The Rape of Nanjing

Extracts from Edgar Snow's Scorched Earth, London (1941)

The Japanese entered Nanking on December 12th, as Chinese troops and civilians were still trying to withdraw to the north bank of the Yangtze River, debouching through the one remaining gate. Scenes of utmost confusion ensued. Hundreds of people were machine-gunned by Japanese planes or drowned while trying to cross the river; hundreds more were caught in the bottleneck which developed at Hsiakuan gate, where bodies piled up four feet high...

Anything female between the ages of 10 and 70 was raped. Discards were often bayoneted by drunken soldiers. Frequently mothers had to watch their babies beheaded, and then submit to raping. One mother told of being raped by a soldier who, becoming annoyed at the cries of her baby, put a quilt over its head, and smothered it to death, finishing his performance in peace. Some officers, who led these forays, turned their quarters into harems and fell into bed each night with a new captive. Open-air copulation was not uncommon. Some 50,000 troops in the city were let loose for over a month in an orgy of rape, murder, looting and general debauchery which has nowhere been equalled in modern times.

Twelve thousand stores and houses were stripped of all their stocks and furnishings, and then set ablaze. Civilians were relieved of all personal belongings, and individual Japanese soldiers and officers stole motor-cars and rickshaws and other conveyances in which to haul their loot to Shanghai. The homes of foreign diplomats were entered and their servants murdered...

"Practically every building in the city", wrote one of the foreign observers, "has been robbed repeatedly by soldiers, including the American, British and German Embassies... Most of the shops, after-free-for-all breaking and pilfering, were systematically stripped by gangs of soldiers working with trucks, often under the observed direction of officers."

International "Safety Zone" became in reality a danger zone for non-combatants and a boomerang for its well-meaning organizers ... Day after day Japanese entered the zone to seize women for the pacification of the lusty heroes. Young girls were dragged from American and British missionary schools, installed in brothels for the troops, and heard from no more. One day in a letter written by one of the missionaries in the Zone I read about a strange act of patriotism, concerning a number of singing-girls who had sought refuge with their virtuous sisters. Knowing of their presence in the camp, and urged on by some of the matrons, the missionary asked them if any would volunteer to serve the Japanese, so that non-professional women might be spared. They despised the enemy as much as the rest; but after some deliberation nearly all of them stepped forth. Surely they must have redeemed whatever virtue such women may be held to have lost, and some of them gave their lives in this way, but as far as I know they never received posthumous recognition or even the Order of the Brilliant Jade.

In Shanghai a few Japanese deeply felt the shame and the humiliation. I remember, for example, talking one evening to a Japanese friend, a liberal-minded newspaper man who survived by keeping his views to himself, and whose name I withhold for his own protection. "Yes, they are all true," he unexpectedly admitted when I asked him about some atrocity reports, "only the facts are actually worse than any story yet published." There were tears in his eyes and I took his sorrow to be genuine.

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