Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact

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The Nanking Hoax:A Historian Analyzes the Events of 1937

By Ara Kenichi,

The Nanking Hoax:
A Historian Analyzes the Events of 1937

By Ara Ken’ichi

Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact


News of “Japanese brutality” spreads far and wide 1
Nanking massacre: another product of the Chinese international propaganda machine 8
Virtually no complaints from civilians about Japanese atrocities 10
Generalissimo’s views weigh heavily on war-crimes tribunals 15
Relentless propaganda barrage advertises “Japanese brutality” 17
Christian missionaries become soldiers in the propaganda war against Japan 23
Propaganda a tool in the quest for retribution 27
Missionaries’ testimony not based on personal experiences 31
“200,000 murders and 20,000 rapes” 38
Statistics invented by missionaries 41
Determined to enlighten the Chinese, missionaries remain in battle zone 46
Chinese troops infiltrate Safety Zone 48
Why the missionaries stayed in Nanking 52
East Asia Bureau chief’s damning testimony 60
Reports with no factual basis 65
Fallacious reports send Hirota Koki to the gallows 68
A single book dominates Nanking “massacre” court proceedings 74
Propaganda book created in collusion with China 78
Timperley’s clever deceiving of three Japanese 82
Biased American reporting 87
Faked photograph viewed by 25 million 90
News reports with a pro-Chinese slant 93
Great victory at Taierzhuang: a hoax 98
Capture of Nanking recedes from national memory 101
Conflicting resources 105
Why Kojima could not shed light on aftermath of Battle of Nanking 109
Explaining the inexplicable 112
Zhou Enlai silent about Nanking “massacre” 115
CCP fixates on ascribing Three-All tactics to the Japanese 117
PRC officially decrees 300,000-victim “massacre” 122
Japanese attempts to elucidate massacre accusations backfire 127
Books 130
Periodicals 138


Is it possible that, in the late 1930s, the brutality of young Japanese men was such that it caused them to stand out from their counterparts in the rest of the world?

According to charges brought at the Tokyo Trials, after having occupied Nanking in December 1937, Japanese soldiers laid waste to the city, hunting down women and raping them, and killing all civilians who crossed their paths. In the brief span of one month, they committed 200,000 murders and 20,000 rapes. At that time conscription was universal. A soldier on active duty might have been — indeed, was — the boy next door. The soldiers of 1937 belonged to my father’s generation. I certainly feel an affinity with them, and I found the notion that they committed any such crimes, much less many of them, unimaginable.

It was in 1982, 45 years after the violence had allegedly occurred, that I decided I couldn’t rest until I had discovered what really happened in Nanking. Although nearly a half-century had elapsed, quite a few of the survivors of the conflict were alive and well, and in their seventies.

I was able to interview many of them about their experiences in Nanking. Most of the units that served in that city were composed of young men from the same prefecture. After I tracked down one veteran of the Battle of Nanking, he would lead me to another: “See the house beyond that field? The man who lives there served with me.”

But many former soldiers had moved to other parts of Japan in the great transplantation that accompanied postwar economic growth. For instance, an interview with a man now living in Tokyo led me back to his hometown, Sabae, in Fukushima Prefecture. “Visit my former comrade there. He should be able to tell you everything you need to know about Nanking.” These interviews turned into a five-year project that took me all over Japan; I conducted over 100 of them in the Tohoku, Kanto, Kansai and Kyushu regions, covering about half the nation’s territory.

I failed miserably, however, in my attempt to verify any of the accusations made at the Tokyo Trials. None of the former soldiers I interviewed mentioned any event even remotely resembling them. During discussions about Nanking, some interviewees digress, shifting to the bitter conflict fought in Shanghai. Others mentioned the Battle of Imphal in India; the veterans’ recollections of combat in that region were sharper, since it had taken place after the Battle of Nanking. However, the accusations made by the prosecution at the Tokyo Trials described crimes so horrific that no soldier could forget them, no matter how long ago they had occurred. I concluded that the charges brought at the tribunal had been invented.

I was anxious to communicate my discovery to a wide audience, via newspapers and television. I knew how the PRC would react, but nothing the Chinese could say was capable of obliterating the testimonies of more than a hundred men. Not once did I waver in my convictions about the Nanking Incident. However, at that time, Japan’s media and the PRC had joined together, raising their voices in an endless “Nanking massacre” chorus, which grew more deafening as the years went by.

As I looked back on the 70 years that had elapsed since the massacre, I saw a parade of characters marching through history: those who made the accusations, those who publicized them, those who used them to their advantage, those who were manipulated by them — Chinese, Americans, Japanese. So many people have participated in this drama in so many ways. During those seven decades, the events that actually did take place have become virtually indiscernible. Why were such accusations made? How were they disseminated throughout the world? Why were they given credence at the Tokyo Trials? How did the Japanese react to them? When did the Republic of China first make those allegations?

I realized that to answer these questions, I needed to breathe life once again into the characters and events that shaped this drama at each important stage. This book is the result of that realization. It is my hope that I have also shed light on the truth — on events as they actually took place.

Ara Ken’ichi
October 1, 2007

Routes to Nanking Taken by Japanese Forces
(the Shanghai Expeditionary Army and the 10th Army)


The Second Sino-Japanese War in Photographs, vol. 2: The Battle for Shanghai (Tokyo: Asahi Shimbunsha, 1938): cover, Chapter 3 (pp. 32-36), Chapter 4 (p. 51).

History in Photographs: The Dawn of a New China, April 1938: Chapter 4 (pp. 53, 58), Chapter 5 (pp. 62, 69).

Scaling Steep Cliffs: A Story in Photographs: Chapter 4(pp. 49, 54).


For centuries, warfare was waged with weapons, but a new type of warfare — psychological warfare — emerged in World War I. Its weapon was propaganda, which took the form of books, published and distributed throughout the world; pamphlets, dropped by the airplane, another modern innovation; and newspaper articles. Propaganda tightened the bonds between allies, attracted new allies, and undermined the enemy’s will to fight.

J’accuse (I accuse), a book written in 1915, denounced Germany. France and England, Germany’s enemies, arranged for it to be translated into at least 10 languages, including French, English and Chinese, and distributed throughout the world.

In the latter half of World War I, when fighting between German and French troops was at a standstill, the British dropped leaflets on them from aircraft and hot-air balloons. During the last six months of the conflict, 11,300,000 leaflets rained on the European front. Newspapers were used for this same purpose, far more than in the past.

The purpose of propaganda then was to create a lasting impression of the enemy’s brutality upon readers. Leaflets and newspaper articles described enemy atrocities. The British accused the Germans of boiling the bodies of their fallen comrades to distill glycerine for munitions. Meanwhile, the Germans claimed that the British were filling buckets with the eyeballs of German soldiers gouged out by British troops. None of these accounts had any basis in fact, but that did not stop the London Times or other leading publications from printing them.

Everyone knows that battlefields are horrific places; it is easy for people far away from the front to believe stories of this sort, no matter how fanciful. World War I was the proving ground for propaganda, and before the next major conflict broke out, many nations had established government departments specializing in propaganda.

News of “Japanese brutality” spreads far and wide

In the 1930s, Nanking Road was the entertainment center of Shanghai. Straddling it were two magnificent, multi-storied hostelries, the likes of which had yet to appear in Japan — the Cathay Hotel and the Pacific Hotel.

On August 14, 1937, when Chinese and Japanese troops first clashed in Shanghai, several bomber aircraft were spotted in the sky. Suddenly, they unleashed their bombs on the two hotels, ending the lives of dozens of European and American guests and injuring others. Among the dead were an American journalist and Robert Reischauer, a specialist in ancient Japanese history.

Not more than a few hundred meters from the hotel was the Great World, an amusement park, which was bombed by the same aircraft. Together, the two attacks had massacred more than 1,100 civilians.

Immediately, Chinese news agencies announced that Japanese aircraft had dropped bombs on the city of Shanghai. According to their reports, which reached the U.S. and France, Japanese bomber planes had bombed Shanghai, killing Chinese, American and European civilians. Japanese newspapers, on the other hand, reported that Chinese Air Force planes were responsible for the attacks. Special editions issued on the day of the attacks and the following day bore the headline “Cathay Hotel Turned into a Battle Zone.”

Most of us believe the news reports we hear or read. But in wartime, black can become white, and vice versa. Which nation was lying, China or Japan? The truth is that in August 1937, the Japanese armed cruiser Izumo was anchored in the Huangpu River, which both the Cathay and Pacific hotels overlook. On board Izumo, the flagship of the Third Naval Fleet, was fleet commander Vice-Admiral Hasegawa Kiyoshi. Izumo was first on the Chinese attack priority list because it was the command post linking the fleet and land-based units.

Famous photo of crying baby carried by Life and other leading publications

The pilots of the Chinese fighter planes were aiming for the Izumo. But having sustained an attack from the Japanese ship’s anti-aircraft guns, the confused airmen dropped their bombs on the hotels, and then on Great World. The bomb meant for Izumo fell into the Huangpu without even grazing the motionless ship.

Since the Shanghai branch of the American news agency UP (United Press) was located in the Cathay Hotel, its staff witnessed the actual events that transpired. However, the ROC (Republic of China) refused to acknowledge reports that Chinese military aircraft were responsible for the attacks. Despite the fact that many of their compatriots had been killed or wounded, the Chinese claimed that their bombers had attacked Japanese aircraft that evening, and even declared August 14 Air Force Day.

The Chinese propaganda campaign had gotten an early start, and it never stopped. Two weeks later, on August 28, Japanese aircraft bombed Shanghai South Station to cut off the Chinese overland supply route. Lo and behold, a baby was found in the ruins, a miraculous survivor of the bombing. Even more miraculously, the discovery of the crying infant among the rubble was recorded on cinematographic film.

That film was viewed almost immediately by 25 million Americans in newsreels shown in movie theaters throughout the U.S. Twenty-five million more saw it in newsreels distributed by another news agency. Outside the U.S., the crying baby was seen by 3,000,000 people. The image was also printed in newspapers, and ultimately reached an audience of as many as 136 million.

Images have an infinitely more powerful influence than the printed word. And this image — of an innocent, helpless infant — was used to spread the news of Japanese cruelty throughout the world. But it, too, was propaganda. Immediately after the bombing, when smoke was still rising from the rubble of Shanghai South Station, someone brought a baby to the site. The baby was then placed on the railroad tracks and photographed by Chiang Kai-shek’s favorite photographer, a Chinese-American cameraman named H.S. Wong. The images distributed throughout the world — pure propaganda disguised as news reportage — informed the world that Japan was a nation of brutes.

In 1975, 38 years later, a coffee-table book, a collection of photographs entitled Life at War, was published in the U.S. It was advertised as the best of the wartime photographs that had graced the pages of Life, the world-famous American weekly. Occupying two full pages is the photograph of the Shanghai South Station baby. The composition of the photograph is so masterful that the editors must have felt compelled to include the photograph, even though they knew it had been staged. Readers can imagine, I’m sure, how instrumental the photograph was in convincing the world of the terrifying cruelty of the Japanese.

The source of the photograph and other, similar propaganda was the Nationalist Propaganda Bureau. At that time, the Nationalist Party controlled the government, and thus the lives of the citizens of the ROC.

The ROC was an autocracy, not a republic. The Central Executive Committee was the executive arm of the Nationalist government; it oversaw several government departments. One of them was the Propaganda Bureau, which was established in 1923. Its missions were to disseminate the Nationalist Party platform and enlighten the citizens of the ROC. When war broke out, propaganda became its primary focus.

The chief of the Propaganda Bureau held equal ranking with the head of the Executive Council, and with ministers of state entrusted with propaganda in other nations. He was assisted by a staff of a dozen or so propaganda specialists. In 1937, the Propaganda Bureau was headed by Shao Lizi. Assisting him were Xiao Tongzi, Chen Bosheng and Cheng Cangbo.

The largest agency supplying China’s newspapers with news was the Central News Agency, whose founder and president was Xiao Tongzi. Chen Bosheng was Xiao’s right-hand man and the first president of the agency’s Tokyo bureau. Cheng Cangbo was president of the Central Daily News, the Nationalist Party organ. When those three top-tier journalists went to work for the Propaganda Bureau, they were ideally equipped to manipulate the media by inventing news and distorting the truth.

Incredibly, Chinese aircraft again bombed Nanking Road on August 23, this time claiming nearly 200 victims. When foreign journalists attempted to transmit reports of the attack, their dispatches were amended to place the blame on Japanese aircraft (Chinese censors checked and edited all outgoing news reports).

On August 30, the USS President Hoover was attacked. An American reporter wrote that the attackers were not Japanese, but censors altered his report to read that the ship was attacked by the Japanese before it was transmitted.

There were close to 150 Western journalists in Shanghai at the time. When the conflict between the Japanese and Chinese began, military officials of both nations kept the press informed about the progress of the war. A Japanese Army major briefed them once a day at the Metropole Hotel. A Chinese information officer held a press conference every evening at the Park Hotel on Nanking Road. Assisting him was Yu Hongjun, the mayor of Shanghai (who enjoyed a status equal to that of a minister of state), who would personally brief the press. Yu made long-winded pronouncements and spent money lavishly. Yu in turn was assisted by Lt.-Gen. Zhang Zhizhong, commander of Greater Shanghai-Nanking Security Headquarters, whose rank was equivalent to that of the commander of Japan’s Shanghai Expeditionary Army; Zhang’s briefings employed every trick in the book.

At 9:00 p.m. on August 20, Lt.-Gen. Zhang met with foreign reporters at military headquarters. He announced that Chinese forces had occupied the Huishan pier. Accordingly, the AP (Associated Press) reported that the Japanese had been cornered several hundred yards away from the Huangpu River. The New York Times and other newspapers picked up that story and printed it.

The Shanghai conflict, which began near the Bazi Bridge, expanded into the northern sector of the city. By August 18, it had spread to the eastern sector, where on the afternoon of August 20, Chinese tank units attacked a settlement called Yangshupu. Only two kilometers beyond Yangshupu was Huishan pier, where the Nippon Yusen Steamship Co. was located. The bitter battle lasted through the night. But by the time Lt.-Gen. Zhang briefed the press, the Chinese had been pushed back to a location three kilometers away from Huishan pier, from which they retreated on the morning of August 21. However, it was the fallacious Chinese press report that was circulated by the Western media.

Moreover, since no one contradicted the fiction, even today people believe that the Chinese were victorious. In his autobiography, published after World War II, Chiang Weiguo, Kai-shek’s second son, writes: “August 20: Fourth offensive launched. After a fierce battle lasting a day and a night, we finally take Huishan pier. If we had circled to the right, we could have annihilated the Japanese.”

A German woman was a familiar figure at Chinese press conferences; she helped explain the Chinese position; these briefings too were stages for the dissemination of propaganda.

On November 6, the Propaganda Bureau and the propaganda section of the Military Committee merged. At that time, the Military Committee, headed by Chiang Kai-shek, was the nerve center of power in the ROC. The merger took place so that Military Committee could control the activities of the Propaganda Bureau. Dong Xianguang (aka Hollington Tong) was appointed deputy chief, and an International Propaganda Section was established within the bureau.

The International Propaganda Section was responsible for propaganda designed to gain support from other nations for Chinese objectives. It was run by Zeng Xubai, who reported directly to Dong. A graduate of an American university, Dong Xianguang worked as a correspondent for the New York Times at one time. Upon his return to China and until the war began, he spent his days writing anti-Japanese editorials for an English-language newspaper published in Shanghai, the China Press, where he held the position of editor in chief. The sheer power of his writing was a constant annoyance to the Japanese.

Dong censored all the news reports transmitted to other nations during the conflict with the Japanese, and acted as liaison with foreign journalists. He was also involved in the staging of the crying-baby scenario. After World War II, he served as ambassador to Japan and later to the U.S. He commanded respect among foreign reporters, and used his power to great advantage.

International Propaganda Section head Zeng Xubai had taught at the Ginling Women’s College of Arts and Sciences in Nanking, and was employed as a censor prior to the Second Sino-Japanese War. After World War II, he relocated to Taiwan, where he became president of the Central News Agency.

When the merger of the Propaganda Bureau and the propaganda section of the Military Committee took place, Shanghai was under Japanese control. Nanking became the new hub of propaganda activity. But Nanking too fell about a month later, and the Propaganda Bureau moved again, this time to Hankou.

After the Japanese occupied Nanking, Nationalist troops being inferior in every way, Zeng decided to advertise, first, the bravery of Chinese troops and, second, the brutality of the Japanese. This is how the Nanking massacre myth was born.

When international propaganda was still emanating from Shanghai, a reporter for the Manchester Guardian, one of Great Britain’s leading newspapers, approached the International Propaganda Section. His name was Harold Timperley, and he advised the bureaucrats that the Chinese should not have a visible role in international propaganda. What they needed was a foreign spokesman, someone who understood China. The International Propaganda Section invited Timperley to Hankou, consulted with him about all forms of international propaganda, and then made decisions on initial projects to pursue.

When Timperley returned to Shanghai, he corresponded with Miner Searle Bates, a professor at Ginling University and an advisor to the Nationalist government. The two men discussed propaganda plans. Bates and other Christian missionaries residing in Nanking thought it would be a good idea to spread rumors that Japanese atrocities had been committed all over China. Timperley, however, insisted on narrowing the stage to Nanking.

Three foreign nationals assisted Timperley with his work, helping with editing and communications with publishers. Timperley himself was planning to publish pamphlets in the U.S., as well as in Great Britain, which would be distributed to every legislator in the two nations. Most of the decisions about the content of the pamphlet had been made by mid-March 1938; Timperley traveled to Nanking for final consultations. The leaflet was to be a denunciation of Japanese soldiers for the atrocities they had committed, mostly in Nanking. The manuscript, a mixture of lies and exaggeration, was sent to Great Britain and the U.S. at the end of March; by mid-April, a British publisher had been found.

At about the time when Timperley initiated communication with Bates and his colleagues in Nanking, the missionaries began submitting stories to the North China Daily News, an English-language newspaper based in Shanghai. The British-owned publication had the largest circulation in Asia of any English-language newspaper. It was also read by foreigners residing in Nanking. An editorial in the January 21 edition, based on a letter written by Bates to a friend, stated that 10,000 civilians had been slaughtered and 20,000 women raped in Nanking. The letter was pure propaganda, but it was immediately picked up by newspapers in Hankou and Hong Kong.

Timperley invented an incident in which an article he wrote citing that editorial was seized by the Japanese. Reports of that incident were carried by Great Britain’s leading newspapers. The newspapers didn’t mention Professor Bates, much less his role as advisor to the Nationalist government. Nor did they mention the relationship between Timperley and Bates. The articles were made to appear as accounts provided by ordinary citizens, which gave their reports of Japanese atrocities added credibility and gained a wider audience for them.

In February 1938, when the propaganda about Japanese atrocities in Nanking was being disseminated, a Political Bureau, whose mission was to foster ideological unity between Chinese military personnel and civilians, was established under the stewardship of the Military Committee. Installed at its head was Chen Cheng, often referred to as little Chiang Kai-shek because of his slavish devotion to the generalissimo. Chen’s deputies were Huang Qixiang (a subordinate of Zhang Fakui) and prominent Communist Party member Zhou Enlai. A Third Department, a new propaganda mechanism, was formed to take charge of domestic and anti-Japanese propaganda.

In April, writer Guo Moruo was appointed head of the Third Department. Ten years earlier, Guo had participated in the Northern Expedition, during which time he lost faith in the Nationalist Party and sought asylum in Japan. He returned to China after the Marco Polo Bridge (Lugouqiao) Incident, and aimed his pen squarely at Japan. One of the Third Department’s important assignments was the preparation of a pamphlet publicizing atrocities committed by Japanese military personnel. During the creation of “Report of Enemy Atrocities,” an Editorial Committee was created within the Political Bureau, but the entire bureau took part in the work.

The Third Department undertook a variety of projects jointly with the Propaganda Bureau’s International Propaganda Section. The Third Department was also involved in the briefings on the progress of the war for foreign journalists held every Monday. The two entities collaborated on the writing and printing of pamphlets. The Political Bureau became involved in the preparation and funding of Timperley’s pamphlet, a project that had been launched by the International Propaganda Section.

On April 28, Gu Mengyu replaced Shao Lizi as head of the Propaganda Bureau. Zhou Fohai was appointed deputy (in addition to Xiao Tongzi). Gu Mengyu was head of the bureau in name only. Deputy head Zhou was acting head and personally oversaw propaganda relating to the Battle of Xuzhou, the first anniversary of the Second Sino-Japanese War, and the conflict at Hankou.

Meanwhile, What War Means: The Japanese Terror in China was selected as the title for Timperley’s pamphlet. Guo Moruo wrote the preface for the Chinese-language edition. The preface for the Japanese edition was written by Kaji Wataru and Aoyama Kazuo. Kaji had been arrested in connection with Communist activities. After being released from jail, he fled to China. Toward the end of March 1938, he surprised everyone by surfacing in Wuhan, where he became an advisor to the Third Department’s 7th Section. Aoyama Kazuo arrived in Wuhan at about the same time Kaji did; he was appointed advisor to the Supreme War Investigation Committee.

What War Means was completed in July, and published in many of the world’s nations. The Nationalist Propaganda and Political bureaus collaborated on a propaganda book describing Japanese atrocities in Nanking. But not one person involved in that project had personally witnessed events in Nanking after it was occupied, including its editor, Timperley. Propaganda Bureau staff members had no idea what transpired in Nanking, having left the city before it fell to the Japanese. The Third Department was staffed by a great many Communists and Communist sympathizers, but most of them were in Shanghai at the time; not one of them had first-hand knowledge of what had happened in Nanking. And where were the three men who wrote the preface when Nanking fell? Guo Moruo was in Guangzhou, Kaji in Hong Kong, and Aoyama in Hanoi.

Propaganda took other forms as well. In a war trophy exhibition in Hankou, several hundred photographs ostensibly bearing witness to the slaughter of one-quarter of the civilian population of Nanking by the Japanese were on display. A photograph taken by an Asahi Shimbun photographer appears in “Japanese Atrocities,” issued by the Political Bureau. It shows a group of Chinese women returning home after working in the fields. The explanation attached to the photograph states that the women were raped or gang-raped, and then shot. The March 15 edition of Shenbao, a typical ROC newspaper, carries an advertisement offering payment for photographs documenting rapes committed by Japanese soldiers. This was easy work for the Chinese propagandists: all that was required of them was to collect generic photographs taken by Japanese newspaper photographers and change the captions so that they described “Japanese atrocities.”

When the decision was made to publish a propaganda pamphlet describing Japanese atrocities, Lewis Smythe, also a professor at Ginling University, was tapped to prepare a report about war damage in Nanking. Not too long after What War Means appeared, Smythe’s report, entitled War Damage in the Nanking Area, was published. The connection between the American university professor and the Propaganda Bureau was kept secret. The academic veneer lent credibility to the descriptions of Japanese atrocities.

For an entire year, propaganda in the form of stories of atrocities committed by Japanese military personnel was disseminated by the Chinese propaganda machine in a variety of ways. No one questioned the importance or effectiveness of international propaganda. The Propaganda Bureau’s Propaganda Section became an independent entity, while the Third Department and Political Bureau continued to play important roles. The ROC had won the propaganda war, totally and completely.

Nanking massacre: another product of the Chinese international propaganda machine

China continued to produce propaganda thereafter as well. On April 10, 1938, the Chinese described a temporary Japanese withdrawal from Taierzhuang as a complete victory for Chinese forces. On June 9, they claimed that the demolition of the dikes holding back the Yellow River by Chinese troops was indiscriminate Japanese bombing. On October 10, they reported the outcome of hostilities in the De’an area as an overwhelming victory for the Chinese.

Even its purveyors disagree about whether to insist that their propaganda is the truth for all eternity, or to admit that it was a lie after it has served its purpose. Chiang Kai-shek, head of the Military Committee, described the conflict at Taierzhuang as follows: “On the evening of April 6, Chinese forces succeeded in obliterating the Japanese 14th and 15 divisions, annihilating 30,000 enemy troops. Less than one-third of the surrounded enemy survived our attack. This was the first major defeat for the Japanese.”

The Battle of Taierzhuang commenced one week after Guo Moruo began working at the Third Department. Having already embarked on a stepped-up propaganda campaign, Guo capitalized on the Chinese “victory,” planning and executing a celebratory lantern parade in Hankou complete with fireworks; the festivities drew a crowd of 450,000-500,000.

At the time, Guo may have believed that the Chinese had actually won the battle. However, after World War II, he wrote the following:

Looking back, this news seems absurd to me. In actuality, the enemy made a strategic withdrawal from Taierzhuang to prepare for a full-scale invasion. Our military leaders issued a grossly embellished report of the situation — the epitome of exaggeration.

And how did the Chinese describe the destruction of the Yellow River dikes? According to Chiang Kai-shek, “If we had vacillated about demolishing the dikes, mechanized Japanese units would have launched a sweeping attack on Wuhan from Zhengzhou. In some cases it is necessary to resort to extraordinary measures, knowing there will be casualties, to prevent the enemy from unlawfully invading our territory.” Here Chiang admits that it was the Chinese who destroyed the dikes, contradicting his own propaganda.

Not only did Dong Xianguang, the deputy head of the Propaganda Bureau, describe this as a surprise move on the part of the Chinese, he also characterized it as an extraordinary victory: “Several thousand Japanese troops drowned in the swirling waters. But the real damage was sustained by the Japanese Army’s precious equipment, artillery and motorized units, all of which were submerged in water. Taking advantage of the resulting chaos, the Chinese launched a counteroffensive. Since the odds were now so heavily stacked against them, the Japanese fled, leaving most of their equipment behind.”

With the demolition of the dikes, the Japanese advance halted, and more than 100,000 Chinese were killed or unaccounted for. However, there is no record of Japanese soldiers having drowned. By distorting his account in various ways, Dong was glorifying the destruction of the dikes.

In his memoirs, Guo Moruo admitted that the Chinese propaganda had been based on falsehoods and was a dismal failure, tactically:

According to our propaganda, the cause was indiscriminate bombing on the part of the Japanese. In fact, our troops broke up the dikes on orders from top-ranking officers at the front line. This is one of our time-honored tactics: water can destroy huge armies, as the proverb goes. The damage done to the enemy was limited, but we experienced extraordinary casualties in terms of civilian lives and property.

About the “victory at De’an,” Zhou Fohai, acting Propaganda Bureau chief, wrote:

We were surrounded by the enemy, but a public gathering was held to celebrate Double Ten (National) Day. I had been appointed master of ceremonies, but I had no idea what I should say. Somehow I managed to speak for several minutes, against my better judgment. All of a sudden, Guo Moruo began a speech that was nothing but lies. To the assembled crowd, he said, “I’ve just received a telephone call from headquarters. Our troops have just won a great victory on the front line near the Nanxun Railway! They have annihilated several thousand enemy troops, and surrounded more than 10,000!” The crowd went wild with joy. I was furious at him for duping the people in this way.

The target of Zhou’s criticism, Guo, does not mention De’an in his memoirs. However, he does admit to making the following announcement about that conflict on the radio a few weeks earlier: “The enemy’s 9th and 106th divisions, along with the Namita Detachment, have been virtually eradicated.”

This was an outright lie, since Japanese forces had decidedly not been annihilated, but Guo shifted the blame to Chen Cheng, the Propaganda Bureau chief: “Most of this was information I had obtained from others, mainly Chen Cheng.”

When Nanking fell, Propaganda Bureau staff members Chen Cheng, Zhou Enlai and Guo Moruo proceeded to Wuhan. They moved into faculty apartments at Wuhan University, where Chen and Zhou were next-door neighbors. They were both the same age, and got along very well. The Second Nationalist-Communist United Front was making good progress.

Acting Propaganda Bureau Chief Zhou Fohai and Political Bureau staff members Chen Cheng and Zhou Enlai communicated with each other frequently, as did Zhou, Guo and Dong Xianguang. Though there was close contact among everyone involved in the Chinese propaganda machine, sooner or later each would end up shifting responsibility to one of the others, because their propaganda had little basis in fact.

In My Struggle, written a year after he became acting head of the Propaganda Bureau, Zhou Fohai described propaganda work as follows:

Day after day, from morning to night, we were required to invent ridiculous stories. I think that is the greatest sin I have ever committed against my compatriots. Worst of all were the three meetings held every week. The first was a propaganda meeting, attended by people from the Propaganda Bureau, the Political Bureau, and all other organizations involved in propaganda; second was the briefing of foreign journalists, and third was the briefing of Chinese journalists. In attendance were Political Bureau head Chen Cheng, his deputy Zhou Enlai, and Third Department head Guo Moruo. Dong Xianguang, Xiao Tongzi and I represented the Propaganda Bureau. Every time I was forced to listen to Chen’s shallow political discourses, it was all I could do to even force a smile. It pained me greatly to have to sit back and suffer in silence while Zhou Enlai and Guo Moruo made announcements that they had invented.

One of the targets of Zhou Fohai’s criticism, Guo Moruo, said that creating propaganda fosters deceit, and deceit is exactly what propaganda is. The majority of the ROC’s international propaganda was fiction, and the Nanking massacre was both propaganda and fictitious.

Virtually no complaints from civilians about Japanese atrocities

On October 20, 1945, two months after World War II ended, the ROC handed over a list containing the names of 12 men who had allegedly committed serious war crimes. Reports were that it had been compiled by none other than Chiang Kai-shek. The names were Doihara Kenji, Honjo Shigeru, Tani Hisao, Hashimoto Kingoro, Itagaki Seishiro, Isogai Rensuke, Tojo Hideki, Wachi Yoji, Kagesa Sadaaki, Sakai Takashi, Kita Seiichi and Hata Shunroku.

All of these men were Japanese Army officers; almost all of them had been involved with China in some way. Every one of them had some connection with China strategics. However, Tani Hisao stood apart from the others. He was well-versed in British affairs, having served in Great Britain as a military attaché. His only involvement with China came after the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out. Tani was commander of the 6th Division, which landed at Hangzhou Bay and participated in the capture of Nanking. About a week later, he moved on to Wuhu. At the end of the year he was ordered to assume the post of commander in chief of the Central Defense Army; he returned to Japan in 1938. He was in China only for six months. In other words, Chiang Kai-shek had no good reason to put Tani’s name on the war criminal list.

As commander in chief of the Central Defense Army, Tani Hisao was on reserve duty. In August 1945, he was deployed to Hiroshima, which lay in ruins after the atomic bombing. There he was made commander in chief of the 59th Army. After the war ended, he remained in Hiroshima to oversee the demobilization of Japanese soldiers returning from China.

In February 1946, he was arrested and held at Sugamo Prison. Among his fellow prisoners were former officers who had been Tani’s subordinates in the 6th Division: brigade commanders, staff officers and adjutants. All of them were shocked by reports of a massacre in Nanking in the newspapers. The Demobilization Bureau sent people to interview them, but they could recall no events resembling those described.

Chiang Kai-shek wrote the following entry in his diary on January 22, 1938, about a month after the fall of Nanking: “The Japanese monsters are rampaging through Nanking, raping and murdering wherever they go. This violence, more typical of wild beasts than humans, is sure to hasten their extinction. The suffering of my compatriots is beyond description.”

Just one day earlier, Professor Bates’ letter had appeared in the North China Daily News, and on the same day, it was carried by the Hankou Dagongbao newspaper. Chiang’s diary entry was based on that newspaper article.

On December 30, about a month after the Japanese occupied Nanking, Chiang Kai-shek interrogated the commanding officers of his forces retreating from Nanking to learn about the hostilities there. One of them, Lt. Sun Yuanliang, said that after hiding in Nanking for about a month, he had managed to make his way to Wuhan in late March. Sun had met with Chiang prior to the Japanese invasion of Nanking; he must have reported on the situation in Nanking after the defeat when he arrived in Wuhan.

Not long after World War II, Sun wrote his memoirs, but he did not refer to the Nanking “massacre” except to quote from Edgar Snow’s The Battle for Asia. Since he had neither seen nor heard anything out of the ordinary, he had no personal experiences to recount. Hence, he relied on Snow. Therefore, Chiang Kai-shek could not have heard about anything eventful from his subordinates. Furthermore, since Chiang insisted on being kept informed of every detail of his operations, it is unlikely that he was unaware of the situation in Nanking subsequent to the Japanese occupation.

Chiang met with Timperley in January 1938; the Political Bureau was formed in February. By April, the Anti-Japanese Propaganda Section had been established. His motto was “politics is more important than military affairs, and propaganda is more important than politics.” Chiang was fully aware of Guo Moruo’s involvement with that section.

Given these two circumstances, Chiang knew very well whether newspaper reports were fact or fiction-laden propaganda. Even so, he designated Tani Hisao as a war criminal.

A month after Chiang Kai-shek submitted his list of 12 names, the Nanking District Court initiated an investigation of Japanese atrocities, asking the City of Nanking, the Nationalist Party, and private organizations for assistance. It was a thorough investigation, divided by category among organizations. The results?

Due to deceitful obstruction on the part of the enemy, which has violently suppressed public sentiment, very few persons have had the courage to come forward to report murders. Furthermore, even when committee members went to interview residents, the latter seemed to have been rendered speechless, like cicadas in winter. Some individuals actually denied the facts or refused to report [crimes] for fear of damaging their reputations. Other residents had moved away; we were unable to determine whether they were dead or alive.

In fact, virtually no civilians complained of Japanese violence. Far from it: they denied that there had been any incidents. The Nanking District Court claimed that the lack of civilian complaints could be traced to Japanese obstruction of the investigation.

Three months earlier, on August 10, 1945, Japan had agreed to sign the Potsdam Declaration to preserve Japanese sovereignty. The news was broadcast on the radio immediately in Nanking, and the very next day began with the explosion of firecrackers all over the city. Residents thronged the streets.

The headquarters of Japan’s China Expeditionary Forces were located in an imposing building on Nanking’s main street. Japanese troops remained at their posts there; acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration had not yet become official. However, the residents of Nanking ran through the city’s streets celebrating, not at all cowed by the presence of Japanese soldiers. They weren’t afraid of the Japanese. If there had been a massacre, the Chinese residents of Nanking would have gladly given their testimony.

The Nanking District Court report mentions that some of the residents had evacuated the city, and that many were unaccounted for in explaining the reason why residents didn’t speak out about the atrocities.

In Chinese Destinies, Agnes Smedley, an American woman who visited Nanking several years before the Japanese invasion, wrote that the city’s residents were acutely attuned to any rumors that were circulating. For instance, they knew which government officials were having affairs, and the names of generals’ mistresses. They knew that the mayor of Nanking had paid $10,000 to his fiance before they were married. They also knew that Madame Chiang Kai-shek had purchased a fur coat last year. Smedley adds that they were fully conversant with the details of her personal life, for instance, that she was living in an old, Chinese-style boarding house. Of course, they knew who her visitors were.
Wondering how the source of those details could possibly be, Smedley began to pay attention to her local environment. One night when she was returning from an outing, Smedley noticed a man minding a dimly-lit store in her neighborhood. After paying the coolie, she noticed a small crowd emerging from the darkness and gathering around the watchman, who proceeded to tell his audience who Smedley was, what time she had gone out, what her destination was. The perplexed woman commented that the streets and teahouses of Nanking were the font of all information, which traveled at the speed of light.

If a disaster had occurred in Nanking, even residents fleeing the city would have reported atrocities before they left. Those who stayed behind would surely have been well informed. But no one mentioned any acts of violence.

It is possible that people in Hankou or Chongqing who read Bates’ letter in the newspaper talked about it. The editor in chief and foremost journalist of Dagongbao, the most trusted newspaper in the ROC, was Zhang Jiluan. Even Chiang Kai-shek respected Zhang’s opinions, more so than those of any other. In August 1938, Zhang told a Japanese friend, a newspaper reporter, that the Red Cross had buried 270,000 bodies — those of 100,000 soldiers and 170,000 young, innocent civilians.

When the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out, Zhang worked as a reporter in Shanghai, and then moved to Hankou. He had never been to Nanking, but had access to a great number of articles about Nanking in Hankou. Based on them, this top-flight journalist concluded that there had been a massacre.

But the residents of Nanking, unlike their counterparts in Hankou and Chongqing, and unlike Zhang Jiluan, had neither seen nor heard the Chinese propaganda, so could only report their own experiences. Even the efforts made by the Nanking District Court to obtain evidence and testimonies met with silence — even opposition — from the residents.

The year following Japan’s defeat in the World War II, the 41st Division from Shikoku, which had assembled in Nanking for repatriation to Japan, was ordered to clean the streets. The Qinhuai River, which empties into the Yangzi River, runs through Nanking. Mud had accumulated in the river, and was partially blocking its flow. The 41st Division had been ordered to drain the Qinhuai, something the Chinese had never done. Some Chinese even felt sorry for soldiers who had once been so powerful, now stripped naked and doing menial labor. Even those Chinese who didn’t sympathize with them didn’t denounce them.

Nevertheless, the prosecutors from the Nanking District Court claimed that their survey, which had been conducted between November 1945 and February 1946, had determined that there were 300,000 confirmed victims, and 200,000 unconfirmed.

According to the “evidence” gathered, the China Expeditionary Force and the 13th Army, neither of which even existed when the Battle of Nanking was fought, were involved in the Nanking Incident. Also produced were faked records of 102,000 interments. The figures were invented by the authorities, who ordered those conducting the survey to use them.

As if synchronized with the publication of the survey results, Tani Hisao’s arrest took place in Tokyo on February 23. On February 11, the ROC had issued a second list of 21 men (11 Army officers, six diplomats, three naval officers and a prime minister), requesting that they be tried as war criminals. Included on that list were Togo Shigenori, Umezu Yoshijiro, Matsuoka Yosuke, Shimada Shigetaro, Koiso Kuniaki, Hirota Koki, Minami Jiro, Araki Sadao, Hiranuma Kiichiro and Matsui Iwane.

Then, a month later, in late March, the selection of defendants for the IMTFE (International Military Tribunal for the Far East, also referred to as the Tokyo Trials) began. The prosecution selected 12 defendants from the 33 names submitted by the ROC. On April 1, the name of Gen. Matsui Iwane was added to the list of defendants, in response to the insistence of the Chinese prosecutor.

On August 1, Lt.-Gen. Tani Hisao was turned over to China. At a military tribunal, he was confronted with the “evidence” assembled by the Nanking District Court and interrogated about his role in the rapes and murders committed in and near the Zhonghua Gate.

After entering the city through the Zhonghua Gate on December 14, 1937, Division Commander Tani was stationed at that gate for approximately one week. There were absolutely no civilians in the vicinity. During that week, Tani inspected all the units under his command, but at no time did he see or hear of any atrocities. In fact, Hisao Tani was unaware of the Nanking “massacre” until after World War II, when he read about it, to his astonishment, in a newspaper series produced by GHQ entitled “History of the Pacific War.”

He said as much on the witness stand at the tribunal, but no one paid the slightest bit of attention to his testimony. He was charged with conspiring with the 16th Division (which didn’t even operate under the same chain of command) to massacre more than 300,000 Chinese. Many other charges were added, including crimes that took place outside the 6th Division’s combat zone, such as engaging in contests to see who could decapitate 100 people. On April 26, Tani Hisao was executed by a firing squad.

In addition to Tani, the Nanking military tribunal sentenced two commissioned officers to death for allegedly having participated in a contest to cut off 100 heads, described in a Mainichi Shimbun article; and a company commander for having decapitated 300 Chinese, a crime described in a book. All three were executed by firing squad as perpetrators of the Nanking “massacre.” The only evidence presented by the prosecution was newspaper and magazine articles.

Dong Xianguang, who was responsible for international propaganda, and who enjoyed Chiang Kai-shek’s confidence, wrote a biography of Chiang. The book, published after the IMTFE, denounces Japan for having murdered 100,000 laborers in Nanking. Then the author goes on to write, “Two or three impartial foreign observers remained in the city. When it became possible for them to speak out about the incident, the accounts they gave describe the terrible fear they felt.” The only evidence Dong cites of the Nanking “massacre” are missionaries’ accounts published in newspapers and magazines.

Generalissimo’s views weigh heavily on war-crimes tribunals

The Nanking Incident was addressed at the IMTFE as well, with Matsui Iwane bearing the brunt of the blame. Why did Chiang bring up the incident?

By late November, the Shanghai battle line had buckled and the Japanese were advancing to Nanking. Chinese military authorities were debating whether to defend Nanking. Participating in the debate were Chiang Kai-shek, Li Zongren, Bai Chongxi, Tang Shengzhi, He Yingqin, Xu Yongchang and Gen. Alexander von Falkenhausen, leader of the German team advising the Chinese on military matters.

Li was the first to speak. He said that after defeating the Chinese in Shanghai, Japanese morale was bound to be at its zenith. Nanking would surely be taken. The best course to pursue was to abandon Nanking before hostilities even began. Bai agreed with him.

Then Chiang opined that because Nanking was the capital city and the site of Sun Yatsen’s mausoleum, it should be defended to the death. Neither He nor Xu stated an opinion, but both agreed to abide by Chiang’s decision. Von Falkenhausen urged them to abandon Nanking to avoid needless casualties.

Tang, the last one to speak, thought an attempt should be made to buy time by defending Nanking temporarily, and then abandoning it. But once he sensed that Chiang wanted him to defend the city, he declared that he would fight the enemy in Nanking to the last man. Liu Fei, head of the Operations Department, which planned all operations, attended three such meetings. He advocated a symbolic defense followed by withdrawal.

Only Chiang Kai-shek had expressed interest in defending Nanking at all costs from the very start. After the meeting concluded, he decided to defend Nanking and appointed Tang Shengzhi as commander in chief of the defending forces. Nanking fell easily to the invading Japanese.

The decision to defend Nanking was clearly an error in judgment on Chiang’s part. The city should have been abandoned earlier; it was pointless to defend Nanking to preserve Chinese honor. His mistake became an excuse for attacking Chiang. Both Joseph Stillwell, Chiang’s chief of staff, and Li Zongren considered the Nanking decision evidence that Chiang didn’t know how to wage war.

Isn’t it entirely possible that Chiang used the fiction about Japanese atrocities to deflect attention from his own deficiencies? He urged defending Nanking to the last man because it was the capital. Capital cities are rarely conquered in war. If the Chinese empire had still existed, the dynasty would have perished along with the capital. Chiang couldn’t abandon his capital, because in doing so, he would be relinquishing his personal status. When military authorities at Imperial Army Headquarters in Tokyo decided to attack Nanking, some among their number felt that the offensive should be postponed until peace negotiations with Chiang, then underway, had ended. Since honor was so important to the Chinese, perhaps an attack on their capital city should be delayed. However, it was not delayed, and Chiang Kai-shek’s honor suffered a blow more crushing than ever before.

During the IMTFE, Japan appealed to Chiang Kai-shek on behalf of Gen. Matsui, who was being accused of responsibility for atrocities in Nanking. The reply from the ROC mentioned nothing about events that transpired in Nanking, only that Matsui was commander in chief when the capital fell. Shi Meiyu, the judge who presided over the Nanking Military Tribunal, said: “The opinions of Gen. He Yingqin and Generalissimo Chiang had a direct effect on these trials.”

There is only one conclusion, an indelible one, to draw from such behavior: Chiang Kai-shek drew attention to Japanese “atrocities” to deflect public attention from his own blunders.


On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Navy attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The surprise attack, launched on a Sunday morning, disabled or destroyed most of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, sinking five battleships, damaging three more, and demolishing 100 aircraft.

On the following day, President Roosevelt read his declaration of war before Congress. He denounced the Japanese for deliberately deceiving the Americans by continuing to negotiate for peace while planning a “surprise offensive.” Roosevelt added: “I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.”

The attack was the lead story in American newspapers, and “Remember Pearl Harbor” became an often-heard slogan in the U.S. Munitions factories displayed huge banners with “Remember Pearl Harbor” dyed into them. A film bearing the title Remember Pearl Harbor came out, as did several books with the same title. Someone even composed a song, the Remember Pearl Harbor March.

Time after time, the American people were told that the Japanese are underhanded and devious. But these characteristics alone could not instill the will to fight against the Japanese in American hearts. Something more was needed. During the First World War, stories about the enemy’s cruelty were used to foment hostility. Since the war had just begun, Americans knew nothing of Japanese brutality. Dredged up to respond to this need were atrocities allegedly committed by Japanese military personnel in Nanking four years earlier. And once again, attention was drawn to accounts furnished by American missionaries in Nanking.

Relentless propaganda barrage advertises “Japanese brutality”

In 1941, there were 12 Japanese-language newspapers published in Hawaii, the new home of many Japanese immigrants. On the day the Pacific Fleet was attacked, the higher-ranking editors of those newspapers were detained at the Immigration Office. Five days later, all Japanese-language newspapers were ordered to cease publication.

When January arrived, military authorities allowed publishers to resume operations, having realized that they could use Japanese-language newspapers as vehicles for propaganda. However, they were permitted to print only news stories that had been checked by censors. On February 11, 1942, National Foundation Day, an editorial written by a staff member of the U.S. Navy’s Intelligence Section in Hawaii appeared in the Japanese-language newspapers. From then on, such editorials appeared on practically a daily basis. The first editorial, which claimed to be a factual report — not propaganda — stated that Japanese soldiers had raped Chinese women in Nanking.

Chewing gum wrappers bore depictions of Japanese atrocities in Nanking. Movie theaters were another venue for such propaganda, not to mention short stories portraying the Japanese as enemies of humanity and recounting atrocities in Nanking.

To stimulate support for war, the U.S. War Department produced a series of seven films under the title Why We Fight. The first film, Prelude to War (1942) and the sixth, The Battle of China (1944), both mention the Nanking “massacre.” In them the brutal, sneaky Japanese are defined as bespectacled, diminutive, simian creatures with exaggeratedly slanted eyes — a ubiquitous image in 1940s America.

Agnes Smedley mentions Nanking in her Battle Hymn of China, published in November 1943. But before long, Nanking atrocities were superseded by stories of atrocities in the Philippines, and this time the victims were Americans.

The assault on the Philippines was executed at the same time as the Pearl Harbor attack. At the end of December, American and Filipino troops abandoned the capital, Manila, and holed up on Bataan peninsula and Corregidor, an island located off the tip of Bataan. On January 2, 1942, the Japanese attacked Bataan. Due to fierce resistance on the part of the Americans, however, that campaign failed. Having obtained additional men and resources, the Japanese launched a second attack on April 3. On April 10 and 11, the Americans and Filipinos surrendered, practically en masse.

After the Japanese conquered Bataan, they decided to transport prisoners of war from Mariveles at the tip of the peninsula, through San Fernando, to Camp O’Donnell (a prisoner-of-war camp). The plan was for the prisoners to walk as far as San Fernando Station, a distance of 60 kilometers.

This defeat on U.S. territory was every bit as galling to the Americans as Pearl Harbor had been. Twenty months later, on January 28, 1944, the U.S. Army and Navy suddenly announced that thousands of Americans and Filipinos had died on the Bataan peninsula. The journey from Mariveles to San Fernando became known as the Bataan Death March, and tales of Japanese atrocities in the form of inhumane coercion began to circulate. Back to Bataan, a film account of the Bataan Death March intended to inspire animosity against the Japanese, was rushed to production. It starred the popular movie actor John Wayne.

In October 1944, the U.S. military launched a counterattack. American troops landed on the island of Leyte and, advancing northward, attacked Luzon, another of the Philippine Islands. The main Japanese units abandoned Manila and steeled themselves for a long, drawn-out battle. It was primarily Japanese Navy units that defended Manila. Hostilities commenced in early February 1945, and ended with the ruinous Japanese defeat of February 25.

Once Manila fell into American hands, outrage at Japanese atrocities in Manila further fueled the outcry over the Bataan Death March. On April 17, the resident commissioner of the Philippines testified about Japanese brutality before the U.S. House of Representatives. On June 16, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee proposed that every American be made aware of Japanese atrocities in Manila. Before the month was over, the Army Intelligence Section had issued a pamphlet entitled Japanese Atrocities in Manila, a collection of accounts of Japanese murders of Filipino civilians. What really captivated Americans was the 30 photographs in the pamphlets showing rows of gory corpses. Americans responded with terrific anger, exceeding the Intelligence Section’s expectations. Another “documentary” film entitled Orders from Tokyo came out.

By the time the “brutality” propaganda had been disseminated, Americans were crying out for revenge. In his Lincoln’s Birthday address on February 12, 1943, President Roosevelt spoke of his intention to “impose punishment and retribution.”

U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull was in favor of hanging Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo at the earliest possible opportunity. He made his wishes known to Vyacheslav Molotov during a conference with the Soviet foreign minister in October, and later to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden.

In November 1943, the heads of state of the U.S., Great Britain and the Soviet Union held a conference at Teheran. At a banquet, Marshal Joseph Stalin announced that he wished to execute 5,000 German officers as soon as the war ended.

On February 4, 1945, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin met once again at a summit conference at Yalta on the Crimean peninsula. On the sixth day of the conference, Churchill, who had envisaged drawing up a list of the main German war criminals, apparently opined that all of them should be shot as soon as their identities had been verified. Then August 15, known in the U.S. as V-J Day, arrived amidst cries for retribution.

The formal Japanese surrender took place on September 2, aboard the USS Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay. On the following day, Gen. Yamashita Tomoyuki, commander in chief of the 14th Area Army, which had been entrusted with the defense of the Philippines, was arrested in Manila. The Allies’ first act of retribution was to try Gen. Yamashita for Japanese atrocities in the Philippines. At that point, the list of defendants for the Nuremberg Trials had still not been finalized. Nevertheless, the campaign to exact retribution from Japan was launched without the slightest hesitation. Furthermore, only the Japanese were accused of atrocities.

Most of the propaganda films in the American Why We Fight series were set in Europe, but no mention was made of the monstrous German atrocities. American and British leaders had access to the plan to exterminate the Jews in written form before November 1942, but they failed to take it seriously. Americans remained skeptical about German atrocities until a group of congressmen inspected Nazi concentration camps after the German defeat. Until he was appointed chief prosecutor for the U.S. at the Nuremberg Trials, Robert Jackson wasn’t sure whether the Germans had actually committed atrocities. Originally, the Germans were first in the minds of Americans seeking retribution after the war ended, but before long their focus shifted to Japanese atrocities, due in part to racial prejudice.

On September 11, a week after Gen. Yamashita was arrested, GHQ designated former Prime Minister Tojo Hideki and 38 other Japanese political and military leaders as war criminals. Also singled out, in addition to members of the Tojo Cabinet, were 14 men who had been involved in the Philippines campaign, including Homma Masaharu (commander of the 14th Army), Lt.-Gen. Kuroda Shigenori (Homma’s successor), and Murata Shozo (ambassador to the Philippines). At the time, the Japanese public had no idea why these 14 men had been selected.

Four days later, on September 15, the U.S. Armed Forces Pacific Command announced that Japanese troops had committed atrocities in the Philippines. GHQ forced all Japanese newspapers to print the announcement in their September 16 editions. The Japanese public believed that though their soldiers had lost the war, they had fought honorably and fairly. But now the Americans were telling them otherwise. The shock experienced by the Japanese was immense.

On October 29, the trial of Gen. Yamashita began in Manila. The Nuremberg Trials had yet to begin. No decision had been made about the IMTFE — who the defendants would be, or even when the proceedings would commence. Yamashita’s trial was swift and the charges against him were perfunctory. One would expect such accusations to be leveled against officers who ordered atrocities and the subordinates who executed the orders. But the indictment stated only that Yamashita had failed to prevent his subordinates from committing atrocities. Never before in military history or in the annals of international law had anyone been prosecuted on such grounds. Since the Americans could not exact vengeance using traditional methods, they invented new ones.

Every day of the trial was filled with testimonies of Japanese atrocities. Cross-examination was restricted on the grounds that it would waste time. No attempt was made to determine whether witnesses were telling the truth. Even the propaganda film Orders from Tokyo was submitted as evidence. It showed the city of Manila being laid waste by Japanese troops, and a great number of Filipinos (including Catholic nuns) being murdered inside and outside a church. In actuality, the main reason for the large number of casualties was indiscriminate bombing by American troops. However, the film made it seem as though Japanese atrocities were responsible.

In one scene, an American GI bends down over a fallen Japanese soldier. He removes a piece of paper from the soldier’s pocket. The camera zooms in on the paper, a top-secret order reading “Destroy Manila!” This is supposedly how the evidence (the order to massacre Filipino civilians) was discovered. The scene was, of course, staged.
The trial concluded after a little more than a month. The verdict was due two days later. The judge had a mountain of evidence to review, and was unable to give sufficient thought to the closing arguments. Twelve reporters, representing the U.S., Great Britain and Australia, attended the proceedings every day. All of them were opposed to the sentence sought by the prosecution: death by hanging.

On December 7, the judgment was delivered. It did not state that Gen. Yamashita had ordered his men to commit atrocities, or that he himself had committed any. It did not even state that he was aware of any atrocities. He was pronounced guilty only because he had not taken appropriate steps to prevent them. Gen. Yamashita was the first military man to be pronounced guilty on the basis of such insubstantial charges.

Even if inaction, i.e., failing to take appropriate steps to prevent atrocities, were recognized as a crime by international law, Gen. Yamashita was not in a position to control the units assigned to him. Even if his men had committed atrocities, he could not have prevented them. Nevertheless, he was found guilty and hanged. The verdict was perfectly consistent with the “brutality” propaganda the U.S. had been disseminating. During this time, reports of Japanese violence in the Philippines were being circulated in Japan. Films “documenting” Japanese brutality were made in the U.S. and sent to GHQ in Japan. A report on Japanese atrocities prepared by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of the Allied Powers, and submitted to the U.S. Congress, was publicized by the foreign press and GHQ.

Gen. Yamashita’s execution, too, was publicized. But the Japanese public still was unaware that atrocities were committed in Nanking by their soldiers. It was on the next day that they were informed.

About a week after Gen. Yamashita was arrested, Lt.-Gen. Homma Masaharu was served with a summons to appear in court. In prison he learned for the first time of the Bataan Death March, and that he was to be held responsible for it. During the three-and-a-half months that American and Filipino troops resisted the Japanese in their Bataan fortress, they consumed almost all their food supply; the Japanese used half their provisions.

Jungle-covered Bataan peninsula is a breeding ground for dysentery and malaria. Most of the Japanese soldiers contracted amoebic dysentery; 80-90% of American and Filipino troops were infected with malaria. When the Americans and Filipinos emerged from their fortress to surrender, there were a great many Filipino refugees among them — more than 100,000 persons in all, more than twice the number anticipated.

Most of the Allied soldiers were weak from illness. Some of the refugees were near death. But the Japanese could not leave prisoners of war or refugees in Bataan. The Americans and Filipinos were ordered to depart after gathering what little food they had left. The Japanese planned to prepare meals to supplement their supplies.

The large party departed from Mariveles, the Americans and Filipinos carrying only canteens and mess kits. The Japanese soldiers guarding them were burdened with heavy knapsacks and bayonets, and resented their charges’ light loads and carefree demeanor. Col. Imai Takeo, a regimental commander, was ordered to appear before a Yokohama military court after the war. On the witness stand, he said that he was shocked to learn that the Bataan Death March was the same journey he had experienced.

The party arrived in San Fernando after four or five days. Many Americans and Filipinos fell by the wayside, and some Japanese soldiers died, too. Even if the prisoners of war had remained in Bataan, there would have been just as many casualties, given the stifling heat, the lack of food, and physical debilitation.

The Death March of Bataan was an apt name for the journey. But when the Americans emerged victorious, the U.S. advertised it and used it to sway public opinion. Lt.-Gen. Homma was imprisoned at the Omori and Sugamo detention centers. On December 12, he was transported to the Philippines. Several days later, he was indicted. His trial began on January 3; Homma was sentenced to death a month later, on February 11. This judgment seems to have been synchronized with American propaganda.

The “atrocities” in the Philippines were pursued at the IMTFE as well. Since Commander Yamashita had already been executed, his chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Muto Akira, was held responsible. Evidence was heard for four days, beginning on December 10, 1946. On the first day, Pedro Lopez, a prosecutor from the Philippines, recited a long list of atrocities. He told how, at St. Paul’s University, Japanese soldiers tossed babies up in the air and stabbed them with their bayonets as they fell. They forced Filipinos to drink the contents of four-gallon cans of water, jumped on their bloated stomachs, hung them from tree branches and set fire to their undergarments. There were many, many more, similar “testimonies.” According to the U.S. War Department, 142,716 Americans and Filipinos were victims of Japanese atrocities.

The proceedings received copious coverage in the next day’s Japanese newspapers. The headlines shouted “Atrocities in the Philippines,” “140,276 Americans and Filipinos Dead” (Yomiuri Shimbun); “Crowd Tempted by Cake Blown to Bits” (Asahi Shimbun); “Terror at St. Paul’s: 800 Victims in One Fell Swoop” (Mainichi Shimbun).

In the courtroom, seven witnesses testified and 135 items of documentary evidence were presented. Here, too, the testimony (propaganda) was interminable; much of it seemed to have leapt right out of a comic book. For instance, one account had the Japanese securing their victims to the ground with three six-inch nails: one through each wrist and the third through the base of the skull.

The IMTFE was not the only theater for the airing of such propaganda. At about the time the judgments were handed down at the tribunal, one of the best-selling books was Nagai Takashi’s Leaving These Children Behind. Nagai was a physician who served on the faculty of Nagasaki University Medical School. He contracted leukemia after being exposed to radiation during his research, and was in Nagasaki when the atomic bomb hit. The blast killed his wife instantly; their two children survived. From his sickbed, which he never left, Nagai wrote about the horrors of the atomic bomb, his grief over his wife’s death, and his fears about his children’s future. The Bells of Nagasaki was the title given to these writings, which Nagai had translated into English and then submitted to GHQ (no publication saw the light of day without the GHQ imprimatur).

Two years later, Nagai wrote Leaving These Children Behind. GHQ granted permission to publish this book right away, and it became the number-one seller. Permission to publish The Bells of Nagasaki was not granted until two months after the IMTFE ended; even then, there was a condition attached. The Bells of Nagasaki would be packaged with Japanese Atrocities in Manila, compiled by the Allied Supreme Command, and would include the same photographs used four years earlier when Japanese Atrocities in Manila was published in the U.S.

According to Japanese Atrocities in Manila, Commander Yamashita Tomoyuki flatly rejected Philippine President Jose Laurel’s request to have Manila declared an open city. Instead, Yamashita flew to Tokyo, where he received orders for the total destruction of Manila. He executed those orders; Manila was devastated and became the stage for Japanese atrocities.

During his service in the Philippines, Yamashita wrote to his wife only twice; those two letters represent his only contact with her. During the war, many letters never reached their destination. Yamashita could not have flown to Tokyo because Japan had lost air superiority and, in any case, the authorities in Tokyo never issued a massacre order. The source of this preposterous scenario was — again — propaganda.

The two-book package, neither of whose parts had any connection to the other, was released under the title The Bells of Nagasaki. Because of Nagai’s popularity, it was the fourth-highest seller that year. A film version was also produced; its theme song, performed by popular singer and composer Fujiyama Ichiro, was a huge hit.

GHQ made Japanese atrocities in the Philippines known to the Japanese public by packaging Japanese Atrocities in Manila with The Bells of Nagasaki. The Americans, determined to exact retribution, set out to sap Japanese strength and spirit in a campaign that would persist through the IMTFE and thereafter, like a malignant disease.

Christian missionaries become soldiers in the propaganda war against Japan

The sneak attack on Pearl Harbor became the centerpiece of the effort to unite the American people. More than the Bataan Death March, more than the tragedy of Manila, that attack spoke of Japanese duplicity. Retribution became an immediate priority.

When Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur arrived in Tokyo, the first thing he did was to designate the entire Tojo Cabinet as war criminals, because it had been in power at the beginning of the Pacific War. He and his staff referred to it as the “Tojo Pearl Harbor Cabinet.”

MacArthur made it clear that he intended to focus on Pearl Harbor at the IMTFE. The chief prosecutor, Joseph Keenan, agreed that the IMTFE should judge only Pearl Harbor and related incidents. At that point, most of the interrogations that took place at GHQ were connected with Pearl Harbor. The Japanese were aware of MacArthur’s policy in this regard.

But it turned out that the Nuremberg Trials were going to crimes against peace and crimes against humanity, in addition to war crimes. On November 10, the U.S. government decided to follow that example at the IMTFE. This decision precluded limiting the focus of the trials to Pearl Harbor. But Keenan insisted that every member of the Tojo Cabinet be included on the defendants’ list and forced to answer to charges of responsibility for the Pearl Harbor attack.

There were three major causes of action at the IMTFE: crimes against peace, murders, and customary war crimes, including crimes against humanity. At the Nuremberg Trials, murder was not a cause of action. It was at the IMTFE because of MacArthur’s determination to exact retribution for Pearl Harbor by establishing murder as an independent cause of action. In one of the causes of action 16 men were charged, including Tojo Hideki (former prime minister), Togo
Shigenori (former foreign minister), Shimada Shigetaro (former minister of the Navy) and Nagano Osami (former chief of the Naval General Staff).

During the presentation of evidence, the prosecution summoned Joseph Ballantine to the witness stand. Ballantine had had a long career at the State Department, served at the American Embassy in Tokyo, and assisted Secretary of State Cordell Hull with Japan-U.S. negotiations. He had acquired a reputation as an expert on the Far East. The Allies attempted to use Ballantine to expose Pearl Harbor as a sneak attack.

On November 18, 1946, Ballantine (the most important witness thus far, according to William Webb, the presiding judge) took the stand. He stated that the Japanese had pretended to be negotiating with the U.S. in earnest, but deceived the Americans by attacking Pearl Harbor without warning, and failed to deliver the official directive from Japan until more than an hour after the attack.

When Ballantine had finished testifying, the defense attorneys cross-examined him over a five-day period. During that time, a number of facts came to light: when the Japanese refused to accept the Hull Note, the Americans believed that war was imminent, but were waiting for Japan to make the first move. Before the last ultimatum was delivered, they had cracked Japan’s ciphers. They knew war was imminent. It became clear that the Japanese attack on Hawaii, which prompted the slogan used to unite the American people (“Remember Pearl Harbor”), was not a sneak attack at all. Congressmen belonging to the majority (Democratic) party were, of course, privy to this information, and even discussed using a slogan that was quite different in import: “Forget Pearl Harbor.”

On December 13, 1937, four years prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, the Japanese won the Battle of Nanking. George Fitch, one of the missionaries living in Nanking, returned to the U.S. He took some film that he had shot in Nanking, which he showed, over a period of nine months, to Stanley K. Hornbeck (special advisor to the secretary of state), staff members of the State Department, the House Committee on Foreign Relations, the Office of War Information, and newspaper companies. He lectured all over the U.S., spreading the word about Japanese atrocities; newspapers and magazines covered his lectures.

What sort of man was Fitch? Let us backtrack a bit, to January 8, 1932, when Lee Bong-chang, a Korean national, threw a bomb at the Emperor’s procession as it approached Sakurada Gate on the way back from a military review. The bomb tore the imperial carriage asunder, but Emperor Showa, Lee’s target, was not riding in the carriage at the time.

On April 29 of the same year, a celebration of the Emperor’s birthday was held at Hongkou Park in Shanghai. The Japanese were also celebrating their triumph in the First Shanghai Incident. Standing on the dais were Shirakawa Yoshinori (commander in chief of the Shanghai Expeditionary Army), Ueda Kenkichi (commander of the 9th Division), Nomura Kichisaburo (commander of the 3rd Fleet), Shigemitsu Mamoru (minister to China), and Kawabata Sadaji (chairman of the Japanese Residents’ Committee). Just as the strains of “Kimi ga yo,” the Japanese national anthem, were dying down, someone lobbed a bomb onto the dais, killing Kawabata and Shirakawa. Shigemitsu lost his right leg, Nomura’s right eye was blinded, and Ueda lost all the toes on his left foot. The perpetrator was Yoon Bong-gil, a Korean independence activist.

The mastermind and funder of the assassination attempt was Kim Gu, president of the Provisional Government of Korea in Shanghai. Along with Yi Seung-man (Syngman Rhee), who became president of South Korea after World War II, Kim was one of the two principal leaders of the Korean independence movement.

When the bomb exploded in Hongkou Park, Kim Gu took shelter in the home of George Fitch, who resided in Shanghai’s French Concession. The police force at the Japanese Consulate obtained authorization to the French Concession from the concession police. However, at that time, the Japanese police were not aware of the connection between Kim and Fitch.

Kim hid on the second floor of Fitch’s home for more than a month. Mrs. Fitch prepared meals for him each day. He used the Fitch residence as a command post, from which he issued orders and instructions. Kim wrote a declaration stating that he was responsible for the bombings at Sakurada Gate and Hongkou Park, had Mrs. Fitch translate it into English, and sent it to news agencies. When he sensed danger, he escaped in Fitch’s automobile, with Fitch at the wheel and Kim sitting in the back with Mrs. Fitch, pretending to be her husband. Fitch’s complicity tells us that he was no friend of Japan.

With a firm hold on the reins of the Nationalist government, Chiang Kai-shek married Song Meiling at the end of 1927. At her suggestion, he converted to Christianity in the autumn of the following year. This strategy gained Chiang a great deal of support from American missionaries in China, and from missionary organizations in the U.S. When the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out, the missionaries opposed traditional American isolationism, and attempted to convince the U.S. government to support China and block shipment of war material to Japan. To achieve these goals, the missionaries publicized illegal acts, which they attributed to the Japanese.

Furthermore, Christian missionary programs in China were not always successful, and some Americans wanted them abandoned. After peaking in 1935, contributions from the U.S. began decreasing. To keep the money flowing in, among other reasons, the missionaries needed Japanese atrocities, and just as urgently, they needed a scheme that would make them look like heroes in standing up to those atrocities. That meant launching a propaganda campaign against the Japanese.

A letter written by Bates publicizing alleged Japanese atrocities was carried by the North China Daily News. In it he states that the Japanese murdered 10,000 civilians and raped between 8,000 and 20,000 women. Missionaries Mills, Smythe and Bates were full participants in the creation of What War Means: The Japanese Terror in China. The book, with its attacks on the Japanese, could not have been published without their cooperation. Every single missionary in Nanking participated in the propagation of Nanking “massacre” propaganda.

Suma Yakichiro, who served as consul-general in Nanking and as a counselor at the Japanese Embassy in Washington during the Second Sino-Japanese War, analyzes the deterioration of Japan-U.S. relations during the first half of 1938 as follows:

The American zeal for missionary work has a long tradition. The Americans did not want to risk losing their missionary foothold in China because of the Second Sino-Japanese War. They took advantage of that foothold, enlisting the missionaries in an all-out effort to fabricate propaganda, as if they were solely responsible for producing Chinese propaganda. In other words, the Chinese used these “unemployed” missionaries as their agents, to make their cause attractive to the Americans.

The U.S., fearing that missionary work would come to a halt now that war had broken out between China and Japan, instructed American missionaries to denounce Japan. In doing so, they aided Chiang Kai-shek, who was seeking American support. In his analysis, Suma Yakichiro even indicates that it was missionary activities that turned Americans against Japan.

Spring of 1941 marked the publication of Edgar Snow’s The Battle for Asia. In it he writes that “the Japanese murdered no less than 42,000 people in Nanking alone, a large percentage of them women and children.” Because Red Star over China (1937) had been a bestseller, the spotlight shone on Snow’s next offering, The Battle for Asia. His accounts of Japanese atrocities in Nanking were far more damning than Fitch’s.

When Nanking fell, Edgar Snow was traveling in Beijing, Shanghai and Hankou. Nanking was not one of his destinations. Therefore, his descriptions of Nanking were based on accounts he heard from missionaries. Bates had accused the Japanese of having killed a total of 42,000 Chinese — 30,000 soldiers and 12,000 civilians. Snow claimed that most of the 42,000 victims were women and children.

Snow also cited material from War Damage in the Nanking Area, written by Lewis Smythe and M.S. Bates, a report on the effects of the conflict on farming villages in the vicinity of Nanking. The authors did not attempt to discover whether the damage they found had been done by Japanese or Chinese troops. Snow, however, attributed all the damage to the Japanese.

Bates was an advisor to the Nationalist government. War Damage in the Nanking Area was funded by the Propaganda Bureau. In addition to siding with the Chinese, the missionaries in Nanking were receiving financial support from China. Edgar Snow further distorted what was already propaganda, making the atrocities, already grossly exaggerated, seem even worse.

Propaganda a tool in the quest for retribution

Descriptions of the Nanking “massacre” were propaganda, just as the “sneak” attack on Pearl Harbor, the Bataan Death March and Japanese Atrocities in Manila were. And the propaganda continued.

In 1929, Agnes Smedley arrived in China, where she became a correspondent for the German newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung. She describes the Nanking “massacre” in Battle Hymn of China. In 1930, she became acquainted with Richard Sorge, the Soviet spy, in Shanghai, where the two began living together. Smedley introduced Sorge to Ozaki Hotsumi, a correspondent for Asahi Shimbun. That meeting was the catalyst for Ozaki’s leaking, 10 years later, of classified Japanese information to Sorge.

When the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out, Smedley joined the Red Army in the fight against Japan, chiding Chiang Kai-shek for being intimidated by the Japanese. She loathed the Japanese, and admitted as much. In Battle Hymn of China, Smedley wrote that Japanese troops had slaughtered 200,000 Chinese civilians and unarmed soldiers, and attacked and destroyed Red Cross hospitals, killing doctors and nurses. Snow had mentioned 42,000 victims, but Smedley multiplied his figure by more than five. Like Snow, Smedley was not in Nanking when the city fell. She does not mention the sources of her accusations, but simply states that the Japanese murdered 200,000 Chinese in Nanking.

The field hospitals served by the Red Cross in Nanking were established at the Military Administration, Diplomatic and Railway bureaus. By the time the Japanese attacked, most of the doctors and nurses working in them had left Nanking. Obviously, Smedley’s claim that the Japanese killed medical professionals was spurious.

The Diplomatic Bureau, located on North Zhongshan Road, housed wounded Chinese troops until Nanking fell, upon which 2,000 defeated Chinese soldiers took refuge there. The Military Administration and Railway bureaus were on the same block. On December 21, a Japanese Army service corpsman who rode down North Zhongshan Road, made the following entry in his journal.

The Railway and Military Administration bureaus are all very fine modern buildings whose architecture incorporates Chinese elements; they look like palaces.

Soon the Diplomatic Bureau became the command post for the (Japanese) China Expeditionary Forces. The building survived World War II, as did the Railway Bureau building. Smedley’s claim that the Japanese had razed the Red Cross hospitals to the ground is an outright lie.

Details of the Nanking “massacre” became more horrific as time passed, precisely because of this baseless propaganda. Unfortunately, some people believed the propaganda; their convictions eventually resulted in Japan’s being forced into unconditional surrender.

Such was the impression of events in Nanking that prevailed in the U.S. But just as there were doubts about Pearl Harbor’s being a sneak attack, there were also doubts about (and even refutations of) missionaries’ accounts of the Nanking “massacre.”

In 1938, George Fitch’s account of his experiences appeared in Reader’s Digest. There was a huge outpouring from readers who wrote that they couldn’t believe it. The subject of Nanking was taken up again in the publication three months later, when the magazine’s editors stated that Fitch had been telling the truth.

In February 1942, a report was issued by Brig.-Gen. John Magruder, chief of the Military Advisory Group, which had been dispatched to China to investigate. In it he mentions that some of the propaganda destined for foreign audiences is fictitious. He added that other nations had been deceived by the propaganda, and that Americans had been unduly influenced by it because it was “corroborated” by many persons of importance, including missionaries.

Since Magruder’s report was issued very soon after the Pearl Harbor attack, it was not welcomed by the State Department; in fact, it was disparaged. Nevertheless, it was written by a team that actually visited China.

On March 2, 1946 in Tokyo, the Executive Committee of the International Prosecution Section of the IMTFE was established; its membership consisted of prosecutors from all the Allied nations. At the Committee’s head was Arthur Comyns Carr of Great Britain. The committee addressed the task of selecting defendants. On March 6, Gen. Matsui Iwane, whose arrest had been delayed for four months due to illness, was interned at Sugamo Prison. At that point, GHQ’s Public Relations Office issued a declaration, according to which Gen. Matsui had been indicted on account of the USS Panay and HMS Ladybird incidents.

The list of war criminals was sent from the U.S., and the men listed on it were duly arrested. But Gen. Matsui was not charged with failure to maintain military discipline in Nanking, but in connection with the aforementioned two incidents, which had already been resolved diplomatically and indemnity paid.

As soon as Gen. Matsui arrived at Sugamo, he was questioned by the prosecutors. After they reviewed his military career, they interrogated him and Col. Hashimoto Kingoro about Nanking. Gen. Matsui acknowledged that a few assaults and rapes had been committed, but vehemently denied anything resembling a massacre. He also said that some of his men may not have adhered to disciplinary rules, but that there had been absolutely no relaxation of military discipline.

Col. Hashimoto had fired on the HMS Ladybird, a British ship, upriver of Nanking. However, because the New York Times had reported that he had attacked the USS Panay, he was interrogated about that as well, on the basis of hearsay and misstatements!

Normally, the Executive Committee met every other day. On March 11, the first day of defendant selection, former Prime Minister Tojo, former Foreign Minister Togo, and former Planning Bureau chief Suzuki Teiichi were chosen. To them were added Matsuoka Yosuke, former foreign Minister; Araki Sadao and Itagaki Seishiro, former ministers of war; and Oshima Hiroshi, former ambassador to Germany.

On that day, Gen. Matsui’s name came up as well, with the stated reason being the Nanking “massacre.” There had been talk of atrocities in Nanking for quite some time, but there was no definitive proof. Prosecutors could not reach a consensus about indicting Gen. Matsui on the basis of his responses during the interrogation. When his name came up a second time, doubts were raised as to the appropriateness of holding him responsible for one incident (the events that transpired in Nanking). Committee members couldn’t agree on including him as a defendant.

The prosecutors didn’t anticipate there being more than 20 defendants. At its eighth meeting, on March 28, the committee designated 20 defendants. Gen. Matsui’s name was not among them. On April 1, the Executive Committee met for the 13th time; this meeting turned out to be critical. Xiang Zhejun, the prosecutor from the ROC, wanted Gen. Matsui to be included on the defendants’ list. For the first time, Gen. Matsui, as well as Minami Jiro, former governor-general of Korea; Kimura Heitaro, commander in chief of the Burma Area Army; and three other men were added to the list of defendants.

On April 5, the members of the Executive Committee reviewed their list. They removed some names. The prosecutor from New Zealand was opposed to indicting Gen. Matsui due to insufficient evidence.

Three days later, the prosecutors met, with the exception of those representing the Soviet Union and India, who had yet to arrive. The final list of defendants had 26 names on it. Even at that point, there were objections to including Gen. Matsui, whose fate hung in the balance. Unfortunately, the scales tipped the wrong way.

The exacting of retribution is an inevitable consequence of war. The armistice agreement to end World War I was signed on November 11, 1918. On January 18 of the following year, a conference was held to determine reparations and territorial concessions, culminating in the Treaty of Versailles.

At this time the Allies attempted to try Kaiser Wilhelm II for war responsibility, and the German Army for violating laws governing warfare. Germany protested vehemently, and the Allies could not arrive at an agreement.

The Kaiser sought refuge in the Netherlands, and since the Netherlands refused to extradite him, he was never tried. Germany tried its own military personnel, a process that proceeded gradually. The victors attempted to try the vanquished, but did not succeed. Retribution, once expected, fell from favor with the advancement of civilization.

However, the situation changed in the aftermath of World War II. Vengeance was exacted even for events that had transpired only in the minds of propagandists. War-crimes tribunals were not guided by a sense of justice, nor were they grounded in international law. They were conducted simply to exact retribution, in the case of Japan, retribution for failing to prevent atrocities.


In July 1946, a round-faced, chubby-cheeked Christian missionary arrived in Tokyo, a city reduced to ashes by bombing during the war. This 39-year-old American, who bore the name Robert Wilson, had traveled to Japan from China, where he had been working as a physician.

Nine years earlier, when the Battle of Nanking was waged, Dr. Wilson was employed by Gulou Hospital in Nanking. The purpose of his trip to Tokyo was to testify at the IMTFE about the situation in Nanking in late 1937. Wilson stepped up to the witness stand, wearing a jacket and tie.

He testified that when the Japanese entered the city, the operating room was inundated with casualties who needed surgery. The Gulou Hospital, which housed 50 patients at the time, suddenly filled to capacity (180 patients). Wilson mentioned that eight of his patients had been either shot or stabbed by the Japanese. He told of a man who had been taken to the Yangtze River and shot, another man who had been shot and then doused with gasoline, a girl whose arms had been pulled out of their joints after her parents were killed in front of her, and another girl who contracted a venereal disease after having been raped.

Wilson’s testimony marked the beginning of the IMTFE’s judgment of the events that took place in Nanking in late 1937 and early 1938. A day after Wilson stepped down from the witness stand, two more missionaries appeared in court and proceeded to give testimony similar to his. The second of the two, who testified four days after Wilson, was Miner Searle Bates, who taught at Ginling University in Nanking. Thin and bespectacled, Bates was approaching 50. He, too, was American, and had traveled to Japan from China.

On the witness stand, Bates said that the Japanese had murdered 12,000 men, women and children within the city walls, and shot 30,000 Chinese soldiers to death at the Yangtze River. He estimated that the 50,000 Japanese military personnel in Nanking had committed 8,000 rapes, and robbed refugees of bed linen and food. Bates added that buildings were systematically burned to the ground, and that these crimes had persisted for eight to 10 weeks.

Bates’ testimony was more lurid and graphic than Wilson’s. He said that the Japanese raped females of all ages, from nine-year-old girls to 76-year-old grandmothers. He described several cases in detail, shocking not only spectators in the courtroom, but also everyone in Japan. He had, without a doubt, described atrocities.

The third missionary to take the stand was John Magee. His turn came more than two weeks after Bates’ and, unlike Bates and Wilson, he had come from the U.S. He appeared in the courtroom wearing his clerical collar. Perhaps because of his gauntness and advanced age, he seemed lackluster. Magee testified for a long time, even longer than Bates.

Magee said that at first, individual Japanese soldiers did the killings. But later they formed homicidal packs of 30 or 40, and soon the streets of Nanking were littered with the corpses of Chinese. Rapes were committed anywhere and everywhere, and a great number of women and children were killed. Japanese soldiers robbed the Chinese of their possessions (watches, money and food), even those of little value.

In addition to such sweeping statements, Magee also related his own experiences. From a balcony, he and two of his missionary colleagues had seen the Japanese stop a Chinese and shoot him when he tried to escape. On another occasion, he entered a home and encountered a woman who was weeping because she had been raped. He was told that there was a Japanese soldier on the third floor of the house. When Magee knocked on the door, a Japanese emerged; inside the room were two women. When he was asked to go to another home, he found a girl of about 10 or 11 there who had been raped. At yet another home, to which he was summoned on the same day, Magee saw a rape in progress and chased the Japanese perpetrator away.

There was more — much more — but the speaker didn’t make it clear whether he had witnessed the incidents he described, or heard about them from someone else. In any case, with Magee’s testimony, the case for the Nanking “massacre” and all its horrors had been made. The three missionaries had traveled all the way to Japan to testify about the acts of violence they had witnessed in Nanking. Although people thought that the missionaries might have been exaggerating, or were harboring mistaken impressions of some events, they believed that their testimony was close to the truth.

Missionaries’ testimony not based on personal experiences

Even though the testimony was given by men of the cloth, the Japanese simply couldn’t digest it. Weren’t there discrepancies between the facts and the testimony? Rereading the trial transcript with a critical eye, one is left with impressions of Nanking that are quite different from the one suggested by the litany of atrocities rattled off by the three missionaries.

Looking at the cases cited by Wilson, the first to testify, one notices that the only crime he personally witnessed was the near-rape of two women, whom he rescued and escorted to the refugee camp. Bates, who followed Wilson, spoke of tens of thousands of murder victims and 8,000 rapes, but the only cases he described with any specificity involved single individuals. The numbers simply didn’t match those that he had volunteered at the beginning of his testimony. According to Bates, crimes that occurred in the vicinity were documented and reported to Japanese diplomats. But those documents attested to 49 murders in Nanking, which doesn’t even begin to approach 12,000.

The last witness, Magee, spoke the longest. But once his testimony ended, one of the defense attorneys asked him how many of the atrocities described he had personally witnessed. Magee replied that he had witnessed one murder, one rape committed by one man, and one theft — of a refrigerator. He had not witnessed or been the victim of any of the crimes that it had taken him two full days to describe, in great detail.

When one reads these accounts with an open mind, the image produced by the missionaries’ testimony — of the Japanese military as brutal monsters — dissipates. The testimony was clearly intentionally biased against the Japanese.

Why did the missionaries give such inflammatory testimony? For the answer to this question, and to find out exactly what sort of crimes were committed in Nanking, one need only compare the testimonies of the three men. The crime with the most victims described by Wilson was the shooting to death of a great many Chinese at the Yangtze River. Bates mentions the figure 30,000, referring to the Chinese soldiers shot at the river. The largest number of victims Magee mentions was the several thousand Chinese, two abreast, he saw being taken away to the river.

From these statements we learn that the most consequential event that transpired in Nanking was the identification and apprehension of Chinese troops who had infiltrated the Safety Zone. The Japanese subsequently marched them to the Yangtze and shot them to death.

On December 12, 1937, the conflict at Nanking took place both inside and outside the city walls. The Japanese had a premonition that the city would fall on this day, the 12th day of the 12th month of the 12th year (of the Showa reign).

At 12:00 noon, the regiment from Oita had scaled and secured the western wall at Zhonghua Gate, using ladders its members had constructed. In the evening, as if encouraged by the progress made by the men from Oita, regiments from Takasaki and Matsumoto breached the Yuhua Gate on the east side of Nanking, and another regiment from Miyakonojo occupied the western wall. The Takasaki and Matsumoto regiments advanced to a point slightly further inside the city, where they spent the night.

Having received orders to launch a general offensive on Nanking, Japanese troops
advance to within 50 meters of Zhonghua Gate.

On December 13, a regiment from Kagoshima advanced northward to the area between the city walls and the Yangtze River. At 6:00 a.m., before sunrise, the regiment encountered Chinese troops advancing southward. A fierce battle ensued in marshland that offered almost no cover. The area was soon covered with the corpses of Chinese soldiers shrouded in white fog. A separate battalion from Kagoshima, having reached Xiaguan, became engaged in battle there. Nearby creeks became clogged with the bodies of Chinese troops.

Units that had occupied the walls or part of the city on the previous day advanced further into Nanking as the day dawned. All was quiet in the city. There was no resistance from Chinese troops. Although surprised at the lack of resistance, the Japanese quickly assumed the silence meant that the Chinese were using buildings as shields and would open fire on them at any moment. They steeled themselves for a counterattack. Men in the advance guard readied their bayonets and moved forward, ever alert.

But no attack came; by noon, the Japanese had advanced into the center of Nanking. Once there, they encountered an area marked by a sign reading “Safety Zone” and a flag with a cross on it. The Japanese understood what was meant, and saw women and children in the buildings inside. There didn’t seem to be any civilians anywhere else.

However, their attention was soon drawn to an even stranger sight: huge piles of weapons and military uniforms on the streets surrounding the Safety Zone, as far as one could see, discarded by Chinese troops. The Japanese realized that these were the very same Chinese troops who had fought against the Japanese on the previous day, and who were now hiding in the Safety Zone.

December 12, 1937: at 2:20 p.m., Japanese troops, having scaled a wall near Zhonghua
Gate, stand on top of it.

At twilight on the previous day, when the fighting ended, the Chinese took advantage of gaps between Japanese units and of the darkness to retreat from the city walls. In fact, they were attempting not to penetrate deeper into Nanking, but to escape to the outside through the walls. Those who left the city soon found themselves fighting the Japanese. Those who decided not to escape hid in the Safety Zone.

Japanese soldiers were under orders not to enter the embassies of third-party nations. Nor were they permitted to enter the Safety Zone, where refugees had congregated, except to apprehend Chinese military personnel. Sentries were posted at embassies and in the Safety Zone to make sure those orders were obeyed. Japanese military personnel were directed to be kind to women and children — to all civilians, in fact. For that reason, there was no immediate sweep of the Safety Zone. Japanese policy was to confine Chinese stragglers when apprehended, but such cases were rare.

Outside the city, the battle continued, but inside Nanking’s walls the conflict had ended. At 10:00 p.m. on December 13, 1937, an announcement was made to the effect that Japanese troops from Shanghai had completed the occupation of Nanking. Imperial Headquarters in Tokyo announced that the occupation of Nanking had been effected at 11:20 p.m. on December 13.

Nanking had fallen. But Chinese stragglers who had fled to the Safety Zone were still there.
Two days after the Japanese entered the walled city, the sweep of the Safety Zone was to be done, starting in the morning. Orders were issued to detain any enemy soldiers found there.

The 7th Regiment from Kanazawa was entrusted with the sweep of the Safety Zone. When its men discovered that Chinese soldiers were hiding in buildings belonging to third-party nations, they located and hired interpreters. They declared the Safety Zone off-limits to other units, to ensure the safety of civilians therein.

Japanese soldiers headed toward Zhongshan Gate

Zhongshan Gate: the most impregnable gate in Nanking; Chinese troops defended it to
the death.

The sweep ended at dusk. But judging from the sheer volume of discarded uniforms, the Japanese had apprehended only a fraction of the Chinese stragglers, mostly non-commissioned officers and rank-and-file soldiers. Since the stragglers were hiding among civilians, it was not easy to identify them.

On the third day, a more concerted effort to ferret out stragglers, covering the entire city, commenced. The plan was to complete it in one day, but at the end of that day, the only Chinese military personnel apprehended were low-ranking soldiers. It was nearly impossible to find the others because they knew the city inside and out, and were able to find good hiding places. The sweep was extended.

The commander of the 7th Regiment, assigned to the sweep of the Safety Zone, was a gentle, good-natured man approaching 50. He was a graduate of the Army War College and an excellent soldier. He was under orders to capture and kill all enemy soldiers. On the fourth day (December 16), the commander issued orders to capture and kill all Chinese officers in the Safety Zone.

The men of the 7th Regiment dragged Chinese soldiers out of buildings belonging to third-party nations, in which they had been mingling with civilians, escorted them to the Yangtze River, and shot them. They had been instructed to be thorough, but because there were so many civilians in the Safety Zone, they simply couldn’t enter into every single building. The sweep was not complete, because very few officers were caught.

On the fourth day, the Japanese assumed that many Chinese stragglers remained in the Safety Zone, but the sweep was declared complete. On the next day, the Japanese held a ceremony celebrating their triumphant entry into Nanking.

They had managed to capture and kill as many as 1,000 Chinese troops, and to confiscate 1,000 rifles and more than 6,000 uniforms (in addition to more than 25,000 each articles of summer clothing and undergarments).

Most of the Chinese officers and quite a few lower-ranking soldiers were able to evade the Japanese sweep. When the Safety Zone was evacuated in early 1938, those stragglers were able to escape from the city.

Between December 16, when the sweep ended, and the end of 1937, the Japanese discovered 420,000 more rounds of ammunition. That, too, represented only a fraction of the total supply. In the beginning of 1938, the Self-Government Committee’s Police Department conducted a month-long investigation, during which 50 truckloads of weapons were discovered.

What the Japanese did on their first four days in Nanking was conduct a sweep, which is, pure and simple, a military operation. The Chinese stragglers hiding in the Safety Zone never surrendered; they were awaiting the opportunity to counterattack or escape. In actuality, both the Japanese and Chinese were engaged in military operations. Judging from the number of Chinese soldiers who were never detected and from the number of weapons confiscated, the sweep was far from successful. If it had been any more unsuccessful, the Japanese could easily have been ambushed. It was this operation — a legitimate military operation — that the three missionaries described as a brutal, unlawful act, on the witness stand at the IMTFE.

Japanese soldiers crossing the Qinhuai River on their way to Nanking

About 40 years prior to the Japanese attack on Nanking, the Boxer Rebellion broke out in Beijing. Peasants from Shandong province, anxious to rid China of Christian influences, burned down churches, killed missionaries and slaughtered a great many Chinese Christians. Since one of their victims was Clemens von Ketteler, a German career diplomat, troops from eight countries, including Japan, formed the Eight-Nation Alliance, which attempted to rescue the victims of the rebellion. There is an eyewitness account of those days written by a Briton, published as Indiscreet Letters from Peking. An excerpt follows.

Word came to us suddenly that the Boxers had caught a lot of native Christians, and had taken them to a temple where they were engaged in torturing them with a refinement of cruelty. One of our leaders collected a few marines and some volunteers, marched out and surrounded the temple and captured everybody red-handed. The Boxers were given short shrift — those that had their insignia on; but in the sorting-out process it was impossible to tell everybody right at first sight. Christians and Boxers were all of them gory with the blood which had flown from the torturing and brutalities that had been going on; so the Christians were told to line up against the wall of the temple to facilitate the summary execution in progress. Then a big fellow rushed out of a corner, yelling, “I have received the faith.” Our leader looked at the man with a critical eye, and then said to him in his quietest tones, “Stand up against the wall.” The Boxer stood up and a revolver belched the top of his head off. With that quickness of eye for which he is distinguished, our leader had seen a few red threads hanging below the fellow’s tunic. The man, as he fell with a cry, disclosed his sash underneath. He was a Boxer chief. At least thirty men were killed here.

As the author indicates, when the Chinese realized they were trapped, they concealed any badges or armbands that indicated they belonged to the Boxer movement, and attempted to lose themselves in throngs of Chinese Christians. When soldiers of the Eight-Nation Alliance encountered such a situation, they had to look for clues and decide on the spot whether they were dealing with a Boxer or a Christian, and take appropriate action. Their efforts saved the lives of missionaries and diplomats in Beijing and their families, not to mention those of many more Chinese converts to Christianity. The hostilities were very brief.

The Chinese followed that same pattern 40 years later in Nanking. They shed their uniforms, hid their weapons, and took refuge in the Safety Zone, which had been reserved for civilians. The Japanese separated stragglers from civilians, and then took appropriate action — the same action that European and American troops took in Beijing.

The focal point of the testimony provided by all three missionaries at the IMTFE was the apprehension and punishment of Chinese soldiers masquerading as civilians. There was no reason to criticize such action, which is supported by international law in time of war. But criticize it they did.

Bates testified that the Japanese held the missionaries responsible for their not being able to locate the Chinese stragglers hiding in the Safety Zone. But he stated, under oath, that there were only a few such cases.

Magee cast no blame on the Chinese troops who abandoned their weapons, which the missionaries confiscated. Nor did he see any reason to reproach them for discarding their uniforms and changing into civilian clothing. Instead, Magee blamed the Japanese for hunting them down.

Both men condemned the Japanese for apprehending and executing the Chinese stragglers. They said, untruthfully, that there were only a few soldiers hiding in the Safety Zone. They even sided with the stragglers who masqueraded as civilians. Why did they testify as they did, and why were they so critical of the Japanese?

The missionaries had established a neutral safety zone. In theory, Chinese military personnel were not permitted to enter the Safety Zone. But the missionaries not only allowed them to enter, but also helped them find hiding places. Besides criticizing the Japanese military, the missionaries lied about the number of Chinese soldiers in the Safety Zone, and attempted to justify the behavior of those soldiers. Did they feel guilty for not having preserved the neutrality of the Safety Zone? Or were they casting the first stone by censuring the Japanese before they themselves could be accused of violating international law by sheltering Chinese stragglers?

Bates, Wilson and Magee missionaries related even rumors as though they had personally experienced them in order to discredit the Japanese military. However, it is not difficult to discern their motives.

Seventeen years prior to the Battle of Nanking, the first famine in 40 years struck China. At that time, American missionaries in China filed exaggerated reports to the U.S. about the famine. They were rewarded by financial aid and shipments of food. The missionaries were obligated to issue reports of their proselytizing activities, which were also exaggerated. Perhaps the three men’s consciences allowed them to give the sort of testimony they did at the IMTFE because they were accustomed to exaggerating everything.

A review of the Japanese sweep, of which the missionaries were so critical, reveals that the missionaries violated international law by hiding Chinese stragglers in the Safety Zone after claiming it was neutral. In other words, they were the cause of the incidents to which they objected the most strenuously. If the Japanese are to be faulted for having conducting a (lawful) sweep, the missionaries must be faulted equally for having harbored Chinese troops.

“200,000 murders and 20,000 rapes”

Charges relating to events that transpired in Nanking, as judged by the IMTFE, can be summarized as follows: 200,000 murders and 20,000 rapes. The judgment itself contains the same language. And every one of a myriad of books written about the subject since the IMTFE has used these same figures.

The notion of a massacre originated with the missionaries’ testimony, as did the charge of 20,000 rapes. Bates testified that he found the International Committee’s estimate of 20,000 rapes committed during the first month after the Japanese occupation credible. He also mentioned his personal estimate, made slightly before that, of 8,000 rapes.

The International Committee was established by the missionaries for the purpose of creating the Safety Zone. Its official name was International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone. The chairman was John Rabe, who was employed by a German trading firm. On January 14, 1938, a month after the fall of Nanking, Rabe delivered a report to the German Consulate in Shanghai. In it, he wrote that immediately after the fall of Nanking, Japanese military authorities had clearly lost control of their troops, as they wrought havoc in the city for several weeks, looting, raping approximately 20,000 women and girls, and slaughtering several thousand innocent civilians. That report was the source of the 20,000 rapes cited in Bates’ testimony. A month after Bates testified, a copy of Rabe’s report was submitted to the IMTFE.

The 20,000 figure for the number of rapes reported to the German Consulate is exceedingly suspect. The report offers no basis for the allegation. The International Committee had neither administrative nor public-safety organizations under its aegis. What served as the basis for this ridiculous claim?

Perhaps the IMTFE judges gave it credence because the report was addressed to a diplomat. When a copy of it was submitted to the IMTFE, no supporting evidence was attached. But the numbers stated in the report — 20,000 rapes committed within the first month after the occupation — appear in the judgment handed down two years later.

Anyone who is even minimally informed about the situation in Nanking in 1937 would know immediately how unrealistic the accusation of 20,000 rapes is. Twenty thousand rapes within the space of one month breaks down to more than 700 per day. During that month, the Safety Zone was guarded by the 7th Infantry Regiment from Kanazawa (which conducted the sweep) for the first two weeks, and by the 38th Infantry Regiment from Nara for the second two weeks. To commit that many crimes, every man in the two regiments, from the commanding officer down to second-class privates, would have had to commit five or six rapes.

According to Bates’ account, which mentions 8,000 rapes, his figures came from an International Committee report. The report states that there were approximately 400 rapes committed during the first month of the Japanese occupation. Even if the report could be relied upon, the figures do not make sense.

Dr. Wilson also mentions rapes. He describes a case in which Magee brought a 15-year-old girl who had been raped to him for treatment. When she visited him the second time, two months later, she had secondary syphilis. Dr. Wilson’s testimony refers mainly to men who were wounded by Japanese soldiers. He mentions only one case of rape. All 180 beds in the hospital were already full; most of the patients were wounded men. Other records show that the hospital accommodated only soldiers.

After testifying about rapes, Wilson mentions secondary syphilis. If the girl in question did have the disease, it wouldn’t have presented until three months after contact, meaning before the Japanese entered Nanking. A defense attorney brought up this point during cross-examination, but Wilson countered with the pronouncement that secondary syphilis can occur within six weeks to three months after infection. From this exchange, we notice that one physician working at a hospital in Nanking mentions exactly one case of rape. And in that one case, it is not at all clear that the perpetrator was Japanese.

If 20,000 rapes, or even 8,000 rapes, were committed in Nanking, when the girl returned to the hospital after two months, Wilson would have been inundated with patients suffering from venereal diseases or requesting abortions. He wouldn’t have had time to even contemplate secondary syphilis. Instead of arguing with the defense attorney about the progress of syphilis, he should have been recounting events that he personally experienced. The reason he mentioned the girl with syphilis was that her case stood out in his memory. Otherwise, he had nothing to say about rapes.

When Berlin fell in May 1945, Soviet soldiers raped a great many German women. Quite a few books and other accounts have been written about those rapes from many points of view. Apparently, one in every 13 women in Berlin was a victim of rape. If there were 20,000 rapes in Nanking, that would have meant one in five women, so the Berlin statistics would have paled in comparison.

According to research in subsequent years, 10% of the women raped in Berlin became pregnant; 90% of them had abortions, but the remaining 10% are estimated to have given birth. If we apply the same formula to Nanking, if 20,000 women were raped, 2,000 would have become pregnant. Eighteen hundred of them would have had abortions (the majority), but in October 1938, approximately 200 rape victims would have given birth. Nanking’s hospitals would have been overwhelmed. But according to Wilson’s testimony and other records, he was not overwhelmed by requests for abortions, the abortions themselves, or by patients with venereal diseases.

There was no shortage of physicians in Berlin, so it was possible to perform abortions and to treat syphilis and other venereal diseases there. But in Nanking, there were only Dr. Wilson and one other American physician. They were joined by two young Chinese men with some medical knowledge, but they were not much help. In March, a Japanese physician arrived, but he and his Chinese assistants spent every waking hour combating contagious diseases as spring approached. So did another foreign physician who joined their ranks toward the end of February. There are no records indicating that they performed abortions or treated venereal diseases.

Gulou Hospital, the only hospital in Nanking that remained open, had an obstetrics ward, which handled deliveries on a daily basis in December and January. If there had been 20,000 rapes, there would have been a slew of births (about 200) in October 1938. In that case, Dr. Wilson would have written about having been overwhelmed by deliveries at that time, but he did not. There are records of births in Nanking, but no indication that the birth rate rose in October 1938.

Since newborn babies were often abandoned in China, charitable organizations operated orphanages that care for such children. During the Battle of Nanking, most such organizations in Nanking halted their activities, which did not resume for about six months. Organizations that ran orphanages resumed activity at about that time, but there was none that specialized in children of rape victims. There is absolutely no mention of a large number of such babies being born.

If we examine the testimony of other missionaries, and reports and letters Wilson wrote in addition to his testimony, we learn that approximately 10 women were brought to Gulou Hospital for treatment of injuries sustained during rapes. There were very few rapes. Therefore, all the figures cited, be they 8,000 or 20,000, were invented. This conclusion also applies to the report issued by the missionaries, which sets the number of rapes at 400: there is no evidence to support this figure.

Statistics invented by missionaries

An analysis of journals kept by the missionaries in Nanking reveals that statistics they cited at the IMTFE were the product of rumors or hyperbole. Ginling Women’s College of Arts and Sciences consisted of several two-story buildings and spacious grounds. The decision was made to house only female refugees and their children in those buildings. In December, approximately 1,000 women and children took up residence in the luxurious facilities. When the Japanese entered Nanking, more women and children joined those refugees; after 10 days, by December 22, their numbers swelled to 10,000. The person responsible for the refugees at the college was Minnie Vautrin, an American missionary.

Vautrin procured food for the women and children in her care, protected them, and negotiated with Japanese diplomats. When disagreements or incidents erupted on the property, she was told about them, and attempted to resolve them as soon as possible. In the journal she kept, they are described in detail; in the entry for December 16 the third day after the Japanese entered Nanking, Vautrin writes that Japanese looting on that day and the previous day had extended over a wide area, and that they had burned schools down, killed civilians and raped women.

Six days later, Vautrin writes that a huge fire had spread from west to east, lighting up the skies over Nanking. She adds that such fires had become daily occurrences; clouds of smoke rising in the daytime were signs that the looting and destruction had not stopped. According to her journal, Nanking was a city of death and devastation.

But if we reread her journal entries, ignoring a great deal of the adjectives in her accounts, we learn that in the month following the Japanese entry into Nanking, Vautrin witnessed one case of looting and two of attempted looting, one rape, one assault, three abductions (one of a man and two of women) and three attempted abductions.

On January 8, about a month after the Japanese occupation began, the Japanese Embassy urged Vautrin to submit a request for damages. She replied that not much damage had been done to school property beyond the breaking down of six doors, and that she didn’t intend to ask for damages.

The horrific descriptions in her journal that portrayed Nanking as a city of death, and the actual facts, are diametrically opposite. It is obvious that the accounts in her journal are unrealistic and bombastic. Weren’t such exaggerations typical of reports issued by missionaries?

Vautrin wrote that the rape she saw was committed in staff living quarters against a young girl by a Japanese soldier. She also wrote that she saw eight to 10 girls being loaded onto a truck, screaming “Help!” Two of them were sobbing. These are the rapes and abductions that Vautrin saw at a college into which 10,000 women and children had crowded. Her journal contains not even the suggestion of 8,000 or 20,000 rapes.

International Committee chairman John Rabe also kept a diary, in which he describes the situation in Nanking on December 16, 1937, the fourth day after the Japanese entry: “There is not a single shop outside our Zone that has not been looted, and now pillaging, murder, and mayhem are occurring inside the Zone as well. He paints the same picture of Nanking as does Minnie Vautrin. If we extract, from Rabe’s diary, the crimes he actually witnessed, we have: two cases of looting, one rape, two assaults, two arsons and two abductions — about the same number as those recorded by Vautrin.

Rabe lived inside the Safety Zone. His office and home were in the same building, and the premises were large enough to house 600 Chinese. Furthermore, the grounds were surrounded by other buildings, which other refugees had occupied. Nevertheless, the incidents listed above were the only ones he witnessed.

On the fifth day after the occupation, Rabe writes: “Last night up to 1,000 women and girls are said to have been raped, about 100 girls at Ginling Girls College alone. You hear of nothing but rape.”

According to a report the missionaries submitted to Japanese diplomats, there were four rapes committed on that day. Rabe’s diary entry was not only rumor-based, but also a gross exaggeration. The diary is rife with baseless charges, bombast and exaggeration. How do we explain this phenomenon?

The International Committee guaranteed the neutrality of the Safety Zone, but reneged on its promise. Furthermore, its chairman, Rabe, sheltered three high-ranking Chinese officers in his home, and further deceived the Japanese by claiming that one of them, whom he had accompany him on outings, was his servant. In this and other ways, Rabe violated international law, and it is highly likely that his diary entries were coverups for those violations.

Here is another possibility: Missionary James McCallum wrote that more than 1,000 women were raped in Nanking. Paul Scharffenberg, a German diplomat, wrote that Rabe “has let himself be lulled far too much by the Americans and is helping promote American interests and missionaries who are out to catch souls en gros.” Perhaps Rabe came to emulate their tendency to exaggerate.

Rabe was a member of the Nazi Party, and an ardent admirer of Chancellor Adolf Hitler. According to Rabe, all he needed to pacify Japanese military personnel was to brandish the swastika, the Nazi emblem, and shout “Hitler!” Perhaps in his zeal, Rabe believed that, but at that time, Nazism inspired absolutely no awe in Japanese soldiers. It is unlikely that they were even familiar with the swastika.

At Germany’s helm, Hitler was known for his use of propaganda, saying that the public was more likely to believe huge lies than tiny ones. Could Rabe have been using Hitler’s methods in citing 20,000 rapes? Usually, people react to accusations like that with silence. They have no basis of comparison, and cannot even process the information.

At that time, a team of German military men, led by Gen. Alexander von Falkenhausen, were advising Chiang Kai-shek about fighting the Japanese. Walther Stennes, who had been head of the Sturmabteilung in the early days of the Nazi Party, was Chiang Kai-shek’s chief bodyguard.

Using a variety of strategies, the Germans had wormed their way into Chiang’s inner circle. There were 5,000 Germans in China at the time, and most of them were Nazi Party members. Perhaps Rabe used such language because he overestimated Nazi influence. In any case, because Rabe’s report was addressed to a diplomat, it was not subjected to any sort of review. It was accepted at face value, and the accusation of 20,000 rapes in Nanking became official.

When the first witness, Dr. Wilson, testified, a defense attorney raised an objection on the grounds that all his testimony was based on hearsay. However, presiding justice Webb overruled the objection, stating that all hearsay testimony had been rejected. But the IMTFE consistently admitted hearsay — evidence that a genuine court of law would not have accepted. Furthermore, the three missionaries not only described hearsay as events they had personally experienced, but also embellished that hearsay. They stated figures that had no basis in fact, and described events in fantastic terms.

The testimony created by the missionaries became the core body of evidence on which events in Nanking were judged at the IMTFE. Chinese testimony and evidence then magnified the missionaries’ figure of several tens of thousands until it ballooned to more than 200,000 murder victims. But accusations of 20,000 rapes were, from beginning to end, the inventions of the missionaries.

Seven years prior to the fall of Nanking, there was a battle between Nationalist and Communist troops in Jiangxi province. Missionaries’ accounts of the conflict are presented in Agnes Smedley’s China’s Red Army Marches. When they talk about the number of casualties, the number keeps growing, from several hundred, to 10,000, then to 20,000 and 30,000. Every time I read this portion of the book, I am reminded of the three missionaries’ testimony at the IMTFE.
Propaganda played a more important role in World War I, the first total war, than ever before. Many different types of major propaganda programs were developed, and propaganda became a household word all over the world. The word was coined in the 16th century during the Counter-Reformation, when it was adopted by the Roman Catholic church. Its original meaning was “that which is to be spread,” meaning the Catholic faith. Its modern meaning dates from World War I. Mulling upon how a word meaning spreading the faith came to mean propaganda as we know it today, reading the testimony of the missionaries who were in Nanking, I have concluded that it wasn’t an accident of fate.


On July 7, 1937, there was a skirmish between Japanese and Chinese troops at Liugouqiao (Marco Polo Bridge) on the outskirts of Beijing. At least, it began as a skirmish. However, it soon escalated into a full-scale battle. Repercussions were felt even in faraway Shanghai, and before long, on August 13, hostilities between land-based Japanese naval units and Chinese forces commenced there as well.

On August 14, the Chinese launched air attacks; on the 15th, Japanese aircraft flew to Nanking, where they bombed two airfields. Since the airbase in Nanking rivaled that in Nanchang, the Japanese needed to destroy both the airfield and the aircraft on it to gain air superiority.

News of the hostilities in Beijing soon spread to Nanking. By the time August came around, residents of Nanking began evacuating the city, heading for Shanghai. Other refugees, whose numbers increased day by day, fled southward to Suzhou or Wuxi. The Chinese were, of course, accustomed to warfare. When the Nanking airfield was bombed, more people evacuated, some traveling as far as Hong Kong.

On August 23, expeditionary forces commanded by Gen. Matsui Iwane landed at Wusong, near Shanghai. The main strength of the Chinese Army was headquartered in Nanking. Wounded soldiers were transported there by train, and reinforcements were dispatched from Nanking. The city was not only a military hub with a staff office, but also an air and logistics base. Therefore, the bombing of Nanking continued, as did the exodus of civilians in a steady stream.

On November 9, the Chinese began to falter after having resisted for nearly three months. Some of the routed troops found their way to Nanking. Almost instantly, the city entered a state of crisis. On November 15, the decision was made to move the capital. Tang Shengzhi was appointed commander in chief of the Nanking Defense Forces on November 24. On the following day, the battle order was issued.

Nanking’s residents panicked, and still more of them evacuated the city, anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 per day. Refugees thronged the piers on the banks of the Yangtze. Those who couldn’t obtain passage on a ship converged on the shipping companies offices and vandalized them.

By the end of November, four-fifths of Nanking’s civilian population had left. The population, which had once totaled one million, had dwindled to about 200,000. However, Hankou, upriver of Nanking, was bursting at the seams with 400,000 refugees from Nanking.

On December 1, the mayor of Nanking decided to abandon the city. City employees began leaving, and the government ground to a halt. Warnings had been issued to foreign legations to relocate to Hankou, and most diplomats heeded them. There were about 50 citizens of European nations and the U.S. in Nanking, and most of them joined the exodus. Only poor Chinese with nowhere to go, or no money for boat fare, stayed in Nanking.

Nevertheless, more than 20 foreigners remained in Nanking. Most of them were Protestant missionaries sent by their churches in the U.S. to serve as preachers, college professors, college administrators, physicians and YMCA employees.

Determined to enlighten the Chinese, missionaries remain in battle zone

Why did the missionaries remain in a battle zone? The unsurprising answer to this question is: dedication to their mission, i.e., proselytization. Since the mid-19th century, missionaries had been arriving in China determined to convert the Chinese to Christianity. Many of them were victims of crimes; some were even murdered during the commission of robberies. Still, they kept coming, gradually making inroads into even remote areas.

Some of them were instilled with incredible fervor. Soon after the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, a beautiful young woman, an American graduate student, arrived in China, with a strong sense of mission. She had managed to overcome the objections of her father, a U.S. senator. She visited the Japanese military’s External Affairs Bureau every day, seeking permission to travel to areas controlled by the Japanese. The officers there did their very best to convince her to abandon her plans.

Several considerations kept the missionaries in Nanking. Compassion for the Chinese was one of them. The missionaries, particularly the Protestants in their number, firmly believed that it was their duty to enlighten the Chinese and reform their backward society. They were also sympathetic toward a weak nation (China) battling a major power (Japan).

On November 19, when residents were still fleeing Nanking, the missionaries remaining in the city formed an international committee. Six missionaries formed the core of the 15-member organization; among the other members were German, British and Danish trading company employees. They announced their plan to establish a safety zone for the protection of poor residents remaining within the city walls.

A similar zone had been set up 10 days earlier in Shanghai. The conflict there had erupted north of the foreign concessions. When November arrived, some of the retreating Chinese troops headed for Nanshi (southern city), located to the south of those concessions. Nanshi was an old district populated only by Chinese. In November 1937, it was thronged by refugees from other parts of Shanghai. Since Chinese troops were determined to make their last stand there, people feared that the original residents and the new ones (refugees) would become victims of the hostilities.

There were missionaries in Nanshi, too. Most of them were French Catholics, among them a priest who had been proselytizing in China for 20 years. When Father Jacquinot, as he was called, learned that Chinese troops were heading toward Nanshi, he decided to establish a safety zone in part of that area. His plan involved establishing a zone whose boundaries were clearly discernible. Residents and refugees would assemble there, and an international committee whose members were French, American and British would administer the zone. The International Committee would maintain neutrality at all times. Any Chinese troops seeking refuge in the Safety Zone would be rejected. If they persisted, they would be expelled by troops from the French Concession (adjacent to the Safety Zone). The Japanese military were asked to refrain from firing their weapons in the area. The Committee stated that it would turn over administration of the zone to the Japanese, should they occupy Nanshi after hostilities ceased.

Father Jacquinot submitted his plan to the Chinese and Japanese military, asking for their cooperation. His intention was to protect residents and refugees from the perils of war, but also to ensure that the refugees did not starve to death. Neither side voiced any objections. Gen. Matsui Iwane, commander in chief of the Shanghai Expeditionary Army, sent a monetary contribution to Father Jacquinot in support of his efforts.

In their pursuit of the Chinese, the Japanese began attacking Chinese troops who had entered Nanshi on November 11. On the following day, the Safety Zone was established. Small French flags were affixed to its boundaries. To ensure that neutrality was maintained, both the Japanese consul-general and Father Jacquinot remained in the zone.

Hostilities in Nanshi ended the day after the Japanese attacked. Chinese soldiers retreating to Nanshi did not have the strength to launch a counterattack. Japanese bullets never landed in the Safety Zone. Unable (with a few exceptions) to infiltrate the Safety Zone, the defeated Chinese fled into the French Concession or dispersed into the suburbs. The 250,000 Chinese in the Safety Zone were saved. Father Jacquinot’s reputation was enhanced, and the story of his good works traveled to Nanking.

The missionaries in Nanking intended to follow the Shanghai example. On November 23, they sent a message to the Japanese Consulate in Shanghai via the American ambassador, asking for approval of a safety zone in Nanking. But there were more than a few differences between the situations in Shanghai and Nanking.

The missionaries said they intended to set up a safety zone inside the city of Nanking. Unlike Shanghai, Nanking was surrounded by walls, and within those walls were General Staff Headquarters and airfields. Its walls made Nanking a fortress, and Chinese troops were determined to defend that fortress to the death. Furthermore, since there were no natural barriers that could serve as boundaries, the Nanking zone’s boundaries would necessarily be unclear.

The missionaries asked the Japanese to refrain from attacking the Safety Zone. They guaranteed that Chinese troops would not enter into or install military facilities within the zone. But there was no neutral military force in Nanking comparable to the French soldiers in Shanghai.

Some of the Chinese troops in Nanshi scaled barbed-wire fences and iron gates and escaped into the French Concession. Heaps of discarded rifles, pistols and hand grenades lay on the road in front of the barbed-wire fence (2,000 rifles, 500,000 rounds of ammunition and 10,000 hand grenades, as a matter of fact), even though French troops were present. There was absolutely no guarantee that neutrality would be preserved in the Nanking Safety Zone. For those reasons, though the Japanese were in favor of a safety zone in principle, they refused the request on December 1. Undaunted, the missionaries established the zone anyway.

Chinese troops infiltrate Safety Zone

As plans for the Safety Zone were being executed, the Nanking Defense Forces prepared to defend the city. As their preparations accelerated, they dug trenches in the Safety Zone and installed an anti-aircraft battery there as well. A great number of Chinese troops were working in the Safety Zone, and some deserters hid there. The missionaries couldn’t stop them. Japanese fears abruptly became reality.

Most of the civilians remaining in Nanking at that point lived in the southern part of the city. As soon as they heard about the Safety Zone, they proceeded there with their personal belongings in tow. American buildings, such as those belonging to Nanking University and its library; and the military academy and abandoned government buildings, e.g., the former Transportation Bureau, soon accommodated a thousand persons each.

On December 7, Military Committee chairman Chiang Kai-shek left Nanking, as did the city’s mayor. Only defense units remained, headed by Commander Tang Shengzhi. At dawn on December 9, the first Japanese unit to reach the city, the 36th Infantry Regiment from Sabae, arrived in front of the Guanghua Gate. The Japanese were on the verge of surrounding Nanking, as some units crossed the Yangtze both above and below the city, and others were approaching from the rear. If they had indeed surrounded the city, there would have been many casualties among civilians remaining in Nanking. For precisely that reason, the Japanese urged Chinese troops to surrender. They set a deadline of noon on December 10. But the Chinese ignored the warning.

On December 12, in addition to Guanghua Gate, both sides of the southern wall became the site of hostilities. The Japanese had reached all of Nanking, except for the northern and western sectors.

The northwestern portion of Nanking faces the Yangtze. Chinese troops fighting outside the city walls, as well as those defending the gates, had planned to use the Yangtze as their escape route. Some of them were already headed toward Xiaguan. Chinese soldiers from units that were now disorganized and undisciplined slipped into the Safety Zone, which was on the way to Xiaguan.

At 5:00 p.m., Chinese commanders gathered and, suddenly, Commander Tang Shengzhi issued orders to break through enemy lines. Tang would be crossing the Yangtze, followed by units that would cover him. Only some of the Chinese forces retreated from Xiaguan; the remainder attempted to escape, cutting through the attacking Japanese units.

Japanese troops celebrate the fall of Nanking on December 13, 1937

Orders were orders, but obviously, it would have been extremely difficult to escape that way and survive. Most of the Chinese troops crowded into the northwestern section of the city in a desperate attempt to retreat from Xiaguan.

When Tang Shengzhi crossed the Yangtze at 9:00 p.m., the troops assigned to protect him followed him across the river. But chaos ensued when other Chinese units rushed after them and began to fight among themselves. Boats that under normal circumstances would have made many round trips made only one crossing due to the confusion. Some of the units ordered to cross the Yangtze were prevented from doing so. Once they realized the enormity of their situation, those left behind made one of two decisions: seek an escape route over land out of Xiaguan, or reenter Nanking.

The Safety Zone was located in the center of the city. Normally, no Chinese, whether military or civilian, was permitted to enter the buildings in it — churches and schools that belonged to other nations. But at that time, there were a great many Chinese civilians there.

Chinese troops who returned to the city discarded their weapons when they reached the Safety Zone. They took off their uniforms and changed into civilian clothing. Clothing shops were doing a booming business selling every imaginable type of garment. The soldiers entered buildings belonging to other nations and mixed with genuine refugees. More followed — commissioned and non-commissioned officers, sergeants and privates. They even went into embassies and consulates, which by then were empty.

In March 1928, Chiang Kai-shek had attacked Nanking, then controlled by Shandong warlord Zhang Zongchang. On March 23, Zhang’s troops began their retreat, heading toward Xiaguan. On the following day, when Zhang’s men were waiting in Xiaguan for boats to arrive, Chiang’s Northern Expedition troops appeared. Zhang’s men ran off in all directions. Soldiers who had gotten off to a slow start dropped their rifles and shed their uniforms. Under them, they were wearing Chinese garb. To complete their lightning-speed transformation into civilians, they donned round Chinese hats that had been hidden inside their clothing. This was a trick Chinese troops had been using since ancient times. In an instant, the Safety Zone became a refuge for military personnel, as well as civilians. And as such, it was the most dangerous place in the city, as far as the Japanese were concerned.

At this point, what were the missionaries, whose idea the Safety Zone had been, doing? They certainly weren’t trying to repel Chinese troops or chastising them. In fact, they went out of their way to help the soldiers. The missionaries instructed them to lay down their arms and mix with the civilians. This in spite of their promise to the Japanese that they would not allow any Chinese military personnel, regardless of rank, to set foot in the Safety Zone.

On December 13, the Japanese entered Nanking. The hostilities continued. On the following day, Japanese diplomats arrived at the city. Battles were still being fought in parts of Nanking; all foreign diplomats were gone. But there were more than 20 foreign civilians in the city, mainly missionaries. The Japanese were obligated to protect them, and their schools and offices.

There were also some journalists there. Having stayed on to cover the fall of Nanking, they were anxious to wire their stories back to their home countries. The Japanese needed to assist them as well. The diplomats had additional responsibilities: restoring order in Nanking and helping civilians to lead their normal lives once again.

It is a Chinese tradition, when wars continue, for influential persons who have stayed in the war zone to form a government. The new government preserves public order and oversees administrative affairs. In this case, most persons fitting this description had fled the city. Therefore, the Japanese were forced to seek out persons who could be entrusted with such responsibilities.

On the morning of December 15, 1937, the day after the Japanese entered Nanking, the missionaries paid a visit to the beleaguered diplomats, handing them three documents. They stated that the International Committee had been established to protect the refugees, that the missionaries had established the International Red Cross Committee of Nanking, with John Magee as its chairman; and that Chinese military personnel had infiltrated the Safety Zone.

They also stated that the Safety Zone had maintained its neutrality, since the Japanese had not fired on it and Chinese troops had not entered it — until the afternoon of December 13, that is, when several Chinese soldiers approached the zone, seeking help. The International Committee allowed them to enter. That evening, several hundred Chinese soldiers entered the Safety Zone. The missionaries told them they couldn’t seek refuge there, but once the soldiers had laid down their weapons and removed their uniforms, they couldn’t be distinguished from civilians. After explaining the situation in the Safety Zone to the Japanese diplomats, the missionaries asked the Japanese to exercise caution when separating the soldiers from the civilians, and to spare the soldiers for humanitarian reasons.

They also asked the Japanese to allow the International Committee to continue to operate, even though Nanking had been occupied by the Japanese and the missionaries no longer had any authority. As one might expect, Japanese diplomats announced, on the following day, that there was no legal basis for their activities. But the missionaries continued to operate the Safety Zone.

Two weeks later, on January 1, 1938, the Self-Government Committee was formed; all of its members were Chinese. With a Chinese administrative organization in place, there was even less reason for the International Committee to continue its work. And as long as Nanking’s inhabitants remained in the Safety Zone, their lives would not return to normal. Nevertheless, the missionaries insisted that the International Committee continue to exist, and asked the Japanese for permission.

Once the Japanese had occupied Nanking, the city was bombed by Chinese military aircraft. Guerrilla warfare continued on the outskirts of the city. These activities might well inspire Chinese troops hiding inside the Safety Zone to regroup and rise again. In the meantime, they hid

Ceremony inaugurating Self-Government Committee formed by 200,000 refugees in Nanking (January 1, 1938)

in embassies and other buildings belonging to foreign nations, thus making it difficult for the Japanese to apprehend them. The Japanese wanted to abolish the Safety Zone. Once the civilians had been allowed to return to their homes, the soldiers would have to emerge, too, and peace would return to Nanking. But the missionaries refused to cooperate.

Why the missionaries stayed in Nanking

Earlier I offered a reason for the missionaries’ staying behind in Nanking. But there were others as well.

John Magee had been in China since 1912, and had therefore lived longer in China than in the U.S. The same was true of Dr. Robert Wilson, who worked at Gulou Hospital, and of George Fitch, who headed the YMCA, both of whom were born in Nanking. At that time, Fitch was 54, and his family, including his son, had been living in China for more than 40 years. Miner Bates, the Nanking University professor, was 41, and had been in China for 17 years, about half his life.

Since the missionaries had been in China so long, Nanking was home to them at least as much as the U.S. was. One might think that some noble sense of mission kept them there, but that wasn’t necessarily the case.

It is also important to note that the Second Sino-Japanese War was not the first conflict the missionaries had experienced. Ten years earlier, when Chiang Kai-shek’s troops entered Nanking, they burned churches to the ground, and even shot and killed John Elias Williams, the vice-president of Nanking University. Even then, these four missionaries didn’t leave Nanking. Their circumstances in wartime weren’t nearly as difficult as one might imagine.

Pearl Buck, a writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature, was once a missionary. A month before Nanking fell, one of her essays, “Foreigners Under Fire,” appeared in the November 1937 issue of Asia magazine. In it she harshly criticizes the missionaries who remained in China during the war against the Japanese, saying that they remained in dangerous areas, hoping to be lauded as heroes in the newspapers.

Five years before that issue of Asia came out, Americans had begun to question the value of missionary work, wondering if it would truly benefit the Chinese. At that time, Pearl Buck sided with the doubters and stopped doing missionary work. In the following year, she again castigated missionaries in China, remarking that she was saddened at the way some of them looked down on the Chinese culture. Buck added that the presence of such vulgar specimens in China was an offense to the Chinese that could never be atoned for adequately. Ultimately, she was stripped of her missionary qualifications.

While engaged in missionary work, Pearl Buck became wary of missionaries who harbored discriminatory views about the Chinese. She eventually became vocally critical of them.

Taking a commemorative photograph in front of the ruins of a house

At about the same time missionaries obtained permission to proselytize in China, Chinese began traveling to the U.S. But soon the California State Legislature passed laws barring Chinese from American citizenship and forbidding them to marry American women. In 1880, restrictions were placed on the number of Chinese who could enter the U.S. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, whereby Chinese laborers were forbidden from entering the U.S. for 10 years. Later, other laws limiting Chinese immigration were enacted; many Chinese who had journeyed to the U.S. were forced to return home. Given the climate of the times, it is not surprising that many Europeans and Americans were contemptuous of the Chinese. However, there were many Christian missionaries who were disdainful of the Chinese as well.

Soong Mei-ling, Chiang Kai-shek’s wife, was educated in the U.S., from elementary school through college. She graduated from a prestigious women’s college, and had many American friends. Her English was fluent, and she broadcast radio appeals in English for aid to China in its battle against the Japanese. Soong toured the U.S., publicizing the Chinese cause, and was showered with praise; she was a devout Christian.

Mme. Chiang believed that Americans thought she was clever, but looked down on her because she was Chinese. Even though she had enjoyed some degree of hospitality in the U.S., Americans’ discriminatory, patronizing behavior made her furious.

There was, from the very beginning, a serious problem regarding proselytizing in China. Protestant missionaries first went to China in the 19th century, when the pace of colonialism was accelerating. In 1840 the First Opium War broke out. When it ended in China’s defeat, the nations of Europe and the U.S. concluded treaties with China, winning extraterritoriality, and the right to worship freely and engage in missionary work. In 1857, at the conclusion of the Second Opium War, the missionaries acquired the right to acquire land and residences. Missionaries benefited from gunboat diplomacy, as once-forbidden Christianity was recognized by China, and they were free to proselytize. They entered China hand in hand with opium.

Now that proselytization was allowed, the missionaries bought up huge parcels of land, and built churches, housing, schools, hospitals and social service facilities on them. Because of extraterritoriality, they were beyond the reach of Chinese authorities. Accordingly, most Chinese were hostile toward Christianity, and felt that the missionaries’ presence in China was tolerated because of the power their homelands wielded. Unsurprisingly, there were frequent conflicts between Chinese and Christians, beginning in 1862.

In 1860, the year the Second Opium War ended, Britain acquired navigation rights for the Yangtze River, which were soon extended to France and the U.S. as well. Gunboats were then dispatched to interior regions of China. When a missionary was the victim of a crime, or a church was damaged, the relevant consul would immediately submit a vehement protest to the Chinese government, demanding damages.

Missionaries in China always enjoyed the protection of their native countries, regardless of where they were. Pearl Buck was critical of this attitude, the comfortable feeling that your own government was so familiar with you that it knew the number of hairs on your head.

The missionaries who remained in Nanking were in constant contact with American diplomats, and did not fail to make their opinions known to them.

Japanese soldiers enjoy a rare treat: letters from home

In October, as the conflict raged in Shanghai, the Guangdong Operation was under discussion at Staff Headquarters in Tokyo. The plan was to occupy part of Bias Bay, establish an airbase there, proceed from Hong Kong to Guangzhou and block the supply line to the interior. Once the capital, Nanking, was taken and the supply route blocked, the Japanese could end the hostilities quickly.

After the Japanese emerged victorious from the Shanghai conflict, the 11th Division and the Shigefuji Detachment, both of which had fought in Shanghai, were transferred to Taiwan. Several reporters who had covered the war were summoned secretly. The attacking units were scheduled to begin their advance to Guangdong on December 25.

About two weeks prior to their departure, on December 12, incidents involving the Panay and the Ladybird occurred near Nanking, then the scene of hostilities between the Chinese and Japanese. The result was a serious diplomatic crisis and a sudden deterioration in relations with the U.S. and Britain.

Beginning with the war in Shanghai, the Japanese planned their military operations so as to avoid damaging British or American interests. This meant that even when the Chinese fired their weapons from buildings in the International Settlement and the French Concession, the Japanese were unable to shoot back. When Chinese troops sought refuge in a foreign concession, the Japanese were powerless to follow and capture them. Even though the Japanese took such care, incidents did occur, creating panic at the Japanese Foreign Ministry, and ministries of the Army and Navy.

There were foreign concessions in Guangzhou as well, and its proximity to Hong Kong presented additional problems. If the Japanese had executed the operation in that area, something similar to the Panay Incident might occur. Because of such concerns, the operation was canceled suddenly on December 20, five days before it was to have begun.

Notice the huge difference between the Japanese military’s consideration for the interests of third-party nations, and the far-from-saintly missionaries, whose main concern was their own rights.

Shimizu Yasuzo, the founder of Japan’s Obirin University, was the first Japanese to travel to China as a missionary. In 1917 he arrived in Manchuria, where he stayed two years. Then he proceeded to Beijing where he established the Sutei Gakuen, a school for girls. The first thing he did in Beijing was go to the aid of Chinese children who were starving to death. Shimizu’s missionary activities were rooted in relief work and education.

It was an American missionary in Japan who inspired Shimizu Yasuzo to become a Christian. He associated with American missionaries while in China as well. When the missionaries in Nanking were establishing the Safety Zone, Shimizu was spreading the word of God in Beijing.

In 1939, two years after Nanking fell, Shimizu sailed to the U.S. Perhaps because American newspapers had reported on the chaos in Nanking after the Japanese occupation, Japanese residents of the U.S. questioned him about the situation there. His response indicates that it was not appropriate to set up the Safety Zone within city limits:

In the first place, it was unwise for the American professors of Ginling Women’s College to shelter female students on the college campus. When hostilities commenced, they should have moved the students far away from the war zone.

Cabot Coville, a military attaché to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, visited Nanking toward the end of April 1938, four months after the fall of Nanking. While there, he was briefed on the situation in the city by diplomats of various nations, the Japanese embassy staff, missionaries who had remained in the city, and representatives of British trading firms.

Coville, too, believed that establishing the Safety Zone was a mistake. Instead of selecting a poor district, as they should have done, the foreigners chose an area where American and German real estate, universities, and the homes of wealthy Chinese were located. Coville said that the Safety Zone was nominally set up to protect Chinese civilians, but its real purpose was to protect the assets of Americans and affluent Chinese.

On December 4, when Nanking’s civilians began moving into the Safety Zone, an article opposing the Safety Zone appeared in a Chinese newspaper published in Nanking. The Chinese must have known that the Safety Zone was not for their benefit.

The missionaries steamrolled their Safety Zone plan to fruition. Even after they had turned it into a dangerous place, they refused to abolish it. What were their motivations?

When the missionaries were permitted to proselytize after the Opium Wars, they built schools, hospitals and orphanages, insinuating their way into Chinese society. By the end of the 19th century, there were 500,000 Roman Catholics and 60,000 Protestants in China. These were not huge numbers in terms of the total population. However, the power wielded by the Christian forces in Chinese society, simply in the fields of medicine and education, had become formidable. For instance, hospitals built near churches were a source of medical care indispensable to the Chinese living in the area.

Nanking University operated a hospital that employed two American physicians. Called Gulou Hospital, the 170-bed institution also employed 21 Chinese physicians. It was the second largest hospital in Nanking, and one of only two general hospitals in the city.

Activities peculiar to Christianity, which involve intrusion into another nation’s society by establishing hospitals and clinics, contrast sharply with Buddhism, which emphasizes personal spiritual training. But the missionaries’ tactics were very effective in spreading Christianity.

Before the Second Sino-Japanese War began, the number of Christian converts had further increased (2,900,000 Catholics and 500,000 Protestants). But again, these figures represent only a fraction of the population, then 400 million.

To spread Christianity, a huge amount money (donations) had been expended, and a large number of missionaries (4,100 Catholics and 5,700 Protestants) had been exported to China.
Because the missionaries’ efforts had not been supremely successful, supporters in their home countries began to view them with suspicion.
In Nanking, too, the missionaries had made major inroads with their schools and hospital, but they had attracted very few converts. Fifty percent of the residents of Nanking who professed a religion were Buddhists, and 50% Muslims, leaving only a handful of Christians. Most of the Christians were Protestants. Even when we add the Catholics, Christians accounted for less than 5% of the worshiping population.

Thus, the main challenge for the missionaries was the acquisition of converts. While they were attempting to attract converts, medical care (not just that offered by the missionaries) became available to more Chinese. As a result, the medical facilities established by the missionaries became less effective as a means to obtain converts. Faced with decreasing success, the missionaries resented wider availability of medical care. But when the hostilities began, there was an upsurge in the need for medical care, and existing facilities were not sufficient. This meant that medical care facilities could once again be used as tools for attracting converts.

Christianity preaches love, while warfare is extremely cruel. These two phenomena, which seem diametrically opposite, coexisted within the minds of the missionaries in China. Agnes Smedley, who had been observing them for many years, wrote that for missionary work, war was a gift from God. This was quite a bold statement, but aspects of the missionaries’ behavior make it ring true.

When the fighting began, the missionaries formed an International Red Cross Committee. Then they distributed medicines and money sent from overseas as they saw fit. Only those who had some connection with Christianity could benefit from the medicine and money. At first glance, their intentions seemed good, but let us have a look at the International Red Cross Committee.

The Red Cross operated in China, as it did in every nation of the world. However, only the Swiss organization (International Committee of the Red Cross) could rightfully use this name in any form. The committee formed by the missionaries in Nanking had absolutely no connection with the Red Cross, although in naming it, they implied that it did. They used it as a ploy to collect donations, which were used only for Christian causes.

Smedley noted that Christian churches served as a refuge from the Japanese military for innumerable Chinese civilians, who were given food and shelter, and of course, sermons.

Even in defeated Nanking, people gathered at Nanking University to hear the missionaries preach. Church activities continued at the two churches located within the Safety Zone, and at three additional locations, without interruption.

Now we know why the missionaries created the Safety Zone, turned it into a dangerous place, and insisted that it continue to exist. To them, the world began and ended with proselytizing. Given that point of view, war was to be welcomed with open arms.

The missionaries established the Safety Zone, where they gathered Nanking’s civilians. They preached to the assembled citizenry. They weren’t unnerved by chaos in the Safety Zone. As long as there was chaos, the Safety Zone could continue to exist. Chaos, too, was to be welcomed with open arms.

Life in Nanking returns to normal: wounded Japanese soldiers enjoy a moment in the
spring sunshine at a field hospital

Nanking’s Christian missionaries created the Safety Zone and the International Red Cross Committee. They clung to both as long as they could.

How did the Japanese military perceive the missionaries in Nanking? The answer can be found in contemporary Japanese records, which tell us that at first, the missionaries attempted to rescue farmers living outside the city, but that attempt ended in failure. Then they turned their attention to saving refugees in the city. Both projects were intended to defend their already acquired power base, and to serve as publicity that would win them popularity. Japanese military authorities had seen through the missionaries’ posturing and accurately guessed their strategy.


When 1938 dawned, everyone believed that the Second Sino-Japanese War, which had begun in July 1937, would soon be over. After all, Nanking had fallen at the end of that year. It was a bright cheerful New Year’s Day, with no more conflicts in sight and a thriving economy.

On January 6, 1938, a document arrived at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo. It was not the sort of thing that one would welcome at a festive time of year. Far from that: it was a report from Nanking claiming that Japanese military personnel were looting and committing rapes there.

When the Japanese attacked Nanking, Christian missionaries who had remained in the city formed an organization called the International Committee. In the name of that committee, they sent protests to the Japanese Consulate in the form of a report accusing Japanese soldiers of looting and other crimes. Consular officials wired Tokyo with news of the report, and forwarded it to the consulate in Shanghai. The report that arrived on January 6 had been sent from Nanking.

At that time, the most important bureau in the Foreign Ministry was the East Asia Bureau. For that reason, the report was delivered immediately to Ishii Itaro, the head of that bureau. Ishii sent a copy to the head of the Military Affairs Bureau at the Ministry of the Army, and apprised his superior, Foreign Minister Hirota Koki, of the report.

The foreign minister was shocked at the news. Concerned, he asked Gen. Sugiyama Hajime, the Minister of the Army, to exercise the strictest severity in addressing the matter. Hirota also instructed the head of the East Asia Bureau to take expeditious action. The bureau chief replied that he intended to caution the Army, and had asked the head of the Military Affairs Section to take the matter up at a liaison conference involving the Foreign Ministry and the ministries of the Army and Navy, scheduled to take place within a few days.

Several days after the telegram was received, the report itself arrived at the Foreign Ministry. It stated that approximately 10 incidents occurred each day in Nanking. (The report contained accounts of several hundred incidents.)

Ishii, the head of the East Asia Bureau, informed Hirota when the report, written in English, arrived. The foreign minister again instructed Ishii to handle the matter. Ishii showed the report to the head of the Military Affairs Section at the liaison conference, asking that the sternest measures be taken. At the conference, the section chief replied that he had already issued orders to that effect to troops in Nanking. A separate protest was lodged with Hirota, on January 17, by Joseph Grew, the American ambassador. It stated that Japanese troops had infringed upon American interests in Nanking and Hangzhou, and desecrated the American flag. Hirota addressed this protest immediately, as he had the report from Nanking.

On January 20, orders were again issued to Japanese troops in Nanking. Before the month was out, Maj.-Gen. Homma Masaharu, assistant chief of staff at Headquarters of the General Staff, was on his way to Nanking.

It is clear that Foreign Minister Hirota took immediate action upon receiving telegrams from the Japanese consulates in China, and the protest from Ambassador Grew. The same can be said of the Ministry of the Army, which took similar action at the request of the Foreign Ministry.

The International Committee’s reports stated that more than 500 crimes were committed between December 13 and February 7. Seventy percent of them were committed in December. There were fewer cases once 1938 began. But even in the last third of January, there were 76 crimes. The report covering the end of January was sent to the Foreign Ministry in February.

East Asia Bureau chief’s damning testimony

Eight years after the reports were received, the Tokyo Trials began. Foreign Minister Hirota Koki was held responsible for alleged Japanese atrocities in Nanking. The prosecutor asked Hirota why, given that incidents were occurring at the end of January, he did not instruct the East Asia Bureau chief to convene additional liaison conferences, instead of simply asking Army Minister Sugiyama to handle the matter with utmost stringency and consulting several times with the East Asia Bureau chief. The prosecutor was suggesting that if Hirota had handled the matter more appropriately, the crimes would have ended much sooner.

East Asia Bureau chief Ishii Itaro was scheduled to respond to the charge by testifying on behalf of Hirota. Why hadn’t the foreign minister brought the matter before a Cabinet meeting? Why hadn’t the Cabinet Council considered it? Pressed by Prosecutor Comyns-Carr, Ishii responded that the matter in question was not within the purview of either the Cabinet or the Cabinet Council. He added that the foreign minister had done everything possible within the scope of his and the Ministry’s authority.

At that time, Ishii stated that when warnings were sent to troops in Nanking, the incidents were on the wane. However, when asked repeatedly when the foreign minister received the report from Shanghai, and when the warning was sent to the troops in Nanking, Ishii offered the same answers. But he did add that, in his opinion, the warning issued to the troops in China had not been stern enough, because another report arrived in February.

That part of Ishii’s testimony undermined an earlier portion in which he said that Hirota’s response had been appropriate. When the defense attorneys cross-examined him, they asked him if he believed the contents of the reports.

These exchanges between prosecution or defense and witness took place in October 1947 during the oral arguments on behalf of individual defendants. Five months earlier, in May, during the defense rebuttal, Hidaka Shinrokuro, a counselor at the Foreign Ministry, testified that the great majority of the reports were based on hearsay, and were therefore unreliable.

Since Ishii had stated that Hirota could have handled the matter more appropriately, the defense attorneys again asked if the reports were reliable, hoping that the witness would say they were not, in which case Hirota should not be charged.

However, Ishii’s response betrayed both the expectations of the defense attorneys and Hidaka’s testimony. The East Asia Bureau chief stated, with certainty, that he believed that most of the accounts in the reports were factual, placing Minister Hirota in an even more unfavorable position.

Ishii Itaro was in the habit of keeping a diary. Here are the entries he posted near the beginning of the year, when documents began arriving at the Foreign Ministry:

Wednesday, January 6

Incoming correspondence from Shanghai. Detailed accounts of horrible, violent acts committed by our soldiers — rapes, looting. Is this the Imperial Army? The manifestation of the death of Japanese morals, perhaps? An enormous societal problem!

On the day the protest from Ambassador Grew arrived, Ishii wrote the following:

Monday, January 17

Received strongest protest from the U.S. ambassador stating that Japanese soldiers repeatedly broke into American residences in Nanking and Hangzhou, looting and committing violent acts. Away from home, they’re rotten to the core. They must be bound by humanitarian principles.

Ishii had known about crimes allegedly committed by Japanese troops in Nanking from the outset. He was shocked and saddened. When he testified in defense of the foreign minister, he obediently told what he knew about the matter, and by doing so, sealed Hirota’s fate.

There was absolutely nothing the defense could use to counter Ishii’s testimony. Consequently, Hirota was forced to take responsibility for the so-called Nanking Incident, because he knew about the crimes, but failed to combat them appropriately.

Seven of the 11 judges voted in favor of sentencing the six men tried together with Hirota to death by hanging. Only six out of the 11 voted against Hirota. The verdict against the foreign minister was so unexpected that in early winter, when it was handed down, a grassroots campaign began for the commutation of his sentence. Note that absolutely no criticism of the occupying forces was countenanced at the time. Despite the fear that there might be retribution against anyone connected with a petition campaign more than 100,000 residents of Tokyo and Fukuoka, Hirota’s birthplace, signed the petition.

If Ishii Itaro had not stated that he believed most of the charges in the report from Nanking were accurate, Hirota might have been able to avoid the gallows.

Japanese soldiers and Chinese children enjoying the feats of a magician in Nanking

In addition to Ishii Itaro, other diplomats testified about the situation in Nanking. Kamimura Shin’ichi was a subordinate of Ishii’s who headed the First Section of the East Asia Bureau. He was as saddened by the violence in Nanking as Ishii, and put his thoughts in writing at a later date.

The Japanese soldiers who entered Nanking were hardened by long years of warfare. Consequently, when they breached the city walls, they shocked the world with their violence — looting, assaulting and murdering. For the first time since the Boxer Rebellion the discipline of Japanese military personnel that won them international respect, has collapsed. Japan had already been spiritually defeated.

Another young diplomat, Hogen Shinsaku, was working as telegraph operator at the Japanese Embassy in Germany in late 1937. Decades later, in his memoirs, he wrote about the fall of Nanking and the “unspeakable” telegram received by the Embassy that “shocked the world.”

What shocked me during my stint as an attaché and telegraph operator was the Nanking Incident. It is true that Japanese soldiers who pursued fleeing Chinese troops and occupied Nanking (on December 13, 1937) committed acts of unspeakable violence in that city. East Asia Bureau chief Ishii Itaro asked the head of the Ministry of the Army’s Military Affairs Bureau to correct the lapses in military discipline; Foreign Minister Hirota had asked the Minister of the Army to restrain the troops in Nanking. Army authorities dispatched Assistant Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Homma to Nanking, and the problems finally began to subside.

During the hostilities in Nanking , Japan continued to maintain diplomatic relations with China. Ambassador Yu Shiying was still in Tokyo, and his counterpart, Kawagoe Shigeru, remained in Shanghai. The Japanese Consulate in Shanghai functioned as an embassy; most of the Japanese diplomats in China were in Shanghai. Some of them have also left us their testimony.

For instance, Ito Nobufumi, envoy at large in Shanghai in 1937, answered a query about Nanking from the prosecution at the Tokyo Trials as follows:

I gathered information for use in discussions between the diplomats in Shanghai and groups of foreign journalists. At the time, I received reports from the diplomatic corps and newspaper reporters that Japanese troops had committed atrocities in Nanking.

Ito testified that he had obtained information about events in Nanking from foreign nationals. This aspect of his testimony coincides with the statements of Kamimura and Hogen.

Okazaki Katsuo, consul at large in Shanghai, submitted a sworn affidavit to the prosecution at the Tokyo Trials. Unlike Ito, Okazaki traveled to Nanking several days after the city fell, and remained there for about a week. He returned there in January and February of the following year. His affidavit was not submitted to the tribunal, most likely because the prosecutors decided that it would not be helpful to their case. An excerpt follows:

When I first arrived on the scene, the situation had worsened considerably. The troops were totally uncontrolled. (…) While I was in Nanking, Gen. Matsui was there as well. Later, when I discussed the situation in the city with him, he said, “I have absolutely no explanation.” I am assuming that he was referring either to the guilty parties or to all military personnel.

There were other diplomats who visited Nanking. When the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out, Hidaka Shinrokuro was the Japanese consul-general in Nanking. He returned to Tokyo in the middle of August 1937, but later headed back to China. By the time Nanking fell, he had risen to the rank of counselor. On December 16, a few days after the Japanese occupation commenced, Hidaka ventured into Nanking, where he remained for six days. He later returned to the city several times. Earlier, we mentioned that Hidaka testified that the missionaries’ reports were not reliable. Here is what he said.

Immediately after Nanking fell, chaos reigned. However, as the days passed, the situation grew calmer. By January 1, 1938, the Self-Government Committee, whose members were Chinese residents of the city, was formed. It soon began to minister to the needs of the city. Since the Committee also served as liaison between the Japanese military and the residents, the number of incidents causing misunderstanding and suspicion decreased significantly. By the end of March a new government had been established. Once its authority extended to the region on the lower reaches of the Yangtze, the lives of ordinary citizens became a great deal more pleasant.

Although Hidaka states that calm was eventually restored, he describes a chaotic situation immediately after the city fell. He does not provide any details about the chaos. But in 1971, he shared his recollections with writer Shiroyama Saburo.

It was intense. Dead bodies all over the place. When you walked around, you’d hear the thudding sound of bullets hitting flesh. I knew something had to be done, so I went over to the captain, the head of the Military Police.

“Go out into the streets,” I said. “If you find a soldier out there who doesn’t have a weapon in his hands, I’ll salute him.”

The captain said that he only had 14 MPs at his disposal, and that they were all busy preparing for the ceremonial entry scheduled for the next day (December 17). But when I wouldn’t back down, he put on his uniform, even though he’d just taken a bath, got into a truck with a subordinate and drove off. He told me that he struck so many soldiers who were looting and raping with his saber that it got bent.

Another diplomat had visited Nanking prior to the arrival of Okazaki or Hidaka. An attaché , his name was Fukuda Tokuyasu. He was the first diplomat to arrive in Nanking, on December 14. Here is what he wrote about the situation there, in 1979.

It is true that immediately after the fall of Nanking, Japanese military personnel were extremely bloodthirsty. They had run into tremendous resistance from Chinese troops, and some of them were shivering in tattered summer uniforms, due to the rushed nature of the advance. During that advance, food supplies ran low. Severe malnutrition could certainly be cited as the main motivation for looting. Moreover, Chinese stragglers wearing civilian clothing had infiltrated the Safety Zone. When Japanese soldiers inspected certain houses, they would find caches of weapons hidden in the ceilings. The incidents that erupted can be attributed to abnormal events spawned by an abnormal situation: warfare.

However, I never saw corpses lying about in the streets, a scene Rev. Magee claimed he had seen when he testified at the Tokyo Trials. I did see a corpse floating in the creek once.


I was troubled by the fact that the embassies of other nations had been vandalized. Since the diplomatic corps of all the nations involved would soon be returning to Nanking, we spent two arduous 24-hour days making repairs, and paying compensation for stolen motorcycles and automobiles around the clock. I understand that one staff officer confronted a soldier committing a rape and hit him so hard with his sword that it bent. I also heard from a Chinese and another staff officer that a division commander ordered his men to kill and burn.

Like Hidaka and other diplomats, Fukuda paints a picture of chaos in the streets of Nanking. He mentions that military discipline had broken down, and that the property of foreign nations had been trespassed upon. Unlike the other diplomats, however, Fukuda states that he witnessed none of the horrors mentioned by Hidaka or by others at the Tokyo Trials, and never saw corpses in the streets.

Another attaché, Kasuya Takao, went to Nanking in January 1938. When he arrived there, diplomats from the U.S. and Europe had returned to Nanking. Kasuya set about negotiating with them. Together with Fukuda Tokuyasu, Kasuya tackled a variety of problems, which he described as follows, in 1985.

(The situation in Nanking) was normal. There was nothing out of the ordinary. Stores were open, some of them run by Japanese. There was no massacre, or anything like that.

Kasuya rejects both crimes and chaos. Witnesses testified at the Tokyo Trials that looting and other crimes had continued for six weeks. Missionaries submitted their crime reports as late as February. Therefore, when Kasuya arrived in Nanking in January, crimes were still being committed.

Reports with no factual basis

The testimonies of more than a few diplomats conversant with the situation in Nanking in late 1937 and early 1938 are available to us. But despite the fact that they all describe the same period of time, they are surprisingly different in content. Comparing them, however, we notice something very pertinent: the testimonies of diplomats who were in Tokyo or Berlin differ markedly from those of men who saw what was happening in Nanking with their own eyes.

Diplomats who never set foot in Nanking mention a spate of crimes committed by Japanese soldiers, and state that Nanking had become the scene of unspeakable tragedy. On the other hand, their colleagues who actually visited Nanking describe a city in chaos, but not irretrievably so.

There are other differences, depending on how long the diplomat in question remained in Nanking. Those who were there for only a short time write of chaos and confusion; those who were there for a lengthier stay disagree.

Diplomats who were in Tokyo or Berlin (Ishii, Kamimura and Hogen) concede to all crimes alleged in the missionaries’ reports. Diplomats who went to Nanking in the early days of the occupation, however (Fukuda, who was there from December till March; and Kasuya, who was there from January through October), reject the accusations of Japanese atrocities in Nanking.

Additionally, Okazaki Katsuo and Hidaka Shinrokuro, whose stays in Nanking were briefer, both concede that there were lapses in military discipline, but mention nothing about murders. Their perspectives are about midway between those of Fukuda and Kasuya, and those of the men who never went to Nanking. How do we explain these discrepancies?

Ishii Itaro, head of the East Asia Bureau, who testified on behalf of Hirota Koki at the Tokyo Trials, wrote that his perception of events in Nanking was shaped by the missionaries’ reports.

Kamimura Shin’ichi, who headed the East Asia Bureau’s First Section, stated that his source of information about the situation in Nanking was the missionaries’ reports:

Missionaries who remained in Nanking and other foreigners formed a joint committee to aid Chinese refugees. That committee and other parties sent protests, reports and photographs describing atrocities committed by Japanese military personnel — so many that our office was filled with them. The photographs were so horrible that they were painful to look at.

Deputy Foreign Minister Horinouchi Kensuke also wrote about the missionaries’ reports. He stated that foreign missionaries sent reports to the U.S. and other foreign nations, copies of which were delivered to the Foreign Ministry. Horinouchi says they recorded “unspeakable” acts of violence.

Therefore, we know for certain that the source of information for Foreign Ministry staff members who had heard about crimes in Nanking, or who acknowledged that crimes had been committed, was the missionaries’ reports. Hogen learned about the crimes by reading the telegrams that went back and forth.

And we have testimony describing how the reports were prepared from Fukuda Tokuyasu, who received protests from the missionaries on a daily basis.

During that time, I went to the office of the International Committee, which some foreigners had formed, almost every day. An endless stream of Chinese would go there, to file reports like, “Five Japanese soldiers are raping a 10-year-old girl somewhere on Shanghai Road.” Or “An 80-year-old woman was raped.” And Rev. Fitch would type out their complaints right in front of me.

“Just a moment,” I would say. “You’re going to record these incidents without verifying them?” And then I would accompany them to the supposed scene of the crime, and there would be nothing there. No one there. No one even living there.

Early one morning in the middle of a snowstorm, we received a protest from the American Embassy: “In Xiaguan, Japanese soldiers are stealing lumber belonging to the U.S.” Staff Officer Hongo Tadao and I braved the weather and went to Xiaguan with someone from the American Embassy. There was no sign of such a crime. We received many such complaints every day.

Now we know how the reports were prepared. Accusations that were totally fictitious were recorded, even when there was no supporting evidence.

Others have testified about the reliability of the missionaries’ records. Hidaka Shinrokuro, to whom we referred earlier, a counselor at the Foreign Ministry who arrived in Nanking two days after Fukuda, wrote the following:

Foreign residents of Nanking sent accounts of acts supposedly committed by Japanese military personnel to the Consulate. Most of the charges were based on hearsay. The Consulate lacked the resources to investigate every single case. Therefore, its staff members passed the information they had received on to the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo (I read copies of them in Shanghai). In Nanking, we contacted the military directly, and cautioned them.

Similarly, Consul Okazaki Katsuo, who arrived in Nanking after Fukuda, and who received the missionaries’ reports, wrote the following.

The International Committee sent reports on assaults claimed to have been committed within the city limits to the Japanese Consulate. While I was in Nanking, committee members came to the Consulate almost every day to tell me what was happening in the city.

He does not state that the accusations had been verified. Apparently, he meant to say that they had not been verified.

The two men’s testimony corroborates Fukuda’s statement in some ways; it certainly does not repudiate it. Therefore, we can assume that Fukuda’s description of the missionaries’ reports is accurate.

As Hidaka stated, the reports were not verified.

The same reports were sent to the Foreign Ministry, without any attempt having been made to determine whether they were true, perhaps because the consular staff had no time to investigate, or perhaps because they emanated from foreign nationals. But when they were sent, no one told the Ministry that what was written in them was total fiction, or that they had not been investigated.

Earlier we mentioned that Ito Nobufumi, envoy at large in Shanghai, stated that he “did not attempt to verify” information obtained from foreign diplomats or reporters in Shanghai. He simply summarized them for the foreign minister. Therefore, information emanating from Shanghai was never verified, either.

Fallacious reports send Hirota Koki to the gallows

It appears that the discrepancies between the testimonies provided by Japanese diplomats at the Foreign Ministry and diplomats who visited Nanking can be traced to the missionaries’ reports. The same can be said of the differences between testimonies of diplomats who were actually in Nanking: those of Fukuda and Kasuya vs. those of Okazaki and Hidaka.

Diplomats in Tokyo based their impressions of the situation in Nanking on the missionaries’ reports. They were unaware of the circumstances under which the reports were prepared, so believed that they were accurate.

Fukuda Tokuyasu was the person who actually received the reports. And since he received them on a daily basis, he knew how they were prepared, and gave them no credence. He had seen Nanking with his own eyes, and he described what he had seen. Kasuya Takao had no dealings with the International Committee, and could describe only his impression of Nanking, which was that nothing extraordinary had happened there.

Consul Okazaki Katsuo and Hidaka Shinrokuro traveled to Nanking and witnessed the situation there. They received reports from the International Committee and knew they were unreliable. But they were influenced by the reports, partly because they were not in Nanking for any appreciable length of time.

Diplomats who hadn’t been to Nanking believed the reports. The difference in opinion between diplomats who were in Nanking for a long time and those who were not also stems from the reports. Those who were there only briefly were more heavily influenced by the reports.

Street scene in Nanking two months into the Japanese occupation

The consul and his staff took care of daily business at the consulate in Nanking. But Fukuda and Kasuya, who spent a significant amount of time moving about the city, were more familiar with the situation in Nanking than anyone else on the consular staff. Thus, we can assume that the testimonies of Fukuda and Kasuya, who were least influenced by the reports, reflect the actual situation in Nanking. Fukuda described the reports as unverified. Then, how much of the reports’ contents were uncorroborated?

Refugees selling their wares at an open-air market

The following incident is described in a report submitted to the Japanese Consulate on December 19, 1937.

On the evening of December 16, two Japanese officers and two soldiers entered a private home. They expelled a man from the house and raped a woman who failed to escape. One of the soldiers left his shirt behind..

However, it was later determined that the culprit was a resident of the house, a Chinese. An addendum to that effect was added to the account. But the case file stated that Japanese had committed the crime, and it was the case file that was sent to Tokyo.

An English-language newspaper published in Shanghai (the China Press) reported that on December 28, in the Safety Zone, 23 high-ranking Chinese officers, including the deputy commander of the 88th Division of the Nationalist Army, 54 junior officers, and 1,498 privates and corporals were apprehended. The deputy commander had fomented anti-Japanese sentiment and strife. The head of the peace preservation forces and three subordinates had looted, and raped and intimidated city residents. A great many weapons, including cannons, were discovered.

The January 4, 1938 edition of The New York Times carried an article describing the following incident.

American professors remaining at Ginling College in Nanking … were seriously embarrassed to discover that they had been harboring a deserted Chinese Army colonel and six of his subordinate officers. The professors had, in fact, made the colonel second in authority at the refugee camp. [The Chinese] confessed their identity after Japanese Army searchers found they had hidden six rifles, five revolvers, and a dismounted machine gun and ammunition in the building.

The ex-Chinese officers … confessed looting in Nanking and also that one night they dragged girls from the refugee camp into the darkness and the next day blamed Japanese soldiers for the attacks.

In February 1938, Japanese newspapers (Asahi Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun) reported similar incidents.

Since claims that Japanese military personnel had committed repeated atrocities had reached foreign shores, the Japanese military police launched an investigation. They learned that a dozen Chinese had looted and committed acts of violence in the Safety Zone. The apprehended Chinese were fluent in Japanese, so it was easy to convince residents of Nanking that the perpetrators were Japanese, and that aspect slowed the discovery of their crimes. Most of the criminals were Nanking police officers who pretended to be interpreters for the Japanese military.

Incidents involving Chinese masquerading as Japanese were described in newspapers in Shanghai, the U.S. and Japan. The missionaries’ reports must also have contained accounts of these crimes.

There are records available that allow us to estimate how many such crimes were committed.

Prof. Miner Bates, who prepared the reports, was asked at the Tokyo Trials whether the crimes in question were indeed committed by Japanese military personnel. He responded that Japanese soldiers were not wearing any identification that showed their names or serial numbers. For the first few weeks of the occupation, they weren’t wearing anything that showed the names of their units, so witnesses were unable to determine or report their names. Even in a sworn affidavit, Bates stated that Japanese soldiers wore no identification for several months. Was he telling the truth?

In fact, Japanese military personnel wore lapel badges sewn securely to their uniforms: infantrymen wore scarlet badges, transport corpsmen wore dark blue badges, and engineers wore dark brown badges. There were other identifying appurtenances as well.

The 7th Infantry Regiment from Kanazawa conducted the sweep of the Safety Zone. Its soldiers wore white fabric patches on their left breasts, measuring approximately 2cm long by 5cm wide, with their names on them. Next to that was affixed a 2-cm-square piece of red fabric with the name of the regiment on it. Both patches were sewn to the soldiers’ shirts, and could not be temporarily detached.

At about the same time, the 20th Regiment from Fukuchiyama was conducting a sweep on both sides of Zhongshan North Road. All of its men had white triangular patches sewn to the sleeves of their uniforms.

Every man in the 33rd Infantry Regiment from Tsu, which took charge of security in the southern half of Nanking after the 7th Infantry Regiment departed, wore a patch in the middle of the left breast about the size of a pickled plum with a red circle printed on it. They were also referred to as the “pickled plum unit,” and once the patch had been sewn on, it was impossible to detach. Some, though not all, members of the regiment from Tsu wore patches with their names on them — different patches for each company.

Therefore, all Japanese infantrymen wore badges, and the great majority of them wore patches that identified their regiments, and many had patches with their names on them.

The soldiers Prof. Bates saw were not Japanese soldiers, which leaves exactly one possibility: they were Chinese soldiers.

Chinese troops had used uniforms for fraudulent purposes in the past as well. For instance, in a 1927 battle between Zhang Zongchang and Chiang Kai-shek, Zhang’s soldiers stole uniforms from Chiang’s forces. Wearing them, Zhang’s men plundered foreign consulates, thus ensuring that Chiang’s men would be blamed for their evil deeds.

When the Japanese captured Nanking, the defenders of the city, the 88th Division of the Nationalist Army, wore khaki uniforms very similar to those worn by the conquering army. Therefore, it would have required very little effort on the part of the Chinese to impersonate Japanese soldiers.

Other records also suggest that the perpetrators of crimes were Chinese soldiers. On January 1, 1938, the Self-Government Committee, all of whose members were Chinese, was established. Its first priority was restoring public peace. Ten days after it was formed, the Nanking City Police Department was established; Nanking now had a police force. During the period between January 11 and the end of February, the police arrested Chinese suspects in 500 cases.

How was public order maintained during the month before the Police Department began operating?

According to reports submitted by the missionaries, even very minor crimes that the Japanese had allegedly committed were recorded. To cite two examples, (1) a Japanese soldier grabbed a cooking pot at a soup kitchen and dumped out the rice gruel that it contained, and (2) a Japanese soldier climbed a wall and entered the home of the chairman of the International Committee; when the chairman returned, the trespasser ran away.

The committee recorded 500 cases like those, but not one in which a Chinese suspect was involved. According to the missionaries’ diaries, before the Japanese entered Nanking, Chinese policemen apprehended prowlers and consulted the International Committee as to how they should be punished. Given those entries, it would seem that any crimes committed after the mayor of Nanking decamped on December 7 were reported to the International Committee. However, according to the missionaries’ records, only one crime (involving a prowler) was recorded during the month before the Japanese entered Nanking.

During the month between the day Nanking fell, December 13, 1937 and the inauguration of the Nanking Police Department, the International Committee reported over 500 crimes allegedly committed by Japanese. During a period of approximately the same length (between mid-January and the end of February, 1938), the Nanking Police Department arrested Chinese suspects in approximately 500 cases. Since the number of Chinese in the city remained constant, we can assume that the same number of crimes were committed in the previous month.

We can explain this anomaly if we assume that all crimes committed by Chinese during this period of time were attributed to Japanese military personnel. Japanese soldiers within the city limits of Nanking accounted for less than 10% of the population after the city fell. Within a week, most Japanese military personnel had left Nanking, and those remaining represented only a few percent of the population. Even if Japanese soldiers had committed crimes, they would have necessarily been far fewer than those perpetrated by Chinese.

A Chinese witness described the state of public order in the Safety Zone.

Soldiers of China’s Central Army would come around at any time of night or day, brandishing their bayonets. They searched the refugees and took anything they found away from them — food or other possessions. Even if someone had only a copper or two, the soldiers would snatch the coins away. More than anything else we feared the kidnappers, who abducted both men and women. Many single men were kidnapped and used as laborers. At night, the kidnappers took women and girls. The abuses of Central Army troops were simply unbearable.


What War Means: The Japanese Terror in China is the shocking title of a book containing accounts of Japanese atrocities allegedly perpetrated in Nanking during a six-month period at the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The book was published in Great Britain in July 1938.

In 1945, Japan was defeated in World War II. In October 1946, Lt.-Gen. Tani Hisao was brought to trial at a military tribunal in Nanking, accused of responsibility for the Nanking “massacre.” Two more Japanese officers were indicted in 1947. All three men were shot to death by a firing squad in Yuhuatai on the outskirts of Nanking.

During the court proceedings, What War Means: The Japanese Terror in China (hereafter referred to as What War Means) was cited as evidence. Over the years, it became accepted as a key source of information about the aftermath of the Battle of Nanking.

A single book dominates Nanking “massacre” court proceedings

The compiler and editor of What War Means was Harold Timperley, an Australian whom the Manchester Guardian, a British newspaper, hired as its China correspondent. He arrived in China soon after World War I ended. His first job there was as a correspondent for Reuters, the news agency. Timperley reported on China for more than 10 years. He left to cover the Spanish Civil War, but returned to Shanghai when the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out. By then, the 39-year-old journalist was in the prime of life. He even counted some Japanese among his friends.

At the time, there were two types of newspapers in Great Britain: one read by the upper classes and the other, by the masses. The Manchester Guardian fell into the former category, and its circulation was second only to that of the Times. Since What War Means was produced by a correspondent for such a highly respected newspaper, readers gave credence to its contents.

After Timperley finished work on What War Means, he returned to Great Britain. However, not many people know what he did after he edited the book. For that matter, not many people were familiar with the book itself. What War Means was issued exactly one year after the Second Sino-Japanese War ended. It contains observations and letters contributed by American missionaries residing in Nanking, all of them with pseudonymous attributions. In addition to the English edition of the book, Chinese, Japanese and French editions were published. It is customary to obtain a copyright when publishing a translation. However, the Japanese edition omits the names of the original publisher and the publisher of the Japanese translation. These facts alone tell us that What War Means is no ordinary publication.

They also inspire suspicion in anyone interested in the events that transpired in Nanking during the Japanese occupation. One wonders: What motivated Timperley to compile this book? One of the first scholars to harbor such suspicions was the acclaimed writer Suzuki Akira, whose Illusion of a Massacre in Nanking was issued in 1973.

Timperley did have some Japanese acquaintances, three of whom are mentioned in the foreword of What War Means: Hidaka Shinrokuro, a counselor at the Japanese Consulate in Shanghai; Matsumoto Shigeharu, president of the Shanghai branch of Domei News Agency; and Maj. Utsunomiya Naokata of the Special Services Section attached to Shanghai Expeditionary Army Headquarters. Their names do not appear, but Timperley writes in such a way that knowledgeable readers would know exactly who is meant.

Suzuki Akira felt that he needed to know more about Timperley. First, he met with Hidaka Shinrokuro, whom he asked about Timperley.

In October 1937, three months after the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, a foreign national approached Japanese residents of Shanghai, saying that he wanted to set up a special zone for Chinese refugees. That foreign national was Harold Timperley. At that time, the liaison to the Japanese community was Hidaka Shinrokuro. Timperley’s introduction to Hidaka marked the beginning of the two men’s acquaintanceship.

Hidaka’s response to Suzuki Akira’s question about Timperley was positive: “He was a young man, somewhat eccentric, but with a strong sense of justice.” When asked about Timperley’s having edited a book that condemned Japan, Hidaka answered, “He certainly didn’t seem anti-Japanese. It would be more accurate to call him a naive pacifist.”

Hidaka was not overly critical of What War Means, either: “The foreigners in Nanking wanted to tell the world how desperate their situation was. Therefore, they made it seem much worse than it was, which is understandable. Details aside, I found most of the basic events described in the book acceptable.”

The foreword of What War Means tells why the book was compiled. In it, Timperley writes:

It is by no means the purpose of this book to stir up animosity against the Japanese people.


The aim of this book is to give the world as accurately as possible, the facts about the Japanese Army’s treatment of the Chinese civilian population in the 1937-8 hostilities so that war may be recognized for the detestable business it really is and thus be stripped of the false glamour with which militarist megalomaniacs seek to invest it.

He states that he had no intention of fomenting anti-Japanese sentiment, but merely wanted readers to realize how hateful war is. Hidaka didn’t think that Timperley was anti-Japanese, and Timperley himself writes in the foreword that What War Means is not an anti-Japanese book. Though Suzuki Akira doubted that Timperley was truly neutral, his suspicions were not confirmed in his interchange with Hidaka.

At about the time when Suzuki met with Hidaka, the first installment of Matsumoto Shigeharu’s recollections of his days as president of the Domei News Agency’s Shanghai branch appeared in the monthly magazine Rekishi to jinbutsu (History and people) under the title “My Sojourn in Shanghai: Memoirs of Matsumoto Shigeharu.” Further installments were carried by the same publication over the next few years. In them Matsumoto mentions Timperley several times. The series was later published in book form.

Both Matsumoto and Timperley were journalists working in Shanghai; they became acquainted two or three years before the Second Sino-Japanese War erupted. The idea of establishing a safe zone for Chinese refugees was broached by a French missionary, who consulted Timperley. The Australian, in turn, spoke to his acquaintance, Matsumoto Shigeharu, who referred him to Hidaka Shinrokuro.

About Timperley, Matsumoto wrote the following in “My Sojourn in Shanghai:”

He was humanitarian in principle, and had a strong sense of justice.


He seemed more like a scholar than a journalist. He had a strong conscience. His demeanor was more rough-hewn than polished. However, he had a friendly face and seemed ideal for the liberalistic Manchester Guardian. I always respected him.

Matsumoto Shigeharu’s opinion of Timperley was even more favorable than Hidaka’s. About What War Means, Matsumoto wrote:

In April 1938, Harold Timperley, with whom I had worked in connection with the establishment of the Jacquinot Safety Zone, came to our Shanghai bureau to tell me he would be publishing a book entitled Japanese Terror in China. He then launched into a high-minded speech: “This book does a disservice to all decent Japanese, but I wanted to tell the world that war is regrettable and odious, and that it changes human beings for the worse. But I have, in fact, edited an anti-Japanese publication despite having obtained the kind cooperation of both you and Mr. Hidaka when we established the refugee zone in Nanshi. It causes me great pain to repay your kindness with ill will, which is what I seem to be doing. Please note, however, that in my foreword I have expressed my respect for the two of you, although in view of the current situation, I refrained from mentioning your names. I beg you to perceive this book as nothing more than a collection of anti-war writings.”

What War Means certainly was anti-Japanese, but according to Timperley, that was not its intent. He stated that it was merely an anti-war book, and asked that Matsumoto accept it as such. Matsumoto complied.

Even if Hidaka Shinrokuro was unable to remove the anti-Japanese aspect of the book completely from his mind, Matsumoto had no such qualms. Matsumoto had been convinced that Timperley was neutral, and the book was not intended to malign Japan.

The third of the three men to whom Timperley alluded to was Maj. Utsunomiya Naokata. When the Second Sino-Japanese War commenced, Utsunomiya was a military attaché at the Japanese Consulate in Shanghai. When the Shanghai Expeditionary Army landed in August, he was assigned to its Special Services Section.

At that time, there were more than 100 foreign journalists in Shanghai. They hailed from the U.S., Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy and other nations. When fighting began in Shanghai, the reporters went to both Chinese and Japanese headquarters on a daily basis to receive bulletins about the war situation. Both sides issued bulletins that put them in a good light. The journalists compared them, and added the results of their own investigations and their own opinions.

Maj. Utsunomiya was the officer who described the war situation to European and American journalists. It was at such a briefing that he and Timperley became acquainted.

Soon after the conflict erupted, the Japanese bombed Songjiang in the southwestern sector of Shanghai. When Chinese civilians were made homeless by the attack, Maj. Utsunomiya was quick to issue an official apology. His gesture won him praise and respect from Timperley. The two men became friends.

It wasn’t only Timperley who admired Maj. Utsunomiya; everyone admired him. On December 9, when the Japanese had all but surrounded Nanking, Utsunomiya received word that he would be reassigned from the Special Services Section to the Ministry of the Army’s Military Affairs Bureau. When they learned that he was leaving, the foreign journalists in Shanghai decided, as a gesture of goodwill, to have a commemorative medal made for Maj. Utsunomiya. On the day of his departure, they delivered the brand-new medal to his ship, which was just about to sail, and pinned it on his uniform. This tribute took place in the midst of a war, when every second counted for the reporters. But they stood on the pier, waving their hats and arms until his ship vanished from sight.

In 1980, after Matsumoto’s “My Sojourn in Shanghai” appeared, Utsunomiya Naokata wrote his memoirs, “Recollections of Service in China: Yellow River, Yangtze River, Zhu River.” In them he mentions Timperley.

Utsunomiya quotes from Timperley’s stated intent in the foreword of What War Means. He also writes that Timperley’s book was not intended to be hostile to the Japanese, but to convey the horrors of war. Utsunomiya adds that the Chinese published the book as propaganda, deviating from and perverting Timperley’s true purpose

Like Hidaka and Matsumoto, Utsunomiya praised Timperley’s book, and stated that it was not anti-Japanese. But he did denounce the Chinese for using it against Japan.

All three men were consistent in their respect for Timperley’s character and his book. There may have been suspicions that What War Means was anti-Japanese propaganda, but it became clear that the Japanese would have to take its contents seriously and investigate them.

At about the time when Suzuki Akira became interested in Timperley, I succeeded in locating a copy of the Japanese version (translated from the English edition) of What War Means at a second-hand bookstore. Its foreword was written by Kaji Wataru and Aoyama Kazuo, both Chinese Communist Party sympathizers. Translated from the Chinese edition, the book was entitled Japanese Atrocities Witnessed by Foreigners, and reprinted by Ryukei Shosha in Tokyo. In 1973, a new translation, based on the English edition and entitled Historical Sources on War Between Japan and China, Vol. 9, appeared.

What War Means: The Japanese Terror in China is now available in several formats. In recent years, it has been subjected to more scrutiny than at any time in the past. For instance, the names of the pseudonymous contributors are now known.

Propaganda book created in collusion with China

Harold Timperley declared that war is abhorrent, and that he had no intention of fomenting hostility toward the Japanese. Nevertheless, in the book’s conclusion, he makes the following pronouncement: Britain and the U.S. must exert economic pressure on Japanese financiers so that they will oppose the war. He exhorted the governments of the U.S. and other Western nations to prevent China’s capitulation by supplying the Chinese with weapons and financial aid. It is not possible to construe these exhortations as anything but antagonistic toward Japan.

In the foreword, Timperley also states:

Revelations of the propaganda methods used by both sides in other wars have not unnaturally caused many people to regard with scepticism any “atrocity” stories.

He then assures the reader that those who provided the accounts included in What War Means are “absolutely reliable neutral observers.”

There is nothing remarkable about this statement, but it weighed on my mind.

In World War I, Great Britain and Germany launched a propaganda war, which employed the following tactics: each side would claim, “Many falsehoods have been spread, but we speak only the truth,” then proceed to criticize the enemy.

When that method ceased to be successful, transgressors turned to the following approach to ingratiate themselves with their audience: “We do not claim to be saints. We are only human, so once in a while we transgress.” This is exactly what Timperley does in his foreword.

But this reader still cannot shrug away his suspicions about What War Means. Other aspects of Timperley’s behavior arouse further suspicion. For instance, after Nanking fell, he met with Chiang Kai-shek in Hankou. He returned to Shanghai on about January 16, 1938. One would expect a journalist to investigate the situation in a defeated city, especially a defeated capital. But Timperley went to Hankou. Why did he go? Why was he meeting with Chiang Kai-shek?

Despite the fact that all three Japanese mentioned in his foreword believed him to be neutral, I thought Timperley might have been aligned in some way with China. It is impossible not to be suspicious of him. It is impossible to read What War Means as one would read any other book. I felt compelled to investigate further.

By that time Hidaka Shinrokuro had passed away, but Matsumoto Shigeharu and Utsunomiya Naokata were still alive. I asked Matsumoto straight out if Timperley harbored ill will against Japan. I posed this question to him despite what he had written in “My Sojourn in Shanghai.”

Unsurprisingly, the reply I received jibed with what Matsumoto had written in his memoirs. I was still unsatisfied, however, so asked Utsunomiya the same question. His response? “I believe his writing reflects his beliefs and philosophy.” This matched the answers I’d gotten thus far: Timperley was motivated to edit the book solely by his hatred of war. He had no ulterior motive.

When World War II ended, Hidaka Shinrokuro was ambassador to Italy. At that time there were Japanese ambassadors only in Italy, China, Germany and a few other nations. Since Hidaka was one of them, we can be certain that he was a diplomat of the highest caliber.

At the end of the war, Matsumoto Shigeharu was managing director of the Domei News Agency, which was controlled by the government. Matsumoto was Domei’s second highest ranking official after the president. He acquired fame for his scoop on the Xian Incident. But Matsumoto was more than a journalist — he had superlative management skills, which he put to good use at Domei.

In the autumn of 1944, when a decisive battle in the Philippines was imminent, the headquarters of the 14th Area Army were completely renovated. Gen. Yamashita Tomoyuki was named commander, and Lt.-Gen. Muto Akira chief of staff. Two assistant chiefs of staff were appointed, and the force now enjoyed a reputation equal to those of the China and Southern expeditionary armies. One of the new assistant chiefs of staff was Utsunomiya Naokata, who by then had been promoted to major general.

As I have demonstrated, all three men had had distinguished careers in their fields, and were widely respected. All three had lived abroad, counted foreigners among their friends, and behaved honorably at all times. Additionally, all three felt the same way about Timperley and his book.

My suspicions notwithstanding, it was impossible to refute the three men’s responses. There was nothing more left to say.

But in 1984, a side of Timperley that hadn’t been seen before emerged. Taniguchi Iwao, a scholar specializing in the Nanking Incident, managed to locate Aoyama Kazuo, co-author of the preface to the Japanese edition of What War Means. Aoyama told him that the book had been published with funds provided by the Nationalist government’s Political Bureau.

Aoyama had become acquainted with Guo Moruo, who sought asylum in Japan due to his anti-fascist activities. In March 1937, Guo traveled to Shanghai to assist in the war against Japan. When the Second Sino-Japanese War erupted, he moved to Nanking, where he proceeded to analyze Japan’s capabilities, at the Council of International Affairs. In September, he left Nanking and traveled to Hankou via Changsha and Hanoi. Once in Hankou, he became advisor to the Supreme War Research Committee headed by Chiang Kai-shek. Guo then proceeded to form the International Volunteer Corps, whose members were Koreans and Japanese. Guo was active at the Political Bureau as well; he wrote all their antiwar leaflets, and the foreword of Timperley’s book. His given name (Aoyama Kazuo was a pseudonym) was taken from a name used by Guo Moruo.

Aoyama Kazuo was acquainted not only with Guo Moruo, but also with Chiang Kai-shek, Wang Jingwei and Zhou Enlai. He was quite familiar with the workings of the Chinese propaganda machine. His testimony is eminently credible. Maj. Utsunomiya criticized China for using Timperley’s book as propaganda. But according to Aoyama, the book began and ended its life as propaganda.

In 1986, Hata Ikuhiko wrote in The Nanking Incident that Timperley was employed by the Nationalist government’s Political Bureau. Hata makes it clear that Timperley was involved with the Political Bureau, thus corroborating Aoyama’s testimony. This revelation significantly undermines the testimonies of Hidaka, Matsumoto and Utsunomiya.

Suzuki Akira, one of the first writers to harbor suspicions about Timperley, continued to pursue the Timperley matter, even though Hidaka Shinrokuro did not share the suspicions harbored by Suzuki for a quarter of a century. Nevertheless, they were proven correct in the space of a moment. On one of several visits to China, Suzuki acquired a book entitled Biographical Dictionary of Foreign Visitors to China in the Modern Era. It includes an entry for Timperley, whose name had not appeared in any previous references of that sort.

That entry fleshes out the picture of Timperley, only part of which was previously known. Moreover, it confirms Suzuki Akira’s suspicions. Apparently, when the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out, the Nationalist government dispatched Timperley to Great Britain and the U.S. for the express purpose of spreading propaganda; the Chinese also hired him as an advisor to its Propaganda Bureau.

After checking Timperley’s entry in the reference book, Suzuki located editions of the Times and the Manchester Guardian that carried Timperley’s obituary. According to them, after his stint as correspondent to the Manchester Guardian, Timperley served as advisor to the Nationalist Propaganda Bureau; he died in 1954, nine years after Japan’s defeat in World War II.

Therefore, both Chinese and British references indicate that Timperley was not a neutral journalist by any means; he was intimately involved with Nationalist China. The testimonies of the three Japanese have crumbled completely. What War Means was decidedly not a work whose only intent was to convey the horrors of war.

Two years after Suzuki Akira found the biographical dictionary, Ritsumeikan University Professor Kitamura Minoru located a new resource, which linked Timperley and What War Means even more closely with the Chinese propaganda machine. The autobiography of Zeng Xubai, head of the International Propaganda Section, a subdivision of the Propaganda Bureau, describes Timperley’s relationship with China as follows:

When the International Propaganda Section was in the midst of an overseas propaganda campaign in Shanghai, Timperley was already part of the Chinese organization. The International Propaganda Section dispatched Timperley to Hankou. After some discussion, it was decided that Timperley would write What War Means: Japanese Terror in China, and the International Propaganda Section would fund the project. The book sold quite well, and the purpose of the propaganda was accomplished. Timperley was also entrusted with covert propagandizing for the International Propaganda Section in the U.S.

Therefore, suspicions regarding Timperley and his activities have been perfectly justified. And now we knew the following about accounts in What War Means, the primary source of “information” about events in Nanking in 1937: Since China was losing battle after battle, in Shanghai and Nanking, the Nationalists decided to launch a propaganda campaign. The International Propaganda Section attempted to publicize alleged Japanese atrocities. A search for suitable material yielded pay dirt in the form of articles in Japanese newspapers. They described a competition: a prize would be awarded to the first officer to kill 100 enemy soldiers. The International Propaganda Section pounced on those articles. The competition they described took place during a war, but in What War Means, the Chinese described it as a competition to determine the first person to kill 100 “Chinese.”

Moreover, propaganda operations targeting the missionaries remaining in Nanking were funded from their outset by the Propaganda Bureau.

This series of discoveries proves that What War Means: Japanese Terror in China was a Chinese propaganda project in which Timperley was a collaborator. It was fully intended to be anti-Japanese, and to discredit Japan. The work that spread the word about the so-called Nanking massacre and became the primary resource for subsequent investigations was pure propaganda.

In its foreword, Timperley writes: “It is by no means the purpose of this book to stir up animosity against the Japanese people.” However, in a letter to a missionary in Nanking, he wrote: “My main purpose is to expose the deliberate and inhumane cruelty of the Japanese in their treatment of individuals.” That was the real Timperley speaking.

Sixty years elapsed between the publication of the book and the discovery of the truth. During all that time, the evil origins of the book had remained safely hidden.

Timperley’s clever deceiving of three Japanese

When we compare accounts in What War Means with actual facts, it becomes even more obvious that the book is a work of propaganda. The first chapter begins as follows:

As a consequence of the Sino-Japanese hostilities which began in the summer of 1937, some eighteen million people were forced to flee from their homes in and around Shanghai, Soochow and Wusih in August, September, October, and during the course of November and December from Hangchow, Chinkiang, Wuhu and Nanking. Camps were established by Chinese and foreigners in the Shanghai International Settlement and French Concession which fed and housed, at their height, some 450,000 destitute Chinese refugees.

Since Timperley provides specific figures, most readers would believe they are accurate. But are they? At the time, the populations of the cities he mentions were: Shanghai, three million; Suzhou, 350,000; Wuxi, 950,000; Hangzhou, 450,000; Zhenzhang, 150,000; Wuhu, 150,000; Nanking, one million, for a total of six million. Even if every single Chinese in the large cities south of the lower Yangtze River had been left homeless, completely depopulating those places, the correct figure would have been six million, one third of Timperley’s figure.

In December 1938, a year after the Battle of Nanking, a survey was taken of people who were displaced from war zones in three provinces (Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui). According to a report entitled “State of the New Government,” the population in that area was 9,200,000 prior to the conflict. The number of displaced persons was 1,900,000 persons, not 18 million, as Timperley claimed, inflating the real number tenfold.

Here is Timperley’s next accusation:

At least 300,000 Chinese military casualties for the Central China campaign alone and a like number of civilian casualties were suffered.

The aforementioned statistical report includes the number of persons killed and injured in the same three provinces: 70,000 killed and 100,000 injured, for a total of 170,000 casualties. This is half the number cited by Timperley. Historical records discredit every statistic mentioned in What War Means.

When we look at how Timperley came to write the book and at its contents — in fact, when we view What War Means, from any perspective, it is propaganda. It is a useful resource for those studying the history of propaganda, perhaps, but miserably disappoints those seeking historical fact. Yet What War Means was used as evidence in a court of law in Nanking.

Eventually, Timperley traveled to the U.S., where he became head of the Trans-Pacific News Service. While there, he supplied anti-Japanese propaganda to American news organizations. Additionally, he was appointed advisor to the Nationalist Propaganda Bureau. And three Japanese respected and believed in such a man.

Diplomats travel to foreign nations, where they represent their home countries. Some of them act in good faith. But since the national interest must constantly be foremost in their thoughts, they must be acutely sensitive to their counterparts’ ulterior motives. Unfortunately, Counselor Hidaka Shinrokuro was unable to see through Timperley’s ruse.

On January 21, 1938, Timperley attempted to send an article critical of the Japanese military in Nanking to the Manchester Guardian, but was stopped by Japanese censors. At that time, Timperley argued with a Japanese spokesman at a gathering of foreign journalists. He stated that he could prove that there was Japanese violence in Nanking, submitted his article to the British Consulate, and requested that a protest be lodged against Japan.

Foreign reporters’ articles were sent from Shanghai via mail or telegraph. Items sent by mail were not subject to any restrictions. But some telegraph machines and telegraph offices were subject to censorship by the Chinese government. News reports unfavorable to China were censored. Not long after the Japanese took control of Shanghai in mid-November 1937, the Japanese imposed the same restrictions on reports that cast Japan in a bad light. Timperley made a point of objecting to limits that had been imposed previously and with which every reporter was familiar.

The military news departments and consular staff in Shanghai must have been aware of Timperley’s altercation with the Japanese spokesman, which means that Hidaka was, too. In that case, how could Hidaka have possibly thought that Timperley was a journalist with a strong sense of justice?

There were American, British, French and Japanese concessions in Shanghai, among others. Each nation’s settlement was crawling with spies who engaged in information warfare. There are three types of such warfare: espionage (acquiring information about enemy activities), counterespionage (establishing defenses against enemy activities) and operations targeting the enemy. The Chinese military’s Propaganda Section was a subscriber to Domei’s news service. In addition, the Chinese Army’s Special Services Section and Chinese manservants watched every move that Matsumoto Shigeharu and his colleagues made, so Matsumoto personally experienced China’s information warfare methods. He had also witnessed European and American reporters ingratiating themselves with prominent Chinese. But even someone as alert as Matsumoto failed to see through Timperley or his book.

Maj. Utsunomiya too was in the midst of the propaganda war unfolding in Shanghai. When Gen. Matsui Iwane, commander in chief of the Shanghai Expeditionary Army, landed in Shanghai, it was Utsunomiya who escorted Hallett Abend of the New York Times and David Fraser of the (London) Times, the leading foreign reporters in Shanghai, to a press conference with Matsui. Utsunomiya was fully aware of the importance of the information war.

John B. Powell, editor in chief of Shanghai’s English-language China Weekly Review, was viciously anti-Japanese and heartily disliked by the other foreign journalists. Maj. Utsunomiya discovered that Powell was on the payroll of the Chinese propaganda machine.

Press conferences for foreign journalists were held every day; they lasted for more than an hour. The journalists usually didn’t ask questions. They just listened to the Japanese reports with disdainful looks on their faces. Most of them sided with China, and flocked to Chinese press conferences. Accurate reports provided by the Japanese military never made it into print — only the Chinese bombast got substantial coverage. Though he was aware of that situation, Utsunomiya couldn’t see through Timperley. Did he think Timperley was so different from the other foreign journalists?

We know that all three Japanese were men of probity and integrity. Although my contact with them was very brief, I too sensed those qualities in Messrs. Matsumoto and Utsunomiya.

Several days after I visited Matsumoto Shigeharu, I heard my telephone ringing when I returned home late at night. It was Matsumoto calling. He told me he wanted to clarify something he’d said during our previous conversation that might be misinterpreted. At that time Matsumoto was 85 years old and frail. When I visited him, his secretary hovered the whole time. Even so, he telephoned me personally. At that time, answering machines were not common and in any case, my telephone wasn’t equipped with one. Since it was always late when I got home, he must have tried to call me many times. I felt very grateful.

I got the same impression of Utsunomiya Naokata. When the notion came to me of visiting him to ask about Timperley, he must have been at least 85. And when I asked him in a roundabout way about the possibility of meeting, he replied that because of his age, he preferred not to have visitors. I then wrote to him, with great trepidation, asking if he could reply to my questions in writing, since he preferred not to meet in person. I received a very courteous response.

At that time, I had been doing research on Nanking, but I hadn’t published any reports in magazines or other media. Nevertheless, Utsunomiya responded with great care to questions from someone he’d never heard of. His responses led to a further exchange of letters. Since I was asking questions, my letters were no more than two pages long, but his thoughtful responses sometimes filled five or six pages. I haven’t the slightest doubt that he was acting in good faith.

On December 9, 1937, Utsunomiya departed from Shanghai to assume a new post in Tokyo: head of the Counterespionage Section of the Military Affairs Bureau at the Ministry of the Army.

Japan had gotten off to a late start in the information war, but by the beginning of 1937, both the Ministry of the Army and the Headquarters of the General Staff had intelligence operations in place. At the Ministry of the Army, an organization that dealt primarily with counterespionage had been established within the Military Affairs Bureau. It was called the Counterespionage Section. It was a secret organization, referred to as the “Mountain” by those connected with it. Its first head was Lt.-Col. Akikusa Shun, who had pioneered the information war effort in Japan. Only a few people (the minister of the Army, for instance) were aware that the section even existed. Utsunomiya Naokata was appointed as Akikusa’s successor.

Maj. Utsunomiya had served in Shanghai for quite some time. While there, he had become acquainted with Richard Sorge, a German foreign correspondent. When Sorge learned that Utsunomiya had returned to Japan, he contacted him. By then Sorge was in Tokyo. He invited Utsunomiya to his home, even demonstrating his trust by showing Utsunomiya his bedroom. Sorge had approached the highest-ranking figure in the world of Japanese counterespionage, but Utsunomiya did not guess that Sorge was a spy for the Soviets.

When Japan was defeated in World War II, Gen. Yamashita Tomoyuki was arrested and tried in a war-crimes court for Japanese atrocities in the Philippines. Then deputy chief of the General Staff, Utsunomiya was by Yamashita’s side during the entire proceeding, assisting defense counsel.

In the courtroom, day after day testimony was presented about atrocities allegedly committed by Japanese military personnel. The great majority of the “evidence” was unsubtantiated, but the court admitted it in any case, and Gen. Yamashita was sentenced to death by hanging.

That experience should have taught Utsunomiya, if he didn’t already know, how the brutality of an enemy could be used as propaganda. He wrote about the experience in Gen. Yamashita’s Trial. Even having had that experience in the Philippines, Utsunomiya never suspected Timperley.

The nature of espionage is such that spies deceive all those in their midst. Timperley, with his ostensible honesty, conscientiousness, naiveté, and kindly face managed to fool all three Japanese.

They were fooled because they were all honest men, and simply weren’t in the habit of doubting others. They say that intellectuals are easy targets for spies. Perhaps Timperley was consummately clever. There may have been other reasons, too, but his ability to deceive Hidaka, Matsumoto and Utsunomiya remains a mystery to this day.


When Nanking fell, there were five Western (European and American) journalists and photojournalists in Nanking, compared with 50 a month earlier. After a steady, three-month-long exodus of civilians from Nanking, the foreign reporters, too, began to leave. In September 1937, German journalists were on their way to Hankou aboard a vessel reserved by their embassy.

On November 25, 27 Western reporters assembled for a press conference held by Chiang Kai-shek. Almost half their number had already departed from Nanking. When the press conference ended, Chiang’s last in Nanking, the remaining journalists began their exit from the city.

By the time Japanese troops surrounded Nanking, there were only 13 foreign reporters in the city. When the Japanese breached Nanking’s walls, eight more journalists boarded an American gunboat, the USS Panay. They escaped getting in harm’s way within the city walls, but when Japanese Navy aircraft bombed the Panay, an Italian journalist was killed, and two other reporters were wounded. The survivors returned to occupied Nanking three days later.

The five men who had remained in the city witnessed the fall of Nanking. Even those who had been on board the Panay were able to catch glimpses of the ensuing occupation, reports of which they wired to their home countries at the earliest opportunity.

And what did they report? That the Japanese had conducted themselves in a way that the Chinese found deeply disappointing. As soon as they occupied the city, they began looting, raping and murdering, turning Nanking into a city of fear. They had apprehended Chinese soldiers, and conducted mass executions of prisoners of war. At least one journalist claimed that when departing from Nanking, he had witnessed the execution of 200 men. On December 14, the Japanese plundered the city’s main roads, including foreign property. They executed anyone who appeared to be a Chinese soldier. Corpses — every one of them male — littered the streets.

This is how reporters who were neither Chinese or Japanese, but European or American, described the situation from Nanking. Their articles were carried by the London Times, the New York Times, and other leading newspapers. Readers believed that their coverage was objective and factual.

Biased American reporting

In 1937, Shanghai was China’s largest city and the nation’s economic center; 55% of China’s trade was conducted there. It was the world’s fourth largest trading port, after London, New York and Kobe. Shanghai was connected to London via submarine cable; news reports from Beijing, Tianjin, Nanking and other Chinese cities would be sent to Shanghai and then transmitted abroad. At that time, one third of the world’s news originated in London and New York. London was connected to Shanghai, which was the Chinese media hub and the base of operations for the majority of foreign correspondents.

In those days, world news emanated from several news agencies. The British agency Reuters and its French counterpart Havas concluded an agreement whereby each controlled half the world. China became Reuters turf. But five years earlier, the American AP (Associated Press) had broken the British monopoly, and made inroads into China, where it quickly made its presence known.

The exemplary newspaper was the Times, the British daily. The newspaper was not only the most prestigious in England, but also the oldest newspaper in the world, with the largest circulation. It did not have an equivalent counterpart in the U.S., but the New York Times was one of seven leading American dailies.

These news agencies and newspaper companies all had branches in Shanghai. There were also German, Italian and French correspondents assigned to Shanghai.

On August 13, hostilities began in Shanghai, with its intricate tangle of foreign interests. Shanghai also became the scene of a series of incidents related to the war. On the 14th, Chinese aircraft bombed the International Settlement, killing more than 1,000 Chinese, and three Americans.

On August 20, the Augusta, an American cruiser and the flagship of the Asiatic Fleet, was moored on the Huangpu River, which bisects Shanghai. At 6:40 p.m., the ship was fired on by anti-aircraft guns during a battle between the Chinese and Japanese. It is not known which side fired the shots that hit the vessel, but one American was killed and 18 wounded.

Then at 1:00 p.m. on August 23, a bomb fell on Nanking Road, location of Shanghai’s busiest business and entertainment district, and home of its three largest department stores. Nearly 200 Chinese died, and New York Times reporter Anthony Billingham, who was shopping at one of those department stores, was seriously wounded. His colleague, Hallett Abend, who had been waiting for him outside the store, sustained minor injuries. Several days later, it became clear that the bomb had been dropped by Chinese aircraft.

On August 30, the President Hoover, a Dollar Steamship Line vessel, was anchored off Wusong Harbor. At 5:15 p.m., it was bombed and strafed by Chinese aircraft. One crewman was killed, and six others were wounded.

About three months later, at 1:38 p.m. on December 12, while moored on the Yangtze River upstream of Nanking, the Panay, an American gunboat, and three Standard Oil tankers were bombed by Japanese aircraft. The Panay and the Mei An (one of the three gunboats) sank. The Mei Ping and Mei Hsia, the other two gunboats, went up in flames. The captain of the Panay and two of his crewman died; an Italian journalist on board was also killed. Six crewmen were wounded. The captain of the Mei An was also killed, and four of his crew were injured.

When the incident involving the Augusta occurred, the Americans did not lay blame on either Japan or China, since it was not clear which nation’s aircraft had fired on the vessel. When the President Hoover was bombed, Wang Chengting, Chinese ambassador to the U.S., resolved the incident by apologizing and paying an indemnity. The Panay Incident, too, was resolved because the Japanese responded with alacrity. Foreign Minister Hirota Koki apologized to U.S. Ambassador Joseph Grew, and promised to pay damages.

How were these incidents reported in the U.S.?

A look at the New York Times reveals obvious discrepancies. News of the bombing of the International Settlement got extensive coverage on the front page of the August 15 edition, with additional articles practically filling pp. 28 and 29.

News of the Augusta incident appeared on the front page of the New York Times on August 21, the day after it occurred. The department store bombing was reported by the AP Wire Service on the same day, and on the following day in an article by Hallett Abend (who had also been injured), again on the front page.

When the President Hoover was bombed, the New York Times printed the story in its September 1 and 2 editions, also on the front page.

The newspaper carried reports of all these incidents for one or two days, and then that was the end of them. But the Panay incident was different. Coverage of that story appeared every day from December 13 (the day after the incident) until December 26, on the front page. The first article occupied almost half the front page, while coverage on the following day, December 14, occupied three quarters of the front page. And it wasn’t only the front page. On December 14, there were related articles on pp. 16-21, and also on p. 23, for a total of eight pages.

Articles berating the Japanese for their reckless bombing, and mourning the loss of the crewmen continued for days. There wasn’t nearly as much coverage either before or after that incident. The Panay incident was different from other incidents in which ships sank, but the number of foreign dead (three) was the same as in the bombing of the International Settlement.

How do we explain the huge difference in coverage, both in quantity and tone?

In September 1937, a survey done by George Gallup’s American Institute of Public Opinion, sought to find out which side Americans sympathized with in the Second Sino-Japanese War. According to the results, published in October, 1% of respondents sympathized with Japan, 59% with China, and 40% with neither. As a nation, the U.S. had claimed neutrality, but the results of Gallup’s poll tell us that the great majority of Americans sided with China.

The Americans had always viewed the Chinese as an inferior race. They also saw the Chinese as cruel and brutal after the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. Those impressions did not change until the 1920s. One reason for the change was a feeling of affinity, which was absent until the Chinese accomplished their revolution.

In 1925, a fictional character named Charlie Chan, helped change the image of Chinese. Chan was a Chinese detective who exhibited a bizarre brand of humility. Tales about his exploits were popular, appearing in newspapers and films, in addition to the original books. The Americans began to perceive the Chinese as sneaky heroes rather than sneaky villains.

Preachers active in rural U.S. also felt an affinity to China, with its vast farmland. Many Americans could name someone from their home town, or a former classmate, who was now a missionary in China. Just as many of them heard from Christian missionaries working in China that China needed protection, advice and instruction. Donations to missionary organizations swelled, and soon China became the destination for the greatest number of, and the recipient of the most donations from groups supporting missionaries.

The children of those missionaries helped alter the already changing image of China and the Chinese, especially Pearl Buck and Henry Luce.

Buck’s Good Earth, a novel published in 1931, was an overnight sensation, selling two million copies. For it, Buck won both the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes. The book was made into a film in 1937, which was viewed by 23 million Americans. The Good Earth helped convince Americans that the Chinese are studious and patient.

Beginning in the 19th century, American perceptions of the Japanese and Chinese seemed to be on a see-saw. When the image of one rose, that of the other would plummet. When the Chinese began to be seen in a favorable light, they became the heroes, and the Japanese the villains in the eyes of the Americans. It was amidst this environment that American correspondents reported on the Second Sino-Japanese War. American reportage itself was blatantly pro-China.

Faked photograph viewed by 25 million

The U.S. has regional newspapers rather than a national newspaper. Most foreign news is distributed by news services. Starting in about 1935, the services began to centralize, giving birth to the Hearst, McCormick, Patterson, and Scripps Howard syndicates. All the member newspapers of each syndicate carried the same news. The Hearst syndicate, the most prominent at that time, issued 13.6% of the nation’s dailies.

On August 29, H.S. Wong, a Chinese-American photographer who headed the Hearst chain’s Shanghai bureau, took a photograph inside the Shanghai South Station, after it had been bombed by the Japanese. The subject was a baby sitting amid the charred ruins of the building, crying.

All Hearst newspapers carried the photograph, making it available to 25 million readers. The (intended) shocking impression was that of an infant who had miraculously survived the merciless Japanese attack. Thereafter, the photo was picked up by 35 non-Hearst papers as well, reaching an audience of 1.74 million more Americans. Another four million readers saw it when it was carried by 800 more papers. Twenty-five million more people viewed it when it was distributed to foreign newspapers.

It soon becomes patently clear that the photograph had been staged.

At the time, Henry Luce was the most powerful of the mass media titans. Luce was born and raised in China because his father was a missionary there. He traveled to the U.S. at the age of 15, and eventually entered the world of journalism. Luce was the founder of Time magazine (in 1923), which was so successful that it inspired imitations like Newsweek and United States News. Time eventually became as representative an American magazine as the monthly Reader’s Digest.

In 1930 Luce founded a business magazine, which he named Fortune. It too was a success. In January 1936, Luce founded the photojournalism weekly Life. Each month, 460,000 copies were printed; sales reached several million in less than a year. That number soon ballooned to two million. In a few years, Life was by far the leading American magazine, both in terms of copies sold and advertising revenue.

Henry Luce was renowned for his fanatical support of Chiang Kai-shek. His adulation of Chiang was so great that Time magazine selected the Generalissimo and his wife as man and wife of the year in 1938. Their photograph appeared on the cover of the January 3 issue.

The full-page photograph of the baby sitting on the railroad tracks and crying appeared in the October 4, 1937 issue of Life magazine. It was well received, and used in newsreels as well. The fact that it received so much exposure was another indication of strong American support for the Chinese. The fakery behind its creation (the unethical conduct of the photographer) was also motivated by that same sentiment.

It behooves foreign correspondents to ingratiate themselves with the nation to which they are assigned. If they are not liked, they can’t hope to be successful at their work. How about foreign correspondents in China in 1937? By then, the Nationalist Party, headed by Chiang Kai-shek, had been in control of China for 10 years. Western journalists liked Chiang and admired him for having ended the strife between warlords that had lasted for a dozen years, and for having succeeded in uniting China.

Chiang responded to that adulation by extending his patronage to some of the correspondents. Perhaps his favorite was John B. Powell, editor of the China Weekly Review, an English-language magazine published in Shanghai. In fact, Powell was such an admirer of Chiang’s that he was sometimes ostracized, excluded from gatherings of Americans residing in China.

Although he was quite sympathetic to correspondents who were well-disposed toward him, Chiang Kai-shek prohibited reporting that was critical of him. Once he sensed a correspondent’s disapproval, Chiang would restrict that person’s access and sometimes even have him deported.

Huddled in remote Shanxi province, in a China that had been united by Chiang, was the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), looking as though it was on the verge of extinction. Some foreign correspondents took a special interest in the CCP, notably Edgar Snow and Agnes Smedley. Snow, then correspondent for the British Daily Herald, met with CCP leader Mao Zedong; Smedley, correspondent for the Frankfurter Zeitung, traveled with Zhu De, commander in chief of the Red Army. The two journalists were the first to report on the Chinese Communists to the outside world. Both sympathized with Mao and Zhu.

In 1950, Smedley let it be known that, upon her death, she wished her ashes to be sent to Zhu De and buried in China. Her wish was granted.

Edgar Snow enjoyed a long life; he met with Mao often after the latter seized the reins of government. Snow stood with Mao during the Cultural Revolution at Tien’anmen on the National Day of the People’s Republic of China in 1970. Snow’s grave is in China, too, on the campus of Beijing University.

Thus, despite the differences between them, foreign correspondents were generally liked by the Chinese. How did the journalists feel about the Japanese?

Of the 150-odd foreign correspondents in Shanghai, the leading lights were David Fraser and Hallett Abend of the Times and the New York Times, respectively.

Approximately two weeks after the fall of Nanking, on December 31, 1937, Kawai Tatsuo, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Information Bureau, began a 14-day inspection tour of Central China, returning to Nanking on January 13. Kawai had met with Fraser and Abend in Shanghai; during his trip back to the capital, he described that meeting as follows:

Nobody has anything good to say about Japan. All the journalists are particularly annoyed by our censorship of news wires that began in early January. The purpose of this inspection tour was to address that problem.

Correspondents who were liked by the Chinese or who wanted to be liked by them had no choice but to be hostile toward Japan, because of China’s situation. At the very least, they had to distance themselves from Japan. Otherwise, they couldn’t exercise their professions properly. If worse came to worst, they could be expelled from China. It is this dilemma to which Kawai refers.

Edgar Snow said that the Japanese culture was an imitation of Chinese culture, and that the Japanese were aware that they were intellectually and physically inferior to the Chinese.

According to Agnes Smedley, Japanese inroads into China were the first step of a plot to take control of the world, as described in the “Tanaka Giichi Memorial.”
Not only Fraser and Abend, but also Powell, Snow, Smedley and most of the other correspondents stationed in Nanking adopted this same stance.

News reports with a pro-Chinese slant

What about the foreign correspondents in Nanking? Archibald T. Steele of the Chicago Daily News, who sent out the first report of the fall of Nanking, had been working in China for quite some time. In 1931, when the Manchurian incident occurred, Steele was working for the New York Times. While the investigative team headed by the Earl of Lytton was in Manchuria, it attempted to arrange a meeting with Ma Zhanshan. Ma had helped the Japanese establish Manchukuo, and had been awarded an important position. However, he soon rebelled, and later fought against the Japanese. The Chinese approved of the Lytton Commission’s meeting with Ma. The Japanese opposed it, of course, since they were intent on capturing him.

Steele decided to attempt to interview Ma. Along with a Swiss journalist, he came upon Ma as he was being pursued by the Japanese, and succeeded in entering into a conversation with him. Since he described the meeting as a dialogue between Ma and an emissary of the Lytton Commission, Steele and his Swiss colleague incurred the displeasure of the Japanese.

The police in Harbin, Manchukuo requested that Steele, who had taken refuge in the U.S. Consulate, be turned over to them. That story was also reported in the New York Times. The U.S. consul refused to hand him over. Eventually, the police abandoned their effort to gain custody of Steele, but even if he had originally been a neutral journalist, that experience would have taught him to steer clear of the Japanese.

After reporting on the fall of Nanking, Steele went to Hankou, where Chiang Kai-shek now resided. But awaiting him there was Japanese bombing. As he experienced the bombing together with U.S. Embassy staff members and military attachés, he began to feel a unity with them. Any friendly sentiments he might have harbored about Japan had turned to hatred.

The journalist who provided the most copious reportage about the Battle of Nanking was Tillman Durdin, the New York Times correspondent in Nanking. Durdin headed for Asia in 1930, destined for either Japan or China — he had no preference at the time. He ended up in Shanghai, where he got a job as a reporter for an English-language newspaper, which he held onto for seven years. Then, when the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out, he became a correspondent for the New York Times. Toward the end of August 1937, he moved to Nanking, which became his base.

At first, Durdin was partial neither toward Japan nor China, but by the time he began to send reports from Nanking, he clearly was siding with the Chinese. His articles often referred to the Japanese as “invaders,” and their actions as “invasions.” The very words he chose indicated that he bore ill will toward Japan and was sympathetic to China.

Here are a few more examples. On December 9, Durdin reported that the Chinese had routed the Japanese from Molingguan and Niushoushan. However, the Japanese had occupied Molingguan early in the afternoon of December 7, defeated Niushoushan with ease on the evening of December 9, and were already marching onward.

In addition to reporting false information supplied by the Chinese, Durdin put a slant on his own reporting. For instance, on the front page of the December 5 edition was an article claiming that the Japanese had bombed the British gunboat Ladybird, then anchored at Wuhu, as well as two merchantmen, also British. According to his report, the captain of one of the merchantmen and his wife were injured during the attack.

In actuality, the 18th Division (formed in Kurume) attacked Wuhu on December 5; the Chinese retreated onto ships moored in the Yangtze. Japanese naval aircraft attacked the retreating Chinese. Two British-owned vessels carrying refugees to Hankou were in the vicinity, and were hit by bombs. However, the Ladybird was not hit. Furthermore, only an engineer aboard one of the merchantmen and the captain of the Ladybird, who was by his side, sustained wounds, and they were very minor. No woman was injured.

Durdin continued to issue reports favorable to China, even when they were not true. Before long, he moved to Hankou, where he and Steele of the Chicago Daily News became hangers-on of Zhou Enlai, who represented the CCP in the formation of the second Nationalist-Communist United Front, and Zhou’s wife, Deng Yingchao.

When Hankou fell, Chiang Kai-shek moved to Chongqing. Foreign correspondents followed him there, including Durdin and his wife. In Chongqing, Durdin got to know Deng Yingchao and fellow Communist Ye Jianying well enough to invite them to dine with him.

Durdin and his wife were fated to again be involved in a Japanese bombing. In fact, Durdin narrowly escaped death from such attacks several times. His residence was destroyed by Japanese aircraft on the very evening he invited Deng and Ye out to dinner. By then, Durdin was known, even in Japan, as a China sympathizer, as was Colin MacDonald, the Times Far Eastern correspondent.

Two years before the Battle of Nanking, on December 9, 1935, the first anti-Japanese demonstration took place in Beijing, not long after Chiang Kai-shek had established a government in Nanking. At its center were students from Christian-affiliated Yanjing University. Foreign correspondents like Edgar Snow and Colin MacDonald spurred students to demonstrate, and even personally led demonstrations. They stood between the police and the students so the latter wouldn’t be dispersed.

Knowing that sending news reports about a demonstration overseas would enhance its effect, the foreign correspondents helped translate pamphlets and flyers into English. They then wrote up the reports themselves, ensuring that the entire world learned about the demonstration.

MacDonald was one of the more politically active journalists. Moving to Hankou, and then to Chongqing, he remarked that he soon grew so accustomed to China that he found himself under its spell, and forgot about the passing of time.

Steele, Durdin and MacDonald reported on the fall of Nanking. They were pro-Chinese from the very start. They may have hailed from neutral nations, but the reports they wrote were not necessarily objective.

Their preferences and political views are obvious in later reports as well. When Nanking fell six months after the Marco Polo Bridge incident, there was a halt in Japanese military activity.

The new year dawned, and Imperial Army Headquarters decided against any new military expansion. But on North China Area Army front lines, Chinese troops had gone into action, moving units, augmenting military strength, and making sporadic attacks on Japanese troops. Behind the Chinese forces, in the area known as the Central Plains, was Xuzhou, a key strategic location since ancient times. Japanese military authorities in China planned to pursue the Chinese into Xuzhou and attack them there.

In March 1938, the Japanese attacked the Chinese on the basis of information that the latter would soon go on the offensive. On March 13, the 5th and 10th divisions, attached to the 2nd Army, North China Area Army, received orders to advance. The Seya Detachment was formed from the 10th Division, while the Sakamoto Detachment was formed from the 5th Division. The two detachments attacked Chinese bases and advanced southward.

On March 22, the 63rd Infantry Regiment (formed in Matsue), part of the Seya Detachment), was ordered to advance to Taierzhuang and take control of the nearby Grand Canal. Taierzhuang is a small town surrounded on three sides by three-meter-thick walls. The south side of the town, which has no wall, faces the Grand Canal. The canal, which is just as well known as the Great Wall, was built by Emperor Yang during the Sui dynasty (580-618 A.D.); it extends from Hangzhou in the south, through Taierzhuang, and all the way to Beijing in the north.

Six kilometers to the east of Taierzhuang is Xuzhou. Taierzhuang was key to the capture of Xuzhou. As the Japanese advanced toward Taierzhuang, they encountered Chinese troops not only ahead of them, but also in Yi county, which they thought they had already captured. Troops in Yi county were commanded by Tang Enbo, and troops in the Taierzhuang by Sun Lianzhong. Between those two locations were many more Chinese troops.

On the evening of March 24, the 2nd Battalion of the Matsue regiment breached a gate on the northeastern wall of Taierzhuang. The Chinese had anticipated the Japanese offensive. The town’s residents had already left, and Taierzhuang had become a fortress. Using the walls and gates as shields, the Chinese fired on the Japanese. As a result, the Japanese failed to gain a foothold inside the walls.

At dawn on March 27, the regiment prepared to launch another assault on Taierzhuang. They advanced into the town and entered into hostilities with Chinese troops, who were using brick buildings as pillboxes.

Reinforcements in the form of the 3rd Battalion helped breach the northwestern gate on the night of March 28. A battle ensued in which the Chinese, again, used residences and the town’s walls as shields.

However, the Japanese still lacked sufficient troop strength to increase their foothold in Taierzhuang. On March 29, part of the Sakamoto Detachment, which had captured Yizhou (eight kilometers northeast of Taierzhuang), was ordered to advance to Taierzhuang.

On April 1, the 3rd Battalion, which had entered Taierzhuang from the northwest, withdrew from the town. Its men needed to concentrate their efforts on destroying Chinese tanks, which had arrived outside Taierzhuang.

On April 2, the 10th Infantry Regiment (formed in Okayama), another regiment from the Seya Detachment, launched an offensive against the Chinese troops in the vicinity of Taierzhuang. The Japanese were on the offensive, but more and more Chinese appeared, surrounding them.

On April 3, the Japanese soldiers inside the town walls were ordered to complete the sweep there. Since entering Taierzhuang from the northeast, they had gained control of about half the town, but they were not yet in a position to do a complete sweep.

On April 4, the 3rd Battalion, now outside Taierzhuang, was ordered to reenter the town from the northwest and conduct a sweep. They did succeed in reentering the town, but were unable to expand the sweep area. The sweep continued on April 5.

On the morning of April 6, orders were issued to complete the sweep. As the men struggled to comply, a host of Chinese troops appeared behind the Sakamoto Detachment, which had advanced as far as five kilometers east of Taierzhuang. The enemy seemed determined to engage in a decisive battle right then and there.

In the afternoon, the Seya Detachment assembled at a location a dozen kilometers north of Taierzhuang. The decision was made to advance toward the Chinese troops surrounding the Sakamoto Detachment. New marching orders were issued to each unit. The men removed key parts from damaged tanks, burned broken weapons, and transported the wounded out of the area. At 8:00 p.m., the Seya Detachment withdrew from Taierzhuang.

At dawn on April 7, the Seya Detachment assembled north of Taierzhuang, and the Sakamoto Detachment, which had been heading toward Taierzhuang, reversed its direction on the evening of the same day. The two detachments were finally able to communicate with each other, and by April 8, they had recovered their mobility.

During the hostilities that began toward the end of March and lasted until the Japanese withdrawal, the Seya Detachment lost 389 men (295 from the 63rd Regiment formed in Matsue and 31 from the 10th Regiment formed in Okayama). The Chinese must have lost twice that many men. Although the Japanese withdrew from Taierzhuang, they always held the advantage.

Military authorities were divided in their opinions about the action taken by the Seya Detachment. Since, technically, the detachment had withdrawn, division and 2nd Army headquarters were critical of it. However, Imperial Army Headquarters in Tokyo praised the Seya Detachment for its success in leaving Taierzhuang when surrounded by a huge enemy force. Tokyo lauded the detachment for its mobility, and ruled that local military authorities failed to grasp the situation accurately.

Though the hostilities at Taierzhuang resulted in disagreement about the Seya Detachment’s performance, they taught the Japanese that Li Zongren commanded a mammoth force: 400,000 men, and that the opportunity to surround and eradicate so many troops was not likely to come again.

Accordingly, on April 6, when the Seya Detachment resolved to withdraw from Taierzhuang, Imperial Army Headquarters in Tokyo drafted a plan to surround and annihilate the Chinese forces. On April 7, Tokyo issued orders for Operation Xuzhou to the North China Area and Central China Expeditionary armies. When the Seya Detachment withdrew from Taierzhuang, the full-scale Japanese offensive targeting the Taierzhuang area began.

But the news that emanated from China and soon spread throughout the world was that the Japanese had suffered a major defeat at Taierzhuang. The first report was written by Tillman Durdin in Hankou for the New York Times (April 8 edition). It stated that the Chinese had taken more than 6,000 Japanese prisoners of war, and that Chinese military leaders in Hankou were exulting over having defeated forces led by Itagaki Seishiro, former Kwantung Army chief of staff and Isogai Rensuke, a division commander who had once been military attaché to the Japanese legation in China.

Times correspondent Colin MacDonald’s first report, on April 8, contained the same “information,” adding that Hankou was ecstatic over the annihilation of 6,000-8,000 Japanese troops.

On the following day, reports of even more glorious Chinese accomplishments appeared.

The New York Times expanded its coverage of the previous day. The 6,000 Japanese prisoners of war (as described on April 8) now numbered 15,000; 6,000 Japanese had been killed. The Times too revised its figure of 7,000-8,000 Japanese casualties upward to more than 10,000.

Chicago Daily News correspondent Steele also wrote about a great victory for the Chinese. He explained that the Japanese, afflicted with overconfidence and scorn for the Chinese troops, fell right into the Chinese trap.

The same reporters who wrote of Japanese atrocities in Nanking clamored in one voice that the Japanese had been vanquished in Taierzhuang.

The newspapers weren’t the only media guilty of reporting a massive Chinese victory. Time, Life and other magazines — the same ones that had carried articles about the brutality of the Japanese when Nanking fell, told of a great Chinese victory. They added that the hostilities at Taierzhuang gave the Japanese their first taste of defeat, and would turn the tide of the Second Sino-Japanese War. They described that defeat as the first since Commodore Perry had forced Japan to open its doors to the world.

Taierzhuang invited comparisons with Waterloo and Verdun. A small town with a population of 10,000 all of a sudden became world-famous. After the Japanese withdrew, the tanks they left behind were put on exhibit, and military attachés from Western nations were invited to view them. Chinese military strength in the area was bolstered, and battle positions were established.

Meanwhile, when Operation Xuzhou was launched, the 10th Division, which had assembled near Yi County, advanced southward once again. Two weeks after their withdrawal, hostilities recommenced, but not at Taierzhuang. Between late April and early May, bitter warfare raged continuously at Hushan, 10 kilometers north of Taierzhuang, between the 39th Infantry Regiment, attached to the 10th Division, and the Chinese.

But the Chinese resistance ended there. In addition to the 5th and 10th divisions, three divisions from the North China Area Army and two from the Central China Expeditionary Army headed for Xuzhou, and ultimately surrounded the Chinese. When they realized that the Japanese were headed for Xuzhou, the Chinese began retreating in great numbers from not only Taierzhuang, but also the entire surrounding area.

On May 15, the Japanese prepared to surround Xuzhou. By that time, Taierzhuang was no longer in their sights. Tightening their circle around the Chinese, the Japanese conquered Xuzhou on May 19. The Japanese didn’t have enough military strength to capture or kill all the Chinese, but without question, Operation Xuzhou was a one-sided, Japanese victory.

A month after the withdrawal of the Seya Detachment for Taierzhuang, it became clear that that withdrawal had been effected for strategic reasons, and that news reports of a great victory for the Chinese were false. Nevertheless, people continued to talk about the Chinese victory at Taierzhuang.

The reporters who spread the false information about Taierzhuang all over the world were the same ones who spread misinformation about Nanking. No retractions were ever issued.

Great victory at Taierzhuang: a hoax

Lt.-Col. Mabuchi, who for many years served as press officer in China, had the following to say about news reports at that time.

Whoever issued the first report was the winner. It mattered little whether the report was true or not, if the enemy issued it first, it became the truth. If we asked for a retraction or correction, we were perceived as making excuses or something like that. It was seldom effective.

Despite the fact that the truth about the infant crying in the train station and the great victory at Taierzhuang did become known, and fairly soon at that, only the misinformation persisted. Accounts of the great Chinese victory at Taierzhuang can still be found in Chinese textbooks.

There are numerous examples of false reporting in addition to the Taierzhuang victory story. The 1938 opening of Yellow River dikes to halt the advance of the Japanese, causing the loss of millions of Chinese lives, and the “great Chinese victory at De’an” were described by the same correspondents who reported on Nanking.

Once Operation Xuzhou was completed, the 16th Division advanced westward along the Longhai Railway line, winning battles at Kaifeng and Zhongmou. They were now approaching Zhengzhou. On June 12, when a vanguard unit from the division reached the vicinity of Zhengzhou, the Yellow River suddenly began overflowing. Zhongmou was completely inundated by the flood waters. More than 100,000 Chinese went missing, and the Japanese advance halted.

Zhengzhou was located at the intersection of the Longhai and Jinghan railways. Hankou is directly south of Zhengzhou. Chinese troops destroyed the dikes to protect Zhengzhou.

However, for the New York Times, Tillman Durdin wrote reports based on information provided by the Chinese, i.e., that the dikes had been destroyed by Japanese bombing and shellfire. He also wrote that the dikes had overflowed when the Japanese fired on Chinese troops escaping to the river banks.

When the flooding was at its worst, on June 18, the Central China Expeditionary Army received orders to prepare for an attack on Hankou. In compliance, the 11th Army was formed; it would constitute the main strength of that attack.

On August 22, orders were issued to commence the attack on Hankou. The 11th Army, advancing along the Yangtze River, set out for Hankou; at that time, its 101st and 106th divisions were already close to Jiujiang.

Ten kilometers to the south of Jiujiang is a mountain called Lushan. Four kilometers to the south of Lushan is De’an, on the right flank of the Hankou defense line. Robust defense positions had been established there. The two divisions marched southward, one to the east of Lushan, the other to the west.

The 101st Division, which took the eastern route, was blocked by Chinese forces south of Lushan. On October 9, after confrontations that lasted more than a month, it finally reached southern Hankou. However, its path was again blocked, and it was there that its men heard the news of the fall of Hankou.

The path of the 106th Division, traveling west of Lushan, was blocked for a month beginning in early August, at Ma’anshan. By mid-September, it had reached Mahuiling, and in late September was ordered to advance to southwestern De’an. The division set out without delay, but on about October 6, it was surrounded by hordes of Chinese troops at Leimingguliu. The Japanese arranged to have ammunition and provisions airlifted to them. They were finally rescued by the Suzuki Detachment, which was on its way to Hankou, on October 17.

Both the 101st and 106th divisions were reserve units, and consequently did not have much firepower. Because their advance was obstructed, the 11th Army postponed the attack on De’an. Other units advanced to Hankou as planned, and some of them penetrated the city on October 25.

On this occasion, too, both the New York Times and the Times described the conflict at De’an as a great victory for the Chinese. The October 11 edition of the New York Times carried an article by Tillman Durdin under the headline “Chinese Announce Victory at Teian.” The article went on to say that two brigades, one each from the Japanese 101st and 106th divisions, were surrounded between De’an and Wuning, and then almost totally exterminated. Casualties numbered between 10,000 and 20,000; this Chinese victory was even greater than Taierzhuang! It had apparently “brought to a high pitch of enthusiasm the national Independence Day celebrations” in Hankou.

The Times too reported a Chinese victory. The article in the October 11th edition, probably written by MacDonald, stated that the Chinese had defeated two Japanese divisions, that Hankou was the scene of jubilant celebration, and that Chiang Kai-shek had sent the commander in chief a congratulatory telegram.

It is true that the 106th Division was surrounded by a large enemy force, and sustained many casualties. But it was neither routed nor exterminated. The 101st Division experienced great difficulties as well (for instance, one of the regimental commanders was killed in action), but it was not defeated. With the fall of Hankou, Chinese troops in and around De’an retreated. The 101st division occupied De’an on October 27. On November 1, both divisions advanced southward to Xiushui.

As the aforementioned reports indicate, American and British correspondents covering the situation in Nanking sided with China, both personally and professionally (or unprofessionally). They were not objective, and furthermore, they had no compunctions about making their allegiances clear, or about issuing slanted and even false reports.

Today the prevailing view in the U.S. is that American journalists of that era wrote biased reports because their sympathies were with China. Among those guilty of slanting their stories were Abend and Powell, as well as the correspondents who reported on Nanking (Durdin, Steele and C. Yates McDaniel (AP)).

Those men didn’t think there was anything unethical about describing the Japanese defeat and sweep of Nanking as a massacre, or writing lurid descriptions of rapes and other crimes that were never verified and attributing them to the Japanese. The times, background, and standpoints were all overlooked. Because they were Western journalists, readers believed that every word they wrote was true. The correspondents certainly added fuel to the Nanking “massacre” accusations through their reportage.


Who are Japan’s eminent military historians? When we ask the same question with reference to American historians, Samuel Morison, Hanson Baldwin and Gordon Prange come to mind. Who are their peers in Japan?

If we were making our selections on the basis of popularity, we might choose Tsuji Masanobu. Tsuji produced several bestsellers, among them Fifteen Against One, Nomonhan and Guadalcanal. Agawa Hiroyuki has written noteworthy biographies, including Yamamoto Isoroku, Yonai Mitsumasa and Inoue Shigeyoshi. If we were to focus on the number of books sold, we would also mention Yoshimura Akira, the author of Battleship Musashi.

Tsuji’s books are war chronicles that describe operations he was involved in during his military career. Agawa’s works are biographical accounts of the lives of three naval generals told against the backdrop of the Pacific War. Yoshimura’s Battleship Musashi tells the story of the armored vessel from construction to sinking; technically, it is neither war chronicle nor military history.

All the afore-mentioned works have enjoyed a wide audience, but their authors are not military historians.

Additionally, we might cite Yoshida Mitsuru (Requiem for Battleship Yamato), Ooka Shohei (Battle for Leyte) and Yamamoto Shichihei (What the Japanese Army Means to Me). All three works are masterpieces, but again, their authors are not military historians.

Capture of Nanking recedes from national memory

In the late 1930s, Japanese soldiers and sailors men studied military history at schools run by the Army or Navy. Some of them later chronicled the exploits of their units or of fleets to which they were assigned.

For instance, Imoto Kumao wrote A History of the Second Sino-Japanese War Based on Operational Diaries and A History of the Greater East Asia War Based on Operational Diaries. Both books recount operations in which Imoto participated, as a member of the General Staff Operations Section and as a staff officer with operation units in China. He describes the operations and the military men who participated in them with objectivity. Both works have been acclaimed, but they cover only the operations in which Imoto participated. For that reason, he does not qualify as an eminent Japanese military historian.

Some military men wrote comprehensive accounts of operations. One outstanding example is Hattori Takushiro’s Complete History of the Greater East Asia War. An even more ambitious work, War History Series, was produced by the Military History Department of the Defense Agency’s National Institute for Defense Studies.

Everyone agrees that Complete History of the Greater East Asian War is a superb work; it covers battles fought between the Japanese Army and American and British forces. The author made copious use of important documents — actual orders issued to Japanese units in China, and telegrams. The accounts in it are accurate; they include the motivation for each operation, how it was planned, how it was executed, and the outcome. Hattori once headed the General Staff Operations Section, and was therefore the officer most familiar with the operations of the Greater East Asian War. No one was more qualified to write this history than he.

However, in actuality, the work of writing Complete History of the Greater East Asian War was a group effort, divided among several men by operation or theater. Hattori Takushiro read their contributions, acting as coordinator for the project. As I wrote earlier, the book is a magnificent history, and writing it was Hattori’s idea. But I don’t think it would be appropriate to designate him an eminent military historian.

Military History Series, which comprises 103 volumes, is Japan’s official military history. It is a cooperative effort to which dozens of historians contributed. But unlike Complete History of the Greater East Asian War, it would be difficult to single out one particular author.

The more we examine the body of work that has been done, the more difficult it becomes to select one exemplary military historian. But if we must force the issue, then we would probably place two names on our list: Ito Masanori and Kojima Noboru.

Even prior to World War II, Ito Masanori was a dyed-in-the-wool newspaperman. After the war, he headed Kyodo News Service. He also served as president of Jiji Shinposha (a now defunct newspaper publisher) and chairman of the Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association. In 1956, four years after Japan regained its sovereignty, Ito wrote The End of the Imperial Japanese Navy, a requiem for Japan’s devastated fleet.

Accounts written by chiefs of the Naval General Staff, and fleet chiefs of staff had been published, but Ito’s book was the first overview of naval operations in battles against the Americans and British.

Prior to World War II, Ito was a naval reporter. He covered the Washington Naval Conference (1921-22), and after writing History of Japan’s National Defense and the World’s Great Naval Battles, acquired a reputation as a military commentator. It is precisely because of his background that he was able to write a book like The End of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

And his book was very popular. Readers responded to Ito’s deep affection for Japan’s combined fleet, which is quite evident even though he must have attempted to stifle it. But The End of the Imperial Japanese Navy is not simply the history of the grand combined fleet; Ito also explores its mistakes, as though he were asking Commander Kurita Takeo why he turned his fleet away from Leyte Gulf. This approach adds significant value to The End of the Imperial Japanese Navy, and demonstrates to the world that he remained an eminent military historian after the war as well.

Ito Masanori was a naval reporter, but he was also an authority on the Japanese Army. Three years after The End of the Imperial Japanese Navy came out, he wrote the five-volume The End of the Imperial Japanese Army. Hattori Takushiro had already completed Complete History of the Greater East Asian War, an overview of Army operations. But Ito breathed flesh and blood into the characters that populated Army history, painting portraits of men who fought bravely for their country. His book was a requiem for the Army, as The End of the Imperial Japanese Navy was for the Navy.

Ito also wrote Remembering the Great Japanese Navy and The Rise and Fall of Japanese Military Factions. Both have been highly praised, but the latter (a three-volume work) was especially lauded because of its innovative style. It describes the careers of high-ranking Army officers involved in politics from the Meiji era to the present. It has significance as a history book as well as a military history. Consequently, Ito Masanori certainly deserves to be considered a distinguished military historian.

Most of Ito’s writing was done in the mid-1950s and early 1960s. When he died in 1962, a successor appeared almost immediately in the form of Kojima Noboru.

Born in 1927, Kojima, who never saw action on the battlefield, was approximately two generations younger than Ito (who was born in 1889). Like Ito, Kojima started out as a newspaperman, working as a reporter for the Kyodo News Service. Recognition as a military historian came in 1966, when he wrote The Pacific War.

The Pacific War followed a long line of military histories. Previous works had focused on either the Army or the Navy. Kojima’s book included both, and was an overview of all battles fought by the Japanese military in that conflict.

Kojima received the Mainichi Publishing Culture Award for the book, which was followed in rapid succession by The Russo-Japanese War, The Siberian Intervention, The Sino-Japanese Wars, The Second World War and The Korean War. He also wrote related books, including Oyama Iwao, The Manchurian Empire, Battleship Yamato, Emperor Showa, The Tokyo Trials and The San Francisco Peace Treaty. The sheer volume of his work is amazing, but what differentiates it from the work of other historians is his use of a vast amount of historical data.

Reading his books, one encounters information never before published in Japan. Kojima uses historical data emanating from enemy nations. This practice makes perfect sense, since there can be no war without an opponent or opponents, and sets his work apart from other military histories.

Even 30 years ago, Kojima had already accumulated 26 tons of historical data. Most important documents from the Meiji era and thereafter are housed in the Military History Office of the Defense Agency. Material collected by Kaikosha (a foundation whose members are former Army officers), after World War II is stored in the Yasukuni Archives, located on the grounds of Yasukuni Jinja. Kojima’s resources are inferior to neither collection. No other individual has ever amassed such a huge collection, and none is likely to do so in the future.

Leaving the matter of the sheer volume of Kojima’s data aside, one wonders how Kojima managed to obtain some of his resources. One of them is History of Wars Against Japan, a Chinese book that he apparently acquired through direct negotiations with Nationalist Chinese military authorities.

Rumor has it that Kojima didn’t simply collect resources. He processed the information therein in such a way that it would be accessible to him at any time. His organizational skills were the reason he was able to produce so many books.

On the basis of this anecdotal information, I believe that no one would object to having Kojima Noboru stand beside Ito Masanori as one of Japan’s two eminent military historians.

Kojima’s prodigious output includes one book that, though perhaps not a masterpiece, is certainly representative of his work: The Sino-Japanese Wars. This particular book covers all the conflicts fought in China during a 16-year period, from the death of Zhang Zuolin (1928) to Japan’s defeat in World War II. It was serialized in the weekly Shukan Bunshun over three years, and then published in three volumes.

There is some disagreement about whether to use the term “Sino-Japanese wars” to characterize Japan’s attempts to expand into China, or to use it to describe the conflict that triggered war with the U.S. and Great Britain. In any case, the battles fought in China were very important conflicts. And ranking high in importance among them is the battle that decided the fate of Nanking, the Nationalist capital.

Japan erupted with excitement over the Japanese victory in Nanking. The extremely popular Wakizaka Unit, written by Nakayama Masao in 1939 tells the story of the 36th Infantry Regiment (formed in Sabae), the first unit to enter the city, through the Guanghua Gate.

However, after Japan’s defeat in World War II, GHQ banned The Wakizaka Unit. Local governments were ordered to burn every copy they could locate. Both the book and the Battle of Nanking disappeared from the memory of the Japanese public.

After the American occupation ended, regiments and divisions began to compile their histories, and accounts of the Battle of Nanking once again saw the light of day. At about the same time,
installments in a series called Japanese Military History began appearing. The volume covering the Battle of Nanking came out in 1975. That is how Kojima Noboru came to write about the Japanese victory in that city.

In a chapter entitled “Capture of Nanking,” Kojima begins with the Japanese landing at Hangzhou Bay in November 1937. He tells about the tug-of-war between Japanese forces stationed in China, who wanted to pursue the retreating Chinese to Nanking, and Imperial Army Headquarters in Tokyo, which was reluctant to invade the Chinese capital. Also involved were the peace talks mediated by Oskar Trautmann, German ambassador to China. But unlike the Shanghai conflict, where advances had been painfully slow, the advance toward Nanking and the breaching of its walls had been accomplished with relative ease.

On December 13, the Japanese scaled Nanking’s walls and entered the city. At this point in his narrative, Kojima launches into a description of events that transpired in Nanking after the Japanese emerged victorious. He supplies the following heading: “The Nanking Massacre.”
Prior to the writing of The Sino-Japanese Wars, no attempt had been made to delve into the facts of those conflicts with the benefit of historical resources from both sides.

Hora Tomio’s Enigmas of Modern History was published in 1967. The book’s discussion of Nanking is little more than a paraphrase of court records from the Tokyo Trials (formally, the IMTFE, or International Military Tribune for the Far East) and the consequent judgment.

Kojima Noboru also mentions Nanking in The Tokyo Trials and Emperor Showa. But in both works, he bases his accounts on evidence submitted to the Tokyo Trials, as well as witness testimony. His position matches the gist of the judgment handed down by the tribunal. There is no critical analysis rooted in the amassing, analysis and description of a sufficient amount of resources from both sides.

Needless to say, the true facts of military history emerge only after a comparison of the historical resources of both sides in a conflict. For instance, we may rejoice at having sunk an enemy vessel, and later learn that it was only slightly damaged. Or we may claim to have annihilated an entire regiment in an intense battle, when there was only one enemy company fighting. But we don’t learn these facts until we compare our records with the enemy’s.

That is why Kojima Noboru collected a wide range of historical documents in preparation for writing The Sino-Japanese Wars. References cited alone number 308. Among them, it would appear that he used more than 30 for the writing of the chapter entitled “The Nanking Massacre.” Therefore, it would seem that he acquired a significant number of references on Nanking after writing The Tokyo Trials and Emperor Showa.

With careful preparations behind him, Kojima devotes the latter half of his section on the capture of Nanking to events transpiring immediately after that capture, attempting to arrive at the truth.

Conflicting resources

According to the Japanese sources acquired by Kojima, there are battalion battle reports that refer to the execution of prisoners of war, and accounts written by an Army chief of staff indicating that rapes and other crimes were committed. However, none of Kojima’s references serve as proof that 200,000 persons were massacred. Sometimes no records remain for defeated, retreating units. But it is difficult to infer from Chinese military resources that there was a massacre. What are the historian’s options, when no military records can be found?

The first thing that comes to mind is: examine historical references, such as government statistical reports and private records. For instance, by comparing population statistics before and after a conflict, we can estimate the number of civilian victims. If burial records are kept, we can tell how many people died in Nanking.

Of course, these methods will occur to scholars who are truly in search of the facts; by using them, they can shed light on any event. Kojima Noboru surely was no exception to this rule. And since he was more successful than any other Japanese scholar at acquiring reference material, we can assume that he sought out such material, and obtained what he was looking for from China.

The Chinese sources that Kojima obtained were records from two charitable organizations entrusted with the burial of the dead immediately after the Battle of Nanking. They were Chongshantang and the Red Swastika Society.

Chongshantang began the interments within the city walls soon after Nanking fell. By April 6, 1938, its workers had interred 7,549 bodies. For that reason, several huge burial mounds of earth that became known as “corpse mountains” arose in the city.

The Red Swastika Society conducted 43,123 burials outside Nanking between December 22, 1937 and October 1938. It also interred 1,793 corpses within the city walls. Temporary resting places were found for 41,910 of those bodies outside the city prior to April 6, 1938. For that reason, when Chongshantang reburied them, its total count rose to 45,400. In addition to the reinterments, Chongshantang buried 59,316 corpses outside the city. That leaves approximately 12,000 temporarily buried bodies outside Nanking.

These statistics are to be found in records Kojima obtained from China, which he organized and analyzed as follows. Chongshantang handled most of the burials outside Nanking. Therefore, when we add reburials, we arrive at a total of 104,718 bodies. Further, adding the approximately 12,000 bodies that should have been reinterred but were not, our total grows to approximately 117,000 bodies. Both Chongshantang and the Red Swastika Society buried bodies within the city walls, for a total of 9,342.

Which of the bodies were war casualties, and which were murder victims? There is no way to answer this question on the basis of the burial records. But given the actions of both armies, it is possible to conclude that the 117,000 bodies outside the city were war casualties, and the 9,000 within the city walls were victims of a massacre.

In any case, this is the conclusion that Kojima reached after analyzing the Chinese references he had received. But the references are fraught with problems. The figures seem precise to the last digit, but they are totally inconsistent. For instance, since Chongshantang reburied bodies that had been temporarily interred by the Red Swastika Society, the figures should match exactly, but the number of reburials claimed is 3,490 too high.

For the burials, Chongshantang paid out four jiao in labor costs per body; the total expenditure was more than 10,000 yuan (10 jiao = one yuan). In that case, there should have been a total of at least 25,000 bodies, but Chongshantang records show that a few thousand more than 120,000 bodies were interred, an order of magnitude too many.

Kojima’s attempts to reconcile the records were unsuccessful. He faced other problems as well. According to private references, such as the International Committee’s reports, the killing in Nanking was at its worst the first week, during which there were 17 murders. But Chongshantang and Red Swastika Society records state that 9,342 bodies were buried in the city that week.

Kojima came to the conclusion that the interments within the city walls were of massacre victims. However, such a conclusion does not jibe at all with International Committee reports.

Conflicting burial records

Understandably, Kojima’s account of events in Nanking is rife with locutions like “may have been” or “we cannot state with certainty that … .” He does not say definitively that there was a massacre in Nanking. He simply cites the number of victims stated in Chinese claims. Ultimately, one of Japan’s foremost military historians was unable to shed any light on the Nanking controversy.

But documents similar to the ones Kojima acquired from China were submitted to the Tokyo Trials 30 years before he wrote his book. On August 29, 1946, during the presentation of evidence concerning the Nanking “massacre,” the prosecution submitted its evidence. That evidence included records of interments completed by Chongshantang and the Red Swastika Society. A comparison of those with records in the possession of Kojima revealed that they bear the same titles and that their content is similar. But there are some differences.

According to the documents submitted to the Tokyo Trials, Chongshantang and the Red Swastika Society conducted burials independently. Chongshantang buried 112,266 bodies, while the Red Swastika Society interred 43,071, for a total of 155,337.

Comparing the two sets of documents, we discover that Kojima’s show 5,000 more bodies for Chongshantang, and 2,000 more for the Red Swastika Society. However, Chonshantang’s reburial records are included in his set. If we subtract them, we end up with 127,000 burials, compared with 155,000 (28,000 more bodies) in the records submitted to the Tokyo Trials.

Which set of documents is inaccurate? And why were the documents presented at the Tokyo Trials admitted into evidence?

The following statement appears in the verdict that was delivered two years later.

Estimates made at a later date indicate that the total number of civilians and prisoners of war murdered in Nanking and its vicinity during the first six weeks of the Japanese occupation was over 200,000. That these estimates are not exaggerated is borne out by the fact that burial societies and other organizations counted more than 155,000 bodies which they buried.

From this we know that the tribunal accepted the numbers supplied by Chongshantang and the Red Swastika Society. Then, why didn’t Kojima use the burial statistics submitted to the Tokyo Trials?

There was another discrepancy between the two sets of documents: the date on which the records were prepared. The burial records submitted to the Tokyo Trials were part of a report provided by the prosecutors of the Nanking District Court; they were acquired between November 1945 and February 1946. It is not clear whether they were compiled when the burials took place or after the war. They are still preserved as historical records appertaining to the IMTFE, but only in translation (into Japanese). We cannot tell what the originals looked like.

The records Kojima acquired, however, can be rightfully described as primary sources, because unlike the records from the Tokyo Trials, they bear dates synchronous with the invasion of Nanking.

Nowhere in the transcript of the court proceedings does it state that the burial records submitted to the IMTFE were examined by the court; their veracity was never ascertained. Kojima’s records are more specific in that they mention that fees were paid for the burial work. There is no mention of fees in the IMTFE documents. Therefore, Kojima Noboru deemed the references he had obtained to be of more value, and that is why he used them during his investigation of events in Nanking.

Why Kojima could not shed light on aftermath of Battle of Nanking

Why, then, was there any difference between the figures in the two sets of documents? And what sort of organizations were Chongshantang and the Red Swastika Society?

There have been charities in China for centuries. These private organizations have raised abandoned infants and orphans, fed and clothed the poor, cared for the homeless elderly, and buried those who die on the street. They have buildings, employees and equipment appropriate to their activities. Charities, a distinguishing feature of Chinese society, have several ways of covering their expenses: using their own resources, raising money, or engaging in business.

There were about 50 charities in Nanking alone in 1937. About a month before the Japanese attack on Nanking, the Republic of China decided to move its capital. All government departments left Nanking, bound for Hankou or Chongqing. About 10 days later, the Nanking government made the decision to abandon its capital. By the time December arrived, nearly all national and city government departments had ceased to function. At about the same time, the 50-some hospitals in the city were closed, and the activities of almost every charitable organization came to a halt.

The only charities left operating were the American-owned Gulou Hospital, the Red Swastika Society and the Chinese Red Cross, which was active in war zones.

The Red Swastika Society, founded in 1921, was affiliated with a religious group. At that time, seemingly interminable conflicts between warlords produced many refugees. The fledgling charity was kept busy providing medical care, food, clothing and shelter to those refugees. Their numbers swelled from several thousand to several tens of thousands, sometimes exceeding 100,000. The Society also saw to the burial of persons killed in the conflicts, often interring several thousand bodies in one locality.

Operating costs were provided mainly by membership fees. In 1923, when the Great Kanto Earthquake struck, the Red Swastika Society sent relief funds to Japan. The idea of establishing branches was adopted not only in China, but also in Manchuria. The Red Swastika Society was far more active than the Chinese Red Cross; it eventually became the preeminent charity in China.

As mentioned earlier, the Red Swastika Society had a branch in China’s capital city, Nanking. When the warfare there ended, the organization set about burying the dead. The bodies interred at that point were not just those of the war dead. Prior to the Battle of Nanking, Chinese troops wounded in the Shanghai conflict were transported by train to Nanking. However, they were left at the train station there to fend for themselves. The lucky few who were taken to hospitals were abandoned when the Chinese military withdrew. A great many of those soldiers died in Nanking.

Some civilians were killed during the Japanese bombings of Nanking. Every year, unclaimed bodies left to rot on the streets were retrieved and buried by one charity or another. But since the charities had left Nanking, there were corpses on the streets.

Every winter, there were about 150,000 refugees lacking food and clothing in Nanking, and some of them died on the streets. Therefore, there were bodies on the streets of persons who had died from a variety of causes. They and the war dead were buried by the Red Swastika Society. When the Self-Government Committee was formed on January 1, 1938, it dispensed funds for and oversaw burials.

This information can be found in three reports issued by the Chinese in 1939: “Overview of the Nanking City Government, Republic of China for Fiscal 1939,” “Nanking City Government Administrative Statistical Report” and “Current State of the New City Government.”

The other charity mentioned in connection with burials is Chongshantang, which dated back to the Qing dynasty, and was therefore older than the Red Swastika Society. From its early days, it specialized in sheltering and rearing abandoned infants. When the Japanese neared Nanking and national and city government employees left the city, Chongshantang’s staff left as well; all of its activities ceased.

Not until warfare ended and the residents of Nanking returned, did Chongshantang employees come back to the city, in September 1938. At that time, the superintendent of the organization was replaced. Chongshantang resumed its previous activities involving abandoned infants. But since the organization was operating with reduced funds, it asked the Nanking city government for financial support. Even with government help, Chongshantang’s activities were not as vigorous as they had once been. Chongshantang was not involved with burials, and never had been. In any case, when the organization resumed its activities, most of the bodies in Nanking had already been interred. All this information is contained in the afore-mentioned reports.

It is easy to see why Chongshantang was not involved with burials. For each interment, the body was stripped of clothing and washed with clean water. It was then transported to a burial site by rickshaw or truck. At the burial site, a hole two meters deep was dug. The corpse would be placed in the grave in a sitting position, and covered with earth. This operation could not be performed without a vehicle and other equipment, and the work was very strenuous. It could not have been done by an organization with no experience with burials.

Additional evidence proving that Chongshantang was totally inactive at the time can be found in contemporary diaries kept by Western nationals in Nanking, as well as by journal entries written by Japanese military personnel after they entered the city. The name Chongshantang does not appear even once, and there is no mention of the organization’s having conducted burials.

Furthermore, in references obtained by Kojima Noboru, there is mention of enormous mounds forming in Nanking due to burials conducted by Chongshantang. But no one who was in Nanking at the time ever saw a huge burial mound. Therefore, it is extremely likely that Chongshantang’s burial records were fictitious.

Earlier I mentioned that it is possible to estimate the number of victims of a disaster by looking at population statistics. It is difficult to tell how reliable they are, but China did keep such statistics, and they serve as at least a rough measure.

The Nationalists selected Nanking as the capital of the Republic of China in April 1927. At that time, the walled fortress and the territory on both banks of the Yangtze River were designated as Nanking Special Municipality. In 1935, the fields and hillocks in the outskirts of Nanking were incorporated into Nanking Special Municipality, enlarging the area of the municipality to about 7.5 times its former size. The city’s population, estimated at 800,000, combined with the 200,000 living on the outskirts, rose to one million. Between 1935 and the commencement of the Battle of Nanking, the population estimate was approximately one million.

Population outflow began in August 1937, after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident occurred. By the end of November, when the Japanese surrounded Nanking, the population had shrunk to 200,000, according to Wang Gupan, head of the National Police Agency. Several other sources offered population estimates, but we assume that the figures provided by the National Police Agency, a government organization, are the most accurate.

In any case, the International Committee estimated the population immediately before the city fell at between 200,000 and 250,000, possibly relying on the same source.. The chairman of the committee settled on 200,000. Once the Japanese entered Nanking, they arrived at the same figure: 200,000.

There are no Chinese statistics for the population immediately after the fall of Nanking, but after about 10 days, the Japanese began issuing identity cards to civilians. Children 10 and under were exempted, as were some elderly women. A total of 160,000 cards were issued. On the basis of that number, the International Committee decided that there were 250,000 or between 250,000 and 300,000 people in Nanking (250,000 according to the committee’s chairman).

This means that the civilian population of Nanking did not change appreciably during the period beginning just before the Japanese invasion, and ending immediately thereafter. Since the population certainly did not decrease, any claim that the Japanese massacred tens of thousands of civilians is false.

Furthermore, IMTFE records tell us that Chongshantang’s burial records were forgeries created for war crimes trials. According to the indictment, the Japanese slaughtered tens of thousands of civilians and disarmed soldiers in Nanking. The prosecution charged that the victims in Nanking, including Chinese military personnel, numbered in the several tens of thousands.

Soon after the tribunal commenced, American and Chinese witnesses claimed that there had been several tens of thousands of victims, citing the burial of 43,000 bodies, and the corpses of 12,000 noncombatants and 30,000 combatants.

One month after those witnesses had given their testimony, the afore-mentioned burial records, with their claims of 150,000 interments (creating an order-of-magnitude discrepancy with the previous figures), were submitted to the court. Needless to say, defense attorneys were quick to voice their objections. They suggested that the burial records had been fabricated. They raised another question as well: if, on the average, 130 corpses were buried each day, how 2,600 bodies came to be interred each day during one 10-day period. How were they buried, and how were the workers procured?

According to Maruyama Susumu, head of the Japanese-run Nanking Special Agency, who served as the liaison to the burial groups, one worker could bury no more than 1.25 bodies in one day; there was little likelihood of a dramatic increase or decrease in the numbers.

Besides offering a logical rebuttal, defense counsel could have gone to China to investigate. Some of the defense attorneys went to great lengths to prepare counterarguments. Owen Cunningham, attorney for Oshima Hiroshi (former ambassador to Germany), traveled to Germany, where he met with Joachim von Ribbentropp, then on trial at Nuremberg and asked him for testimony on Oshima’s behalf.

However, even if a defense attorney had attempted to enter China, he probably would not been admitted. Even if he had been able to enter, it is hard to imagine the Chinese helping him inspect fabricated records.

The IMTFE admitted the burial records without hesitation, and handed down a judgment that diverged significantly from the indictment. The judges accepted forged burial records without giving them much thought. In a brief period of time, a massacre with hundreds of thousands of victims had been created. I have never heard of any other court judgment that mentions figures a magnitude higher than those indicated in the indictment.

Explaining the inexplicable

Here is a possible reason why two documents bearing the same title — one submitted to the IMTFE, and the other acquired by Kojima Noboru — have different contents. Chongshantang’s burial records were invented after the war for use at the IMTFE. They were created without much thought and submitted to the tribunal. In all probability, they were fabricated under the direction of Chen Guangyu, chief prosecutor at Nanking District Court.

After the fact, certain adjustments were made to make the document look authentic. Information about labor costs was added. Huge burial mounds were invented. Bodies were reinterred. There was nothing to stop the forgers from exercising their imaginations, since the entire document was created out of thin air. They supplied the year of the Battle of Nanking, the signature of whatever functionary was in charge then, and added official seals. All copies of the document should have been identical, but during their creation, numbers changed, as did the appearance of the documents.

Kojima Noboru acquired a copy that looks supremely authentic, and used it as a reference when he wrote The Sino-Japanese Wars. We must conclude that the burial records were very clever artifices, because they fooled one of Japan’s most distinguished military historians.

We cannot possibly hope for consistency in fabricated historical documents. Kojima Noboru abandoned his attempt to make sense of the Nanking massacre allegations not because of incompetence, but because of his determination to remain a conscientious scholar.

Then, how much credence are we to give to the Red Swastika Society’s burial records? They predate World War II. According to the copy in the possession of Kojima Noboru, the organization buried 44,916 bodies. According to the copy submitted to the IMTFE, the Red Swastika Society interred 43,071 bodies. Which version is accurate? Or were both versions altered? There isn’t much difference between the two, but that doesn’t mean either is accurate.
The Nanking Special Agency paid the Red Swastika society for the interments. There was a specific per-body rate. To acquire additional funds to support its activities, the Red Swastika Society inflated the number of bodies, and the Nanking Special Agency looked the other way, resigning itself to making a “donation” of the additional amount. Therefore, the actual number of bodies buried was fewer than stated in the records.

According to Maruyama Susumu, the Red Swastika Society inflated the number of burials by between 14,000 and 23,000 (the organization claimed it had buried 40,000). Among bodies actually buried were the war dead, as well as others who died in Nanking for various reasons. Accurate or not, the burial records prove that there was no massacre in Nanking.

Earlier I wrote that Kojima Noboru was unable to explain the Nanking “massacre.” This is not surprising, because it is impossible to elucidate an event that never occurred.

When the prosecutors at the Nanking District Court fabricated the burial records, they probably never dreamed that publications issued by their own government (“Overview of the Nanking City Government, Republic of China for Fiscal 1939,” “Nanking City Government Administrative Statistical Report,” and “Current Status of the New Government”) would one day expose their forgeries.


On May 4, 1995, a week after Nagano Shigeto was installed as minister of justice, he was fielding questions from the press at a briefing. In response to a query from a Mainichi Shimbun reporter, Nagano said, “I am convinced that the Nanking massacre is a hoax.”

A half century before he made that statement, Nagano, fresh out of the Military Academy, was on his way to join his original unit in Japanese-occupied Hankou in central China. To get there, the young probational officer traveled to Shanghai, and then sailed up the Yangtze River. Along the way, he spent a night in Nanking. This was before Japan was at war with the U.S. and Great Britain. All was peaceful in the Chinese capital of the seat of Wang Jingwei’s government.

In the autumn of 1942, Nagano, now a lieutenant, returned to Japan to attend the Army’s communications school in Kanagawa Prefecture. This time, he journeyed down the Yangtze, passing through Nanking and Shanghai. After eight months of study, he returned to Hankou. He retraced the route he had taken on his way to Japan, staying in Nanking for one night at the Officers’ Club. By the time he reached Hankou, the tides of war were beginning to turn against the Japanese, but life remained unchanged for the residents of Nanking.

On the basis of his experiences as a young officer, Nagano Shigeto thought the Nanking “massacre” charges were spurious (he heard them for the first time after World War II had ended). If there had been a massacre in late 1937, as claimed at the Tokyo Trials, the residents would have been extremely wary, and the city would certainly not have been so peaceful. Nagano would surely have heard rumors of a massacre during his sojourns in Nanking. That is why he described the “massacre” as a hoax to the Mainichi Shimbun journalist. But the day after his reply appeared in print, China launched a protest.

PRC President Jiang Zemin insisted that Japan acknowledge its past sins. The Chinese Foreign Ministry summoned Japanese diplomats and demanded that they consider this a serious matter and take appropriate action. A spokesman for that same ministry declared that the Nanking “massacre” was one of the most heinous crimes perpetrated by militarist Japan, pointing out that Japan’s war of aggression against China and the Nanking “massacre” were accepted historical fact in the international community. Such a stance brooks no argument.

Three days later, on May 7, Nagano Shigeto was forced out of Hata Tsutomu’s Cabinet. He had served for only 10 days. The Nanking “massacre” had been magically transformed into historical fact, and could now serve as a tool for the Chinese to use to force the prime minister of Japan to dismiss his minister of justice.

Zhou Enlai silent about Nanking “massacre”

In 1995, the same year in which Nagano Shigeto was fired, I visited the area that had once been the home of the state of Manzhouguo. I was a member of a group on a tour arranged by a travel agency; our party numbered about two dozen.

The grave of Nurhachi, the founder of the Qing dynasty is located in Shenyang, in a spacious park. As we neared the site, an old man, realizing that we were Japanese, approached us. He was small and frail, dressed in a uniform-like suit resembling the attire popularized by Mao Zedong. He was walking about the city when he encountered us, obviously unexpectedly. The old man described, wistfully, the Manzhouguo era and the Japanese he had met then; he spoke in Japanese, which he had learned then. I assumed that he was an ethnic Manchu.

After we had been talking with him for a while, we asked the man, who looked to be approaching 70, if he was familiar with the Nanking “massacre.” He seemed perplexed, but looked me straight in the eyes and shook his head no. “Never heard of it,” he said. How could an old man who certainly experienced the prewar years not have heard of events that cost a Cabinet minister his post?

The CCP (Chinese Communist Party), which today controls the PRC, was established in the summer of 1921. In 1923, the First United Front, an alliance between the CCP and the Nationalist Party, was formed. CCP members were absorbed by the Nationalists. One of the CCP leaders, Mao Zedong, was nominated for membership in the Nationalist Party’s Executive Committee, while Nationalist President Wang Jingwei was installed concurrently as acting director of the Propaganda Bureau.

In July 1927, the United Front collapsed. The CCP had failed to foment a great rebellion. Its members retreated to mountainous areas in Jiangxi and Fujian provinces, where they set up their revolutionary bases.

In March 1930, full-scale hostilities broke out between the former partners. The Fifth Encirclement and Suppression Campaign, executed under the supervision of a team of Chiang’s German military advisers, used scorched-earth tactics against the Communists. The beleaguered CCP called the Nationalist tactics the “Three Alls” (kill all, burn all, loot all).

In 1936, those Communists who had managed to escape with their lives set up a base in Yan’an. Then the Xian Incident occurred, which led to the formation of the Second United Front between the two parties. When the Marco Polo Bridge Incident erupted out in July 1937, the Second United Front went into action. In August, the Red Army (the CCP’s armed force) was incorporated into the Nationalist forces as the Eighth Route Army. That army advanced from Shaanxi province to Shanxi province, fording the Yellow River to get there. However, because its men were poorly equipped and poorly trained, they never met Japanese troops face to face. Only Nationalist Army soldiers fought against the Japanese.

The Japanese defeated the Nationalists in Tianjin, Beijing and Shanghai. The overweening goal of the CCP was in establishing bases. Japanese advances were limited to major cities and railway routes. The Eighth Route Army infiltrated areas that the Japanese could not reach.

Unlike the Nationalists, whose war potential had been sapped in various encounters with the Japanese, the CCP troops were gathering strength. Soon they had the opportunity to face the Japanese in battle.

Mao Zedong, by then the head of the CCP, wrote in Fundamentals of the Art of Warfare (completed in March 1938) that in battles against the Japanese, he made a point of telling his men about the enemy’s atrocities, e.g., the slaughter of both soldiers and civilians. He thought doing so would increase hostility on the part of the Chinese Communists toward the Japanese, and boost their fighting spirit and morale.

The Communists were well aware of the importance of advertising the enemy’s brutality. When they finally did confront the Japanese and were found wanting, they resorted to the Three-Alls strategy, as had the Nationalists before them.

Peng Dehuai, deputy commander in chief of the Eighth Route Army, accused the Japanese of using Three-All tactics since 1939. The commander in chief, Zhu De, said that Gen. Okamura Yasuji, commander of Japanese forces in North China, was the first to introduce them in July 1941. According to Mao Zedong, the Japanese used them in 1941 and 1942. The reason for the discrepancy among the claims made by the three Chinese leaders is that they weren’t singling out a particular battle in which the Three-All tactics were used, but simply spreading rumors about the brutality of Japanese military personnel.

In October 1947, after Japan’s defeat in World War II, and the Chinese Nationalists and Communists were battling each other again, Mao Zedong published the Declaration of the People’s Liberation Army, which contains the following language: “Wherever Chiang Kai shek’s troops go, they murder and burn, rape and loot, and employ Three-All tactics, just as the Japanese bandits did.” Such language, resurrected to use against the Nationalists once again, became a regular feature of CCP declarations.

The capture of Nanking by the Japanese occurred four months after the Eight Route Army was incorporated into the Nationalist forces. What was the CCP’s perspective on the battle to defend Nanking?

When he was acting director of the Nationalist Party’s Propaganda Bureau, Mao Zedong spent his days reading newspapers (both Chinese and foreign). Even after the dissolution of the Second United Front, he continued to gather news reports disseminated by Chinese and overseas press agencies, and listen to the radio. He also had his personal information network. When the Second Sino-Japanese War commenced, he was in Yan’an. There newspapers arrived a week late, and magazine deliveries were delayed as well. But they did arrive eventually, and it was possible to listen to radio broadcasts. Mao knew that Nanking had been occupied by the Japanese on December 12, 1937. Therefore, we know that he was aware of the strategy used by the Japanese to surround Nanking, and that there were reports of Japanese atrocities shortly after the city fell.

At that stage of his career, Mao often commented on the Japanese military. He criticized them for being too easygoing when they captured Nanking. But he was silent about the Nanking “massacre.”

The Battle of Nanking was waged far, far away from Yan’an by Chiang Kai-shek’s men. Mao must have realized that the Nanking “massacre” was nothing more than Nationalist propaganda, exactly like the CCP’s bombast about Japanese use of Three-All tactics.

Whenever a united front was formed with the Nationalists, other CCP leaders traveled to whatever city happened to be the political hub at the moment: Nanking, Hankou, or Chongqing.

Zhou Enlai, a CCP military leader, headed for Nanking without delay. He joined the Supreme National Defense Council, headed by Chiang Kai-shek, whose headquarters were located in a building behind the military academy. When the government was moved to Hankou, Zhou was appointed deputy director of the Political Bureau. Anti-Japanese propaganda was handled by the Political Bureau’s Third Department. Zhou believed that the revolution was more likely to succeed if a propaganda campaign that focused on the Chinese people, rather than against Japan, were launched.

Guo Moruo, who arrived in Hankou somewhat later, headed the Third Department; he was responsible for the creation of anti-Japanese propaganda. In Guangzhou when the Japanese occupied Nanking, he said that the fall of that city might as well have occurred on another planet. He was not particularly interested in the fate of Nanking. Even when he wrote the Preface to Harold Timperley’s What War Means: The Japanese Terror in China, unlike Timperley, who castigated the Japanese for atrocities in Nanking, Guo had no remarks to make about the behavior of the Japanese military in Nanking, even when he commented on their brutality.

When the two men were involved with propaganda, propaganda campaigns were supervised by the Nationalist Party. The victory at Taierzhuang, the demolition of the dikes holding back the Yellow River, the triumph at De’an: Guo admitted that all these claims were lies, products of the Nationalist propaganda machine. He and Zhou both knew the difference between fact and Nationalist propaganda fiction, and that the Nanking “massacre” fell into the latter category.

When the Republic of China came into existence, Zhou Enlai was installed as its first premier. Guo Moruo was appointed deputy premier. Neither of them said a word about a massacre in Nanking.

CCP fixates on ascribing Three-All tactics to the Japanese

A month after World War II ended, the Liberation Daily, the CCP’s main organ of propaganda, carried an editorial demanding that war criminals be severely punished, accompanied by a list of names of alleged criminals and the reasons for punishing them.

The Liberation Daily was published in Yan’an, under the supervision of Mao Zedong. The articles it ran certainly represented the views of the CCP. At the top of its list of war criminals were Japan’s military leaders, charged with having waged a war of aggression: Araki Sadao, Honjo Shigeru, Doihara Kenji, Tojo Hideki and Sugiyama Hajime. They were followed by Terauchi Hisaichi, Yonai Mitsumasa, Nishio Toshizo (the chief operations strategists); and Yamashita Tomoyuki, Yamada Otozo, Okamura Yasuji, Hata Shunroku and Shimomura Sadamu (commanders of occupying armies). The editorial indicated that if the men in the third group had departed from areas they had occupied, they should be returned there and tried.

The second tier of war criminals included persons who had allegedly conspired to wage war, or who had cooperated with the Japanese military and actively supported the war. They were divided into three categories: (1) the imperial court, high-ranking government officials and bureaucrats; (2) business conglomerates, and (3) reactionary politicians and bureaucrats, and leaders of fascist groups.

Additionally, the editorial mentioned that persons who had violated the rules and regulations governing warfare, or the conventions of war, must pay the penalties specified in the criminal code. On this list were 42 names.

Gen. Matsui Iwane, who was charged with responsibility for the Nanking “massacre” at the Tokyo Trials, was included in the second group (as the leader of a fascist group), along with Goto Fumio and Hashimoto Kingoro. All three men were accused of having been advocates of an aggressive war, the voices of a fascist military organization, and fifth columnists; therefore, they deserved to be punished to some extent for breaking the law. The CCP considered Gen. Matsui, chairman of the Greater Asia Association, a war criminal who advocated a war of aggression. But the Communists gave absolutely no thought to Japanese atrocities in Nanking.

In October 1949, the CCP toppled the Nationalists and took up the reins of power in China. Almost immediately, the persecution of Christians began. Christianity was anathema to the Communists, who were convinced that most of the missionaries were spying for the Nationalists, giving them information about Red Army movements.

In June 1950, the Korean War broke out. In July, contact between Christian churches in China and their home churches overseas was cut off, the result of an anti-Christian campaign called the Three-Self Reform Movement.

In October, when the People’s Republic of China entered into the Korean War, a persecution campaign against Roman Catholics commenced. All French members of the clergy and persons holding positions of leadership were arrested for espionage or collaboration with the Nationalists, imprisoned, and either tortured or executed. All Catholic real estate was confiscated.

At the Sacred Heart Orphanage in Nanking, Franciscan nuns were indicted for infanticide and sentenced to prison terms. Directors of orphanages operated by churches in other large cities were arrested and branded as imperialist invaders who had attempted to poison the children of China, a nation now forging a new era.

In April 1951, American clergymen were persecuted for being American spies or Nationalist supporters.

Of the more than 3,000 foreign Protestant missionaries who had been in China, only 100 remained by 1952. Similarly, there had been over 3,000 Catholic missionaries in China, but only some 300 remained in 1953.

Persecution of Christians, which began with the arrest and deportation of foreign missionaries and the expulsion of foreign influences from Christian churches in China, soon escalated to the arrest of Chinese prelates and the Christian faithful. Between 1951 and 1952, more than 20,000 Chinese Christians were arrested and sentenced to long prison terms or hard labor. Church assets such as hospitals and schools were seized.

In September 1955, the arrest of Catholic priests and church members in Shanghai began. By the end of November, at least 50 members of the clergy and 1,400 Christian laypersons had been arrested. After 1955, churches in China were houses of silence.

Every missionary who had spent time in Nanking aided the Nationalists with their propaganda campaigns. They were major contributors to the propaganda that disseminated the rumors about the Nanking “massacre.”

When Japan was defeated in World War II, Dr. Robert Wilson, and professors Miner Searle Bates and John Magee traveled to Japan to testify about the Nanking Incident at the Tokyo Trials. Prof. Lewis Smythe, George Fitch (head of the YMCA) and missionary James McCallum submitted affidavits to the tribunal. Bates and Smythe testified at war-crimes trials held in Nanking. It was they who gave strength to the idea that the alleged massacre in Nanking, which was nothing more than wartime propaganda, was actual fact and helped it gain credibility throughout the world.

The PRC expelled those missionaries. Missionaries like McCallum and Mills, who had remained in China after World War II, departed when the Communists took control. Fitch, who was friendly with Song Meiling (Chiang Kai-shek’s wife) and acquainted with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, did missionary work in Korea for a time. Instead of returning to the PRC, however, Fitch went to Taiwan, now the home of the ROC.

When the Second Sino-Japanese War commenced, Mao Zedong made resisting the Japanese one of his primary goals. He praised the U.S. for opposing Japanese inroads in China, and hoped for help from the Western powers in combating the Japanese.

These missionaries were Americans, and among Americans were most assertive in their advocacy of support for China. Their strenuous anti-Japanese activities bore fruit: the U.S. grew more and more hostile toward Japan. The result was war between the two nations, in which the Japanese were defeated. During that time, the Nationalist Party, which had grasped China in a tyrannical hold, suffered a decline, while the CCP continued to gain momentum. In the end, the activities of missionaries at the outset of the Second Sino-Japanese War helped the CCP gain power. But the Communists expelled them.

While the expulsion of missionaries was still continuing, in 1951, Thirty Years of the Communist Party of China was published. The book was an outline history of the CCP, written by one Hu Qiaomu, who served as Mao’s head secretary, and after the birth of the PRC, head of the Government Administration Council’s Newspaper Office. Thirty Years of the Communist Party of China was the most authoritative CCP history of the time, and was considered required reading for party officials.

An examination of the book reveals language to the effect that beginning in early 1941, the Japanese employed the Three-All tactics in areas that they had wrested from Communist control, conducting massive sweeps, and killing everyone and destroying everything. Convincing the Chinese people that the Japanese had used these tactics was a key aspect of CCP history. However, the book contains not a word about a massacre in Nanking.

In August 1956, six years after the founding of the PRC, a group of 15 former Japanese military men visited the PRC. Leading the group were two former lieutenant-generals, Doi Akio and Endo Saburo. This was the first group of its kind to visit the PRC. Fifteen years had elapsed since the Japanese defeat, but China was, after all, a former enemy. It had become a Communist nation, and had no diplomatic relations with Japan. The group’s visit drew quite a bit of attention.

Former Lt.-Gen. Doi was a Soviet specialist, having served as military attaché at the Japanese Embassy in Moscow. After the war, he was president of the Institute for Research on Chinese Affairs, engaging in investigation into and analysis of the Communist bloc, including the PRC. Former Lt.-Gen. Endo Saburo had succeeded Lt.-Col. Ishiwara Kanji of the Guandong Army as staff officer in charge of operations. Endo had visited the PRC in 1945 for the first time, traveling with former Prime Minister Katayama Tetsu.

When he returned to Japan, Endo passed on the information that Chairman Mao Zedong wanted Japanese military personnel to see the new China. Former military men from all parts of Japan expressed enthusiasm for visiting China. They wanted to see what had happened to former battlefields, but were also curious about China’s military strength now that it had become a communist country. There was so much interest that the government implemented a selection process, narrowing the pool of applicants down to 15 men. The group was quite diverse: some members were in their sixties; others had not risen to the rank of second lieutenant by the end of the war, and were still in their thirties. Both the Army and Navy were represented.

The group entered China from Guangdong and proceeded to Beijing. There its members met with the PRC’s highest-ranking officials: Chen Yi (foreign minister), Premier Zhou Enlai, Peng Dehuai (defense minister), and Chairman Mao Zedong.

Obviously, the Second Sino-Japanese War was first and foremost on the minds of both the Japanese visitors and their Chinese hosts. No one mentioned the war per se, but Chen Yi and Peng Dehuai did allude to Japan’s having invaded China in the past, adding that that fact should not be forgotten. This was the first such meeting to be attended by former Japanese military personnel, which was probably why the war was mentioned by PRC leaders. However, not once did any of them refer to a massacre in Nanking.

The group also met with Lt.-Gen. Liu Fei, a graduate of the Army War College who served in the Operations Department under Xu Yongchang (chief of the general staff). He was a strategist whose prowess was such that he was compared to the German field marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder. Prior to the Japanese invasion of Nanking, Liu attended all high-level military conferences, and drafted all operation plans.

In November 1945, the War Crimes Investigation Committee was formed in the ROC, with Fei at its head. In March 1949, when the conflict between the Nationalists and Communists was nearing an end, Liu was invited to participate in the peace talks between the two parties. One thing led to another, and Liu defected to the CCP. Upon the establishment of the PRC, he was appointed to the People’s Revolutionary Military Committee. That same Lt.-Gen. Liu invited several members of the group to his home, where a discussion was held about the Battle of Nanking.

Six days prior to the fall of Nanking, Chiang Kai-shek boarded a plane and fled the city, accompanied by his aides. However, one of them, a secretary named Wu Maosun, like Liu Fei, soon switched his loyalties to the PRC. Wu garnered a key position at that nation’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, and was also a member of the Anti-Japanese Operations Committee. He also was present at gatherings involving PRC officials and the Japanese visitors. Among the topics discussed were the fall of Nanking and the flight of Chiang Kai-shek.

The Japanese group traveled to Nanking from Beijing. The infantry school near Tangshan, which the Japanese had attacked in 1937, was now a prestigious military academy with a state-of-the-art infantry training program. The group toured the academy, observing classes in session. At that point in the journey, again, no mention was made of anything resembling a massacre in Nanking.

One of the members of the group was former Maj. Inukai Soichiro, who had taken part in the Battle of Nanking as commander of a communications squad attached to the 16th Division. That division was stationed in Nanking for more than a month after the city fell. Inukai was never confronted about a massacre or atrocities in Nanking; in fact, the matter never came up. No one talked about anything like that, not in Japan, and not in the PRC.

Former Lt.-Gen. Endo Saburo, who was instrumental in arranging for the China trip, was executive director of the World Federalist Movement, an international institution that advocates the renunciation of war; and a delegate of the Citizens’ Union for the Protection of the Constitution. Endo was one of two leaders of the group of former military men (the other was Lt. Gen. Doi). Later, Endo formed a group called Society of Former Japanese Military Personnel for Japan-China Friendship, which resulted in his being referred to as the “red soldier.” He visited the PRC several more times, offering his personal apology. That prompted the PRC to mention Japanese aggression. However, none of the PRC officials breathed a word to Endo about the Nanking “massacre.”

No one talked about atrocities in the city of Nanking, not even after the CCP gained control of the government. The Republic of China conducted war-crimes trials in Nanking. Lt.-Gen. Tani Hisao and three other former officers charged with war crimes in connection with the Battle of Nanking, and sentenced to death. A meter-high, commemorative stone monument was erected at Yuhuatai, the site of their executions; it remained standing until the mid-1950s. However, it was later demolished and replaced with a monument honoring heroes of the revolution.

PRC officially decrees 300,000-victim “massacre”

There was no change in the PRC’s stance regarding Nanking until the mid-1960s. The Cultural Revolution took place in May 1966, and then the situation changed. On New Year’s Day of 1967, the first installment of “Showa Era History and the Emperor,” a serialized feature, appeared in the Yomiuri Shimbun. The series was an analysis of the Showa era, with a focus on the mid-1930s. It began with efforts to end World War II, and traced the postwar activities of heads of state of Japan’s allies, such as Puyi (the former emperor of Manzhouguo) and Chandra Bose, president of the Provisional Government of Free India.

The series was supposed to run for some time, and the chapter of history dealing with wars between Japan and China could obviously not be omitted. That meant that the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which had been shrouded in mystery for decades, had to be covered as well. At least that was the opinion of the creative team behind “Showa Era History and the Emperor.”

To shed light on the incident, they first needed to ascertain which side fired first on Marco Polo Bridge. They decided to search for all surviving members of the 8th Company, which was on the scene. Quite a few were located, all of whom were interviewed. They were asked where they were on the night of July 7, and what they were doing. A clear picture of the events emerged.

Following an account of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, the series’ producers decided to cover efforts to make peace with Wang Jingwei’s government. To that end, they began interviewing people close to Lt.-Gen. Kagesa Sadaaki, who had been head of the Strategy and Military Affairs sections (Kagesa died three years after Japan’s defeat).

Since the series was an ambitious project, they decided to divide it up into topics, assigning a team of investigators to each. Other staff members were assigned to write up the reporters’ research. A communications lag developed between the investigators and the writers.

In October 1970, a discussion of the defection of Chen Gongbo, the deputy premier of the Nanking government appeared in print. Coverage of the postwar movements of heads of state commenced with Puyi and ended with Chen’s flight to Japan. When the last installment of that topic ended, an account of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident began.

As soon as the coverage of Chen Gongbo began, the PRC’s Information Services Department issued a protest, complaining that the reportage was biased, and demanding that corrective steps be taken. The article referred only to Chen’s seeking of asylum in Japan, but the PRC said they found the mere mention of Chen Gongbo, who headed a puppet government, unacceptable.

At that time, the Cultural Revolution was in full swing in the PRC, and now it was engulfing Japan’s newspapers. In 1968, two years after the “Showa Era History and the Emperor” series had begun, Yomiuri Shimbun correspondents were deported from Beijing. The feature on Chen Gongbo was supposed to appear two years later, from October to December of 1970. Since the newspaper was searching for a way to have its reporters welcome in Beijing once again, it did not want to antagonize the Chinese.

For that reason, the feature on Chen Gongbo appeared as scheduled, but that on the Marco Polo Bridge Incident was canceled, even though research had nearly been completed. The only connected aspect of it that was printed was some background material concerning the Fengtai incidents; the rest was scrapped. The Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which was on the verge of being elucidated more than 30 years after it occurred, was to remain cloaked in mystery.

The section on Wang Jingwei, viewed as a collaborator of the Japanese in the PRC, was canceled as well. In July 1972, the Yomiuri Shimbun was permitted to send representatives to Beijing for the first time in five years, perhaps because the Japanese submitted to Chinese demands.

As even this incident alone tells us, the PRC was interfering with individual articles that appeared in Japanese newspapers, and was manipulating the Japanese press. But the Chinese did not demand that the Nanking “massacre” be covered in “Showa Era History and the Emperor.”

In September 1972, diplomatic relations were formalized between Japan and China. At the end of the year, Ogawa Heishiro was appointed ambassador to China. He served in that position until July 1977, almost five years. According to Ogawa, the Second Sino-Japanese War often came up in conversations with Chinese leaders. A play had even been written about it. Ogawa had the opportunity to discuss the war with people from all walks of life. The Chinese had not forgotten the conflict, and that was what came to mind when the subject of Japan was raised. However, none of the Chinese leaders whom the ambassador came to know well, or any Chinese, for that matter, mentioned the Nanking “massacre.” Nor did anyone ask him about it.

I believe I have demonstrated that not one representative of the PRC military, media or diplomatic community raised the question of a massacre in Nanking, not at diplomatic venues, or anywhere in China.

The fourth chapter of a middle school history textbook published in the PRC in March 1979 is entitled “War Against Japan: July 1937-September 1945.” Its first section bears the heading “War Against Japan Commences, Involving All of China.” The second section is entitled “Nationalist Party Suffers Major Defeats.” In other words, the book describes the course of the conflict.

Here is an excerpt.

The Nationalist Party, representing the interests of large landowners and capitalist financiers, oppressed the people. However, they chose to make concessions to the enemy and, for that reason, suffered a major defeat in the war against the Japanese. In North China, they were routed from Beijing, Tianjin, and Chahar and Suiyuan provinces. By the end of 1937, they had retreated as far south as the Yellow River. In Central and South China, they lost Shanghai and Nanking in rapid succession at the end of 1937. In October 1938, Japanese troops invaded and occupied Guangzhou, and then Hankou.

We see that accounts of the Nanking “massacre” are absent from Chinese textbooks. However, during the infancy of the PRC, there were virtually no historical references or studies published in China that addressed events in Nanking after the Japanese occupation commenced. The Chinese were unable to purchase such materials in bookstores or read them in a library. The Nanking “massacre” was not discussed in China.

Every time I visit the PRC, I ask Chinese who experienced the war with Japan what they can tell me about a massacre in Nanking. In every case, the answer has been, “I have never heard of such a thing.” Of course, they didn’t know about it, since it never occurred.

Then, when did the “massacre” become a topic of discussion there? In my possession is another Chinese textbook. The publication date is listed as November 1981, meaning that it was published after the book to which I referred earlier by about 30 months. The following is a passage from the more recent book.

Once Japanese troops had occupied Nanking, they embarked on a rampage of slaughter, as if they had lost their senses. They used innocent residents of Nanking for target or close-combat practice, or doused them with kerosene and burned them alive, or disemboweled them. They murdered at least 300,000 Chinese during a period lasting slightly more than one month. The enemy used barbarous means to oppress the Chinese people, and plotted to crush those Chinese who would wage war against them. However, the enemy’s brutal atrocities aroused extraordinary anger among the Chinese people.

This was the first time that an account of the Nanking “massacre” appeared in a PRC textbook. The students who used it began to spread the word. Today, they would be in their forties or older.

Tours to the PRC are inevitably assigned a Chinese guide. On my third trip there, a pudgy man in his thirties with a shaved head was the guide for our group. Included in his self-introduction, presented in fluent Japanese, was, “I am a member of the Chinese Communist Party.” Slightly on edge because of the mention of his party affiliation, I listened carefully to him, figuring that he was a member of the elite who had studied Japanese in college.

On the second day of our bus tour, the guide and his charges began to open up to each other. We even shared snacks. When the bus halted briefly for a rest stop, I went over to him and asked for his opinion of the Nanking “massacre.”

Instantly, he scowled, and glared at me. He didn’t say a word. But the look on his face was saying, “You mean you don’t believe that it happened?” I found his now aggressive body language intimidating. For a moment, I wondered if I would succeed in returning safely to Japan. We moved away from each other without exchanging a word. But when I glanced at the guide after a while, I could still see the venom in his eyes.

Most young Chinese have some knowledge of the Nanking “massacre.” That is why they hate the Japanese. Today when they hear the word “Japan,” the first thing that comes to mind is Japanese atrocities in Nanking.

And this is why older citizens of the PRC do not know about the Nanking “massacre,” and why the young people are dead certain that it happened.

The appearance of accounts of the “massacre” in PRC textbooks triggered other events. In 1982, PRC newspapers began writing about the “massacre” and its 300,000 victims. The Chinese government selected “survivors” to share their experiences at public venues. In 1983, books on the subject began to appear in China, and in a suburb of Nanking, the cornerstone was laid for a memorial to the victims.

In 1984, the city of Nanking launched a full-scale, city-wide investigation into the “massacre.” In 1985, the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, located outside the city, was completed. Human bones dug up at the site, Japanese Type-38 infantry guns, and burial records said to be contemporaneous with the “massacre” were displayed there.

But was there really any point in displaying these objects? In China, where bodies are buried underground, it is always possible to dig up human bones. China first became a unified nation at the end of the Warring States era (476-221 B.C.). During the conflict, in which the Zhao fought the Qin, Zhao soldiers were buried alive in pits. Human bones well over 2,000 years old are still being excavated.

After Japan’s defeat in World War II, Japanese soldiers were disarmed. Eventually, many Type-38 infantry guns made their way to China. In 1998, when I visited Harbin, I found a facility that exhibited weapons to tourists. There I saw Type-38 infantry guns, which I was able to handle and photograph. Type-38 infantry guns can be found everywhere in the PRC.

The burial records, purportedly from the late 1930s, are simple affairs showing the year and the number of burials. Anybody could create them. Such exhibits neither inform nor add value to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall.

On the front of the building is an engraved sign, in Chinese characters reportedly penned by Deng Xiaoping, reading “Memorial for Compatriots Killed in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Forces of Aggression.” Near it are the figure “300000” and the word “VICTIMS” in both Chinese and English.

Deng Xiaoping is listed as head of the Central Military Commission, but since Mao Zedong was no longer alive, Deng was in fact the highest-ranking official, or president, of the PRC. It was Deng who, four years later, decided to use force to subdue the protests in Tian’anmen Square.

The fact that Deng wrote the words that appeared on the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall near the “300000” figure supposedly representing the number of victims means that the PRC had officially decided that the Nanking “massacre” had claimed 300,000 victims. This was the first official decree; previously, PRC officials had never even mentioned a massacre.

Thus, the subject of the Nanking “massacre” was first aired in the PRC in the early 1980s. With the erection of the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall in 1985, it became “unassailable fact.”

The Republic of China created the “massacre” as a propaganda ploy for use during the war. Later, the ROC had charged former Japanese officials and military men with responsibility for it at war-crimes trials, had little to say about the “massacre” after the war, but unlike the PRC, was not silent on the subject.

In 1952, a revised edition of Chiang Kai-shek, a biography, was issued. A new section was added to the one covering the conflict between China and Japan; this one contained an account of the Nanking “massacre.”

In 1968, Resuming Civilian Life, the autobiography of Niu Xianming, who had headed an engineering regiment in the Battle of Nanking, was serialized in a Chinese magazine. In 1972, soon after diplomatic relations were established between Japan and the PRC, The Nanking Massacre, written by Guo Qi (a Nanking Defense Force battalion commander who infiltrated the Safety Zone), was serialized in another Chinese magazine. Accounts of the “massacre” had yet to appear in school textbooks, but the ROC had begun publicizing it. The PRC took the lead from the ROC, alluding to events alleged to have taken place immediately after the Battle of Nanking, but not until more than 40 years after the “fact.”

Sign on front of Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall reads “Memorial for Compatriots Killed in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Forces of Aggression;” the figure “300000,” the alleged number of victims, is also displayed

Japanese attempts to elucidate massacre accusations backfire

Why, more than 30 years after World War II had ended, did the PRC bring up the Nanking “massacre?”

In September 1966, the Oya Inspection Team visited the PRC. Its members consisted of commentators and journalists, notably Oya Soichi, Omori Minoru and Hata Yutaka. Members had asked to see the PRC with their own eyes (diplomatic relations between Japan and the PRC had not yet been established). Their trip coincided with the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.

At that time, powerful party members were being denounced, humiliated and ousted by teenagers. Photographs of Mao Zedong were everywhere, and everything one saw or heard in the PRC was connected to him. Unsurprisingly, the attention of the Japanese group was riveted on the Cultural Revolution.

The team entered China from Guangdong, then traveled to Guangzhou, Shanghai; after one week, it arrived in Nanking, on September 15. There Omori Minoru asked the owner of a travel agency, who had showed the group around the city, if he knew of anyone whose relatives or siblings had been victims of the Nanking “massacre.”

The response: “No, I don’t. We want to forget about what happened then and concentrate on a future of friendship between China and Japan.”

The man must have been surprised when the subject was aired with no warning. He made no attempt to elaborate. But Omori wouldn’t back down. Still, the travel agent hesitated. He said, “Let’s let bygones be bygones. There’s no need to dwell on the past.”

Omori persisted, but the conversation continued in the same vein. Eventually, he said, “We’re sick and tired of hearing you sing the praises of Mao Zedong. Can’t you be a little more considerate of visitors from Japan?” At this point, the travel agent lost his temper. “All right, then. If you insist, I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow, and I’ll show you evidence, too.”

On the next day, he arrived armed with PRC references pertaining to the “massacre.” He opened the conversation, saying, “I have no desire to resurrect the topic of the Nanking massacre, but since you insisted, I’ll tell you the facts.”

Remember that the group’s visit took place within an extraordinary atmosphere — the throes of the Cultural Revolution. Perhaps that was why Omori was relentless about making his wishes known, angering his host by bringing up the “massacre” and taking Mao’s name in vain.

In March 1967, Niijima Atsuyoshi, an assistant professor at Waseda University, traveled to the PRC. Niijima had long been singing the praises of the Cultural Revolution. He was moved to tears of gratitude by the establishment of the Shanghai People’s Commune. Niijima assailed the JCP (Japanese Communist Party) for having opposed its Chinese counterpart, but eventually denounced the Cultural Revolution. In 1967, however, he was its major Japanese proponent.

When he visited Nanking, Niijima too brought up the subject of the “massacre,” and asked to interview people who had experienced it so he could hear their stories. The Chinese to whom he submitted the request said, “We never talk about it unless specifically asked.”

The purpose of Niijima’s visit to the PRC was to witness the Cultural Revolution. However, he was overwhelmed by the upheaval, and under those unusual circumstances, asked about the “massacre.” He said that it was important for the Japanese people to learn in detail about what happened in Nanking, since they had absolutely no idea. However, neither Niijima nor Omori before him were in Nanking when the “massacre” allegedly took place. Neither man knew anything about the “massacre.” Neither man had investigated it. All they knew was what they had read in History of the Pacific War (issued by GHQ) or in coverage of the “massacre” at the Tokyo Trials.

Both were angry because Japan had failed to include accounts of the “massacre” in its school textbooks. They may have wondered why the Chinese weren’t up in arms about the omission.
But there was no interest in the “massacre” in the PRC then, nor was there any information available, judging from the fact that Chinese who were asked about it needed a day’s lead time to supply “answers.”

Toward the end of 1970, the Asahi Shimbun started asking the same questions. The newspaper asked for permission for its staff members to visit locations where Japanese military personnel had allegedly committed atrocities, and to meet with victims of the “massacre” and hear their stories. The Cultural Revolution was still marching on at the time.

Permission was not forthcoming until May 1971, by which time more than six months had elapsed. Perhaps the reason for the delay was that the PRC was caught off guard by the Asahi Shimbun request. Or perhaps it took them that long because they needed to do “site preparation” for what the Asahi journalists wanted to see.

The following month, Honda Katsuichi, one of the newspaper’s reporters, traveled to China. He went to Nanking, and there heard the story of the “massacre.” Perhaps because several years had gone by since Omori and Niijima had been in China, several witnesses were available in Nanking to testify to the “massacre.”

Like the two men who preceded him, Honda Katsuichi had little knowledge of what was supposed to have happened in Nanking, and no evidence that anything had happened. He simply listened to what the Chinese had to say. What he heard he turned into Travels in China, which was serialized in the Asahi Shimbun.

The aforementioned former Lt.-Gen. Endo Saburo visited the PRC for the fifth time in June 1972, six months after Travels in China began appearing in the newspaper. Accompanying him were three members of the Society of Former Japanese Military Personnel for Japan-China Friendship, the group that had visited the PRC previously. Endo met two surviving witnesses of the “massacre.” This was the first time he heard about it.

For a long time, the Chinese had no interest at all in the Nanking “massacre.” What is more, they had no information or pertinent historical resources. It was the Japanese who brought up the subject, and asked the Chinese to educate them on the subject. The PRC finally prepared a response. With each repetition of that response, more attention was drawn in the PRC to the “massacre.”

Perhaps the explanation is that the Chinese learned that the Japanese daily with the largest circulation had serialized Travels in China, which was later published in book form and became a best seller. Then the Chinese began discussing the “massacre.”

Soon the “massacre” made its way into textbooks, and the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall was built. Not long afterwards, the PRC suddenly began showing great respect for Christian missionaries it had once expelled, and displaying photographic “evidence” acquired from them.

This is how the Nanking “massacre,” an event that never occurred, became Chinese historical fact, half a century after the Battle of Nanking.



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