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.

The Imperial Rescript

Hirohito's rescript was a declaration of war on the United States and Great Britain announced in 1941, 3 years after the second Sino-Japanese war and the Nanking Massacre. While it was not written until 1941, it does explain why the Japanese Empire and the Republic of China had a military conflict. There is a paragraph in the rescript that explains it was not Japan, but the Chinese government in Chungking led by Chiang Kai-shek who was responsible for the second Sino-Japan war.

More than 4 years have passed since China, failing to comprehend the true intentions of Our Empire, and recklessly courting trouble, disturbed the peace of East Asia and compelled Our Empire to take up arms. Although there has been re-established the National Government of China, with which Japan had effected neighbourly intercourse and cooperation, the regime which has survived in Chungking, relying upon American and British protection, still continues its fratricidal opposition. Eager for the realization of their inordinate ambition to dominate the Orient, both America and Britain, giving support to the Chungking regime, have aggravated the disturbances in East Asia.

The rescript blames the Chinese for causing the second Sino-Japanese War. According to it, the reason why Chiang started the war was because he misunderstood Japan's true intentions and thought that it wanted to conquer the whole of China. Even though the rescript views the war as Chiang's fault, obliging Japan to fight back, it continues to present the Japanese government and the Emperor as kind and generous refusing to hate China because of their long mutual history. Although Chiang and his government are "vermin" who have undermined the brotherhood between the two nations, Japan has been able maintain its familiar relationship with the rival National Government of China led by Wang Jingwei, who they believe to be the only legitimate authority in the country. Since Chiang and his government, along with the United States and Great Britain, were responsible for the second Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War, Japan had good reasons to declare war on these enemies. They also can justify being cruel to the Chinese people who follow Chiang and his government's commands. As the propagandistic Japanese media slogan declared "vicious China should be punished" bao zhi ying cheng.

This document enables us to understand the attitude of the Emperor and the Japanese government towards their relationship with China and can be seen as an attempt to explain their actions between 1937 and 1941. The rescript was well written, not only completely removing Japan's responsibilities as the perpetrator of both wars, but also giving a perfect excuse for the cruelty it had inflicted on the Chinese people. It suggests that the Chinese in fact deserved to be treated inhumanely because it was China's fault for starting the war. In Black Sun IV the rescript is issued in 1937 thus providing an implicit order to the Japanese soldiers to carry out the atrocity in Nanking. In the film, the rescript provides a handy excuse to explain Japanese actions, to ease the soldiers' sense of guilt and give them a reason to carry out acts of cruelty on innocent Chinese people. Moreover, in the film the rescript acts like a psychological mechanism, turning off the Japanese soldiers' consciences, activating their self-deception, and justifying their sinister behaviour. In short, this rescript turns evil deeds into benign favours.

In the rescript, the "true intention" of the Japanese empire, from a psychological point of view, completely converts Japan's ambition, its military invasion of China, and the inhumane acts carried out by the Japanese soldiers at Nanking into favours that will help China transform from an old and weak country to a strong and modern country. What are their true intentions? General Commander Matsui Iwane, after publicly scolding Nakajima Kesago and Tani Hisao, two high-ranking Japanese officers, for events in Nanking, says:

Killing is just a method. In this holy war, you kill the Chinese in order to liberate them. This is absurd, but logical. Just like physical punishment for students. It's for their future. They must make sacrifices. In the long term, they will benefit from it. Sooner or later, the Chinese will appreciate the Japanese and the Japanese Emperor…. Each generation of Chinese is getting worse and worse. But the Japanese are growing stronger year by year. So we have to help the Chinese. Or Asia will be taken over by European and American powers.

Killing the Chinese, becomes, in the words of Iwane in the film, a benign action for the Chinese people's own benefit. If the war could transform the Chinese people and government, China, an old country with a long history and many great traditions, could become a strong and modern country and take its rightful, yet subordinate place, as part of the Japanese-led Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. But how can mass killing and war crimes be seen as merciful methods to help China?

Pan-Asianism, is the idea that Japan should help to make Asia strong and united so that it can fight against the Western world. In 1885, Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835–1901) wrote an article in Jiji Shimpo titled "Leaving Asia Theory" (Datsu-A Ron) stating that China, along with Korea, is a terrible neighbour who will only drag Japan down and make it look as inferior to other Western countries as China really is. Japan did not need to treat countries like China and Korea well, for as Fukuzawa Yukichi says:

Similar to the relations between our lips and teeth (that they exist in an inseparable relationship), neighbouring countries shall assist each other. Currently, China and Korea have not even offered a single drip of assistance to my Japan…. we (the Japanese people) do not have the luxury of time to wait for the enlightenment of our neighbouring countries - China and Korea - to work together toward the development of Asia. It is our best strategy to leave the ranks of Asian nations and cast our lot with the civilized nations of the West. As for our approach to the treating of China and Korea, there shall be no special treatment just because they are our neighbouring countries. Simply adapting the ways of the Westerners is sufficient. Those who cherish bad friends cannot escape the fate of being branded as a bad person. My heart and determination lie in the refusal of bad friends.

Yukichi's article affirms that only Japan knows how to improve, and that the Japanese are a superior species, both genetically and educationally, to the Chinese and the Korean. He says: "maybe it is due to the differences in racial origins (even though we share the same Asiatic teachings), there are differences in heredity and education," therefore, "no matter in an individual context or as a nation, the people of these two countries [China and Korea] do not know the way to progress". Since the Chinese are an inferior species, and not even human, the Japanese do not need to treat them equally. The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere is a lie that Japan uses as manipulation. Japan uses it to sugar-coat and to justify everything inhumane they do to Chinese. Therefore, the Nanking Massacre is nothing vicious but is merely a benevolent wake-up call to Chinese.