The History Place – Genocide in the 20th Century: Rape of Nanking 1937-38

In December of 1937, the Japanese Imperial Army marched into China’s capital city of Nanking and proceeded to murder 300,000 out of 600,000 civilians and soldiers in the city. The six weeks of carnage would become known as the Rape of Nanking and represented the single worst atrocity during the World War II era in either the European or Pacific theaters of war.The actual military invasion of Nanking was preceded by a tough battle at Shanghai that began in the summer of 1937. Chinese forces there put up surprisingly stiff resistance against the Japanese Army which had expected an easy victory in China. The Japanese had even bragged they would conquer all of China in just three months. The stubborn resistance by the Chinese troops upset that timetable, with the battle dragging on through the summer into late fall. This infuriated the Japanese and whetted their appetite for the revenge that was to follow at Nanking.After finally defeating the Chinese at Shanghai in November, 50,000 Japanese soldiers then marched on toward Nanking. Unlike the troops at Shanghai, Chinese soldiers at Nanking were poorly led and loosely organized. Although they greatly outnumbered the Japanese and had plenty of ammunition, they withered under the ferocity of the Japanese attack, then engaged in a chaotic retreat. After just four days of fighting, Japanese troops smashed into the city on December 13, 1937, with orders issued to “kill all captives.”

via The History Place – Genocide in the 20th Century: Rape of Nanking 1937-38.


One comment

  1. The Japanese were responsible for between 10 and 20 million Chinese deaths, many by direct violence. I would be the last to deny or apologise for Japanese genocide. Others who committed genocide in World War II were the British, the US and the Soviets. None of them, however, can compare for absolute or relative scale with the worst German genocides. As such, I’m not sure that the vague term “the single worst atrocity during the World War II era” is entirely wise. What is a “single atrocity” and what are discreet events? A “single atrocity” could be Nanjing, but equally could be Berlin. It could maybe better be applied to the firebombing of Tokyo, or it could be even more narrowly applied to Hiroshima. Maximally, the greatest single atrocity would be the genocide of Slavs by the Germans, or should that be Soviets? What about Auschwitz as a single atrocity? There has never been anything like it before or since.
    Or maybe finding the grounds to single out a “single worst atrocity” is more likely to encourage the sense of collective enmity that fuels further atrocities.
    If I am passionate, please do not mistake this for criticism. Seeing words in black-and-white expressing a sentiment that I might myself have expressed simply precipitated a thought process. We are all indicted and none indicted. So-called “inhumanity” is part of our humanity and if we don’t recognise the perpetrators as our kin we risk becoming the next perpetrators.


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