THE NANKING MASSACRE: Fact Versus Fiction
- A Historian’s Quest for the Truth -
By Higashinakano Shudo
Professor of Intellectual History,
Asia University, Tokyo
Translated by Sekai Shuppan
A5 410 pages: Soft cover: Ptice：￥３０００＋tax）
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This book is a research work intended to unearth and reveal the truth about
the events that
transpired in Nanking on December 13, 1937, when Japanese invaded Nanking,
Its conclusions were reached via the painstaking examination and reexamination
sources, which yielded information that resolves most of the issues currently under debate,
and show thatthe “Nanking Massacre” is a product of wartime and postwar
Without the benefit of this book, an understanding of the facts about Nanking
is not possible.
A Japanese professor conducted an investigation into the school records
of 500 Chinese students who had
applied from China for admission to Japanese language courses at private
Japanese universities. Wishing
to know how many of them had actually graduated from the high school named on their application forms,
she made telephone calls to each high school. The professor discovered
that, in many cases, the high school
had no records for the applicant in question. Though this was not a surprising
discovery, it turned out that 30%
of the applicants had submitted fake diplomas.(See Note)
This phenomenon is not irrelevant to our perception of the “Nanking Massacre.”
During the seven-month
period extending from the fall of Nanking to the first anniversary of the Sino-Japanese War, did the
International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone, Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Zedong, the Nationalist
government or its Ministry of Information, or China-related magazines published
by Europeans and Americans
in Shanghai mention a massacre in Nanking? The answer is no, not one of
them did. An examination
of contemporaneous records in four languages (Japanese, Chinese, American
and German) failed to find
any reference to even a witnessed murder. Newspaper reports describing
frequent murders witnessed by
foreign residents of Nanking were spurious.
The massacre myth arose from the same construct as did the faked student records. Claims that an event took
place are made after it is supposed to have occurred. There are no records
from 1937 to 1938 that support
such claims. The “Nanking Massacre” was war propaganda.
Note: Endo Homare (professor emeritus, Tsukuba University), “Chugoku Chosen
zokuno ryugakusei ni gakureki
gizo ga tahatsu suru riyu” [Why so many Korean-Chinese exchange students
falsify their school records] in
Chuo Koron January 2006, p. 144.
My path to research on Nanking
y 1990, when I made the decision to explore the events that took place
in Nanking in the late 1930s, I had
been engaged in research on German socialism for many years. When I embarked upon work in this new field, I
had three objectives in mind. The first was to obtain a grasp of the points
in dispute via a thorough scrutiny of
the literature on the subject in spare moments (I was still doing research
on East German socialism at the time).
The second was to locate and interview persons who had first-hand knowledge of the subject; interviews
commenced in 1995 and are still being conducted. The third was to assemble all extant records
contemporaneous with the Japanese occupation of Nanking and examine them from a variety of perspectives;
and, having done so, to arrive at a consistent, coherent answer to the following question: how did those
who were witness to or took part in the occupation of Nanking perceive
the events that transpired?
I succeeded in obtaining new perspectives from these primary sources (historical
records and interviews).
In 1998 I published Nankin gyakusatsu no tettei kensho [An exhaustive examination
of the “Nanking Massacre”].
I presented a paper at the 29th International Congress of Military History
in 2003, and another paper,
Nankin daigyakusatsu wa nakatta [There was no massacre in Nanking] was serialized in a Japanese newspaper
in 2005. This book unites the works listed above. Before I begin my synopsis, I would like to touch upon
another controversy — one that remained unresolved for a half-century — the Katyn Forest Massacre, because it
suggests a method of addressing the “Nanking Massacre.”
 The Katyn Forest Massacre
It is not easy to cause a great many human beings to disappear, even in
wartime. An incident that
necessitated such a concealment was the Katyn Forest Massacre, the slaughter of approximately 10,000
Polish military personnel,prisoners of war, in the spring of 1940. World
War II commenced with the invasion
of Poland by the Germans on September 1, 1939. Soon thereafter, Soviet
troops invaded Poland on the basis of
a secret clause in a non-aggression pact concluded between the USSR and Germany. Huge numbers of
soldiers on both sides were taken prisoner.
According to J. K. Zawodny’s Death in the Forest: The Story of the Katyn Forest Massacre, the massacre
was perpetrated by the Soviet NKVD (secret police agency). Ammunition the
Germans had exported to the
USSR, Poland and other nations in northern Europe was brought in. The Katyn
forest, which the NKVD
had surrounded with barbed wire and placed under strict guard some 10 years earlier, was selected as
the execution site..The sign on the barbed wire fence read: “Special zone
of G.P.U. Unauthorized persons forbidden to trespass.” (The GPU was a division
of the NKVD.) The NKVD transported Soviet civilian prisoners
to the forest to serve as the burial squad. After the slave laborers had dug trenches six to 11 feet deep,
the prisoners were shot in the back of the head and then shoved into the
trenches face down; the prone
corpses were stacked 10-12 deepThe trenches were then covered with soil,
with the intention of suppressing
the evidence for all time.
However, when the Germans occupied Katyn forest in 1943, they discovered thousands of corpses there, and
the massacre became known to all the world. Stalin and Hitler immediately
blamed each other. The
Germans allowed an international investigative team to enter Katyn forest.
On the basis of circumstantial
evidence, the team concluded that the crime had been committed by Soviet
troops. However, maintaining
friendly relations with the USSR was a priority both for Churchill and Roosevelt, and both leaders opted to
sweep the matter under the carpet. But Stalin’s top-secret order to execute
the Polish prisoners was uncovered
and the controversy came to an end. When Soviet President Gorbachev visited
Poland in 1990, he announced
that the Katyn Massacre had been committed by the Soviet secret police, and offered a public apology.
 No execution order issued to Japanese military
How did the Japanese behave when they invaded Nanking? Had they made careful
carry out an execution order like the one issued by Stalin, in the utmost of secrecy? Did they select a
special squad of executioners who were to act as soon as Nanking fell?
Did they supply the squad with
weapons and ammunition? Did they select an execution site, announce that
it would be off limits to civilians
station guards there, and then assign another special team to dispose
of the evidence — the corpses? Was
this plot exposed at the Tokyo Trials, or by postwar researchers?
Five days prior to the fall of Nanking, most of the city’s inhabitants
had taken refuge in a safety zone inside
the walled city. The Japanese occupation began with a sweep designed to ferret out Chinese stragglers
(soldiers). That task had been assigned to the 7th Regiment, which had
been issued “Precautions Relating to
the Sweep of Nanking” in advance. An excerpt follows.
Assume that young and middle-aged men are stragglers or soldiers wearing civilian clothing. Apprehend
and intern them. With that exception, Chinese civilians who do not behave
in a hostile manner, especially
the elderly, women, and children are to be treated kindly, so as to earn
their respect for the dignity of the
Imperial Army. [Italics supplied; p. 120]
Japanese troops had been ordered to assume that all young and middle-aged men were Chinese military
personnel, who were to not to be killed, but apprehended and confined.
There was good reason for
this assumption: Chiang Kai-shek had rounded up all persons capable of waging war and sent them to
the battleground. There was no order instructing Japanese military personnel
to kill prisoners. Furthermore,
since Japanese military authorities were looking ahead to the task of governing
Nanking after occupation,
they ordered their subordinates to treat women, children and the elderly
 Only the Red Swastika Society buried the dead
According to the testimony of Maruyama Susumu of the Nanking Special Agency, which was run by the
Japanese military, Maruyama personally entrusted the interment of all unburied
corpses to a charitable
organization called the Red Swastika Society. He agreed to pay the rather
large sum of 30 sen (0.3 yen) per
body intending some of the money to be a form of social service.
His testimony agrees with a report published by the Nanking International
Relief Committee, chaired by
Miner Searle Bates. The report reads, in part:
For example, $2,540 was used to complete the necessary burial
enterprises undertaken by the Red Swastika Society, which
covered over 40,000 bodies otherwise uncared for. During some 40
working days, this employed nearly 170 men. On this and a
number of other work relief jobs, forty cents per day of actual work
was taken as the standard wage. [Italics supplied; pp. 204-5]
After the Red Swastika Society had buried 40,000 bodies, the interments were complete.
Chinese documents submitted to the Tokyo Trials stating that Chongshantang had buried 110,000 bodies
supposedly supported that nation’s claim that “279,586 of our compatriots
were slaughtered” in Nanking
. However, no records corroborated that “evidence.” Chongshantang was inactive
from the fall of Nanking
in December 1937 to September 1938, when the organization received a subsidy. Even when active,
Chongshantang was involved with providing alms to the poor and aid to orphans — not with burials.
 No one argued that unburied corpses were proof of a massacre
Now we turn to the report from the Red Swastika Society, which stated that
the organization had interred
40,000 bodies. It is difficult to believe that it was accurate, since the
claim that burial crews could have
interred 5,000 corpses each day (including days on which it rained or snowed) is unrealistic. A more likely
number would be a total of 14,000-15,000 bodies in all, which means that
the Red Swastika Society inflated
the figures by a factor of 3. But the Nanking Special Agency simply looked
the other way, believing that the
extra money would benefit the community in some way.
The residents of Nanking were well aware of the burials. Neither John Rabe (chairman of the International
Committee) nor Rev. Bates (a key member) ever claimed that the burials
were proof that a massacre like the
one in Katyn forest had been perpetrated. Nor, for that matter, were protests against a massacre lodged by
the U.S., British or German embassy in Nanking. Even Bates did not condemn
the Japanese for having left
corpses lying around after a massacre. The bodies buried by the Red Swastika
Society were casualties of war;
the burials were necessary, hygienic measures to prevent the outbreak and spread of contagious diseases. Needless to say, neither Chinese Nationalist Party head Chiang Kai-shek, nor Communist Party leader Mao
Zedong directed any criticism having to do with corpses at the Japanese.
 No accounts of witnessed unlawful killings in “Daily Reports of Serious Injuries to Civilians”
The International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone oversaw the administration
of the safety zone,
which had been established to accommodate civilians. Any discussion of
injuries to civilians in Nanking
must involve documents entitled “Daily Report of Serious Injuries to Civilians” submitted by the
International Committee to the Japanese Embassy in Nanking.
All these reports, which must be considered official records, appear in
Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone
Document No. 1 in the collection, dated December 14, was a letter of gratitude from the International
Committee addressed to the Japanese commander-in-chief, which commenced:
“Honorable Sir: We come
to thank you for the fine way your artillery spared the Safety Zone ….”
(See p. 125.)
If Japanese soldiers had murdered thousands of civilians the moment Nanking’s
wall gates were breached
on December 13, as some argue, would the International Committee have posted such a letter to Japanese
military authorities? Furthermore, even in documents dated December 15,
there is no mention of mass murder
. One of them, which pales in comparison, reads: “On December 15, the American
was broken into and searched and some small personal articles taken.” There are no witnesses mentioned in
the case record. Why didn’t International Committee Chairman Rabe and his
colleague Bates issue such
a protest against mass murders allegedly perpetrated by Japanese troops?
Nevertheless, no protest to
that effect — not even a report — emanated from the International Committee.
Of course, no report of a massacre was issued. No account of a witnessed, unlawful killing ever appeared in
any of the aforementioned daily reports. A detailed examination of the
reports reveals that on December 13,
one rape and two lootings (no murders or arsons) were reported. On December
14, one murder, four rapes,
three lootings and no arsons. On December 15, four murders, five rapes, five lootings (still no arsons)
were reported. During the two months following the fall of Nanking, the
daily reports contained a total of
25 alleged murder cases involving 52 victims. With the exception of one
witnessed “lawful execution,”
murder case reports listed no names of witnesses or even of the person
reporting the case.
The possibility remains that some information might have been missing from the daily reports. Tomisawa
Shigenobu entered information from every available contemporary Japanese, Chinese, English and German
document into a computer. In his book, Nankin jiken no kakushin [At the
core of the Nanking Incident],
Tomisawa states the results of his research: a total of 94 murder cases reported during the two months
following the defeat of Nanking. Only one of those cases, a lawful execution,
bore the name of a witness.
(A front-page article, “Nanking Massacre Story,” in the December 15 edition
of the Chicago Daily News,
made mention of “frequent murders” committed during the first three days of the Japanese occupation.
However, there is no information in any official record that corroborates the article.)
In 1994, 500,000 people were massacred in Rwanda. When 207 children in
a Nyamata orphanage were
interviewed, 96% thought that they would be killed, 85% sensed the smell of rotting bodies, 80% heard
the screams of dying people and 56% witnessed family members being killed.
In contrast, no one in the
Nanking’s crowded Safety Zone witnessed any unlawful killing. Rev. Magee
testified at the Tokyo Trials that
he had witnessed one act of murder. But the fact that he wrote that the “actual killing we did not see as it
took place” in his diary negates his testimony on the witness stand. Is
it still possible to claim that the
Japanese perpetrated a massacre in Nanking? After all, didn’t Timperley
conclude from the daily reports
of serious injuries to civilians that “The following section of cases ... completes the story of the first two months
of the Japanese Army’s occupation of Nanking?” (See p. 267) Or was what he wrote in Shanghai, on the basis of reports from Nanking, mistaken?
 No one claimed that Nanking’s population had decreased due to a massacre
There are two theories about the population of Nanking. One proposes that
it was 500,000 before the
Japanese invasion, and dwindled to 300,000 after the city fell. For instance,
a missive sent to the Public
Relations Department of the Nationalist government’s National Military Council on November 23, 20 days
before the fall of Nanking, stated that, according to a survey, the current
population of Nanking
was approximately 500,000. But was such a population survey really necessary
at a time when the majority
of Nanking’s residents were fleeing the city, and when emergency preparations for war were being made? Was
it even possible? Most likely, this document was created at a later date.
There is no mention of a
population survey in the diaries or letters of European and American residents
of Nanking. Moreover, at a
press conference held on November 30, 1937 and attended by the mayor of Nanking, foreign residents
reported that the population of Nanking was “about 200,000.”
The International Committee’s understanding of Nanking’s population during
the period extending from
two weeks to several hours prior to the city’s fall was 200,000. Its understanding
of the population eight days
after the fall of Nanking was, again, 200,000. The Japanese began issuing civilian passports on Christmas Eve;
their tally of the number of residents formed the basis for a population
estimate of 250,000 released by
the International Committee one month subsequent to the fall of the city.
One reason for the population
increase was the fact that the Japanese counted Chinese soldiers who had
come out of hiding as civilians.
Since there were no witnesses to unlawful killings, there was no perception of any decrease in the population.
But as I shall explain later, Rev. Bates wrote (under a pseudonym) in 1938
that the Japanese killed 12,000 civilians
The vast majority of Nanking’s civilians were crammed into the Safety Zone, an area measuring 3.86
square kilometers. If 12,000 persons had been killed in the Safety Zone,
there would surely have been
a multitudeof witnesses. However, only Rev. Bates made the accusation, and under an assumed name at that
Rev. Bates couldn’t have believed that the population of Nanking was 238,000.
The International Committee
(of which Rev. Bates was a leading member) officially announced that the population of Nanking was
200,000 immediately before its fall, 200,000 eight days after its fall,
and 250,000 one month after its fall
Furthermore, in the 1939 Report of the Nanking International Relief Committee, Rev. Bates again stated that
the population was 250,000. Nowhere in his public pronouncements do we see any evidence that Rev. Bates believed the population had decreased.
 Unlawful combatants analogous to Al Qaeda
A serious situation, one addressed neither by the Europeans and Americans
in Nanking in 1937 nor
by contemporary scholars, arose immediately before the city fell. Chinese
soldiers never expressed the desire
to surrender. Instead, just like Al Qaeda and Taliban members, they shed their uniforms and disappeared
among the civilians in the unarmed, neutral Safety Zone.
In terms of international law, the regulations appended to the Hague Convention
cannot be applied to
Chinese troops fighting in Nanking, unlawful combatants who lacked the
qualifications to enjoy the rights set
forth in those regulations. Captured Chinese soldiers who resisted were executed, and those executions were
no secret in Nanking. But no member of the International Committee claimed
that they were executions
of prisoners of war. Nor did any representative of the U.S., British or
German embassies in Nanking. No
arguments to that effect were made at the Tokyo Trials. During the 11-year period between December 1937
(the fall of Nanking) and December 1948 (the end of the Tokyo Trials),
no one publicly accused the Japanese
of having conducted unlawful executions of prisoners of war in Nanking.
In legal terms, the execution of
Chinese troops — unlawful combatants to whom the regulations appended to the Hague Convention did
not apply —were simply that: the execution of unlawful combatants, not of prisoners of war.
Nevertheless, the Japanese treated them as prisoners of war, using them
as paid laborers. The number of
such laborers had risen to 10,000 two months after the fall of Nanking.
 No acknowledgement of a massacre from Nationalists or Communists
If some Japanese soldiers did commit crimes, they were of the sort that
commonly occurs in war zones:
lootings and rapes. The British consul in Nanking sent a report home dated January 28, 1938 stating, “Majority
of cases are of ransacking.” (See p. 143) Even when all contemporary records
(in Japanese, Chinese, English
and German) were input into a computer and compared, the unlawful acts
of which Japanese soldiers
were accused total 201 lootings, 243 rapes and 34 arsons. Among them, 26 cases of looting, 17 rapes and
one arson seemed to be witnessed.
Therefore, even the inaugural issue (April 1938) of China at War, an English-language
magazine compiled from official bulletins and published by the Nationalist
Ministry of Information, made
no mention of a massacre in Nanking. At 300 press conferences held over an 11-month period beginning just
prior to the fall of Nanking, the Ministry of Information never breathed
a word about a massacre. Appeals to
the Japanese people and friendly nations were prepared by the Nationalist
Ministry of Information
to commemorate the first anniversary of the Sino-Japanese War, and delivered by Chiang Kai-shek. Neither
of them referred to a “Nanking Massacre.” In a lecture presented by Mao
Zedong in Yenan entitled
“On Protracted War,” Mao never stated that the Japanese had massacred Chinese
troops in Nanking. On
the contrary, he criticized the Japanese for poor strategy because they had not killed every last Chinese
soldier in Nanking.
 No mention of “Nanking Massacre” in English-language magazines published in Shanghai
Since neither the Chinese Nationalist nor Communist party had censured
the Japanese for having perpetrated
a massacre in Nanking, there was no criticism emanating from the U.S. or
the nations of Europe. It is true that
the U.S. government castigated the Japanese for having sunk the USS Panay and for an assault on Consul Allison
the only protest from the British government was against the shelling of
On July 7, 1938, most of the English-language magazines edited and published by Europeans and Americans
in Shanghai printed special issues commemorating the anniversary of the
Sino-Japanese War. Although
seven months had elapsed since the defeat of Nanking and all information
about the circumstances
surrounding the city’s fall had been gathered, none of the commemorative magazines contained any mention
of a massacre in Nanking. Needless to say, there were no special “massacre” issues.
 Only Rev. Bates publicly declared that tens of thousands had been
The accusation that the Japanese had massacred 40,000 Chinese in Nanking
was first made in July 1938
when What War Means, edited by Harold Timperley and commemorating the first
anniversary of the
Sino-Japanese War, was published. Timperley was the China correspondent
for the British newspaper
Manchester Guardian. He made a point of explaining that the accounts appearing
in the book, contributed
by American residents of Nanking, were intended to impress upon readers the horrors of war. However, the
truth was that Timperley was a paid advisor to the Nationalist Ministry
of Information, which had
commissioned him to compile What War Means. The book contained a statement
submitted by Rev. Bates,
though not signed with his real name, to the effect that the Japanese had
killed approximately 40,000 Chinese
12,000 civilians and 30,000 captured soldiers. Even though he had used a pseudonym, Rev. Bates (also an
advisor to the Chinese Government) was the only one of the approximately
20 foreign residents of Nanking
to openly voice the massacre accusation and state the number of victims.
Moreover, the Nationalist Ministry
of Information published the first accusation in one of its own propaganda
 Both Rev. Bates and the Ministry of Information retracted “40,000 massacred” argument
Rev. Bates was a famous missionary in Nanking, as well as a leading member of the International Committee
According to his testimony at the Tokyo Trials, it was he who personally
delivered the “Daily Reports of
Serious Injuries to Civilians” to the Japanese Embassy. Rev. Bates did not enter information about even
one witnessed unlawful killing in these official records of the International
Committee. Even when he met with
an officer attached to the American Embassy in Tokyo, who visited Nanking
on a fact-finding mission four
months after the city’s fall, Rev. Bates said nothing about a massacre. But in the Ministry of
Information’s propaganda book, he had written about a massacre that claimed
40,000 victims, albeit under
an assumed name. Where did the truth lie?
Bates posited the argument that the Japanese had slaughtered 40,000 Chinese
in a memorandum written
one month after the fall of Nanking. The memorandum appeared in five publications: the English and
Chinese editions (published simultaneously) of What War Means, Documents
of the Safety Zone, “prepared
from official sources” and three English-language propaganda magazines (See p. 234) published by the
Council of International Affairs whose director was Wang Pengsheng.
Noteworthy here is the fact that the Council of International Affairs was a “special organization” attached to
the National Military Council. When the Council published Rev. Bates’ memorandum
(all five times), it
expunged the section that contains the claim that 40,000 Chinese were massacred.
Perhaps Rev. Bates
approved of the deletion after the fact. (It is also possible that he asked
the publishers to delete it.) As
Kasahara Tokushi writes, Rev. Bates’ argument was not omitted from the
aforementioned publications due
to lack of space. There was plenty of room for it. It was expunged because it was war propaganda that could
not be substantiated by official records.
 Ministry of Information’s top-secret documents make no reference to
Three months prior to the defeat of Nanking, the Second Nationalist-Communist
United Front was formed;
the Nationalist Ministry of Information was established two months later.
The Nationalist and Communist
employees of the Ministry of Information were put in charge of international
propaganda at the
ministry’s International Information Department.
Confidential reports describing the international propaganda they created
appear in the top-secret Outline
of the Operations of the International Information Department, Ministry of Information. But none of the reports
whether submitted by the Foreign Operations, Editorial Operations, Counterintelligence
Operations or any
other of the department’s sections contains even the remotest hint of propaganda in which the
word “massacre” or anything that could be construed to mean the same appeared.
Of paramount interest is
a statement in the Counterintelligence Operation Section’s report to the
effect that Gaijin mokuto no
nichigun boko [Japanese atrocities witnessed by foreigners] was a propaganda book edited and printed by
that same section of the Ministry of Information.
This book was written by Harold Timperley (田伯烈), a prominent British journalist.
The contents were on rape, arson
plunder, namely wicked conduct after the enemy entered into Nanking on December 13, 1937. The book
also equally described the detailed situation of deterioration of military
discipline and degradation of
human nature. (See pp. 257f, 258)
The Ministry of Information believed that the Japanese had committed rapes,
arsons and looting after
their victory in the Battle of Nanking, but not that they had perpetrated a massacre. Therefore, the
“Nanking Massacre” as described in What War Means was war propaganda produced
with the aid of
“foreign friends.” The Ministry of Information did not reveal that it was
responsible for that propaganda.
But since the ministry did not believe that there had been a massacre, and since the claim had been made
that the information had been taken from official sources, the Nationalists
removed text relating to the
massacre accusation from four English-language magazines. Moreover, they
removed that portion from
the Chinese translation of What War Means to avoid the book’s being labeled war propaganda, because such
a huge distortion of the facts would soon have been exposed in China. Had
the Nationalists been convinced
that there had been a massacre in Nanking, there would have been no need
to make the deletion.
 Absence of records, speeches or proclamations substantiating the “Nanking Massacre”
Seven years ago, after establishing the majority of points in dispute, I wrote the following (in An Exhaustive
Examination of the “Nanking Massacre”).
There is not one single source that proves the claim that Chinese citizens were massacred in Nanking, or
that states the number of victims. As long as that continues to be the
case, the Nanking Massacre will remain
a global fantasy － nothing more.
We invite those who would say otherwise to demonstrate irrefutable proof
that the Japanese violated
international law subsequent to the fall of Nanking. (See p. 237f.)
My opinion has not changed since then. I am not saying, “It was not recorded
because it did not happen.”
What I am saying is that those who accuse the Japanese of violations of
international law in time of war (i.e.,
the “Nanking Massacre”) must produce supporting evidence (statements of
records, speeches or proclamations). Until they do, the “Nanking Massacre”
shall remain as it has ever been:
not a topic of historical research, but a myth rooted in ideology.