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The Rape of Nanking

Introduction

War is the largest evil ever to have been invented by human beings. All the rage and horror of war is usually manifested in the treatment that civil citizens of the contesting countries get from their rivals. This aspect of the World War II stands no criticism as far as the tortures and atrocities that civil citizens were put under together with military officers and soldiers were unbelievable1. Special cruelty was noticed in those times in Asian countries where Japan, as an ally of the Nazi Germany carried out its severe and aggressive imperialistic policies. The present research paper will focus on the arguments presented by Iris Chang in her book The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II regarding cruelty and atrocities of the Japanese army in China in 1937 – 1938. The paper will consider the historical background of the events described in the book and examine the controversy this book rose in the literary and historical world.

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Main body

To begin with, it is necessary to assess the historical background of the events of the so called Rape of Nanking presented in the book by Iris Chang. The author herself was a daughter of the Chinese immigrants to the United States who came to know about the tragedy from her parents. She recalled the state as her being “in a panic that this terrifying disrespect for death and dying, this reversion in human social evolution, would be reduced to a footnote of history, treated like a harmless glitch in a computer program that might or might not again cause a problem, unless someone forced the world to remember it”2. Having become rather interested in the issue of the anti-Chinese holocaust and having learnt that little research had been carried out on this topic, Iris Chang started her search of evidence for her future book. Her inspiration was the feeling of patriotism for her people and sorrow for the memory of those who were innocently killed during the terrible six weeks in the late 1937 – early 1938 in Nanking3.

The acknowledged and the widely recognized fact is that the Nanking Rape (or Nanking Massacre as it is also called) actually took place in the then capital of China Nanking beginning from December 1937 up to the early February of 1938. It is estimated by scholars that the amount of people ranging from 150, 000 to 350, 000 people were killed in Nanking during that Massacre4.

Moreover, the horrors of Nanking Rape were not limited by killing of military persons from the rival Chinese army. The numbers of the civil citizens of that Chinese city are much larger and include murdered women, children and elderly people. Murder, rape, molesting, forced incest, as well as arson, looting, theft and other war crimes were made the usual day-to-day activity of the Japanese soldiers who were bored so much as to contest in the number of Chinese people each of them could kill during a day, or the number of women they could rape5.

Burial places of immense sizes were long found near the city of Nanking during the decades that followed the end of the World War II. They all are the proofs of the cruelty that the Japanese army exercised over the conquested territories of China. Moreover, the documentary evidence of the holocaust against the Chinese people can also be found as far as the secret telegrams and notes of the Japanese officials reveal their knowledge of the events taking place in Nanking and of the range of mass murders that were committed there6.

However, the international issue connected with the Nanking Massacre is that it has never been recognized as the war crime of Japan, as the crimes of Nazi Germany were. This fact is explained by certain historians referring to the secret agreements between the Japanese and the US Governments according to which Japan remained unpunished.

Thus, the above considered historical event is the focus of the book by Iris Chang. However, there is till no uniform opinion about the accuracy of the data presented by this Chinese-American author in her work. So, to clear up the issues of accuracy and adequacy of the argument presented by Iris Chang, it is necessary first to take it into account and then consider the criticism Chang received as the response to her research.

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First of all, it has never been a matter of doubt for Iris Chang that the Rape of Nanking was the largest and the mist cruel crime against humanity. Her argument is supported by the number of 300, 000 Chinese people who were killed during the six weeks of the Massacre which is, according to Chang, proved by the secret correspondence of the Japanese authorities: “…not less than three hundred thousand Chinese civilians [were] slaughtered, many cases in cold blood.”7 Also, the acts of brutality, forced incest and infant rape were characteristic of the horror that took place in Nanking described by Iris Chang.

Further on, the argument by the author goes on to consider the sexual crimes that were committed by the Japanese military forces during the six weeks of the massacre. Iris Chang calls this massacre to be the “one of the greatest mass rapes in world history.”8 The author also considers the cases of the violence unbelievable even for the cruelest wars in previous centuries. Chang considers the cases of group rape, rape of infants and the oldest women in the city of Nanking, rape of mothers by their sons, and of daughters by their fathers. According to Iris Chang, even the Buddhist monks were forced to have intercourse with Chinese women who were then brutally murdered and mutilated.

Furthermore, the book by Iris Chang is full of depictions of brutal violence scenes that the author heard from the witnesses of the tragedy who lived it through and survived. Her research was carried out in Nanking, in neighboring territories and in the archives of China and the United States. Thus, her opinions are based upon the facts and words of those people who experienced the evil Chang wrote about in her book. For example, the situations when a woman was raped and then severely tortured and murdered after that were not something unusual in Nanking in winter of 1937 – 1938: “sometimes [Japanese soldiers] slashed open the bellies of pregnant women and ripped out the fetuses for amusement”9.

All these points in the argument by Iris Chang make her book a rather reliable source of information about the tragic historical events that took place in the Chinese city of Nanking in 1937 – 1938. Moreover, Chang’s book is the manifestation of her patriotic feelings and protest against holocaust of her people. The book itself makes in impression of the perfect combination of purely factual historical information combined with emotional judgment about the war crimes committed by the Japanese troops in China during the World War II. Also, the book is illustrated with numerous photos of horrors Chinese people had to come through during the Japanese conquest of the city. Thus, viewing the book from the purely emotional and humane point it is impossible to stay impartial to the suffering of the Chinese people. However, it is widely argued that pure historical basis for the book is lacking support and factual evidence. To clear this point up, it is necessary to consider the opposing viewpoints.

First of all, it is necessary to state that Iris Chang committed suicide several years after her book was published mostly due to the pressure of criticism that she could not resist. It is evident thus, that critics were rather rude in their considerations of the book10. The historical competence of the author was doubted as far as her experience in writing historical works, her possession of accurate information on the topic and ability to properly analyze it11.

The first critical point was that the very idea of the book as the only source of data about the Nanking Massacre was mistaken. Scholars proved that numerous works have been dedicated to the topic in Chinese, Japanese, American and European historiography and made the basis for Chang’s work look vague12. This is an evident fact, but the work by Chang present the different perspective of the issue viewed from the humane point but not from the purely scientific one.

Also, the misuse of photos allegedly picturing the hardships of the Chinese in Nanking under the Japanese rule but actually taken several years earlier or later to describe other events in which Japanese military forces took place was incriminated to the author, as well as single sided approach to the issue that made criminals out of the Japanese people. This criticism was grounded to a large extent but its essence was single-sided as well because its supporters were either Japanese ultra-right nationalist who did not admit the fact of Nanking massacre at all, or European scholars who had little information of the issue13.

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Conclusion

As a result, the book by Iris Chang became a controversial phenomenon in the historiography on the whole and in Chinese-Japanese historical literature in particular. The boo, although having evident drawbacks in respect of historical basis and actuality of some data presented, is nevertheless a research based work that applied the data of other researchers and combined them with the evidence of the witnesses of Nanking Massacre events. The remarks and open criticisms of the Chang’s opponents in respect of the accuracy of the use of photos in her book or inadequacy of the research as such do not prevent this book from being a valuable source of historical information. The above considered arguments presented by the author and critical notes from her opponents make the essence of the book the matter of further study and clarification. This paper aimed at considering the arguments presented by Iris Chang and the controversial attitudes of some scholars to her boo in order to see where the actual truth lies. This research managed to find out that despite all the critical remarks the boo by Chang is an adequate and valuable resource for the study of history of China and Nanking Massacre in particular.

Reference List

  1. Brooks, R. 1999. When Sorry Isn’t Enough: The Controversy Over Apologies and Reparations for Human Injustice (Critical American Series). NYU Press.
  2. Chang, Iris. 1998. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. Penguin (Non-Classics).
  3. Marius, R. & Melvin, E. 2006. Short Guide to Writing About History, A (6th Edition) (Short Guides Series). Longman.
  4. Ogawa, Shuko. “The Difficulty of Apology.” Harvard International Review 22, no. 3 (2000): 42.
  5. Orr, James. “The Making of the “Rape of Nanking”: History and Memory in Japan, China, and the United States.” Pacific Affairs 80, no. 2 (2007): 364+.
  6. Pan, Yihong. “Fei Fei Li, Robert Sabella, and David Liu, Editors. Nanking 1937: Memory and Healing.” China Review International 9, no. 2 (2002): 481+.
  7. Rabe, J. 2000. The Good Man of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe. Vintage; Reprint edition.
  8. Reilly, Kevin. 2007. Worlds of History: A Comparative Reader, Volume Two: Since 1400 (Worlds of History). Bedford/St. Martin’s; Third Edition.
  9. Yamamoto, M. 2000. Nanking : Anatomy of an Atrocity. Praeger Publishers.
  10. Zhao, Yali, and John D. Hoge. “Countering Textbook Distortion: War Atrocities in Asia, 1937-1945.” Social Education 70, no. 7 (2006): 424+.

Footnotes

  1. Marius, R. & Melvin, E. Short Guide to Writing About History, A (6th Edition) (Short Guides Series, Longman, 2006), 14.
  2. Chang, Iris. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. (Penguin Non-Classics, 1998), 10.
  3. Orr, James. “The Making of the “Rape of Nanking”: History and Memory in Japan, China, and the United States.” Pacific Affairs 80, no. 2 (2007): 364+.
  4. Zhao, Yali, and John D. Hoge. “Countering Textbook Distortion: War Atrocities in Asia, 1937-1945.” Social Education 70, no. 7 (2006): 424+.
  5. Reilly, Kevin. Worlds of History: A Comparative Reader, Volume Two: Since 1400. (Bedford/St. Martin’s; Third Edition, 2007.), 217.
  6. Zhao, Yali, and John D. Hoge. “Countering Textbook Distortion: War Atrocities in Asia, 1937-1945.” Social Education 70, no. 7 (2006): 424+.
  7. Chang, Iris. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. (Penguin Non-Classics, 1998), 103 – 104.
  8. Chang, Iris. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. (Penguin Non-Classics, 1998), 90.
  9. Chang, Iris, 91.
  10. Pan, Yihong. “Fei Fei Li, Robert Sabella, and David Liu, Editors. Nanking 1937: Memory and Healing.” China Review International 9, no. 2 (2002): 481+.
  11. Brooks, R. When Sorry Isn’t Enough: The Controversy Over Apologies and Reparations for Human Injustice (Critical American Series, NYU Press, 1999.), 118.
  12. Yamamoto, M. Nanking : Anatomy of an Atrocity. (Praeger Publishers, 2000), 133.
  13. Ogawa, Shuko. “The Difficulty of Apology.” Harvard International Review 22, no. 3 (2000): 42.

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