The Nanking Massacre

Japan began to embark on its own imperialistic endeavors in Asia. First, Japan took over the southern part of the Korean Peninsula during the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). In 1905, Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) and gained control of Manchuria. Defeating a European nation empowered Japan to renegotiate its trade treaties with the United States and Europe as equals. Japan took over southern Manchuria, legitimized its control of Korea, and absorbed the southern half of Sakhalin Island. By 1910, Japan had colonized the entire Korean Peninsula.

During World War I, Japan joined the Allied Powers and sent ships to fight Germany. In 1914, while the European powers were embroiled in conflicts at home, Japan became an industrial power. In 1931, the Mukden Incident ceded Manchuria to Japan. In 1937, Japan invaded China during the second Sino-Japanese War. By 1940 it had consolidated its control of Vietnam. On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor to draw the United States into World War II. By 1942, Japan controlled the islands of Indonesia and the Philippines.

Several of these events remain controversial. Many Japanese historians believe Japan was responding to U.S. and European hostility during this period. Meanwhile, Chinese, European, and American historians accused the Japanese Imperial Army of massacring 50,000 to 300,000 civilizations and raping 20,000 women during the Nanking Massacre, also called the Rape of Nanking. Many Japanese historians deny this massacre occurred or believe the number of casualties has been exaggerated.

Read this article to examine arguments for and against the validity of the Nanking Massacre.

Criminal Codes and Senjinkun

Even if there was no Imperial rescript asking Japanese soldiers to follow international law, Japanese soldiers should still have obeyed the Japanese Army Criminal Codes, which are also the same laws that Japanese soldiers in the film should obey, especially chapter 9, Article 86-88, that specifically prohibits some acts, such as plundering and raping,8 as mentioned in Chapter 9, Article 86–88.

Article 86: The empire soldiers, who plunder the inhabitants' properties on the battlefield or on the land occupied by the imperial army, will be sentenced to an imprisonment of more than a year. If a soldier, who is guilty of the previous crime, rapes a woman, he will be sentenced to an imprisonment of more than 7 years, or to an imprisonment up to a lifetime.

Article 87: Soldiers, who plunders clothes and properties from the dead, or the wounded, or the sick on the battlefield, will be sentenced to an imprisonment of more than a year.

Article 88: If a soldier, who has committed the previous two crimes, hurts civilians, he will be sentenced to an imprisonment of more than 7 years, or to an imprisonment up to lifetime. If a soldier kills civilians, he will be sentenced to a lifetime imprisonment, or to the death penalty.

Article 88.2: The empire soldiers on the battlefield, who rape women on the occupied land, will be sentenced to an imprisonment of more than a year, or an imprisonment up to lifetime. If a soldier, who has committed the previous crime, hurts civilians, he will be sentenced to an imprisonment of more than 3 years, or to an imprisonment up to lifetime; If a soldier kills civilians, he will be sentenced to lifetime imprisonment, or to the death penalty or an imprisonment of more than 7 years.

Article 89: Attempts of the crimes under this chapter are punishable.9

Even if the law might not be clear, severe, and effective enough to prevent war crimes from happening, it was still the law that regulated Japanese soldiers' behaviour. However, due to lapses in military disciplines and the poor education and training of Japanese soldiers at the time, the war crime rate was not under control. In order to prevent mischievous and deteriorating behaviour from spreading, Hideki Tojo, the Minister of the Imperial Japanese Army at the time, gave lectures about, Senjinkun (1941), the Japanese Military Field Code, to reaffirm the discipline of the Japanese army.

Lecture One, First, Imperial Army

Valour requires strictness, while benevolence must be universal. Should there be an enemy who dares to oppose the Imperial army, the army must resolutely resort to force of arms and deal him a crushing blow. However, even though force may compel the enemy to submit, should a lapse in virtue occur by striking of those who do not resist or by failure to show kindness to those who surrender, it cannot be said that such an army is perfect.

Modesty in its strength, unostentatious in its kindness, the Imperial Army becomes the object of admiration when it quietly displays its valour and benevolence. The mission of the Imperial Army lies in making the Imperial virtues the objects of universal admiration through the exercise of justice tempered with mercy.

Lecture Three, First, Prohibitions on the battlefield…

6. Enemies' properties and materials should be protected carefully. All the expropriation, confiscation, and disposal should follow the rules and commander's orders.

7. Since the fact that loyalty and righteousness are the natures of the imperial army, innocent and reluctant civilians should be well protected with kindness and mercifulness.

8. In battles, the imperial army's discretion should never be affected by alcohol, or by the sexual act because it will damage the reverence for the imperial army and jeopardize their individual duty. The virtue of imperial warriors should never be contaminated.

Tojo's Senjinkun lectures aimed to promote the idea that the Emperor is divine and merciful, and, to honour him, the imperial army should be merciful and kind to the prisoners and civilians of the occupied territory and should not commit crimes, such as plundering, raping, and killing without a justification or approval. Then the Chinese will respect the Japanese, love the Emperor and be docile under the control of the Empire of Japan. As Tojo's lectures suggest, Senjinkun is more like a regulation or guideline, which has been applied in the army, than a law that specifies the punishment. However, soldiers who violate this code of conduct will come under pressure from their peers and be scolded by superior officers and discipline committees.

The Senjinkun military field code was published more than 3 years after the Nanking Massacre had taken place. The absence of military provisions, Senjinkun, might help to explain their extreme conduct during the time of the Nanking Massacre both in reality and in the film. Many of the civilians in Nanking, as well as the Chinese caught up in other battle zones during this time, must have been deprived of their property, raped, and murdered. Of course, it is possible that uncontrolled and immoral Japanese soldiers were the cause of the Nanking Massacre. However, this would diminish the legal responsibility for such atrocities being attributed to high ranking officers, the Japanese government, and the Emperor, who were all put on trial at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in 1946. In Black Sun IV, this debate about the responsibility of high ranking officers for the Nanking Massacre take place in a fabricated conversation between a few Japanese officers after the meeting held by General Matsui Iwane. One of the officers says:

Tani Hisao: He [General Matsui Iwane] doesn't know the meaning behind the Emperor's directives…. It [occupying China] can only be done by a special method… to stun and threaten them. Psychologically, we have to destroy the Chinese completely. We must make the Chinese fear and respect Japanese…. It's [using a special method] to rule China in the future. We have to take extreme measures. I suggest that we kill all people and burn all houses in Nanking. This way all the Chinese will remember the penalty for disobedience….

Nakajima Kesago: All the officers agree that this is the best way to carry out our Emperor's will…. It's not a coincidence for General Asakanomiya Hatohikoo,10 the Emperor's uncle, to come to Nanking. Therefore, our Emperor's meaning is clear, isn't it?

According to this conversation, the Emperor is understood to have implicitly endorsed the use of extreme measures to ensure the political advantage of the Japanese in their campaign against China. Their interpretation of the imperial rescript is postulated as being supported by the presence of the Emperor's uncle as the Emperor's representative. This narrative indicates that the Emperor, high ranking officers as well as soldiers, and low rank soldiers are all accomplices and guilty of the Nanking Massacre. Since a famous Japanese feudal lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537–1598) articulated the intention to conquer China and colonize the whole Asia,11 mercilessly and cruelly intimidating Chinese people and suppressing any resistance was a rational method for the Japanese Empire.