Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact

This Article

Using Primary Sources To Clarify the Nanking Incident

By Tomisawa Shigenobu,

Using Primary Sources To Clarify the Nanking Incident
Tomisawa Shigenobu
Former Chairman, Study Group for the Examination of the Nanking Incident
Auditor, Committee for the Examination of the Facts about Nanking
The Second Sino-Japanese War began in 1937. In December of that year, the Japanese
were victorious in the Battle of Nanking. The allegation that, when occupying Nanking,
Japanese military personnel set upon the civilian residents of the city, raping and killing
them, was later leveled against Japan. The accusers further alleged that the Japanese
murdered 200,000-300,000 persons, including prisoners of war, in what is commonly
known in Japan as the “Nanking Incident,” and in the West as the “Nanking massacre”
and the “Rape of Nanking.” It is very likely that their position derives from unguarded
acceptance of a book entitled What War Means1 and from judgments handed down at
the Tokyo Trials.2
What War Means was published by the Chinese Nationalist government. The book was
the product of an intense propaganda campaign launched after the Chinese suffered
devastating military defeats and retreated first from Shanghai, and then Nanking as well.
The Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) government’s Central Propaganda Department
hired H. J. Timperley, a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian to convince readers
throughout the world that the Japanese were fighting a war of aggression in which they
used abhorrent tactics. All the while, he masqueraded as a neutral foreign journalist.3
When the Pacific War ended, the US Occupation Forces made incapacitating Japan both
1 Timperley, Harold J., ed., What War Means: Japanese Terror in China (London: Victor Golanz
Ltd., 1938).
2 Formally, International Military Tribunal for the Far East (May 1946-November 1948). While the
war with China continued, Japan fought against the US and the other Allies in the Asian-Pacific
region from 1941 until Japan’s surrender in August 1946.
3 Kitamura Minoru, The Politics of Nanjing: An Impartial Investigation, trans. Hal Gold (New York:
University Press of America, 2007); Higashinakano Shudo, Nankin jiken Kokuminto gokuhi bunsho
kara yomitoku (Top-secret Chinese Nationalist documents reveal the truth about the Nanking
Incident) (Tokyo, Soshisha, 2006); for English translation, see

materially and spiritually their first priority. Materially, they stripped the nation of what
remained of its combat capability. Spiritually, they implemented the WGIP (War Guilt
Information Program), which used the media to inform the public that Japan had waged
a war of aggression, and that its armies used combat tactics that were extremely brutal.
As a particularly egregious example of Japanese behavior during the Second
Sino-Japanese War, the WGIP cited the Nanking Incident, in which the Japanese
allegedly murdered 200,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians. WGIP’s version of the
events that transpired after the fall of Nanking distorted perceptions of the war between
Japan and China, but gained international acceptance nonetheless.
About 10 years ago, I made a careful examination of all primary sources available in
Japan concerning the Nanking Incident. I then entered all relevant information (about
6,000 items) into a database. I used the computer to analyze the information in my
database from every possible angle in my search to discover what really happened in
Nanking. The results were published in 2003 under the title Nankin jiken no kakushin
(At the core of the Nanking Incident). I believe that my findings represent the truth, i.e.,
what was at the core of the Nanking Incident, as the title suggests.
This paper is a summary of the essential points in that book. I have set aside all
preconceptions, and have laid before the reader what I believe to be the true meaning of
what the source documents reveal.
Preface……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. i
Chapter 1: The Venue of the Nanking Incident……………………………………………………………………..1
I. The popular perception ……………………………………………………………………………………………………1
II. The actual situation in Nanking……………………………………………………………………………………….2
III. Japanese soldiers encounter a ghost town………………………………………………………………………..3
Chapter 2: The “Original” Nanking Incident ……………………………………………………………………..10
I. Sweep Operations…………………………………………………………………………………………………………10
II. Movement of Japanese troops after capture of Nanking ……………………………………………………12
III. Crimes against civilians in Nanking ……………………………………………………………………………..14
IV. Conclusion…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………18
Chapter 3: Dissolution of the Safety Zone, the International Committee, and the Nanking
Incident …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….21
Appendix: Population Statistics for Nanking from Contemporaneous Records…………………….24
Chapter 1: The Venue of the Nanking Incident
I. The popular perception
The Nanking Incident is commonly known as the “Nanking massacre” or the “Rape of
Nanking” in the English-speaking world. The popular perception of it is, as stated in the
Preface, that after capturing the Chinese capital, a huge Japanese army ran amok there,
murdering and committing other criminal acts.
Here is how it is described in the judgment handed down by the IMTFE (International
Military Tribunal for the Far East).4
The Chinese Army retreated, leaving approximately 50,000 troops behind to
defend the city.5
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
Gate 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 the 13 December 1937.
The Japanese soldiers swarmed over the city and committed various atrocities.
According to one of the eye witnesses they were let loose like a barbarian
horde to desecrate the city.
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 … until in places the streets and
4 Also commonly known as the Tokyo Trials.
5 Ancient Chinese cities were surrounded by high walls to protect them against invaders. Here
“city” refers to the walled city of Nanking, which should not be confused with the larger Nanking
metropolitan area, which included areas outside the walls as well.
alleys were littered with the bodies of their victims.6
In What War Means, American missionary Minor Searle Bates, posing as an anonymous
foreigner, proceeds to describe the situation in Nanking immediately after the entry of
the Japanese army into the walled city. The tone of this description, which I call “Bates’
Report,” reverberates through the entire book. Bates handed a similar account to foreign
reporters who left Nanking on December 15, two days after the Japanese entry. Since it
was the only Western news source, it colored all subsequent reporting on the Nanking
But in two days the whole outlook has been ruined by frequent murder,
wholesale and semi-regular looting, and uncontrolled disturbance of private
homes including offences against the security of women. Foreigners who have
travelled over the city report many civilian bodies lying in the streets. In the
central portion of Nanking they were counted yesterday as about one to the city
block. A considerable percentage of the dead civilians were the victims … of the
13th, which was the time of Japanese entry into the city. Any person who ran in
fear or excitement, and any one who was caught in streets or alleys after dusk by
roving patrols was likely to be killed on the spot. Most of this severity was
beyond even theoretical excuse. It proceeded in the Safety Zone as well as
elsewhere, and many cases are plainly witnessed by foreigners and by reputable
Bates continues with similar descriptions of looting and rapes.
II. The actual situation in Nanking
Amazingly, when Bates took the witness stand at the Tokyo Trials on July 29, 1946, he
gave completely contradictory testimony in his opening statement.
David Sutton, a prosecutor, asked him, “Did this Committee (the International
6 R. John Pritchard and Sonia Magbanua Zaide, ed., The Tokyo War Crimes Trial: The
Comprehensive Index and Guide to the Proceedings of the International Military Tribunal for the
Far East (New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1981), 49604;

7 Timperley, op. cit., p. 17. For details about Bates writing this anonymous account and handing it
over to foreign journalists departing from Nanking, see Tomisawa Shigenobu, Nankin jiken no
kakushin (At the core of the Nanking Incident) (Tokyo: Tendensha, 1993), p. 158.
Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone) make reports from time to time?”8
Bates replied,
The actual event was very different [from what was expected by the committee],
because the Japanese attack and seizure of the city was swift. But then the
troubles began. The treatment of civilians was so bad that the chairman and
secretary of the committee went regularly to any Japanese officials who could be
reached and soon began to prepare daily reports of the serious injuries to civilians
that occurred within the safety zone. Over a period of several weeks a total of
several hundred cases, many of them compound cases, involving groups and
large numbers of individuals, were thus reported in writing or orally to Japanese
officials.9 [Italics supplied.]
Note that Bates himself testified at this public forum, the Tokyo Trials, events later
referred to as the “Nanking Incident” took place in the Nanking Safety Zone. (In 1939,
reports of these incidents were published as a book entitled Documents of the Nanking
Safety Zone, which Bates quotes as proof of Japanese atrocities and mass murder in
What War Means. Here also he states clearly,
It is to be noted that the incidents thus recorded cover only the Nanking Safety
Zone, and that the rest of Nanking was practically deserted until the end of
January and most of the time was without foreign observers during this whole
In other words, since there was no one residing anywhere outside the Safety Zone,
nothing untoward could have occurred there. There was nothing to report.
III. Japanese soldiers encounter a ghost town
When the Japanese entered Nanking, they found themselves in what seemed like a ghost
town, for the following reasons.
8 Pritchard and Zaide, op. cit., 2626.
9 Ibid.
10 Timperley, op. cit., p. 173.
1. As stated in the IMTFE judgment, the main strength of the Chinese defense forces
had abandoned Nanking prior to the Japanese invasion. Soldiers who were left behind
hid in the Safety Zone, among civilians. Therefore, the Japanese sighted no enemy
soldiers as they walked through Nanking. Consequently, there was no fighting in the
city’s streets.
2. As the Japanese approached, residents began evacuating Nanking to avoid getting
caught up in the conflict. In his diary, German businessman John Rabe wrote about carts
passing day and night between Xiaguan and the Yangtze River, filled with the
belongings of residents fleeing Nanking.11 By the time the Japanese arrived, the
population had shrunk from one million to about 200,000.
3. Foreigners remaining in the city organized the International Committee for the
Nanking Safety Zone (hereafter referred to as the “International Committee”). They
established a zone, insisting that both parties to the conflict consider it neutral.
International Committee members then instructed all 200,000 remaining residents to
gather in the Safety Zone, in an effort to protect them from anticipated warfare within
the city walls. The International Committee’s leading members were Americans, and the
chairman was John Rabe, a German. George A. Fitch is quoted as follows in What War
Our International Committee for Nanking Safety Zone had been negotiating with
both the Chinese and Japanese for the recognition of a certain area in the city
which would be kept free of soldiers and military offices and which would not be
bombed or shelled, a place where the remaining two hundred thousand of
Nanking’s population of one million could take refuge when things became too
hot … .12
Once the Safety Zone was established, the military and city police visited each
household to urge them to go there. On December 8, the commander of the city’s
defense forces “decreed that all noncombatants must concentrate in the internationally
supervised safety zone.”13 The residents obeyed.
These arrangements enabled the International Committee to make the following
11 Erwin Wickert, ed., Der Gute Deutsche von Nanking: John Rabe (Stuttgart: Deutsche
Verlags-Anstalt, 1997), entries for November 17-18, 1937.
12 Timperley, op. cit. p. 23.
13 Special cable from Tillman Durdin in Nanking to the New York Times, 08 December 1937.
announcement at a later date: “In other words, on the 13th when your troops entered the
city, we had nearly all the civilian population gathered in a Zone … .”14
All 200,000 remaining inhabitants of Nanking had taken refuge in the Safety Zone. It
became a haven for Chinese Nationalist soldiers as well. Those unable to flee before the
Japanese arrived went into hiding there. The Safety Zone was located at the center of
the city, but it occupied only 3.8 square kilometers, or about one-eighth the area of
Nanking. It was approximately equal in size to Central Park in Manhattan, New York.
Two hundred thousand souls were packed into that space, going about their daily lives
as best they could, but the zone was extremely crowded. In contrast, there was hardly a
soul to be seen in other areas of the city, where the silence of a ghost town prevailed.15
Such was the situation in Nanking when Japanese soldiers entered. They were under
strict orders from Commander-in-chief Gen. Matsui Iwane to adhere to “Procedures To
Be Followed When Capturing Nanking” and “Warnings,” which he had issued.16 The
major points therein were as follows:
1. Entire divisions shall refrain from entering the city. Division commanders shall
select and dispatch only one battalion, in principle, to explore the situation there.
2. Each division shall be entrusted with the capture of a particular area of the city.
Divisions must refrain from entering other divisions’ assigned areas.17
(To comply with this order, the 7th Regiment of the 9th Division was assigned to the
Safety Zone, which was filled to overflowing with the city’s residents and soldiers of
the defeated army. All other units were instructed to secure uninhabited areas.)
3. Maintain strict military discipline.
14 Hsü Shuhsi, Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone (Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, 1939, Prepared
under the auspices of the Council of International Affairs, Chunking), p. 14.
15 See Note 10.
16 Nankin Senshi Henshu Iinkai (Battle of Nanking Editorial Committee), ed., Nankin senshi
shiryoshu I,(Source material relating to the Battle of Nanking I )(Tokyo: Kaikosha, 1993), ‘Course
of action to be taken upon entering Nanking’, p.432.
17 See Map 1.
MAP 1: Japanese Army’s plan for the capture of Nanking, showing areas of assignment
D = division B = brigade i = infantry regiment
The map shows the Safety Zone at the center of the city. Nearly every civilian
remaining in Nanking had taken refuge there. The 7th Infantry Regiment was put in
charge of the Safety Zone. All other troops were assigned to different areas of the city,
which the Japanese discovered were uninhabited.
IV. Testimonies of Japanese soldiers who entered Nanking
What were the impressions of Japanese soldiers upon entering Nanking? They report
that they walked through an eerily silent, empty city, an experience they had never had
before. I will go into some detail on this subject, as it is an important aspect of this
The 16th Division was assigned to the northern area of Nanking. Its members had spent
December 13 sweeping for enemy troops outside the city walls and at the river port of
Xiaguan; they entered the walled city on the 14th. Division Commander Nakajima
Safety Zone
North Gate 38i
7i 33i
20i 16D
(Zhongshan Gate)
East Gate
Park 9D
Guanghua Gate
Zhongua Gate
D Division
B Brigate
i Infantry Regiment
Japanese Army’s Plan
To capture Nanking
wrote in his journal that he saw very few enemy soldiers within the city.18
30th Brigade Commander Sasaki wrote in his personal diary that he saw not a single
inhabitant, only skinny dogs.19
Signal Section leader Hirai and Pfc. Hata of the 33rd Infantry Regiment both testified
that they encountered no enemy troops, saw no corpses lying about, and that the city
was very quiet.20
Most of the 16th Division’s 19th Brigade was assigned to the northeastern sector of the
walled city. They entered from the East Gate (Zhongshan Gate) towards the evening of
December 13. The soldiers were supposed to conduct a sweep operation the next day,
but said they encountered virtually no stragglers or residents.21
The 9th Division was dispatched to the southeastern part of the walled city. Most of its
members, however, stationed themselves in uninhabited areas, such as an air field or a
park, or outside the city gates. The 4th Company of the 19th Infantry Regiment ventured
as far as a built-up area inside the city. Company Commander Tsuchiya testified that
“the farther we went into the city, the more we felt as though we were in a ghost town.
Even my brave men hesitated to continue, and before we were even aware of it, I was at
the head of the procession.” War chronicles also show that neither the 19th nor the 36th
Infantry Regiments engaged in any combat after entering the city on December 13, nor
did they capture any prisoners.22
The 6th Division was assigned to the southern sector of the walled city, which it
approached through Zhonghua Gate. The soldiers stated that they encountered no
residents, much less enemy soldiers.23 Tenth Army (formed from several divisions,
including the 6th and 114th) Staff Officer Yamazaki wrote in his diary that all the shops
were closed, displaying notices reading “Temporarily Closed: Owner Returned Home,”
18 Nankin Senshi Henshu Iinkai (Battle of Nanking Editorial Committee), ed., Nankin senshi
shiryoshu I(Source material relating to the Battle of Nanking ) (Tokyo: Kaikosha, 1993), p. 219.
19 Ibid., p. 274.
20 Nankin Senshi Henshu Iinkai (Battle of Nanking Editorial Committee), ed., Nankin senshi ( Battle
of Nanking) (Tokyo: Kaikosha, 1993), p. 160.
21 ibid., p. 166, 167, Nankin senshi shiryoshu I , p. 415.
22 Nankin Senshi Henshu Iinkai, Nankin senshi, p.179.
23 ibid., p.222.
and that he did not see a single resident.24
Those were the experiences of soldiers and officers entering the walled city via different
routes. As an overall summary, I would like to offer the testimony of Inukai Soichiro,
who participated in the Battle of Nanking, which I heard directly from him.
Inukai was the leader of the 19th Brigade’s Signal Section. After gaining control of
Nanking’s East Gate (Zhongshan Gate), the 19th Brigade instructed the 4th Company of
the 20th Infantry Regiment to advance deep into the city on a reconnaissance mission.
According to orders from Gen. Matsui, a unit selected according to the strictest
standards was to be sent into the city.
The 4th Company departed at 1:40 p.m. from the East Gate, but no news came from
them, even after a long wait. The worried brigade commander ordered Inukai to
investigate. Signalmen have their own horses, but since Inukai’s horse was tired, he
borrowed one of the commander’s horses. It was a thoroughbred, and had won a derby
at the Kyoto Racecourse. Inukai mounted the swift horse. He rode for eight kilometers
straight, at a gallop, from the East Gate to the traffic circle at the city center, in order to
avoid sniper fire. However, there was no one in sight; not even a cat crossed the street in
front of him. Feeling slightly relieved, he slowed to a trot and arrived at the traffic circle.
He looked around and noted that the area seemed peaceful; he heard no shots. He
assumed that the 4th Company was safe, and returned to his commander to report his
Inukai Soichiro was only 20 years old at that time. His testimony provides the following
a. Japanese military personnel entered the city in an orderly fashion, respecting the
instructions of their Commander-in-Chief Gen. Matsui (there was no storming of the
city by the entire invading army).
b. Calm and quiet reigned; a young soldier without an escort was able to enter and exit
the city unharmed.
The experiences of these Japanese officers and soldiers differ completely from the
24 Nankin Senshi Henshu Iinkai, Nankin Senshi Shiryoshu I, p. 292.
25 Memoirs of Inukai Soichiro (in this writer’s possession).
judgment handed down at the Tokyo Trials. They also differ from the arguments
presented by proponents of the massacre theory, e.g., accounts contained in Testimonies
of the Nanking Massacre (compiled in China), which allege that upon entering the city,
Japanese soldiers killed everyone they encountered and raped every woman they saw.26
26 Nankin shi bunshi shiryo kenkyukai (Nanjing City Society for the Study of Historical Accounts),
ed., Shogen: Nankin daigyakusatsu (Testimonies of the Nanking massacre), trans. Kagami Mitsuyuki
and Himeta Mitsuyoshi (Tokyo: Aoki Shoten, 1984), p. 14.
Chapter 2: The “Original” Nanking Incident
We have established with certainty that the scene of the Nanking Incident was not the
entire city of Nanking, but the Nanking Safety Zone.
In that case, exactly what happened there? First, the Japanese conducted sweep
operations to ferret out Chinese stragglers hiding in the city. Second, they allegedly
committed crimes against Chinese civilians.
Let us comment first on the sweep operations:
I. Sweep Operations
Before the Japanese army entered Nanking, Chinese troops defending the city retreated
and fled in various directions (see Map 2).
Map 2: Flight of the Chinese army
Zhongua Gate
East Gate
Guanghua Gate
Yantze R.
Chinese Army fled in Various direcyions
Routes taken by fleeing Chinese soldiers
1. Southward between western Nanking and the Yangtze River
2. Eastward between northeastern Nanking and the Yangtze River
3. Eastward from Nanking
4. Into the Safety Zone, where they hid
Consequently, Japanese soldiers entering Nanking were surrounded by the enemy on all
sides. They could not feel safe until they had subdued any enemy soldiers.
1. Chinese troops fleeing southward encountered the Japanese 6th Division, which had
been assigned to that area; they were defeated after intense fighting.
2. & 3. Chinese troops fleeing eastward were dealt with by the 16th Division of the
Japanese Army.
4. Japanese soldiers in charge of the Nanking Safety Zone conducted a sweep of
Nationalist troops hiding there. This situation is described accurately in Documents of
the Nanking Safety Zone;
The International Committee made the following request to the Japanese Army:
So we disarmed all these soldiers and put them into buildings in the Zone. We
beg your merciful permission to allow these men to return to peaceful life as is
now their desire.27
Next, they requested that the disarmed Chinese troops be treated as prisoners of war:
No.4 LETTER TO MR. FUKUDA dated December 15, 1937
much perplexed by the problem of soldiers who have thrown away their arms.
[T]he Committee was unable to keep the disarmed soldiers from civilians,
27 Hsü, op. cit., p. 2.
particularly because some of the soldiers had abandoned their military clothing.
The Committee fully recognizes that identified soldiers are lawful prisoners of
war. But in dealing with these disarmed soldiers, the Committee hopes that the
Japanese Army will use every precaution not to involve civilians. The Committee
further hopes that the Japanese Army will in accordance with the recognized law
of war regarding prisoners and for reasons of humanity, exercise mercy toward
these former soldiers.28
The Japanese reply to this request was straightforward and unambiguous:
Document No.6 Memorandum of Interview with Chief of Special Service
It was in answer to our letter of December 14th.
1. Must search the city for Chinese soldiers.
4. Trust humanitarian attitude of Japanese Army to care for the disarmed Chinese
The reply meant that the Japanese would deal with enemy soldiers who had hidden from
the Japanese in the same way they would enemy soldiers hiding outside the Safety
After this exchange, the International Committee made no further comments about
soldiers who had infiltrated the Safety Zone and gone into hiding there.
The sweep of the Safety Zone was carried out in an orderly manner over three days
(December 14-16). Apparently, the Japanese discovered approximately 6,500 soldiers
and executed them.30
II. Movement of Japanese troops after capture of Nanking
I would like to address the topic of crimes committed by Japanese soldiers against
28 Hsü, op. cit., pp. 4-5.
29 Hsü, op. cit., p. 6.
30 Nankin Senshi Henshu Iinkai, Nankin Senshi Shiryoshu I, “Dai nana rentaicho nikki” (7th
Regiment commander’s diary), p. 334.
civilians in Nanking. But first, I will summarize the movements of Japanese troops after
entry into the walled city.
Gen. Matsui did not allow troops to remain in Nanking. After their missions were
accomplished, they were assigned to new operations outside the city.
1. The 6th Division was ordered to advance toward Wuhu, after gaining control of
Zhonghua Gate and eliminating Chinese soldiers fleeing southward along the western
wall of the city. Their journey took place from December 16-20.
2. The men of the 114th Division cooperated with the 6th Division to gain control of
Zhonghua Gate. However, immediately after that, they were transferred to Hangzhou,
since they were not needed for further military or sentry duties in Nanking.
3. The 9th Division had entered the city from the southeast gate (Guanghua Gate); some
of its members had been assigned to guard the Safety Zone. They, too, were ordered to
leave, and departed eastward for Suzhou on about December 24.
4. The 19th Brigade of the 16th Division, having dealt with enemy soldiers escaping to
the east and northeast, was ordered to move further eastward. Its men did not return to
5. This left only the 30th Brigade of the 16th Division to guard Nanking. One unit, the
3rd Battalion of the 33rd Regiment, was sent to guard Jiangningzhen, located to the
south of Nanjing. Two thousand men from the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 33rd
Regiment were ordered to guard the southern sector of Nanking, and about 2,000 men
from the 38th Regiment, the northern sector. Of the latter group, approximately 1,000
men were ordered to guard the Safety Zone, replacing the 7th Regiment.
To summarize, although an army of nearly 100,000 men attacked Nanking, only 4,000
soldiers from the 30th Brigade remained to guard the city after December 24. They, too,
were replaced by the 12th and 22nd regiments (Amaya Detachment) on about January
6. The Safety Zone was initially guarded by the 1st and 2nd battalions (790 and 812
men, respectively) of the 7th Regiment. This group stationed itself outside the Safety
Zone for the first two days of the occupation. On the first day, December 13, they
performed only a night inspection, and then left immediately. On the second day,
December 14, they conducted a sweep operation, but returned to their barracks outside
the Safety Zone by evening. On December 15, they assumed guard duty within the
Safety Zone for the first time. On December 24, they were replaced by the 39th
Regiment, which consisted of about 1,000 men. Beginning on about January 20, this
group was in turn replaced by the Amaya Detachment, also about 1,000 men strong.
Maj.-Gen. Amaya strongly urged that the Safety Zone be dissolved.
III. Crimes against civilians in Nanking
Now I will examine crimes against residents of Nanking allegedly perpetrated by
Japanese soldiers, based on my analyses of cases numbered and recorded in Documents
of the Nanking Safety Zone. Other references from this period are John Rabe’s diary,31
Minnie Vautrin’s diary,32 What War Means: The Japanese Terror in China,33 and
material written by foreigners who remained in Nanking, which can be found in Vol. 1
of Nanking Incident Source Material.34
I counted a total of 1,038 cases in the source documents, including reports of crimes that
are obvious duplicates. About half the cases (517) are recorded in Documents of the
Nanking Safety Zone. Many of the remaining incidents mentioned in other references
overlap with these 517 cases. What War Means includes 200 of the cases recorded in
Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone, introducing these citations as follows:
THE FOLLOWING SELECTION of cases reported to the Japanese Authorities
covers the period from January 14 to February 9 and so completes the story of
the months of the Japanese Army’s occupation of Nanking.35
Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone consists of two volumes containing 444
numbered cases. However, one case report sometimes describes several incidents. In
actuality, there are 517 separate cases recorded.
31 Rabe, op. cit.
32 Minnie Vautrin, Nankin jiken no hibi (Diary of Minnie Vautrin), trans. Okuda Ryonosuke and
Ihara Yoko (Tokyo: Otsuki Shoten, 1999).
33 Timperley, op. cit.
34 Nankin Jiken Chosa Kenkyukai, Nankin jiken shiryoshu 1: Amerika kankei shiryo hen.
35 Hsü, op. cit., p. 198.
1. Table 1: Type of offense
Murder Rape Abduction Assault Looting Arson Breaking & entering Other Total
26 175 43 39 131 5 24 74 517
Note that there are very few cases of murder and many cases of rape and looting
recorded here, unlike later descriptions of the Nanking Incident.
2. What is referred to as the “Nanking Incident” allegedly occurred in the Safety Zone
in the city of Nanking. The following two tables testify to that fact.
Table 2-1: Number of incidents recorded between December 13 and January 22:
Safety Zone Outside Safety Zone Total
239 23 262
During this period, most incidents reportedly occurred inside the Safety Zone. These
statistics demonstrate the facts of the Nanking Incident.
However, beginning on January 23, the picture changes completely.
Table 2-2: Number of incidents recorded between January 23 and February 7
Safety Zone Outside Safety Zone Total
61 194 255
During this period, more incidents occurred outside the Safety Zone. This phenomenon
can be explained by the fact that Maj.-Gen. Amaya and his men, charged with guarding
Nanking in late January and thereafter, were determined to dissolve the Safety Zone,
and attempted to introduce measures to accomplish the dissolution (see Chapter 2). The
International Committee vehemently opposed their plan. In order to prevent the refugees
from returning to their homes, International Committee members scrambled to collect
reports of crimes in areas where they were to return. They made every effort to spread
the word that the area outside the Safety Zone was a living hell where Japanese soldiers
were lying in wait for the residents of Nanking to rape and rob them.
However, it was unlikely that Japanese military personnel would resort to such behavior,
since it would obviously hamper their efforts to have the refugees return safely to their
homes. In actuality, the crime reports were coerced from residents by the International
Committee; the great majority of them were fictitious.
The editor of What War Means cites many cases contained in Documents of the Safety
Zone as proof of his argument, but refrains from referring to most cases dating from this
period, for lack of credibility. (There are 255 cases recorded for this period (see Table
2-2), but Appendix C of What War Means cites only 21 cases.)
By this time, the residents of Nanking were aware that administrative power over the
Safety Zone and the city of Nanking was now in the hands of the Japanese Army. They
gradually stopped cooperating with the International Committee, and eventually ceased
to report disorderly conduct on the part of Japanese soldiers. The Nanking Incident had
come to an end.
Most of the 517 case reports are slipshod, for the following reasons:
3. Table 3: Time of occurrence
At no time were Japanese soldiers permitted to leave their quarters at night. Therefore, it
is hardly possible that all nighttime incidents, or incidents occurring at unspecified
times were caused by Japanese soldiers.
4. Table 4: Writer of case report
Throughout the entire period in question, many reports were recorded anonymously and
not verified by a committee member.
Signed records Total
252 265 517
Incidents for which
no date is specified
Subtotal Daytime
17 107 124 393 517
5. Table 5: Witnessed crimes
Very few of the crimes reported to the International Committee were actually witnessed
or verified by a committee member or other responsible member of society.
Only one murder case, a legal execution, was witnessed (Case No. 185).
6. Table 6: Names of victims
No names of victims are given in 202 out of 283 cases of murder, rape, abduction, and
Cases with unnamed victims Cases with named victims Total
202 81 283
7. Table 7: Place of occurrence
A total of 234 cases involving property damage (looting, arson, breaking and entering,
etc.) were reported, but many reports do not mention where the incident occurred.
Location not
Only vague location
Location specified Total
36 76 123 234
8. Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone is careful about claiming that crimes requiring
concrete proof were committed.
It is difficult to substantiate an accusation of murder without physical evidence. If the
International Committee wanted to report a murder committed by Japanese military
personnel to Japanese authorities, they needed to be able to show proof in the form of a
body, if asked to produce it. Therefore, the Committee was necessarily careful about
submitting accusations of murder. Accusations of arson required a fire, or the ruins of a
fire. Accusations of assault required proof of injury. Therefore, Documents of the Safety
Zone lists only 26 cases of homicide, four cases of arson, and 39 cases of assault. These
figures stand in stark contrast to 175 cases of rape and 131 cases of looting, which do
Witnessed crimes Unwitnessed crimes Total
30 487 517
not require proof. At the Tokyo Trials, the accusations were reversed; the Japanese were
accused of killing over 200,000 people and raping 20,000 women. Normally, concrete
evidence would be required to convince people who were actually there in Nanking, but
after 10 years had elapsed, even false testimony sufficed.
Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone is contemporaneous, and therefore, is what in
historical research is called a primary source. It mentions only a few cases of arson, but
at the Tokyo Trials, they ballooned into the conclusion that the Japanese burnt one-third
of the city. This sort of accusation would have been considered preposterous if it had
been made to someone in the same place at the same time as the accuser, without
physical proof.
Accusations of rape and looting would have been difficult to deny even if there was no
physical proof. A great deal depended on the credibility of the accuser. The International
Committee could have reported such crimes to Japanese authorities without providing
IV. Conclusion
Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone can be considered official records of events that
transpired in Nanking in late 1937. Recorded therein are all crimes allegedly committed
by Japanese soldiers. Considering the situation in Nanking then, I do not believe that
crimes other than those reported to the International Committee were committed at all.
Furthermore, after analyzing the cases, I concluded that the evidence is too weak to
attribute all but a very few of the crimes recorded to Japanese soldiers.
Even if we accept all cases reported in Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone at face
value, the accusations of later years are unequivocally false. For instance:
a. Japanese soldiers did not massacre 200,00036 or 300,00037 people in Nanking, since
Nanking’s population of 200,000 never decreased during the Japanese occupation (see
36 Transcript of Proceedings of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, Chapter VIII:
Conventional War Crimes (Atrocities), p. 1015,

37 Written on the wall of the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum in Nanking.
b. Japanese soldiers did not rape 20,00038 women.
c. The following charge is patently false: “Soldiers went through the streets
indiscriminately killing Chinese men, women, and children39” … “and raped 1000
women in one night.”40 (Only 1,600 Japanese soldiers were stationed there.)
d. Japanese soldiers did not burn one-third of the city of Nanking,41 since most fires
occurred at night, and refugees returning to their homes outside the Safety Zone found
them intact.
e. Japanese soldiers did not steal everything the inhabitants owned. Since Japanese per
capita income was much higher than that of China, Japanese soldiers would not have
coveted the possessions of Nanking’s residents.
f. It should be noted that Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone mentions only crimes
against civilians; in later years, accusations of atrocities against Chinese military
personnel were tacked on.
I have named the collective incidents recorded in Documents of the Nanking Safety
Zone the “original Nanking Incident.” In later years, this original Nanking Incident
grew into a huge, unsubstantiated massacre in Timperley’s What War Means and the
judgment handed down at the Tokyo Trials. Furthermore, the actual co-editors of
articles in What War Means, Bates and Timperley, exaggerated the crimes by inserting
blatantly paradoxical articles into the same book: Bates writes, early in the book, of
wholesale murder all over the city of Nanking.42 However, he later states that the
incidents took place within the Safety Zone, since the rest of Nanking “was practically
The Nanking Incident, as popularly perceived, never took place. First of all, it should be
38 Timperley, op. cit., p. 61; IMTFE, op. cit., p. 1012.
39 Nankin Shi bunshi shiryo kenkyukai, op. cit., p. 14.
40 Nankin Jiken Chosa Kenkyukai, op. cit., p.242. See also James Espy’s report to the US
Ambassador in Hankou dated January 25, 1938, and McCallum’s account dated December 19, 1937,
p. 256.
41 Transcript of Proceedings of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, Chapter VIII, p.
42 Hsü, op. cit., p. 17.
43 Ibid., p. 173.
referred to as the “Nanking Safety Zone Incident.” Even then, many of the case reports
in Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone are questionable. Only one murder case (a
lawful execution) was witnessed.44
Why did the International Committee compile Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone,
which contains many allegations that rest on an extremely weak foundation, as shown in
my tables?
The International Committee encouraged Chinese citizens to report crimes and rumors
of crimes committed by Japanese soldiers. They recorded these reports, which they
presented to the Japanese Army as protests. What motivated them to do this? It is my
theory that such behavior enabled them to claim that they helped the Chinese, and
exercised leadership in the Safety Zone. It should be noted that the dominant members
of the Committee were American missionaries, who wished to pave the way for future
missionary work.
My conclusion is that the original Nanking Incident is the product of a power struggle
between the missionaries and the Japanese Army, rather than the result of a conflict
between the Chinese and Japanese.
44 Ibid., Case No. 185, p. 78.
Chapter 3: Dissolution of the Safety Zone, the International Committee,
and the Nanking Incident
Japanese military officials grew increasingly annoyed with the International Committee,
which continued to solicit and spread slanderous rumors about Japanese soldiers and
Army authorities. They believed that because the Committee “was controlling the
refugees, spreading malicious propaganda, and doing much harm and no good,”45 its
activities should be suppressed.
The International Committee had announced to the Japanese Army that it would take
charge of distributing food, allocating housing, restoring public utilities, and policing
the residents of Nanking ,46 responsibilities entrusted to them by the city’s mayor, who
had departed.47 The Committee was also in control of the only operating hospital,
headed by John Magee.
On January 1, the Japanese set up the Self-Government Committee, all of whose
members were Chinese, and arranged for it to take over the various functions previously
performed by the International Committee. One of the most important changes was that,
as of January 10, 1938, the Self-Government Committee became the sole distributor of
food, which provoked furious protests from the International Committee. One Chinese
commented that this move was intended to bring about the collapse of the International
The final goal of the Japanese Army was to dissolve the Safety Zone, the raison d’être
of the International Committee. The latter protested vigorously, but the residents’ loyalty
had already diminished greatly. The Committee was no longer able to control the
refugees, whose departure from the Zone in increasing numbers further sapped the
Committee’s political power. On February 4, the Safety Zone was dissolved. Eventually,
the Committee abandoned its political activities and focused on relief efforts.49 The
citizens no longer submitted accusations about Japanese crimes; the Nanking Incident
had ended.
45 Higashinakano, op. cit., “2nd Report on Nanking by Japanese Army’s Special Service Corps,” p.
46 Hsü, op. cit., Document No. 1, p.1.
47 Wickert, op. cit., p. 54.
48 Nankin Jiken Chosa Kenkyukai, op. cit., p. 117.
49 Its name was changed to Nanking International Relief Committee on February 18, 1938. See Hsü,
op. cit., Document No. 69.
By then, John Rabe, the chairman of the Committee, fancied himself the mayor of
Nanking.50 In his diary he describes his anger at the tug-of-war for control over the
residents of Nanking.
On December 30, two days before the establishment of the Self-Government Committee,
he writes, “[I]t looks to us as if they simply want to take over our money.51 I’ll not
voluntarily hand over anything. I’ll yield only under great pressure, and then only under
loud protest.”52
On January 31, exasperated by the imminent dissolution of the Zone (scheduled for
February 4), he comments, “You grow weary in this constant battle against a
demoralized Japanese soldiery!”53
On February 3, he writes, “I won’t be able to accomplish much if the Japanese force
their way in, but at least I can be there and watch the whole thing so that the world can
be told about it.”54
However, “[e]verything was quiet”55 on February 4, when the International Committee
had no more administrative functions to fulfill, and therefore ceased to exist. Now that
the Committee was defunct, it had no need for a chairman. John Rabe returned to
In Document No. 1, on the first page of Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone, the
International Committee announces that its members have administrative authority over
the Safety Zone (the authority to allocate housing, distribute food and police the
refugees, etc.), and requests that the Japanese recognize that authority. In the final
50 Wickert, op. cit., pp. 54, 169.
51 The International Committee had been selling rice, provided by the mayor of Nanking, to the
refugees. The proceeds were used to defray the Committee’s operating costs.
52 Wickert, op. cit., p. 105.
53 Wickert, op. cit., p. 169.
54 Ibid., p. 173.
55 Ibid., p. 174.
56 Roughly one-third of Part II of Documents of the Safety Zone (covering January 10 – February 19,
1938) describes the power struggle between the International Committee and Japanese authorities,
particularly concerning food distribution. One-half concerns crimes allegedly committed by
Japanese soldiers, and the remainder, the general situation in the city and the dissolution of the
Safety Zone.
document (Document No. 69), the Committee reports that since it has lost its
administrative authority, it will adopt a new name, “Nanking International Relief
Committee,” on February 18, 1938.
Accordingly, Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone chronicles the battle between
Japanese military authorities and the International Committee. By accusing Japanese
military personnel of disorderly conduct, the Committee was attempting to gain the
upper hand in that battle. It was not the nature of the Japan-China conflict that was at
issue, and certainly not the character of Japanese soldiers. Additionally, the Nanking
Incident was confined to the Nanking Safety Zone.
It was the Chinese government’s war propaganda machine that expanded the venue of
the Nanking Incident to include the entire city, advertised the brutality of Japanese
soldiers, and accused them of perpetrating a massacre. The problem was compounded,
as described previously, by the policies adopted by the US Occupation Forces, and by
totally unwarranted prejudices. Today both the Japanese and Chinese governments spout
platitudes about building truly reciprocal relations between the two nations, but China
has not made a serious attempt to correct misconceptions about the Nanking Incident.
Until a genuine effort is made in that direction, “truly reciprocal relations” will remain
nothing more than empty words.
Appendix: Population Statistics for Nanking from Contemporaneous Records
1. Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone
Page Date Excerpt Thousands
of people
17 12/17/37 It is hard to see how starvation may be prevented among
many of the 200,000 Chinese civilians … .
18 12/18/37 … the sufferings and needs of the 200,000 civilians for
whom we are trying to care … .
20 12/18/37 We 22 Westerners cannot feed 200,000 Chinese civilians
and protect them night and day.
48 12/21/37 We come to petition that … the following steps be taken for
the welfare of the 200000 civilians in Nanking
49 12/21/1937 In view of the fact that … the International Committee has
reserve food supplies to feed these 200,000 people one
week only … .
57 12/27/1937 [W]e plead that you allow us to get these 20,000 tan57 for
feeding the 200,000 civilians
84 1/14/1938 Therefore there are probably 250,000 to 300,000 civilians
in the city.
87 1/17/1938 We trust that this amount will soon be increased to 1000
bags of rice per day in order to more adequately meet the
needs of 250,000 people.
90 1/19/1938 You have each individually expressed a friendly interest in
the problem of seeing That the 250,000 civilians in this
city are fed.
90 1/18/1938 Only twenty-two bags rice one thousand bags flour
released for sale from large stocks on hand to two hundred
fifty thousand people since December thirteenth.
93 1/19/1938 A regular supply of rice to the extent of 2,000 tan … per
day … (250,000 people at the normal daily consumption of
… .)
95 1/22/1938 The International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone
is now operating as a relief committee for the welfare of
the 250,000 Chinese civilians living in the city.
97 1/22/1938 It is estimated it would take 1.600 bags of rice per day to
feed the 250,000 people.
112 1/28/1938 Of the 250,000 refugees in Nanking, a large proportion are
homeless due to the extensive burning that has taken place
in the city and its vicinity.
112 1/28/1938 But even this $157,000 will not go very far toward
relieving the distress among the quarter of a million people
now in the city.
164 2/10/1938 A population of 250,000 should have at least 2,000 tan of
rice or 1,600 bags of rice per day.
57 Chinese unit of weight equivalent to 133.33 lbs.
2. What War Means
22 12/24/1938 We have only enough rice and flour for 200,000 refugees for
another three weeks and coal for ten days.
23 12/24/1938 You will recall … that our International Committee for Nanking
Safety Zone had been negotiating with both the Chinese and
Japanese for the recognition of a certain area in the city … where
the remaining two hundred thousand of Nanking’s population of
one million could take refuge … .
62 1/10/1938 [S]ome 250,000 are here, almost all in the Safety Zone and fully
100,000 entirely dependent on the IC [International Committee]
for food and shelter.
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