The Rape of Nanking represents a truly brutal moment in the history of humanity. Chinese civilians in the then-capital of the Republic of China were tortured, raped, and killed in shocking numbers over a span of six weeks. Also known as the Nanjing Massacre, the event followed one of the battles involving China in the Second Sino-Japanese War.
The war was a bloody conflict between Japan and the Republic of China from 1937 to 1945. Tensions had been running high between the two countries because their politics and beliefs viciously collided. Photos of the Second Sino-Japanese War reveal that Japan was initially successful in its military campaign. They captured Nanjing in 1937, which was the capital of China at the time, and continued to spread across their enemy's territory with plans to conquer as much land as possible. Japanese soldiers were told to annihilate both the city and the residents. What followed such vicious orders were mass killings of Chinese citizens, from infants to the elderly. Historians have always debated the death toll, though most agree that around 300,000 perished in the Nanjing Massacre.
Be warned: both the text and the photos contain graphic content.
Japan turned its attention on Nanjing after capturing Shanghai in a brutal battle. 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 armies of their enemy marched ever closer. Many decided to flee despite the government's orders, and by the time the Japanese arrived on December 13, 1937, approximately 500,000 people remained in Nanjing.
Hubert Sone was a methodist missionary in China when the Rape of Nanjing 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.
As the Japanese soldiers swarmed through the city, no one was safe - especially Chinese women. The Japanese troops went from house to house, looking for Chinese soldiers to execute. Whenever they found a woman, they proceeded to rape her and sometimes killed her.
Japanese soldiers killed the women "in a number of horrific ways, including having their vaginas being penetrated with bayonets, bamboo poles, and other objects. Others were captured and held as sex slaves." Gang rape and brutal murder were widespread in Nanjing. Pregnant women were stabbed in the belly, some had their breasts sliced off, and others were nailed to walls while they were still alive.
The children of Nanjing were shown little mercy from the Japanese soldiers. Some were beaten until they were maimed for life, losing their eyesight or limbs. Others were shot or stabbed to death after their mothers were raped and killed. Girls as young as 13 were gang raped, and babies were tossed in the air and pierced by bayonets for sport.
One account tells of a five-year-old boy who was injured by a grenade carelessly thrown by Japanese soldiers. The soldiers couldn't catch a chicken, so they decided to blow it up. The boy was caught in the blast, and suffered grave injuries and the loss of an eye.
A Japanese soldier recounted how, when he stumbled upon a Chinese woman and her baby, he became so enraged by the incessant crying of the child that he tore the babe from the screaming mother's arms and tossed it into a boiling vat of water. When the mother attempted to rescue her child, he kicked her and raped her.