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Details About The Nanjing Massacre You'll Never Unlearn

Updated October 18, 2021 500.8k views10 items

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.

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Nanjing Was Razed To The Ground

    The city of Nanjing was essentially burned to the ground. Accounts tell of how the Japanese troops seemed to be systematically destroying the city

    The homes of many people have been burned, and shops and stores are still burning. Every day and night fires can be seen in the city. Nearly all of Taiping and Chung Hwa Roads have been burned. Nearly all the important business and shopping districts have been burned. [...] So the people cannot all go home even when they might be able to. Many of the villages outside the city have been burned.

    Nanjing, which translates to southern capital, was made the capital of the Ming dynasty in 1368. In 1949, Beijing replaced Nanjing as the capital with the establishment of the People's Republic of China.

  • Photo: 范适安 / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    It Took Almost 60 Years For Japan To Formally Apologize

    Some in 21st century Japan are skeptical about the extent of crimes perpetuated during the six weeks of the Nanjing Massacre. Though most acknowledge that horrible crimes happened, there remains controversy as to the death toll and the atrocity of the event. The controversy raged for decades, despite legal decisions made at the war crimes tribunals after the war ended.

    Almost 60 years after the massacre took place, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed remorse for Japan's actions in China. Many considered his remarks to be an indirect apology, which angered some people in China. Xinhua, a Chinese news agency, wrote: 

    Instead of offering an unambiguous apology, Abe’s statement is rife with rhetorical twists like "maintain our position of apology" - dead giveaways of his deep-rooted historical revisionism, which has haunted Japan’s neighborhood relations. 

    There are a few in Japan who still believe that the massacre never took place. The issue of Nanjing continues to be one of the most formative events in the relationships between Japan and most of East Asia.