by Kevin Uhrich (excerpts from Los Angeles Readers, July 1, 1994)
To understand what drives this inter-Asian battle for recognition of war history, it is important to know a bit about the awesome military strength of Japan in the 1930s. By 1937, Japanese Imperial forces held Manchuria and much of China's northeastern flank, meeting little viable resistance with each new step west. Although the Japanese encountered mostly Nationalist soldiers at the wall of the capital city, after Nanking was bombed from the air, the few who remained - outgunned, outtrained, and outnumbered - had little inclination to fight. The young fled. Those who stayed hid or died. Local officials paid tribute to their conquerors, hoping a payoff would save the city from total destruction. The Nationalist soldiers sensing defeat was at hand, took their losses and bailed out. Having seen the Japanese take over Korea in 1910 and swallow up Manchria in the early 1930s, city officials in Nanking realized was no hope for liberation and did not put up a fight when occupational forces put up a puppet government to control any possible insurrections. At the same time, China, long since carved into leased colonial chunks belonging to Great Britain, France, and the United States, was embroiled its own bitter civil war between those same Nationalist forces and Mao Tse-tung's determined Communists from the north. Large, provincial warlords and Nationalist guard men - many of them on horseback an armed only with rifles and swords - put up much of what spotty resistance the highly mechanised Japanese war machine faced in the fourteen year conquest of China. If there was a country ripe for the taking, it was the politically and socially fractious China of the 1930s.
Unlike most of the other children living in Nanking, eight-year-old Wu Yafu was relatively safe. His parents and grandparents owned apartment buildings and had money. More importantly, in the eyes of the Japanese troops, his cousin attended school at Japan University in Tokyo. That special distinction alone made Yafu and his family eligible for protection from harassment and persecution. When the army finally took over, the emblem of a 'spiritual protector' was hung on the door of the Yafu family's apartment. For the most part, Yafu and his family could come and go as they pleased. "We were a big family in Nanking. My grandfather was a businessman; that's why we did not move to Chunking," as so many had done. Others who stayed behind weren't as fortunate.
Yafu recalls one especially gruesome sight from the late thirties. Japanese officers and soldiers stayed in one of the Yafu family's apartment buildings. Walking to the front door of the apartment complex one day, Yafu heard the soldiers laughing and yelling. They were huddled together in the center of the lobby. He walked toward the crowd of soldiers. In the center, one of the soldiers had hoisted a small boy, about one year old, into the air. Another soldier drove a bayonet into the toddler's stomach, skewering the child and holding his lifeless body above his head. Yafu, now sixty-four, left the city a few years later and eventually moved to Taiwan when Communist forces finally defeated Nationalist for control of the mainland. he joined the Nationalist air force at eighteen. He served with American forces in Vietnam and retired as a colonel before moving to Hacienda Heights in 1982. Despite all that Yafu has seen of war and death over the years, the shocking image of his childhood in Nanking still haunt him.
The Nanking Massacre is remembered in the Chinese-American community as the single greatest display of wanton brutality experienced by occupying Japanese during the war in Asia, - by all accounts an a par with any atrocities committed in Europe by Hitler's Nazis. When Nanking fell on December 19, 1937, men and boys were grouped together, bound by barbed wire and either beheaded with swords or shot en messe. Thousands of people, mostly adult men were iinstructed to dig holes and then kneel next to them as a way of saving the soldiers the trouble of burying them after execution. They were shot in the head, pushed into the graves, and covered up. Some were simply beheaded Standing up, their bodies and severed heads dumped into the Yangtze River. Soldiers competed in "killing contests" and sent the number of murders back to their hometown newspapers to publish. Most of the kiihng was done with knives and swords in in effort to save bullets, according to war diaries kept by journalists aand soldiers in Nanking at the time.
Women were raped (up to one hundred women a day were kidnapped, raped, and killed) and then either killed immediately afterward or held as sex slaves for the troops.j By the time the executions stopped in 1945, eighty thousand women had been raped, sexuallyy mutilated, and murdered. Tens of thousands of men and chfldren were executed. Much of what was first known about the Nanking Massacre, or the Rape of Nanking as it has come to be called was first recorded not by Chinese scholars and authors, but by a handful of Western and Japanese journalists working in Nanking at the time of the takeover.
A soldier described how he and other soldiers tied young boys to trees and used them for bayonet practice. Instead of handcuffs or ropes, the hands of civilian prisoners were punctured with nails. Metal wires were then run through the holes and prisoners were strung together, like fish on a stringer. For entertainment soldiers used their swords to cut off ears, noses and eyelids of their victims.
A reporter for the Tokyo Times tried to stop the slaughter and was pushed aside by an officer. It is believed he later went insane. "I have never been to hell, but there is a hell, it was in this cirv,' reporter for the Tokyo Times told the killing in Nanking.
"It is not that they simply killed people. That's war, and people die in war It's the way they killed people," says Roger Chang. Indeed, even the German Nazis didn't have the stomach for the bloody massacres their emissaries to Nanking witnessed in 1938. Nazi Germany's charge d'affaires at Nanking, George Rosen, wrote, "the Japanese Imperial Army (Germany's closest ally) is nothing but a beastly machine," according to documents collected by Tien Wei Wu, professor emeritus of history at Southern Illinois University "Let us bear in mind that Hitler began to persecute the Jews in 1933 when the Jewish population in many stood at 522,000 and the exodus of Jews set in. By the time the Second World War broke out in 1939, it were still more than 300,000 Jews there; and even in 1942, when the policy of "the final solution' was in place there were still 130,000 Jews in Germany," Wu wrote recently for Chinese American Forum magazine. "The truth is that in terms of measures and cruelty of the genocide, its duration and large numbers of people killed, neither the Hiroshima atomic bombing nor Jewish Holocaust can rival the Nanking Massacre."
In Japan, conservative government officials have successfiffly rewritten history books and have managed to keep words like 'massacre' and 'invasion" away from students. In 1990, a prominent Japanese cabinet member and author called the massacre at Nanking a lie invented by the Chinese. More recently, the country's justice Minister and Army Chief of Staff, Shigeto Nagano, insisted claims of Japan atrocities were all fabrications.