The Nanjing Massacre

A Case of Japanese History Revisionism
By Dr. Chiu-yee Cheung
Research Institute for the Humanities (CUHK)

In December 13, 1937, the Chinese capital Nanjing was overrun by the Japanese imperial armies. In the following six weeks, the Japanese committed one of the most horrible crimes in human history: the Nanjing Massacre. During the Massacre, an estimated 300,000 Chinese POWs and civilians were brutally killed, and 20,000 women were gang-raped.

Despite the confessions by Japanese soldiers and research done by Japanese journalists after the war, the right-wing political force in Japan began to deny the occurrences of the Nanjing Massacre and other brutalities in Asia in the 1970s.

In 1982, the Ministry of Education embarked on a campaign to distort the history of World War II in high school textbooks. In its revision of Japan's invasion of China, the word "invasion" was replaced by "entering and leaving." The Nanjing Massacre was described as a "minor incident" and rape was explained as an act that "always happened in wars," and, thus, should not be mentioned in textbooks. Although the word "invasion" was not replaced by "entering and leaving" because of the strong protest from the surrounding Asian countries and various Japanese educational groups, the revision of the Nanjing Massacre remained.

The Nanjing Massacre came into focus again when an interview with Shintaro Ishihara, a member of the Diet and a co-author of the notorious book The Japan That Can Say No, was published in the October issue of Playboy magazine (1990). In that interview, Ishihara declared that the Nanjing Massacre never occurred, and that "it is a story made up by the Chinese, . . . it is a lie." In 1994, several Japanese ministers publicly repeated the same opinion and were immediately forced to apologize and resign.

The case of the Nanjing Massacre is just small part of Japanese history "revisionism." The Japanese nationalists have been trying to persuade the world that Japan was not an aggressor but a victim of the war. They claimed that the Chinese started the war despite the fact that it happened on Chinese soil. They blame Chinese resistance for obstructing the development of Japanese democracy. They even claim that Japan "liberated" Asian peoples from white colonialism as if the Asians should thank them for their murders and be ashamed for their resistance. In fact, a Japanese professor, Watanabe Shoichi, said that the US should apologize to Japan.

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