THE NANKING MASSACRE: Fact Versus Fiction
By HIGASHINAKANO Shudo
CHAPTER 2: NANKING BEFORE THE FALL
Chiang’s Scorched-Earth Strategy
On July 31, 1937, Chiang Kai-shek made public a speech by Wang Jingwei (originally Wang Zhaoming) entitled “The Final Juncture.” Chiang’s purpose in doing so was to convince the entire nation that both he and Wang were now in total agreement, and working toward the same goal. The following excerpts from that speech appear in Shanghai Sojourn by Matsumoto Shigeharu.
We are now approaching the final juncture, and we must make sacrifices, demonstrating firm resolve and courage. … We, your leaders, must sacrifice ourselves, as must all our fellow countrymen. … We must resolve to reduce every Chinese and every clod of earth to ashes, rather than render them unto the enemy. … We must leave nothing . absolutely nothing . for the enemy to claim.1
In his ardent oration, Wang Jingwei was advocating the exercise of the scorched-earth strategy. He was urging Chinese troops, when they retreated from an area, to burn everything in sight, until the town or city, regardless of its size, had been reduced to ashes. He was exhorting them to kill even Chinese, their own people, to prevent their falling into the hands of the Japanese. And this strategy, which destroyed human lives as well as property, was also embraced by Chiang Kai-shek.
Though we may, today, react with horror to such a strategy, it had been used in China for centuries. A description of the scorched-earth strategy dating back to the Jin Dynasty can be found in Jin Shu (History of the Jin Dynasty). During the Eastern Jin Dynasty (265-317), it was imperial policy to fortify (build strong walls around cities, which were vigilantly guarded), and burn (set fire to fields and allow them to burn until nothing remained).2 Another account, this one from the chronology in The History of Rebellion in China for 1798 reads: “The “fortify-and-burn” strategy begins to debilitate White Lotus Society troops.”3 (It was used to suppress an uprising of White Lotus Society soldiers.) There was nothing new about the sanguang or three-all strategy (kill all, plunder all, burn all) promulgated by Wang Jingwei and Chiang Kai-shek.
Nanking: Defend or Desert?
On November 11, two days after Shanghai fell, Chiang Kai-shek held a conference in Nanking to discuss the city’s defense. In attendance at this important meeting were Li Zongren, Bai Chongxi, He Yingqin, Xu Yongchang, and Tang Shengzhi.
The opinions expressed by the participants are described in detail in the Memoirs of Li Zongren, commander-in-chief of the 5th War Area, included in Source Material Relating to the Battle of Nanking, Vol. 1. Apparently, the first person asked to speak was Li himself, who favored withdrawing from the city.
I am opposed to defending Nanking, for strategic reasons. There is no means of escape from the city. It is possible for the enemy to surround Nanking from three directions and, in the north, the escape route is blocked by the Yangtze River. We cannot expect our troops, discouraged by defeat, to protect the city during a long siege.4
Historically, no fortress has ever withstood an attack. Moreover, recent, bitter defeats have diminished our soldiers’ morale, while morale within the enemy ranks has never been higher, since they sense that victory is near. Nanking will surely be conquered.5
Li objected to defending Nanking for two reasons . the city’s geographical situation, and the low morale of Chinese troops. He then offered two proposals.
If we declare Nanking an undefended city, the enemy would have no justification for arson, or for the murder of the city’s inhabitants. We could arrange a withdrawal of large forces to both banks of the Yangtze, thus preventing enemy troops from advancing either northward or westward. We must ensure that the enemy’s capture of Nanking, should that occur, has no major significance within the context of the war.6 [Italics supplied.]
The first proposal, declaring Nanking an undefended city, was a significant one. In the language of international law, the terms used are undefended places and open cities. According to the International Law Dictionary compiled by the International Law Society of Japan, “areas in which no resistance is made against an attempt to occupy them, even if a garrison is situated there, are termed ‘undefended areas.’ In such areas, firing is restricted to military targets.” 7
Thus, if Nanking were declared an “open city,” and no attempt were made to use it as a relay station for military transport, the city would come under the protection of international law . provided, that is, that Chinese troops in Nanking did not resist the invaders. The Japanese might have occupied the city without any bloodshed.
But we must also direct our attention to Li’s second proposal: everything possible should be done so that, in the event Japanese forces did capture Nanking, their victory would have absolutely no strategic merit. Li was simply restating Wang Jingwei’s version of the scorched-earth strategy. “We must resolve to reduce every Chinese and every clod of earth to ashes, rather than render them unto the enemy.” Since he submitted both proposals at the same time, Li Zongren’s intention was to burn Nanking to the ground so that it could not be used for military purposes, and then declare it an open city.
The next person consulted was General Bai Chongxi. Like Li Zongren, Bai replied that he was in favor of abandoning Nanking. Then Chiang, who had been growing increasingly irritated, spoke out.
Nanking is our capital. The father of our nation [Sun Yatsen] is buried here. We simply cannot retreat from the city without putting up any resistance. I am personally in favor of defending Nanking to the death.8
Sun Yatsen had died in Beijing. His remains had been temporarily installed at Xishan, on the outskirts of that city. The opportunistic Chiang had arranged for them to be transferred to Zhongshan Mausoleum, on the side of Zijinshan, outside Nanking. He had wanted to demonstrate to the entire world that he was Sun’s successor. And now, supposedly because Sun’s mausoleum was in Nanking, Chiang was determined to defend the city to the last man.
Chiang then questioned He Yingqin and Xu Yongchang. However, once Chiang had said that he would defend Nanking to the death, the two men could hardly speak candidly. Both He (Chief of Staff) and Xu (Chief of the Naval General Staff) said that they would act in accordance with the Chairman’s (Chiang’s) wishes.
Then, Chiang turned to General Alexander von Falkenhausen, leader of his second team of German military advisors. The first team was headed by General von Seekt, the man responsible for rebuilding the German Army, who had arrived in Nanking in 1932.
Von Falkenhausen, who assumed the position of chief advisor in 1934, was promoted to senior advisor to the Nationalist government the following year. (In 1938, when the entire German team departed, von Falkenhausen left Hankou for Germany. In 1940, he was appointed military commander of the Netherlands, Belgium, and northern France.
When asked, at the conference, by Chiang Kai-shek for his opinion, von Falkenhausen stated, as one might expect of a military advisor, that he was in agreement with Li’s proposal to abandon Nanking. He urged Chiang to avoid needless sacrifices.
Thus far, no one had come out in support of Chiang’s hard-line stance. Then Chiang questioned Tang Shengzhi. The latter jumped to his feet, and launched into a tirade.
The enemy is now pressing toward our capital, the site of the tomb where the father of our nation is laid to rest. To declare that we shall not suffer the loss of one or two generals in Nanking, because we are threatened by a powerful enemy, is an insult not only to the departed spirit of our president [Sun Yatsen], but also to our supreme commander [Chiang Kai-shek]. I propose that we defend Nanking to the death . that we fight the enemy to the bitter end.9
Chiang was ecstatic. He immediately promised to appoint Tang commander-in-chief of the Nanking Garrison (Nanking Defense Corps). Tang responded with a vow: “I shall devote myself, body and soul, to the defense of Nanking. 10 The city’s fate shall be my fate.” This animated, uncompromising outburst eclipsed the other, more rational argument, i.e., abandoning Nanking.
According to the Memoirs of Li Zongren, once installed as commander-in-chief of the Nanking Defense Corps, Tang Shengzhi reiterated, this time publicly, his pledge to cast his lot with Nanking. Upon orders from Chiang Kai-shek, he pressed both soldiers and civilians into service in his frantic rush to fortify the city. 11
Chiang Kai-shek’s “Fortify-and-burn” Strategy
Chiang Kai-shek issued orders to expedite the construction of double (sometimes triple) pillbox emplacements outside the massive walls surrounding Nanking. This was the “fortification” aspect of his “fortify-and-burn” strategy. The following report from Nanking appeared in the December 1 issue of The New York Times, under the headline “Nanking Prepares To Resist Attack.”
Eight of Nanking’s city-wall gates were closed tonight in preparation for the Japanese attack. Soldiers built sandbag barricades and barbed-wire entanglements at the other four gates. A telephone communication system was set up to link defense positions commanding land and river approaches to the city.
Directed by army officers, a thousand Chinese civilians reinforced existing gun emplacements, concrete pillboxes and dugouts with a trench network extending thirty miles from the city in seven semicircular rings ending at the Yangtze River, which bounds Nanking on two sides.12
Actually, according to Eyewitness Accounts of the Battle of Nanking, Vol. 3, triple emplacements were constructed, and the semicircular rings of trench networks numbered 27 in total. 13 What is of particular interest here is that 1,000 noncombatants were mobilized for this military operation.
Even boy soldiers were mobilized. They were spotted at an artillery school in Tangshan, an area famous for its hot springs, 20 kilometers east of Nanking. On December 7, 1937, correspondent Tillman Durdin sent the following special dispatch to The New York Times.
Between Tangshan and Nanking barricades were ready along the highway every mile or so, and nearer the capital there raged huge fires set by the Chinese in the course of clearing the countryside of buildings that might protect the invaders from gunfire. In one valley a whole village was ablaze. … Boy camp followers were numerous in the Tangshan area. These lads, 10 to 12 years old, are uniformed regulars serving as messengers, bearers and cooks, and sometimes in the very front lines they seem to enjoy the war as a game.14
The mobilization of boy soldiers does not constitute a violation of international law, as long as they are wearing uniforms. However, if boy soldiers were mobilized, we can assume that most of the young men in the city were drafted. Even without Durdin’s account, we know that Chiang Kai-shek, in his attempts to fortify Nanking, issued orders to “muster any and every able-bodied citizen.” 15
Then Chiang unleashed his scorched-earth strategy, with a vengeance. Zhenjiang (located east of Nanking), the former capital of Jiangsu Province, had a population of 200,000. As the Japanese approached, Chinese troops set fire to the city, which was soon enveloped in flames. The December 12 edition of The New York Times reported that Zhenjiang had been reduced to ruins. 16 Durdin described this desperate strategy in action in a special dispatch from Nanking on December 8.
The burning of obstructions within the defense zone by the Chinese continued. Palatial homes of Chinese officials in the Mausoleum Park district were among the places burned late yesterday.
The city was ringed by a dense pall of smoke, for the Chinese also continued to burn buildings and obstructions yesterday in towns in a ten-mile radius.
This correspondent, motoring to the front, found the entire valley outside Chungshan Gate, southeast of Mausoleum Park, ablaze. The village of Hsiaolingwei, along the main highway bordering the park, was a mass of smoking ruins, and inhabitants who had not evacuated days before were streaming toward Nanking carrying their few miserable belongings and occasionally pausing to take last sorrowing looks at their former homes.17
The burning was not restricted to the area to the east of Nanking. The Yangtze River flows to the west and north of the city. Japanese troops were advancing along its south bank toward Nanking from Shanghai. Since the Chinese military believed that hostilities would break out to the east and south of Nanking, they burned the densely populated Zhonghua Gate (South Gate) district, after forcibly evacuating its residents. 18
Xiaguan wharf in northern Nanking was also incinerated. On the night of December 9, flames rose from the eastern and northern sections of the city. 19
Villages located near principal roads leading to the front line, east of Nanking, were reduced to smoldering ruins. 20 As Durdin indicated in his December 9th dispatch from Nanking, this scorched-earth strategy, this burning of entire cities and towns to the ground, was a defensive tactic used by the Chinese military but, militarily, it was ineffective. 21 The only way in which it hampered Japanese troops was in forcing them to bivouac since, as the Tokyo Asahi Shinbun (December 10 edition) reported, “not one building remained.”
Nanking’s Residents Flee
After Shanghai fell, Chiang Kai-shek’s forces lost battle after battle. Consequently, he opted to abandon Nanking and move his capital elsewhere, despite having declared that he would defend Nanking to the death.
According to The Current Situation in China (published by Toa Dobunkai), Chiang announced his decision on November 16, ordering government ministries and agencies to depart from Nanking within three days. Nationalist government agencies moved to three different locations. The five main branches (executive, legislative, control, judicial, and examination), moved to Chongqing. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Ministry of Finance relocated to Hankou. The ministries of communications and industry moved to Changsha. 22
However, the relocation of the Nationalist government was not publicly announced until noon on November 20. 23 A week later, on November 27, Commander-in-Chief Tang Shengzhi issued a notice to foreign residents of Nanking, urging them to leave, and warning that he could not guarantee the safety of anyone in the city, not even foreigners.
Once they learned that even foreigners were in danger, middle-class and wealthy Chinese residents began a hasty exodus from Nanking. They did so not because a Japanese attack on the city was imminent, but because they knew that Chinese troops would soon be abandoning Nanking as well. They had not forgotten the words of Chiang Kai-shek and Wang Jingwei: “We must resolve to reduce every Chinese and every clod of earth to ashes, rather than render them unto the enemy.”
A German Woman’s Last Days in Nanking
Lily Abegg was the China correspondent for the German newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung, and one of the many foreign residents who fled Nanking. She is presumed to have boarded a boat provided by the British Embassy on November 29, along with British citizens and a few Germans.
Safe in Hankou and ensconced in the Foreign Ministry, Abegg wrote an account entitled “Escape from Nanking: Our Last Days in China’s Capital,” and sent it off to Frankfurt. Her article, excerpts from which follow, appeared in the December 19 edition of the Frankfurter Zeitung.
The last sights I saw in Nanking were endless lines of evacuees, boarded-up houses and shops, and troops rushing in to defend the capital, the air-raid siren wailing all the while. Rickshaws and automobiles were piled high with packing crates, bundles, furniture, and humanity. Crowds of departing residents were on the move at all hours of the day and night. One by one, the shops closed down. Since the electricity in most of the houses had already been turned off, merchants were selling off their remaining stock by candlelight. It was impossible to find packing crates or brown paper anywhere . the shops were all sold out. Last week about 200,000 people left Nanking. One million souls once inhabited the city, but their numbers had dwindled to 350,000. Now there are at most 150,000 people remaining, but the waves of evacuees seem interminable.24
According to Abegg’s estimate, the population of Nanking was “at most 150,000.” This was, of course, only an estimate. Everyone was preoccupied with the evacuation, and no one knew the correct figures.
Incidentally, after the 1934 rezoning of every province and city, Nanking included, in addition to six districts within the city, three rural districts outside its walls: Yanziji to the north, Xiaoling to the southeast, and Shangxinhe to the southwest.
Consequently, Nanking’s population swelled to 973,000 (the population of the three districts outside the city was approximately 150,000). These figures are based on a survey taken by the Nanking city government in June 1936, and appear in Nanking, published by the Nanking Japanese Chamber of Commerce.25
There are conflicting views about the population figures. In 1936, the same year the Nanking city government survey was conducted, the Ministry of the Interior issued population statistics that were cited in The China Year Book 1938. The figure for Nanking was 1,019,000. 26
Thus, Chinese censuses and other population surveys tended to be inaccurate, and remain so. According to Ko Bunyu’s The Real China, someone asked Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang, during his visit to Japan in 1983, what the population of China was. He replied, “Only God knows.”27 Even today, the People’s Republic of China is not in possession of accurate population statistics.
Abegg’s account continues:
The past three days have been chaotic ones. People who had been vacillating suddenly began frenzied preparations for evacuation. We received confirmation that government agencies had either completed their preparations for departure, or had already left Nanking, and that Chiang Kai-shek and his GHQ would be leaving shortly.28
Chiang remained in Nanking until December 7. Everyone knew that the Chinese forces would be defeated, even if he remained there. An article in the December 9 edition of the Osaka Asahi Shinbun reports that many residents of Nanking believed that Chinese troops would withdraw sooner or later. 29 The rumor spread that the military was going to set fire to Nanking, though city authorities denied it vociferously. Despite the denial, still more fearful residents left Nanking. No form of transportation was to be seen . even rickshaws had disappeared.
The exodus became a competition. Automobiles were very difficult to obtain. Government agencies were seizing trucks from one another. Automobiles were priced at several thousand dollars. Waves of evacuees thronged the wharf at Xiaguan. There was no other choice for them but to move forward, up the Yangtze River. The flood of humanity surging toward Xiaguan, hoping to board a ship, defies description.30
Nanking is situated on the south bank of the Yangtze River. If they were to avoid Japanese troops advancing from Shanghai, the evacuees had no choice but to proceed to the north bank. Therefore, they thronged to Xiaguan, on the banks of the Yangtze. From about November 20 to the beginning of December, there was an endless stream of evacuees extending from the center of Nanking, for three miles, to the Yangtze.
Eventually, preoccupation with the evacuation, which had eclipsed everything else, gave way, to some extent, to preparation for war. As civilians left Nanking, soldiers poured in. These were soldiers from other regions, and a varied and sundry lot they were. Soldiers from Guangxi in the south wore cotton uniforms and straw hats . some of them painted in the green-and-yellow camouflage pattern . just like automobiles . but they seemed well-disciplined. All of them carried rifles over their shoulders, not a common sight where local armies are concerned. Compared with the Guangxi soldiers, the Sichuan troops were a sorry sight. Their legs and feet were bare. Their uniforms were of poor quality, and in tatters. They looked as ragged as the most destitute coolie. A few of the soldiers at the vanguard carried rifles, but those following them carried only stout sticks and packs. 31 [Italics supplied.]
According to Eyewitness Accounts of the Battle of Nanking, Vol. 3, by Unemoto Masami, most of the units defending Nanking were from Guangdong, Guangxi, and Hunan.32 Abegg may have been misinformed. In any case, her account provides us with a good picture of the Nanking Defense Corps: a motley, uncontrolled collection of soldiers, most of them from other regions of China.
Wherever we went, we could see that order was giving way to chaos. A train carrying 2,000 wounded soldiers arrived at Nanking Station, but no one paid it any heed. There were no medical corpsmen with them. The soldiers were ignored for two days, and finally unloaded along with those who had died in the meantime, and lined up on the station platform. The corpses emitted a horrible stench, polluting the air. Evacuees fleeing the city simply stepped over the wounded soldiers, jostling them with their baggage. Members of the Relief Committee, all foreigners, asked government agencies to send ambulances. They were told that, yes, there were a few ambulances, but there was no gasoline, and no money to buy any. … The Chinese simply stood about, indifferent.33
Lily Abegg must have stopped at Nanking Station, which was adjacent to the Xiaguan wharf, before boarding her boat. The situation in Nanking two weeks before its fall was very sad indeed, the city’s train station filled with dead and wounded soldiers, and its government offices so preoccupied with relocation preparations that no money could be found to buy gasoline for ambulances.
The Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone
The inhabitants of Nanking fled the city in droves. Those who remained there were, as Professor Miner Searle Bates observed, “the poorest of the population.”34 Obviously, there was a need for a neutral zone where ordinary citizens could find refuge once war broke out in the city.
Foreign residents of Nanking proposed the establishment of a “Nanking Safety Zone.” They were inspired by the Jacquinot Zone, a safety zone established in November 1937 in Nanshi, southern Shanghai, at the urging of Father Jacquinot, a Jesuit priest. 35
As Archibald Steele wrote in the Chicago Daily News, Americans were the chief proponents of the Nanking Safety Zone, and were instrumental in its establishment. Among them, Bates stands out for his unstinting efforts. He was a professor at the University of Nanking, and well-known in the city for his missionary activities.
From the time of its establishment, George Fitch, secretary of the International Committee of the YMCA, headed the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone. Lewis Smythe, also a professor at the University of Nanking, served as the Committee’s secretary.
Though the major roles on the Committee were assumed by Americans, John Rabe, a German businessman, was invited to serve as chairman, in light of the relationship between Japan and Germany. Other members were Rev. John Magee (chairman of the Nanking Committee of the International Red Cross), the Rev. W. Plumer Mills, and Charles Riggs, all Americans; and Eduard Sperling, a German. (Here, the designation “Rev.” has been applied to both missionaries and clergymen.)
Most of the 15 members of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone were missionaries, university professors, physicians, or businessmen. And most of them were Americans (seven), but the Committee’s membership also included four Englishmen, three Germans, and a Dane. 36
According to Rabe’s diary, the establishment of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone was formally announced on November 29, 1937. A headquarters was set up at No. 5 Ninghai Road. The Report of the Nanking International Relief Committee, issued later, stated that the premises “had been kindly provided by the German Embassy.”37
The Nanking Safety Zone
A week earlier, on November 21, the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone issued a declaration describing the location of the Safety Zone and its boundaries. The eastern border would extend along Zhongshan North Road from Xinjiekou to the traffic circle on Shanxi Road. The northern border would extend from the traffic circle on Shanxi Road due west to Xikang Road (the west side of the new residential district). The western border would extend along Xikang Road from the northern border to the Hankou Road intersection (the southwest side of the new residential district). From there, the border would run due southeast to the intersection of Shanghai and Hanzhong roads. The southern border would extend along Hanzhong Road from the point at which it intersected with Shanghai Road to Xinjiekou, where the eastern border began. 38 Zhongshan Road, named after Sun Yatsen (sometimes called Sun Zhongshan), was Nanking’s principal thoroughfare. It was lined with diplomatic offices . the Japanese and American embassies, and the British Consulate. Thus, the diamond-shaped sector, measuring two miles long and one mile wide, was situated roughly in the center of Nanking. According to The China Year Book 1939, the Safety Zone occupied approximately 3.86 square kilometers, a relatively small area.
White flags imprinted with a red cross surrounded by a circle were posted at various points along the boundaries of the Safety Zone.40 Even when the flags were in place, it was not absolutely clear where the boundaries were. Unlike the Jacquinot Zone in southern Shanghai, there was no barbed wire around the Nanking Safety Zone. One could simply walk into it.
The Departure of Chiang Kai-Shek and the Official Evacuation Order
As Japanese troops drew nearer, Nanking fell into a state of utter confusion. According to an article in the December 2 evening edition of the Yomiuri Shinbun, there were daily “traitor hunts.” Individuals accused of conspiring with the enemy were shot and killed. Soon severed heads smeared with fresh blood were displayed on telephone poles and at street corners. Nanking had become “a city of death.” 41
The mayor of Nanking and the minister of health left the city on December 3. Scores of police officers followed suit, including Wang Gupan, who had been head of the National Police Agency since 1936.
On December 7, Chiang Kai-shek made his exit from Nanking. He had ordered “a futile defense of the capital, ” ignoring warnings from Bai Chongxi, Li Zongren, and his German military advisors. But now, six days prior to the fall of Nanking, Chiang, too, abandoned the city, forsaking his subordinates. Durdin castigated Chiang in The New York Times, stating that he was “responsible to a great degree” for what ensued, but that should be obvious to anyone. 42
On December 8, Tang Shengzhi (commander-in-chief of the Nanking Defense Corps) issued a proclamation. According to Durdin’s special dispatch, Tang “decreed that all noncombatants must concentrate in the internationally supervised safety zone.”43 No noncombatants were permitted to venture outside the Safety Zone without a special permit.
For all intents and purposes, Nanking was under martial law. The Tokyo Nichinichi Shinbun carried a special dispatch, sent from Shanghai on December 8, describing Tang’s order.
On the morning of December 8, military authorities in Nanking issued an official evacuation order. Once signs reading “Safety Zone,” prepared by the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone, had been posted, hordes of anxious evacuees poured in. … They numbered approximately 80,000. Thanks to the heroic efforts of the Committee, buildings, schools, and clubs in the area have been requisitioned. Administrative regulations have been established, which give priority to the poorest evacuees. To date, 65,000 persons have been housed. The Red Swastika Society [a Buddhist charitable group] and the Red Cross are making an herculean effort to distribute food to the evacuees. Since the morning of December 7, Tang Shengzhi, commander-in-chief of the Nanking Garrison has further bolstered security in the city, fearing that residents will become violent amid the turmoil. Anyone who seems the least bit suspicious is gunned down. Chinese newspapers report that 100 persons have been shot dead so far.44
The evacuation order prompted an onrush of penniless souls who remained in the city, or who had evacuated its outskirts, into the Safety Zone. Anyone who looted, taking advantage of the upheaval in the city, was shot to death. The Tokyo Nichinichi Shinbun reported that 100 people had been shot, but that figure may have been exaggerated.
Overcrowding in the Safety Zone
Nanking had became a city with two faces. It is described, in What War Means: Japanese Terror in China (Harold Timperley, ed.), as having been divided, almost overnight, into a Safety Zone “crowded with evacuees”45 and “a de facto no-man’s land,”46 until the end of January 1938. The December 8 edition of the Tokyo Asahi Shinbun describes the situation in Nanking as follows.
Several hundred villages outside the walls of Nanking have been burned to the ground by retreating Chinese troops. Thick clouds of black smoke obscure the sky. Steady streams of residents have fled to the refugee area inside the city with only the clothing on their backs. Residents of unprotected areas within the city have also thronged the refugee area, which is now extremely crowded. Elsewhere in the city, mobs have already begun looting and vandalizing private homes. The police are punishing the perpetrators severely, and have already shot six of them to death. However, the situation has become virtually uncontrollable.47
In China, evacuations had always been accompanied by looting and vandalism. An encoded telegram transmitted by George Atcheson, a secretary at the U.S. Embassy in Nanking, on December 7 corroborates the Japanese newspaper account, reporting that six soldiers had been executed.48 In an article written for the Chicago Daily News, December 8 edition, Steele reported that the swift execution of ringleaders and the exhibition of their corpses discouraged others from emulating them.49
The Japanese Refuse To Recognize the Safety Zone
Nanking’s residents surged into the Safety Zone. There was nothing to stop them since, for the most part, the boundaries of the Safety Zone were public roads. Anyone could enter the Safety Zone simply by crossing one of those roads. There was no barbed-wire fence separating the Safety Zone from the rest of the city. It was just as easy for Chinese soldiers to infiltrate the Safety Zone, and seek “refuge” there. If it became a refuge for Chinese troops as well as for civilians, the Safety Zone’s neutrality would be compromised. Moreover, there were Chinese military installations inside the Safety Zone.
If the International Committee had been able to keep Chinese soldiers out of the Safety Zone, the Japanese probably would have recognized its neutrality. However, that was too much to expect of a group of private citizens. The Japanese military authorities were aware of that problem, and that is why they demurred.
The December 6 edition of the Tokyo Asahi Shinbun describes the prevailing attitude toward the Nanking Safety Zone among Japanese military authorities: “We find it difficult to recognize the Nanking Safety Zone. We are concerned about the Committee’s lack of authority.50” Authority was, actually, the decisive difference between the Safety Zone in Nanking and the Jacquinot Zone in Shanghai.
The Jacquinot Zone was established as a safety zone in November 1937, when hostilities threatened Nanshi, the Chinese sector in southern Shanghai. Father Robert Jacquinot, a French Catholic priest, was the major force behind its establishment. Furthermore, the Jacquinot Zone was adjacent to the French Settlement, whose authorities, including French military units, made an effort to cooperate with the Japanese military. The Nanshi International Committee also accepted the fact that the Japanese military would have ultimate control over the Jacquinot Zone, and promised not to interfere.
Consequently, the Japanese were able to justify granting the International Committee for the Jacquinot Zone the authority to maintain neutrality there, should war break out. According to the November 16, 1937 edition of the Tokyo Nichinichi Shinbun and testimony given by diplomat Hidaka Shinrokuro, Commander-in-Chief Matsui made a contribution of 10,000 (the equivalent of $100,000 today) to the Nanshi International Committee.
When hostilities reached Nanshi, Chinese soldiers who sought refuge in the Safety Zone were disarmed by the International Committee. Japanese troops never entered the Safety Zone, and the situation ran its course very peacefully.
This account is based on Hidaka’s testimony at the Tokyo Trials. A counselor at the Japanese Consulate in Shanghai, Hidaka acted as intermediary between the Japanese military and Father Jacquinot.51
The International Committee in Nanking was simply a group of private citizens, who did not, unfortunately, have the authority to prevent Chinese soldiers from infiltrating the Safety Zone, or to disarm them. Therefore, the Japanese military did no more than ensure that it would “respect” the neutrality of the Safety Zone as long as it contained no Chinese military installations.52 Even so, the concerns of the Japanese had not been allayed. On December 8, the director-general for press and public information at the Japanese Embassy in Shanghai issued a declaration stating that Japan would not recognize the Nanking Safety Zone. The following excerpts from that declaration were published in the Foreign Affairs Review, No. 794, on January 1, 1938.
Recent foreign communications from Nanking have described the activities of members of the so-called Nanking Safety Zone, and the influx of evacuees into same. However, in view of potential, insurmountable difficulties, the Japanese authorities regret that they cannot provide any guarantee whatsoever with regard to the establishment of the so-called safety zone, for obvious reasons. 53
“Insurmountable difficulties” referred to the inability of the International Committee to prevent Chinese soldiers from infiltrating the Safety Zone, and the fact that the boundaries of the Safety Zone were not clearly delineated. For those reasons, Japanese authorities made it clear that they could not provide any guarantee with respect to the Safety Zone, even if one were established. They also stated that they had made an announcement to that effect two days earlier, on December 6.
In view of Nanking’s geography and defenses, the city, in its entirety, constitutes a huge fortress. The establishment of a “Safety Zone” in such an area is an irrational concept. However, as we have stated in repeated declarations, the Imperial Japanese Army has absolutely no intention of deliberately subjecting the lives or property of foreign or Chinese citizens to the calamities of war.54
The city of Nanking was protected by walls, among the world’s most impenetrable, that formed an immense citadel. The idea of a demilitarized zone within a giant fortress was merely an illusion.
Nevertheless, the Japanese did state that they would not intentionally harm foreigners or Chinese civilians in the Safety Zone.
For reasons stated above, we cannot provide any guarantees whatsoever with respect to the “Safety Zone” in Nanking. All persons seeking refuge there should be aware that they are in danger. On this occasion, we would like to make it absolutely clear that we will not be held responsible if the aforementioned zone should be affected by hostilities.55
Once a fortress is surrounded, escape is virtually impossible. It was patently obvious that Chinese troops inside Nanking would seek refuge in the Safety Zone when they retreated. The Safety Zone would, consequently, not only become a haven for Chinese troops, but also a battle zone. On December 8, the Japanese foreign ministry asked the Norwegian diplomat who headed an association of consulate and embassy officials in Shanghai to warn foreign residents of Nanking to leave the city.56 The warning was communicated to the American Embassy in Nanking on that same day.
Wounded Soldiers Refused Entry into Nanking
On December 8, all of Nanking’s gates were closed in preparation for a Japanese invasion. Japanese troops were now very close to the city walls. The December 10 edition of the Tokyo Asahi Shinbun carried the following report:
For several days, Chinese soldiers wounded at various battlefronts on the perimeter of Nanking have been pouring into the city. However, as of December 8, Tang Shengzhi, commander-in-chief of the Nanking Garrison, realizing that the fall of Nanking is imminent, has ignored their pleas even though they stand outside every one of the city’s gates, begging to be allowed entry.57
Unable to enter Nanking, survivors of previous battles, wounded and otherwise, wandered pathetically about the gates, and eventually disappeared. As Durdin reported, strict orders had been issued prohibiting them from entering the city. 58
As they headed away from Nanking, Chinese soldiers sometimes encountered Japanese troops advancing toward Nanking, and hostilities were exchanged. According to Eyewitness Accounts of the Battle of Nanking, Vol. 4, the 36th Infantry Regiment was advancing silently toward a now closed Nanking in the middle of the night on December 8. The soldiers were marching on the road that leads from Shangfangzhen to Guanghua Gate, on a moonless night. But the area around Nanking was illuminated by the scarlet flames of fires set by Chinese troops.
Japanese troops headed directly for Nanking. Some enemy soldiers fell in with them, mistakenly believing the soldiers of the 36th Regiment to be their allies. The 36th Regiment ended up “engaging in a chaotic, parallel pursuit,59” fighting hand-to-hand with the enemy all the while. It was past 5:00 a.m. on December 9 when Japanese troops finally reached Guanghua Gate, Nanking’s main gate.