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Nanjing Massacre as Japan’s Denied War Crime Essay

The Nanjing Massacre: The Denied War Crime of Japan

The history of the twentieth century is connected to a wide range of events related to the military conflicts and the myriad innocent victims who suffered because of the dividing lines pursued by the governments of their countries. The Nanjing massacre, for example, is one of the most infamous tragedies to take place during the second war between China and Japan, and its impact on further development in the relationships between these countries must not be underestimated. Furthermore, the attempts of the Japanese authorities to hide the mistakes made by their fellow-subjects, though the events happened almost eighty years ago, presents an additional factor that prevents these countries from unlocking their potential and pursuing more effective cooperation in many spheres of activity.

There is no doubt that the Nanjing massacre belongs on the list of the most terrible events in the history of China, especially those associated with the more than eight-year-long second war between the Empire of Japan and the Republic of China. The war under discussion took place concurrently with the Second World War, beginning in 1937, and the reasons that led to an escalation of the conflict are many (Weiss 433). On the one hand, it was caused by the desire of the Japanese leaders, using naked aggression, to establish an empire over Chinese people and win their territory and other resources. At the same time, if the situation in China comes into consideration, it can be said that ideas aimed at promoting national unity of the Chinese people were becoming more and more popular despite certain differences, related to their religious beliefs and cultural assumptions in general, between people living in different parts of the Republic of China. It follows logically that the dissemination of such ideas made it more difficult for Japan to expand its influence in the world.

The war under consideration began after a series of incidents and military showdowns, including happenings in other territories that belonged to China. The escalating conflict attracted a lot of attention from countries that possessed significant war potential (the Soviet Union and the United States); these helped the Chinese troops as they were interested in the defeat of Japan. Even though China possessed numerical superiority, the combat effectiveness of its army did not compare to that of Japan’s industrialized military forces due to its lower level of development about military technology and weapons. Therefore, the military casualties of China were a few times higher than those of the Imperial Japanese Army.

Within this context, the massacre in Nanjing began in the middle of December, when the city was occupied by Japanese military forces. Over more than a month, many acts of violence were perpetrated by the Japanese occupiers against local women, children, elderly people, and unarmed men. There is no doubt that the cruelty of the Japanese invaders is impossible to overstate—for example, a majority of the women and even the children who died survived rape before being murdered. On top of these murderous crimes, Japanese military officers often committed acts of torture to terrify other local citizens to death and destroy their will to resist. In general, it can be said that the Japanese invaders did not stop at any means to punish Chinese people for their desire to live by their ideas and prevent Japan from expanding any further influence in the world. Therefore, during the relatively short period when Japanese military officers had free rein, as their activity within the territory of the city was not controlled by international committees, they committed hundreds of crimes including mass murders of the civilian population, disfigurement, putting people to torture, rape, robbing, illegal executions of Chinese military prisoners, destruction of property, and many other unforgivable acts.

One of the most important questions related to this period of the second war between Japan and China is connected to the exact number of Chinese people who became victims. In investigating many sources, it becomes clear that the numbers of victims tend to be different because of various approaches applied by researchers; for instance, the latter tend to define different periods and locations as a basis for their studies. In general, investigators and researchers from Japan try to glean facts in such a way that it will allow them to understate the number of victims, claiming the total to be no more than a few hundred people. At the same time, as is made clear by assessments made in China, about three hundred thousand Chinese noncombatants died during the six-week massacre (McMillan 4).

To better understand the importance and influence of this event, it is necessary to define its place in the history of China. To begin with, there is no doubt that it belongs to the most terrible events related to people living in China. Nevertheless, in different periods of history, the level of awareness of this event in other parts of the world varied as well. For instance, during the Cold War, representatives of China-made almost no attempt to raise the topic of the massacre because of their unwillingness to cause additional problems, considering that the situation in the world was already unstable. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that people in China often think about this tragedy and venerate the memory of those who became the victims. For instance, since the end of the twentieth century, many events have taken place that was devoted to people who died or lost their relatives in the Nanjing massacre. For example, a memorial hall was built in the city to prevent modern Chinese people (especially later generations) from forgetting about those events and to remind them of all the hardships that their ancestors had to overcome (Yen 31). Also, activists and historians have organized exhibitions of photographs related to the Nanjing massacre in major cities outside China to attract more attention to the problem in the global community and make more foreigners aware of the conflict. Furthermore, it is necessary to say that the events under discussion and their interpretation play an important role in Chinese culture and mass media.

Accordingly, many documentaries and feature motion pictures have been created by directors, not only from China but from other countries as well, who are interested in the topic. Some of the films have included much unique material such as library pictures and interviews with those who survived the events and others involved in the war crimes being discussed here (Chan and Willis 53). Besides, it can be said that the events in Nanjing at the beginning of the second war between China and Japan became an important topic for many writers and historians working in both countries. Therefore, it is necessary to mention that several Japanese writers were interested in whitewashing war crimes committed by Japanese military officers, which included understating the number of victims among the civilian Chinese population. In terms of the particular role that knowledge of the discussed events plays in Chinese culture, it is necessary to state that this has become one of the most important points related to shaping a kind of ethnic self-awareness on the part of the Chinese people; although there can be certain differences between the representatives of this nation, the willingness to pay tribute to their ancestors and make their children aware of the events of those days acts as an additional factor that encourages and advances nation-building in modern China.

Another important topic that invites study is the reaction of the global community regarding these events and the particular lessons that have been learned from this terrible experience. To begin with, it may be of crucial importance to discern the influence that these events had on international relationships. There is no doubt that the impact of these events on the further development of relationships between China and Japan is impossible to overestimate. On the one hand, the memory of these events and the unwillingness of Japanese officials to admit the war crimes of their fellow countrymen have been an important factor, for decades, in preventing these countries from smoothing relationships and building strong commercial ties. Nevertheless, sometime after the war, these two countries managed to improve their relations, resulting in increased collaboration in the cultural and education sectors. Also, there have been many improvements regarding commercial intercourse between Japan and China. Twenty-two years ago, in the middle of August, for the first time, public authorities in Japan admitted that the military actions of the Japanese army in Nanjing were tied to a series of unforgivable acts of violence toward unarmed Chinese people including children.

Such a statement helped to ease the rifts between the countries for a short period. In other cases, people in positions of authority in Japan have tried to avoid discussing these questions to prevent further conflict; some have even tried to prove that numerous documents stating the number of victims and the particular acts of violence and testimony of victims had been faked to turn the global community against Japan (Honda et al. 291). Taking that into consideration, it is obvious that modern people living in China still remember not only the numerous hardships that their families had to survive but also the attempts of the Japanese ruling group to disavow all responsibility for war crimes committed by their predecessors. This remains one of the most influential causes of deep mistrust of Chinese common people and even officials toward Japanese authorities.

In the end, there is no doubt that the numerous war crimes committed by Japanese military men in many locations, including Nanjing, play a significant negative role in the relationships between China and Japan. Worse still, the latter country is not yet ready to acknowledge its guilt. Perhaps most importantly, this experience should become a lesson for the countries that conduct campaigns in the territories of other states.

Works Cited

Chan, Felicia, and Andy Willis. Chinese Cinemas: International Perspectives. Routledge, 2016.

Honda, Katsuichi, et al. The Nanjing Massacre: A Japanese Journalist Confronts Japan’s National Shame. Routledge, 2015.

McMillan, Stuart. “Facing East Asia’s Complexities without a Grand Vision.” New Zealand International Review, vol. 40, no. 3, 2015, p. 4.

Weiss, Amanda. “Contested Images of Rape: The Nanjing Massacre in Chinese and Japanese Films.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 41, no. 2, 2016, pp. 433-456.

Yen, Hsiao-pei. “Exhibiting the Past: Historical Memory and the Politics of Museums in Postsocialist China by Kirk A. Denton (review).” China Review International, vol. 21, no. 1, 2014, pp. 30-33.

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"Nanjing Massacre as Japan's Denied War Crime." IvyPanda, 21 Sept. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/nanjing-massacre-as-japans-denied-war-crime/.

1. IvyPanda. "Nanjing Massacre as Japan's Denied War Crime." September 21, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/nanjing-massacre-as-japans-denied-war-crime/.


IvyPanda. "Nanjing Massacre as Japan's Denied War Crime." September 21, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/nanjing-massacre-as-japans-denied-war-crime/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Nanjing Massacre as Japan's Denied War Crime." September 21, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/nanjing-massacre-as-japans-denied-war-crime/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Nanjing Massacre as Japan's Denied War Crime'. 21 September.

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