashi Yoshida, “A Battle Over History: The Nanjing Massacre in Japan,” in The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography, ed. Joshua A. Fogel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 73.
  4. Ikuhiko Hata, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident], 15-16.
  5. Ibid., 43.
  6. Interview by author, Fujisawa (Kanagawa Prefecture), Japan, 28 February 2000.
  7. Katsuichi Honda, Nankin he no Michi [The Road to Nanjing] (Tokyo: Asahi Bunko, 1989), 335.
  8. “The Sack of Nanking,” Readers’ Digest (July 1938): 29.
  9. Ibid., 31.
  10. Frederick Vincent Williams, Behind the News in China (New York: Nelson Hughes, 1938), 113-116.
  11. “In the Propaganda Arena (in Surveys; Professional Services),” Public Opinion Quarterly 2.3 (July 1938): 493-494.
  12. Bruno Lasker and Agnes Roman, Propaganda from China and Japan: A Case Study in Propaganda Analysis (American Council, Institute of Pacific Relations, 1938), 80.
  13. “Missionaries Write Home,” letter from Arthur D. Berry, The Christian Advocate (6 January 1938): 7, quoted in Paul A. Varg, Missionaries, Chinese, and Diplomats (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1958), 263.
  14. “We Were In Nanking,” Readers’ Digest (October 1938): 41.
  15. American Missionary Eyewitnesses to the Nanking Massacre, 1937-1938, 63.
  16. American Missionary Eyewitnesses to the Nanking Massacre, 1937-1938, 43.
  17. Documents of the Rape of Nanking, 246.
  18. Martha L. Smalley, interview by author, New Haven, Connecticut, 25 January 2000.

©2000 Masato Kajimoto. All Rights Reserved.

The Safety Zone and American Missionaries

The Safety Zone and American Missionaries

The Nanking Safety Zone

Members of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone. December 1937.

Members of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone. December 1937.

In mid-November 1937, as the Japanese air raid on Nanking intensified, many wealthy Chinese and Westerners began leaving the city.

Especially after Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek officially declared that the Nationalist government of China would eventually transfer the capital from Nanking to Chungking and its military headquarters would be shifted to the transitional capital of Hankow on November 20, the scale of evacuation became much larger. [52]

Following the departing Chinese government, most foreigners also decided to leave the city. A small number of Western businessmen and missionaries, however, chose to remain in the future battlefield. They were primarily American missionaries from the Episcopal, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches. [53]

On November 22, 1937, trusting their privileged status as third-party nationals, those remaining foreigners voluntarily organized a committee called the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone to provide Chinese people with refuge and relief.

They elected a German businessman of Siemens China Corporation, John Rabe, as its chair presumably for not only his character but also his status as a Nazi (Japan and Germany signed the bilateral Anti-Comintern Pact in 1936).

"Nanking Refugee District [authorized by] the International Committee: REFUGEE CAMPS"

“Nanking Refugee District [authorized by] the International Committee: REFUGEE CAMPS”

“The Chinese authorities agreed to the idea of the Zone, though the military were naturally reluctant to move out of the area before the very last minute,” wrote American missionary Miner Searl Bates, a professor of History at the University of Nanking and a member of the International Committee, in April 1938.

“The Japanese authorities never formally recognized the Zone, but did say that they would not attack an area which was not occupied by Chinese troops. On this narrow margin of agreement, the Chinese promise to evacuate the area and the Japanese statement that they would not intentionally attack an unoccupied place, the Safety Zone was finally put through.” [54]

The Nanking Safety Zone was established in the western district of the city. It was composed of a score of refugee camps that occupied an area of about 3.4 square miles (8.6 square kilometers). On December 1, 1937, Mayor Ma Chaochun of Nanking met the International Committee and authorized them to take over the city’s administration once he and his staff were evacuated. [55]

The Japanese government issued the statement mentioned by Bates on Dec. 4 and, indeed, the Army did not subject the Safety Zone to concentrated air bombardment or shelling. Only a few shells landed in the Zone throughout the siege, which wounded some 40 refugees. [56]

Although the Committee’s proposal for a three-day armistice on Dec. 9 never materialized (see Introduction), the remaining Westerners, as well as local Chinese residents, thought the strains of war would be over and their lives would be secure once the Japanese troops took over the city.

However, when Chinese defense finally collapsed and the Japanese troops made their way into the city on Dec. 13, as Bates later noted, their hopes were “doomed to disappointment.”

Struggle against the Atrocities

A pond filled with corpses. "This is a scene typical of many of the ponds inside the city after the occupation of the city by the Japanese," noted Forster.

A pond filled with corpses. “This is a scene typical of many of the ponds inside the city after the occupation of the city by the Japanese,” noted Forster.

“If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would not have believed it,” wrote the committee chairman Rabe in his diary on that day.

“They [Japanese soldiers] smash open windows and doors and take whatever they like…. I watched with my own eyes as they looted the café of our German baker Herr Kiessling…. Of the perhaps one thousand disarmed soldiers that we had quartered at the Ministry of Justice, between 400 and 500 were driven from it with their hands tied. We assume they were shot since we later heard several salvos of machine-gun fire. These events have left us frozen with horror.” [57]

As the entering Japanese soldiers wreaked havoc, more and more people rushed into the refugee camps inside the Safety Zone, raising its population to an overwhelming 200,000 – 250,000. Day after day the members of the International Committee received reports about wholesale pillage, arson, rape, whimsical murder and mass execution, which kept them completely busy for the next six or seven weeks.

Rabe and American missionary Lewis S. C. Smythe, who was also a professor of Sociology at the University of Nanking and the secretary of the International Committee, recorded atrocities of the Japanese troops and reported to the Japanese embassy repeatedly.

They and other Committee members frequently contacted Consul-General Okazaki Katsuo, Second Secretary (later Acting Consul-General) Fukui Kiyoshi and Attaché Fukuda Tokuyasu to deal with the anarchic situation. [58]

"After having been beaten by a Japanese soldier with an iron bar, this 13-year-old boy was bayoneted in the head," noted Magee.

“After having been beaten by a Japanese soldier with an iron bar, this 13-year-old boy was bayoneted in the head,” noted Magee.

Dr. Robert Wilson and Dr. C. S. Trimmer, medical doctors at the American-administered University Hospital, had to treat numerous patients and go through surgical operations every day without running water and electricity for weeks as a consequence of rape, torture and bayonet practices with Chinese POWs by the Japanese soldiers. Reverend James McCallum kept the hospital running as the administrator of the institution.

Rev. John Magee, the chairman of the International Red Cross Nanking Branch, also took care of the wounded at the hospital and filmed some of them with his 16mm movie camera to visually record the atrocities.

Another missionary, Willhelmina Vautrin, or Minnie Vautrin as called by her colleagues, protected thousands of women from being raped as she oversaw the refugee camp at Ginling Women’s Arts and Science College where she served as the acting president. [59]

As well as protesting to the Japanese embassy on almost daily basis, Bates, Magee and George A. Fitch, the head of the YMCA at Nanking, actively wrote of the chaotic conditions created by the Japanese troops, mimeographed or retyped their stories over and over and sent them to their friends, government officials, and Christian organizations so as to let the world, especially the American public, know what was going on in the terrorized city.

They hoped that the U. S. government would intervene, or at least apply the Neutrality Act of 1937 to the “China Incident,” which would have made it illegal for any American business to sell war materials to Japan.

Refugees in the University of Nanking. March 1938.

Refugees in the University of Nanking. March 1938.

A letter of Bates to the American Consul in January 1938, for instance, explained how the Safety Zone had been “tenaciously maintained” and needed help “amid dishonor by soldiers, murdering, wounding, wholesale raping, resulting in violent terror.” [60]

Fitch succeeded in smuggling the films shot by Magee out of China when he temporarily left the country in January 1938. That year he traveled throughout the United States, giving speeches about what he witnessed in Nanking along with the films that showed haunting images of Chinese victims. [61]

In the United States the Committee on the Far East of the Foreign Missions Conference received scores of letters from those missionaries in Nanking. After weeks of consideration, they decided to release the letters in February 1938 despite the possible adverse effect on the Christian movement in Japan, which led to the eventual publication of their letters in some magazines such as Readers’ Digest in mid-1938. [62]

Some of their vivid accounts of the Nanking Atrocities in the official documents, protests, letters and diaries were also collected in such books as H. J. Timperley’s What War Means (in America it was titled Japanese Terror in China), Hsü Shuhsi’s The War Conduct of the Japanese in 1938, and another work by Hsü, Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone, in 1939, which promoted China’s cause in the war to the world.

After the War

Refugees who gathered at the headquarters of the International Committee to receive the first cash relief. February 1938.

Refugees who gathered at the headquarters of the International Committee to receive the first cash relief. February 1938.

In 1946, the year after Japan lost the Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East convened in Tokyo to try Japan’s Class-A war crime suspects.

Among the members of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone who took the witness stand were Robert Wilson, Miner Searle Bates and John Magee. George A. Fitch, Lewis Smythe and James McCallum filed affidavits with their diaries and letters. One of the books by Hsü, Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone, was also adduced in court. [63]

Had it not been for those American missionaries, the tribunal and the world would never have known of the cruel nature and inconceivable scale of the Nanking Atrocities as we know today (see also Postwar Judgment).

However, in China during the Korean War (1950-53) those available records of the International Committee members were negatively used in an attempt by the Chinese government to arouse patriotism against the United States. In the propaganda campaign many missionaries were stigmatized as Americans who sacrificed Chinese people’s lives to protect their property, who guided the Imperial Army of Japan into the city and who cooperated with the Japanese troops to round up prisoners of war in the refugee camps.

As its after-effect, even the extensive study on the topic done by the researchers at the University of Nanking in 1962 argued that Westerners assisted the invaders in executing Chinese in Nanking. The research blamed those foreigners for not having any intention to prevent the ongoing atrocities. [64]

Yale Divinity School Library holds many of the personal letters and diaries written by the missionaries.

Yale Divinity School Library holds many of the personal letters and diaries written by the missionaries.

This erroneous perception of the members of the International Committee in China evidently reversed in the 1980s as more historical documents became accessible and more thorough studies came out. Today many of the missionaries’ private diaries and letters that elaborately depicted the scale and character of the Nanking Atrocities are collected at the Yale Divinity School Library.

“Basically, there are two types of people [who often visit the library]. Scholarly researchers who are trying to do serious research and there are other people who are making documentaries of various kinds,” said Martha Smalley, the archivist at the Yale Divinity School Library.

“I think we’ve never had Japanese ultra-nationalists come here and look at these records because it is very clear to anyone, looking at these records, that it [the Nanking Atrocities] occurred. You have several different people giving independent accounts and they were all documenting the same events. There could not possibly be any kind of way that they were making up what they saw….”

“They [the missionaries] were not particularly complimentary about the Chinese Army, either. But they were reacting towards the events that happened to actual people, women and children…. They were not making any kind of political statements at all. In these letters they were talking about the specific events that happened…. Many of them were educational missionaries. They were professors in the university and they were just trying to help the people.” [65]

Go back to: Table of Contents


  1. Tokushi Kasahara, Nanking Nanminku no Hyakunichi [One Hundred Days in the Nanking Safety Zone] (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1995), 60.
  2. Tien-wei Wu, in the preface of American Missionary Eyewitnesses to the Nanking Massacre 1937-1938, ed. Martha L. Smalley (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale Divinity School Library, 1997), ii.
  3. American Missionary Eyewitnesses to the Nanking Massacre 1937-1938, 11.
  4. Timothy Brook, “Introduction: Documenting the Rape of Nanking,” in Documents on the Rape of Nanking, 3.
  5. Kasahara, Nanking Nanminku no Hyakunichi [One Hundred Days in the Nanking Safety Zone], 72; “Terror in Nanking,” the Times (London); Hata, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident], 83-84.
  6. Rabe, 67-68.
  7. Most of the official documents were printed in Hsü Shuhsi, Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone (Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, 1939). The entire book is reprinted in Documents of the Rape of Nanking.
  8. American Missionary Eyewitnesses to the Nanking Massacre 1937-1938, 2-10; Kasahara, Nanking Nanminku no Hyakunichi [One Hundred Days in the Nanking Safety Zone], 1-3. See also Wilson’s Diary in Documents of the Rape of Nanking.
  9. Quoted in Paul A. Varg, Missionaries, Chinese, and Diplomats: The American Protestant Missionary Movement in China, 1890-1952 (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1958), 260.
  10. American Missionary Eyewitnesses to the Nanking Massacre 1937-1938, 4.
    Varg, 258-261. See also “The Sack of Nanking,” Readers’ Digest (July 1938): 28-31 and “We Were In Nanking,” Readers’ Digest (October 1938): 41-44.
  11. Arnold C. Brackman, The Other Nuremberg: The Untold Story of the Tokyo War Crimes Trials (New York: William Morrow, 1987), 178-180; Brook, 16; Hata, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident], 33-34; Fujiwara, “‘Tokyo Saiban ni yoru Dechiage’ Setsu koso ga Dechiage [The Theory of ‘Fabrication at the Tokyo War Crimes Trial’ Is the Real Fabrication], in Nanking Daigyakusatsu Hiteiron 13 no Uso [Thirteen lies in the Nanjing Massacre Deniers’ Claims] (Tokyo: Kashiwa Shobo, 1999), 20.
  12. Mark Eykholt, “Aggression, Victimization, and Chinese Historiography of the Nanjing Massacre,” in The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography, ed. Joshua A. Fogel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 24-26.
  13. Martha L. Smalley, interview by author, New Haven, Connecticut, 25 January 2000.

©2000 Masato Kajimoto. All Rights Reserved.

Appendix: Propaganda Activities

Propaganda Activities in Northern China – Utilization of Atrocity Stories

“When the Marco Polo Bridge incident on 7 July 1937 set off full-scale war between China and Japan,” wrote a professor of Chinese literature, Leo Ou-fan Lee, in The Cambridge History of China, “it also unleashed a crescendo of literary activities.”

In China all factional intellectuals in the early thirties united at once and flocked to the banner of “K’ang-chan,” or “the war of resistance,” issuing spontaneous anti-Japanese manifestos.

Only a few days after the incident, for example, some sixteen dramatists in Shanghai created a three-act play called Pao-wei Lu-Kou-ch’iao, or Defend the Marco Polo Bridge.

In March 1938 in Hankow the All-China Resistance Association of Writers and Artists was founded, led by Lao She. Within a short time, branches sprang up in major cities all over China.

The member writers visited battlefronts, “fraternized” with the soldiers and filed “emotion-tinged” reportage in the form of journalistic or proto-journalistic literature, which gained enormous popularity. The Association also assigned young writers in rural areas to initiate literary activities in the region, provided specific themes, and corrected their reports and creative writings. In Shanghai area, more than three hundred reports of those kinds were seemingly organized “in a matter of days.”

According to Leo, the two reigning slogans in the field of literature were: “Literature must go to the countryside! Literature must join the army!” and “Propaganda first, art second!”

Besides the visiting teams and the literary reporters, the Association created five propaganda teams and ten dramatic troops. Soon the dramatic groups became extremely popular and in 1939 they included as many as 130,000 performers. [115]

Haldore Hanson, a freelance journalist and Associated Press correspondent in China, spent two weeks with the local “guerilla” group or the Self-Defense Government, in Central Hopei in March 1938. Traveling in the region, he saw some drama performances written for the local people and wrote:

The themes were all anti-Japanese and had been written especially for the Hopei people. A typical theme: a drunken Japanese soldier (the actor wearing a real Japanese uniform) enters a home and tries to rape the mother but is killed by the daughter who fetches the family meat cleaver.

The crowd cheered lustily when the little girl, after hesitating for several minutes, finally felled the enemy. Between the acts of this dramatic program the school children sang patriotic songs, led the crowd in cheers, and performed a sword dance. Mass meeting are popular among villagers. [116]

Hanson observed several mass meetings of over 20,000 peasants with speeches, dramas and patriotic songs. In his words, all speeches painted the Imperial Army of Japan as “the most depraved fiend on earth,” and “every atrocity committed by the Japanese soldiers – murder, rape, robbery, the burning of villages, the polluting of wells – was dwelt on in the blood-chilling orations delivered by these political agents.” [117]

Although Kuomintang’s official propaganda organization was established within the National Military Council in 1938, it was Communists and their sympathizers who were indeed in charge of the entire propaganda operations domestically. [118] The Kuomintang flag and the Communist emblem were always shown together at public meetings.

In Hanson’s view, the emphasis of all propaganda was to appeal to a “family-oriented peasantry,” rather than to educate peasants to create a socialist republic.

In his article, he described a cartoon in six scenes pasted on the walls of hundreds of villages, which made “tremendous appeal to a simple peasantry,” as follows:

The artist shows a Japanese officer welcomed into a Chinese home, then making love to the daughter at the dinner table, next trying to rape her that night, then the parents rushing to her assistance and being shot dead, finally the officer satisfying his lust and killing the daughter.

Through this cartoon, “they are taught to fight not for Communism,” wrote the journalist, “but against ‘wicked enemy’ who is said to be slaughtering the villagers and endangering the ancestral altars.” [119]


  1. Leo Ou-fan Lee, “Literary Trends: the Road to Revolution 1927-1949,” in The Cambridge History of China 13, ed. John K. Fairbank and Denis Twithchett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 466-470.
  2. Haldore Hanson, “The People Behind the Chinese Guerillas,” Pacific Affairs 11.3 (September 1938): 289.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Leo, 467.
  5. Hanson, 290-291.

End of A Propaganda Organization – Jikyoku Iinkai in the United States

On June 1, 1942 in Federal District Court in Washington D.C., an American named Frederick Vincent Williams was convicted of conspiracy and nine violations of the Foreign Agents Act after a three-week trial.

Williams, who wrote in his 1938 Behind the News in China that “the Chiang Kai-shek people” talked the foreign missionaries into writing about “wild tales of alleged Japanese atrocities” in their “harrowing letters,” [138] indeed worked with a Japanese organization, Jikyoku Iinkai, to propagate the doctrine that Japan was not an enemy to the United States. [139]

Jikyoku Iinkai, which literally means the committee for current state of affairs in Japanese, was known as the Japanese Committee on Trade and Information. It was financed and controlled by the Japanese government, which spent some $195,000 for the purpose of spreading propaganda in the United States through radio speeches, a monthly magazine and pro-Japanese booklets.

Williams, along with his two American confederates, David Warren Ryder and Ralph Townsend, worked closely with five other Japanese agents to distribute their side of the stories on the Second Sino-Japanese War. All three Americans and the five Japanese were later indicted by a Federal Grand Jury.

Legally registered as an employee at a Japanese steamship line, Nippon Yusen, Frederick Vincent Williams, or “Wiggy,” operated as a correspondent of an English language newspaper published in Tokyo. Jikyoku Iinkai funds were deposited under Williams’ name in the Yokohama Specie Bank. The Japanese Consulate General in San Francisco was also frequently seen to have put money in his bank account.

On June 5, 1942, Williams was sentenced to 16 months to four years in prison, which included eight months to two years for conspiracy and an equal term for filing nine false registrations with the State Department.

Among the three American conspirators the most prolific writer was Ralph Townsend, a former college professor who brought back strong Japanese sympathies from his several years of service as a consular officer in China. “After he visited Japan in 1937,” wrote the Washington Post, “propaganda began to hum on the West Coast.”

Townsend wrote a number of pamphlets and books such as The High Cost of Hate, America Has No Enemies in Asia, and Seeking Foreign Trouble, [140] made numerous speeches and radio talks, and edited an anti-British magazine, Scribner’s Commentator.

Townsend admitted having concealed he was in the pay of the Japanese and pleaded guilty to the charge that he violated the Foreign Agents Act. Although the author of this online documentary could not find what sentence Townsend received, the most he could get was a $1,000 fine and eight to 24 months in prison.

A former newspaper man, David Warren Ryder, was given the same prison term as Williams. According to one witness, it was Ryder who developed the scheme for wholesaling “pro-Japanese publicity” in the United States and initiated the large-scale operations.

Of the five Japanese conspirators the only one who was arrested by Federal authorities was Obana Tsutomu, who pleaded guilty at the beginning of the trial and testified against Williams and Ryder. The other four, including K. Takahashi, the manager of the Nippon Yusen, had fled to Japan long before the prosecution cracked down.

Obana was sentenced to a rather light punishment, two to six months’ imprisonment. The Post quoted the presiding judge Goldsborough as saying, “It is to be said for Obana that he did not try to be crookedly smart, he was not disloyal to his country, he attempted no betrayal.” [141]

Go back to: Table of Contents


  1. Williams, 113-116.
  2. As to information on Jikyku Iinkai and the trial, the author went through a series of articles by Dillard Stokes appeared in the Washington Post on 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 19, 20, 26, 27 of May 1942 and 2, 5, 6 of June 1942 as well as the San Francisco Chronicle on 28 March and 11 May 1942, and San Francisco News on 27 March 1942.
  3. For detailed citations, see the holdings of the California State Library System under Ralph Townsend. The list could be also seen at
  4. Dillard Stokes, “Jap Agents Given Jail Terms, Lecture,” the Washington Post, 6 June 1942.

©2000 Masato Kajimoto. All Rights Reserved.

Killing Prisoners of War

Killing Prisoners of War

Policy to Take No Prisoners

Bodies left unburied along the Yangtze River. Photo taken by a Japanese soldier, Murase Moriyasu, of the 17th Motorized Company of the Meguro Supply and Transport Regiment.

Bodies left unburied along the Yangtze River. Photo taken by a Japanese soldier, Murase Moriyasu, of the 17th Motorized Company of the Meguro Supply and Transport Regiment.

“After that, we successively had a number of prisoners surrendering to us. It became a group of several thousands. The extremely enraged soldiers adversely reacted to the officers’ attempts to restrain them and butchered the captives one after another,” wrote Major General Sasaki Touichi, commander of the Sasaki Detachment of the 16th Division of the Shanghai Expeditionary Force, of the day his troops entered the city.

“Looking back at the last ten days of hardships and bloodshed that killed and wounded many of our buddies, though I am not a mere common soldier, I am in favor of saying, ‘Kill them all!’ We ran out of even a grain of rice and, though maybe there are some in the city, I am certain that our Army wouldn’t have any extra to feed the prisoners.” [66]

The next day, on December 14, Sasaki officially commanded his troops not to take any prisoners unless ordered to do so. [67]

In the past two decades in Japan, voluminous evidence of the Nanking Atrocities was unearthed and collected by many historians, some journalists and war veterans. But, surprisingly, one of the most dramatic episodes of the discoveries did not concern any researcher or journalist.

In the late 1980s a chemical factory worker, Ono Kenji, who prefers to be called a “laborer,” began investigating what had become of the Chinese prisoners of war captured by the Yamada Detachment of the 13th Division. Most officers and men of the unit came from Fukushima Prefecture where Ono’s hometown is located.

For the next seven years Ono interviewed about 200 war veterans and collected 24 wartime diaries and other historical materials.

His work not only revealed how possibly the largest mass executions of POWs in the Nanking Atrocities took place near Mufu Mountain, but also showed how ordinary men were dragged into war and were transformed into numb-minded killers. [68]

Bodies on the Yangtze bank. Photo taken by Murase.

Bodies on the Yangtze bank. Photo taken by Murase.

Another dramatic and perhaps the most significant contribution to the explication of the Nanking Atrocities came to pass when a war veterans’ organization, Kaikosha, asked its 18,000-odd members for any information relating to the Battle of Nanjing for its newsletter, Kaiko, in the mid-1980s.

The campaign was initially intended to refute the myth of the Nanjing Massacre, but ironically the organization received mounting evidence that incriminated the Japanese troops.

“There is no excuse for this mass illegal disposition [of the prisoners of war],” said war veteran Katogawa Kotaro, one of the chief editors of the publication, in the last issue of the 11-part series. “As a person relating to the Imperial Army, I can do nothing but apologize to the Chinese people. It was cruel. I am sincerely sorry.” [69]

Indeed, the accumulated evidence, namely wartime diaries, memoirs, field reports and official records of the military operations, all suggested that the upper echelons of the Imperial Army adopted a policy to “dispose of” – euphemism for “kill” – every captive. The commander of the 16th Division, Lieutenant General Nakajima Kesago, for instance, wrote in his diary on Dec. 13:

To begin with, it is our policy not to take prisoners, so we decided to get them out of the way. But when it became a group of one thousand, five thousand, and finally ten thousand, we couldn’t even disarm them all. We were safe simply because they had absolutely no will to fight back and followed us slovenly…. I have never imagined that we would have to deal with this large-scale disposition. The staff officers were extremely busy.

I later learned the Sasaki Detachment alone disposed of about fifteen thousand; the one company commander assigned to guard Taiping Gate disposed of about thirteen hundred; seven or eight thousand gathered near Xianhao Gate and many others are still coming to surrender one after another. In order to dispose of these seven or eight thousand people, we needed quite a large trench but were unable to find one. My plan is to divide them into groups of one or two hundred, lure them to proper places and dispose of them there. [70]

The adjutant to the commanding officer (Matsui Iwane) of the China Central Area Army (CCAA), Major Sumi Yoshiharu, told Kaiko that Lieutenant Colonel Cho Isamu, an information staff officer of the Shanghai Expeditionary Force and a general staff of CCAA, ordered the killing of a great number of POWs held in Xiaguan. [71]

In his autobiography, Marquis Tokugawa Yoshichika wrote of an anecdote he heard from his friend to whom Cho himself apparently told the following story directly:

A crowd of fleeing civilians including women and children, as well as a number of Chinese soldiers, was surging along the banks of Yangtze. Letting go the Chinese soldiers would affect the course of the war. So Lieutenant Colonel Cho ordered the troops who were holding machine guns at the front to shoot them.

Since there were many civilians in the crowd along with some soldiers, the Japanese troops were hesitant and couldn’t do it. Cho lost his temper. “You want to know how to kill people! Like this!” He slashed one of his troops down from the shoulder with his sword. Stunned at Cho, the other troops snapped and opened fire. That’s how the massacre started. [72]

A Chinese soldier captured by Japanese troops.

A Chinese soldier captured by Japanese troops.

In Nanjing, the remnants of the defeated army, whether they voluntarily surrendered or whether they got captured as they straggled, were mercilessly killed in the name of “mopping-up” operations.

As observed by the foreign journalists and many Japanese journalists, the Japanese troops also conducted intensive searches for plain-clothes soldiers in the refugee camps.

They looked into one house after another, assembled every able-bodied man and inspected each one for any sign of having been a soldier such as a helmet mark on the forehead, an imprint of a machine-gun strap on the shoulders or calluses on the hands.

Through this arbitrary procedure, many civilians who were not even remotely connected to the Chinese Army were also selected and marched off to execution sites in many parts of the city and outside the walls.

A naval officer, Okumiya Masatake, looked around Nanking on December 25 and 27 in search of dead bodies of missing navy pilots and saw “countless bodies of Chinese” discarded along the shore of the Xuanwu Lake near the Xuanwu Gate. On both days he also witnessed Army troops executing a number of Chinese people at the Xiaguan execution site.

Wondering how they managed to bring so many POWs to the area without much difficulty, he asked a nearby soldier about the trick.

Unburied bodies along the Yangtze. Photo taken by Murase.

Unburied bodies along the Yangtze. Photo taken by Murase.

According to Okumiya’s book, he replied, “We say, ‘If you are hungry, raise your hands!’ to the Chinese whom we forced to clean up the battle site inside the city walls. Then get those who raised their hands on a truck as if we would take them to a place to eat.” [73]

Executing POWs without any kind of military trial was already a violation of the Hague Regulations of 1902. But, at any rate, most Japanese troops did not have any intention to protect any human rights of the captives.

Some soldiers, if not many, also wreaked their resentments on the prisoners. That was typically embodied in the brutal tortures before executions.

Sergeant Masuda Rokusuke of the 20th Infantry Regiment of the 16th Division wrote in his memoirs:

On the 14th, I went to the refugee camps organized by the International Committee to sweep the place…. Each platoon ransacked its assigned area house to house and checked every single man. Sergeant Maeda of the 2nd Platoon found a few hundreds of stragglers shedding their uniforms and donning civilian clothes inside a big building.

I entered the building right away and saw a crowd of stragglers, a heap of Chinese swords and other weapons…. We dragged them out, striped them naked, inspected their possessions, and bundled them with an electric wire we picked up in the street….

“You made us suffer!”… “You made us sacrifice our buddies!”… “You made Japanese people cry!” “You, little brat!” We kicked, whipped, and beat the heads, backs and other parts of the captives to give vent to our frustration. There were at least 300 of them….

In the evening, we led nearly 600 stragglers to the Xuanwu Gate and mowed them down at one go. [74]

Go back to: Table of Contents


  1. Nanking Senshi Shiryoshu I [Historical Records of the Battle of Nanjing I], 272.
  2. Ibid., 439.
  3. Kenji Ono, et al., comp. Nanking Daigyakusatsu o Kirokushita Kogun Heishitach [Imperial Army Soldiers Who Recorded the Nanjing Massacre] (Tokyo, Otsuki Shoten, 1996). See also 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],” in Nanking Jiken Chosa Kenkyukai [The Nanjing Incident Research Group], Nanking Daigyakusatsu Hiteiron 13 no Uso [Thirteen lies in the Nanjing Massacre Deniers’ Claims] (Tokyo: Kashiwa Shobo, 1999), 140-156.
  4. Hata Ikuhiko, Showashi no Nazo wo Ou (Jo) [Chasing Down the Mysteries of Showa History (1)] (Tokyo: Bungei Shunji, 1993), 133-134.
  5. Nanking Senshi Shiryoshu I [Historical Records of the Battle of Nanjing I], 220.
  6. Ibid., 652-653.
  7. Quoted in Yutaka Yoshida, Tenno no Guntai to Nanking Jiken [The Emperor’s Military and the Nanjing Incident], 109.
  8. Masatake Okumiya, Watashi no Mita Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident That I Saw] (Tokyo: PHP Kenkyujo, 1997), 33-39.
  9. Nanking Senshi Shiryoshu I [Historical Records of the Battle of Nanjing I], 416.

©2000 Masato Kajimoto. All Rights Reserved.