Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact

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Primary Historical Sources Reveal the Truth about the Nanjing Incident

By Ikeda Haruka,


Lastly, let us examine the Nanjing Incident for what it really is. It should be easier now to see the Incident through American missionaries, the original disseminators of the Incident.

First, the true purpose of the American missionaries who remained in Nanjing at the time of the Battle of Nanjing and established the Nanjing Safety Zone was not civilian protection but supporting the Chinese Army.

Underlying the actions of the American missionaries is support for the New Life Movement, which was in fact Chiang Kai-shek’s political and nation-building activities, as resolved by Protestants in May 1937.

Thus, American missionaries in the Nanjing Safety Zone supported the Chinese Army as promised. However, unlike the Shanghai Safety Zone, which was officially sanctioned by both Japan and China, the Nanjing Safety Zone was not formally approved by the Japanese authorities due to a lack of neutrality and therefore was in fact unauthorized. As such, it had no raison d’etre after the hostilities ended. Thus, in order to sustain the Safety Zone and to keep supporting Chinese army, the role of American missionaries became that of protecting civilians from the Japanese military’s “reign of terror”, that is, to create the role of protecting civilians from the “Nanjing Incident.” So, the American missionaries, the original disseminators of the Incident, were not the bona fide third party but the party concerned who strongly needed to create the story. Thus, the “Nanjing Incident” disseminated by them was far from the fact. This is the truth of the “Nanjing Incident.”

With respect to China’s postwar propaganda, a lot of studies have been made concerning this, so I will not deal with this subject. One thing I do want to point out is that Mao Zedong never referred to a “Nanjing Incident” or accused Japan of responsibility for a “Nanjing Incident”. As this book clearly demonstrated, the true nature of the Nanjing Incident was that it was a collaboration between Chiang Kai-shek and American missionaries. Blaming Japan for the Nanjing Incident is tantamount to praising Chiang Kai-shek’s political maneuvers. Naturally, Mao Zedong, who despised Chiang Kai-shek, would have nothing to do with “Nanjing Incident.”.

*Chronological summary of the Nanjing Incident

[How Protestants came to support Chiang Kai-shek]

February 1934 Chiang Kai-shek launched the New Life Movement in Nanchang.
Later, one by one, Chiang Kai-shek’s political rivals lose to him. (In December 1935, Wang Jing-wei resigned as head of the Executive Chamber and in May 1936, Hu Hanmin died suddenly.)
December 1936 The Xi’an Incident. Chiang Kai-shek was held prisoner by the Communists but freed after Soong Mei-ling (Madame Chiang Kai-shek) and others mediated.
March 1937 On Good Friday (two days prior to Easter), Chiang Kai-shek sent a message about his religious confession he had made while in custody to the Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Nanjing. There was great enthusiasm for Chiang Kai-shek among Protestants.
May 1937 At the General Assembly of the National Christian Council, in response to Soong Mei-ling’s appeal, a resolution was passed fully supporting Chiang Kai-shek’s New Life Movement, as individuals or as church groups (in fact total support for Chiang Kai-shek’s political and nation building activities).

[The conception of the “Safety Zone”]

August 13, 1937 The start of the Second Shanghai Incident.
November 9, 1937 Catholic Father Jacquinot established the Shanghai Safety Zone. Official sanction came into effect under an agreement between Japan and China. General Matsui donated 10,000 yen to the Zone. No record of any donations from the Chinese.

[Establishment of the Nanking Safety Zone to support and protect the Chinese Army]

November 18, 1937 In Nanjing, a plan to establish the Nanking Safety Zone was reported within Protestant missionaries’ circle. On this occasion, missionary Mills, the originator of the plan, expressed his intention to support and protect the Chinese Army. On the same day, Chiang Kai-shek’s right-hand man and general secretary of the promotional general assembly of the New Life Movement, Mr. Huang Jen Lin, was informed of missionary Mills’ plan.
November 19, 1937 The International Committee was formed and staffed mostly by American missionaries. On November 22, Mr. Rabe, a German, was elected chairman of the Committee. The Committee proposed the establishment of a safety zone to Japan.
November 29, 1937 Chiang Kai-shek announced the donation of 100,000 dollars to the Nanking Safety Zone. (Rabe’s diary: “The generalissimo has placed 100,000 dollars at the committee’s disposal.)
December 2, 1937 The Japanese authorities notified the Committee of their disapproval of the Nanking Safety Zone.
December 10, 1937 Start of all-out attack on the walled city of Nanjing.
December 13, 1937 Japanese troops entered the city. Japanese troops requested the dissolution of the refugee zone, to which the American missionaries absolutely refused.

[The “Nanjing Incident” hand in hand with the existence of the Nanking Safety Zone]

December 15, 1937 Based on missionary Bates’ statement, the “Nanjing Incident” was disseminated by foreign correspondents who were not in Nanjing. From then on, various “Nanjing Incident” reports, created to support the existence of the Safety Zone, were disseminated through the International Committee and by individual missionaries. Along with disseminating information, American missionaries supported and protected Chinese soldiers within the Safety Zone.
February 4, 1938 Under semi-compulsorily order by the Japanese Army, refugees returned to their homes. The Safety Zone (refugee zone) was for practical purposes dissolved.
February 18, 1938 The name of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone changed to the Nanking International Relief Committee.
February 23, 1938 Chairman Rabe left Nanjing.
March 4, 1938 The safety and order of Nanjing restored (German Chancellor Scharffenberg stated, “Order is also being restored in general.”).

[Collaboration propaganda of the “Nanjing Incident” by the American missionaries and the

February 1938 At a League of Nations Conference, Chinese Delegate Koo Vi Kyuin quoted from the January 28, 1938 edition of the Daily Telegraph and Morning Post and claimed that 20,000 Chinese civilians were killed by the Japanese Army in Nanjing, based on a missionary’s statement.
March 1938 Missionary Fitch, sponsored by the Chinese, toured across the United States,
propagating the Nanjing Incident.
July 1938 What War Means published in the U.S., the U.K. and China.
July 1938 The article “The Sack of Nanjing,” based on Fitch’s diary, appeared in Reader’s Digest.
October 1938 “We were in Nanking,” records by Mr. Bates, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Fitch appeared in Reader’s Digest.
October 1938 (circa) War Damage in the Nanking Area (in English) published in Shanghai.
March 1939 Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone (in English) published in Shanghai.

[Japan-U.S. relationship/Tokyo Trials]

December 8, 1941 Outbreak of war between Japan and the United States.
August 15, 1945 War ended with the Emperor’s radio broadcast.
July 15, 1946 Court proceedings concerning the Nanjing Incident began during the Tokyo Trials. As witnesses on behalf of the prosecution, missionaries Wilson, Bates and Magee appeared and, in turn, testified.
November 12, 1948 During the Tokyo Trials, General Matsui Iwane, commander of the Central China Army and in charge of the Battle of Nanjing, sentenced to death.

Selected Bibliography

China Faces the Storm, Ronald Rees, Edinburgh House Press

‘Condition at Nanking,’ prepared by James Espy, American Vice Consul

Diaries of Cabot Coville 1938, Hoover Institution Archive

Documents of the Nanjing Safety Zone, edited by SHUHSI HSÜ, Special Advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (ROC), KELLY & WALSH, LIMITED, SHANGHAI, 1939.

Eyewitnesses to Massacre: American Missionaries Bear Witness to Japanese Atrocities, edited by Zhang Kaiyuan, M.E. Sharpe, New York, 2001

Hollington K. Tong Autobiography,

Japanese Terror in China, H. J. Timperley, Modern Age Books, Inc. 1938

John Rabe, Good German of Nanking, edited by Erwin Wickert, Little, Brown and Company, London, 1999, p.54. (Originally published in German by Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt GmbH, Stuttgart, in 1997 as Der gute Deutsche von Nanking.)

League of Nations Official Journal, February 1938,

Minnie Vautrin, Diary of Wilhelmina Vautrin 1937-1940, Yale University Divinity School

The Autobiography of Zeng Xu-bai, first volume. Renkei Shuppan Company, Taipei, 1987.

The China Christian year book 1931

The Nanking Massacre Archival Project: Document, Yale University Library

Tokumukikan houkou(Secret Military Agent Report), Higashinakano Shudo ed., Nankin gyakusaty kennkyu no saizensen-heisei 16 nen (Front line of Nanking Massacre Research: 2004 edition),
Tendensha, Tokyo, 2004