Details About The Nanjing Massacre You'll Never Unlearn

The Nanjing Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanjing, was a mass killing event that took place in the city of Nanjing, China (formerly written as Nanking). The massacre began on December 13, 1937 - when Imperial Japanese forces captured Nanjing - and lasted until January 1938.

Tensions had been running especially high between China and Japan leading up to the massacre. Following the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894 to 1895, the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937 when China began a full-scale resistance to the expansion of Japanese influence in its territory. 

After capturing Nanjing, Japanese forces were instructed by General Matsui Iwane to annihilate Nanjing and its residents and conquer as much land as possible. Upwards of 300,000 Chinese civilians were executed during the merciless attack that would follow.

In 1985, the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall was built on the site of the Jiangdongmen mass grave, where more than 10,000 victims were buried, and where all those who perished in Nanjing will always be remembered.


  • The Chinese Government Forbade Citizens From Fleeing As Japan Marched Closer
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The Chinese Government Forbade Citizens From Fleeing As Japan Marched Closer

    After capturing Shanghai in a brutal battle, Japan turned its attention on Nanjing - the capital of the Republic of China at the time.

    The Chinese government was afraid of losing its army in a head-on battle against Japan. Thus, almost all troops were pulled out of Nanjing, save for "untrained auxiliary troops." Chinese civilians knew that Japanese invaders were coming, but the government would not let them evacuate

    Civilians grew fearful as the Japanese army marched ever closer. Many decided to flee despite the government's orders. However, by the time the Japanese arrived on December 13, 1937, approximately 500,000 people remained in Nanjing. 

  • Mass Executions Took Place Immediately

    Hubert Sone was a Methodist missionary in China when the massacre began in December 1937. He documented the horrors he witnessed as the Japanese invaded the city on the very first day, writing:

    The Japanese soldiers came into the city in quite large numbers on Monday, Dec. 13. Many civilians were killed on the spot - shot or bayoneted. Everyone who ran, and many were frightened on the first appearance of the troops, was immediately shot. 

    Sone also documented the mass executions he witnessed in the following weeks: 

    They shot and bayoneted on the spot and without question anyone whom they might consider to be a soldier. As a result, great numbers of people were shot down, even though in civilian clothes. [...] The streets were literally littered with the dead.

  • Women And Children Were Subjected To Unspeakable Horrors 
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Women And Children Were Subjected To Unspeakable Horrors 

    As Japanese soldiers swarmed through Nanjing, no one was safe. The Japanese troops went from house to house, looking for Chinese soldiers to execute. Women were not spared in the brutalities, and those who were not immediately killed were often kept as sex slaves.

    An estimated 20,000 to 80,000 women were raped, and many - even pregnant women - were also subjected to additional forms of gruesome torture.  

    The children and infants of Nanjing were shown no mercy by the Japanese soldiers. They, too, were tortured and killed.

    Meanwhile, Japanese-controlled newspapers in China were engaged in a "propaganda blitz" to carefully conceal the horrors taking place in Nanjing. According to Sue De Pasquale of Johns Hopkins Magazine, the newspapers reported:

    [T]he Chinese had gone back to their homes and businesses, that Japanese soldiers were playing joyfully with local children, and that peace and order reigned.

  • Some Women Were Enslaved By The Enemy Soldiers

    Rape was rampant throughout the six weeks of the Nanjing Massacre. The open assaults shocked civilians as Japanese soldiers went from house to house, looking for female victims. Eventually, soldiers began to kidnap women and imprison them in houses as sex slaves. 

    A 15-year-old girl told John G. Magee, an American missionary, about such an experience: 

    She was carried off to some barracks where there were some 200 to 300 soldiers. She was kept in a room and her clothes taken away and there raped a number of times daily for about a month and a half when she took sick and they were afraid to use her. She told me that there were a number of other girls held there in the same way as herself.