We were in a local history museum when ‘Shine Far’ looked right at me and said, “I hate the Japanese.” It still surprises me how matter-of-fact and unapologetic some of our Chinese acquaintances are about their feelings toward the “little Japanese devils” (小日本鬼子). Some of teachers at our school have requested in the past to not teach the few Japanese students at the school, two of whom are an older couple we’re acquainted with.
In philosophy and ethics classes I heard the joke more than once that everything eventually has to do with the Nazis. In my education, the Nazis were the proof and symbol of evil in the world, and were always finding their way into thought experiments, ethical dilemmas, debates regarding human nature, and arguments over the existence and nature of God. There was also this unspoken rule I grew up with – that perhaps the most un-politically correct thing you can do is treat the Nazi Holocaust as anything but the greatest evil ever committed by humanity, and you sure shouldn’t cheapen it by comparing it to other events.
The Rape of Nanking is the representative historical event for all of Japan’s atrocities in China during WWII. The book by the same the name calls it “the Forgotten Holocaust of WWII,” and then proceeds to make the case for not just holding the brutality of “the Rape” as generally comparable to the Holocaust, but even surpassing it in certain aspects:
“Nothing the Nazis under Hitler would do to disgrace their own victories could rival the atrocities of Japanese soldiers under Gen. Iwane Matsui” (historian Robert Leckie) (p. 7).
…the Japanese treatment of their POW’s surpassed in brutality even that of the Nazi’s. … the Rape of Nanking was not the kind of isolated incident common to all wars. It was deliberate. It was policy. It was known in Tokyo. For that matter, it was front page news in the world press (p. 173).
The events related in the book are beyond brutal; part of you dies inside just from reading it. I don’t know how anyone could make a movie that would be possible to watch. But there is quite a “Schindler’s List”-type story here. In the midst of brutality for which language cannot possibly convey any adequate expression, the oddest assortment of Westerners – Nazis and missionaries – combined forces to form a safety zone within the city and save hundreds of thousands of Chinese lives. These heroes risked their own lives multiple times during the Rape, and suffered physically and psychologically for the rest of their lives; one eventually committed suicide. Ironically, these Westerners originally chose to stay rather than evacuate, thinking that the greatest danger to the civilian population would be the retreating Chinese soldiers, and that the Japanese were more or less trustworthy (as occupying armies go) and would restore order and basic infrastructure once they’d captured the city. Instead, the Japanese military intentionally sunk the warship that was carrying the foreigners who had chosen to evacuate, and then went on to rival and perhaps even surpass the Nazis.
Japan as a nation still refuses to acknowledge what happened* [see comment #4].
Sixty years later the Japanese as a nation are still trying to bury the victims of Nanking — not under the soil, as in 1937, but into historical oblivion. In a disgraceful compounding of the offense, the story of the Nanking massacre is barely known in the West because so few people have tried to document and narrate it systematically to the public (pp. 219-220).
It’s not in their textbooks* [see comment #4]. Germany had to face the music, but some of Japan’s commanding officers went on to lead decorated lives of honour and privilege. Academics in Japan still vigorously deny the charges.
…Germans have incorporated into their postwar political identity the concession that the wartime government itself, not just individual Nazis, was guilty of war crimes. The Japanese government, however, has never forced itself or Japanese society to do the same. As a result … many in Japan continue to treat the war crimes as the isolated acts of individual soldiers or even as events that simply did not occur (p. 200).
Compounding the situation is China’s current administration, which has always spun the war with Japan, and Chinese public sentiment, in beneficial ways, stoking hatred of a common, nationalism-galvanizing enemy when it’s convenient to do so. Museums, like the one we visited with ‘Shine Far,’ play an important role in this:
The first rooms of the spacious museum depict China as a victim of Japanese aggression, but as the visitor moves towards the exit, he is treated to an interpretation of China as almost the lone victor on World War II in Asia.
The two factors widely credited with ending the war get only cursory treatment.
The Soviet invasion of Japanese-occupied Northeast Asia in the summer of 1945 is mentioned in passing, and America’s nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki not at all.
… It’s more promoting the internal unity under the guidance of the party. [Full text]
The older Japanese couple who were in our language school last semester made it a point to host special meals with their Chinese colleagues and closer acquaintances, during which they would personally apologize on behalf of their country for what happened. They still live in China and still do this, though they’ve now moved to a city in the south. Some of our school’s teachers originally requested to not be assigned to them when they first enrolled, solely because they were Japanese. Their request was not granted – in fact, our school’s American administrator confessed to me that his teachers’ requests may have influenced his decision to assign those teachers to the Japanese couple – but after a few weeks the teachers actually thanked him for doing it. One of these teachers recently returned from a trip she’d made just to visit them, and came back talking about how great she thinks they are.
China marked the 70th anniversary of the Rape of Nanking last Thursday.