Nanking Massacre

Beatrice Bartlett, professor of history at Yale, will give a lecture on the horror and heroism of the Nanking Massacre, its historical context and the current controversies about it, on Friday, January 31, at 4 p.m. in the Marquand Chapel of the Yale Divinity School, 409 Prospect Street. In conjunction with her talk, the Yale Divinity Library has mounted an exhibition of first-hand documents and photographs, “American Missionary Eyewitnesses to the Nanking Massacre,” which will be on display through January. Both the talk and the exhibit are free and open to the public.

When Japanese overran China during World War II, soldiers of the invading army savagely attacked the people of Nanking, now called Nanjing. By some estimates, between December 1937 and March 1938, Japanese soldiers in Nanking killed more than 300,000 Chinese civilians and raped nearly 80,000 women. Large sections of the city were burned and looted.

The atrocities – which Japan has not acknowledged to this day – were observed by 27 Westerners, including 15 Americans who remained in Nanking throughout the period. Nine of the Americans were Christian missionaries, and their letters, diaries, reports, and photographs provide searing evidence of the frenzy of beheading, bayoneting, burying and burning alive that occurred.

One witness wrote, “It is a horrible story to relate; I know not where to begin nor to end. Never have I heard or read such brutality. Rape, rape, rape! We estimate at least 1,000 cases a night and many by day. In case of resistance or anything that seems like disapproval, there is a bayonet stab or a bullet… Those who are suspected of being soldiers as well as others, have been led outside the city and shot down by hundreds, yes thousands,” according to James H. McCallum, in a letter written December 19, 1937.

“Nine tenths of the city are totally deserted by Chinese and contain only roving bands of plundering Japanese. The remaining tenth contains almost 200,000 terrified citizens,” recorded R.O. Wilson on December 15, 1937.

Those terrified masses jammed into the Safety Zone, established and protected by missionaries and several other Westerners–including German businessman John Rabe. The crowding, filth, hunger, and panic were horrific, but the Safety Zone provided at least a semblance of protection from the marauding soldiers.

Mr. Rabe was a German and a loyal member of the Nazi Party. His diary came to light only a few months ago when an independent researcher, Iris Chang, working at Yale, tracked down Rabe’s granddaughter, who knew about the manuscript and was able to locate it. Only two copies of the diary exist in the United States. One was donated to Yale last month. The original remains in the granddaughter’s possession.

“Nanjing was not the only site of savage bloodshed during the Japanese occupation–indeed, millions of Chinese people lost their lives in one of the most destructive wars in history,” says Nancy Chapman, president of the Yale China Association. “The savagery at Nanjing is…seen as emblematic of a larger pattern of exploitation characterizing Japan’s relations with China throughout the 20th century, while the failure of the Allies to impose significant war reparations on Japan left many victims of the war feeling that their suffering had gone unrecognized and uncompensated….. The Japanese government’s seeming reluctance over the years to confront honestly and fully the nation’s wartime record, and especially the emergence in Japan in the 1980s of right-wing politicians and revisionist historians, who publicly dismissed accounts of the massacre as exaggerations and even fabrications, allowed memories of the Nanjing massacre and other wartime atrocities to fester like open wounds. Not surprisingly, there is a sense of outrage and urgency that characterizes the efforts of historians and others committed to setting the record straight.”

The materials currently on display are part of the holdings of the Day Missions Library, which has been a repository for the personal records of former missionaries to China since 1969.

For further information, contact Martha Smalley, research services librarian and curator of the Day Missions Collection at the Yale Divinity School Library, 203/432-6374.

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Media Contact

Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325