What is the Rape of Nanking?

Sheri Cyprus

The Rape of Nanking refers to the violent 1937 - 1938 capture of China's capital city at that point, Nanking, by the Japanese. The Rape of Nanking is also called The Nanking Massacre, The Chinese Holocaust and The Forgotten Holocaust. The horrific violence, including killing and raping, that occurred during this overtaking of the city of Nanking resulted in about 300,000 deaths of both Chinese civilians and soldiers. Dead bodies and blood were said to be common sights on Nanking streets during The Forgotten Holocaust.

An illustration of China with the Chinese flag superimposed on it.
An illustration of China with the Chinese flag superimposed on it.

In 1937, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese army allowed the Japanese to invade and occupy Nanking, also known as Nanjing. Since the Japanese could surpass Chinese military personnel, many Chinese civilians were injured or murdered. Rape, shooting, stabbing, strangling and drowning were some of the violent acts that the Japanese army committed against the Chinese people during The Rape of Nanking. Some Japanese soldiers locked families or store workers inside a building and then set the house or shop on fire.

A statue of Gen. Chiang Kai-shek, who led the Chinese troops during the Rape of Nanking.
A statue of Gen. Chiang Kai-shek, who led the Chinese troops during the Rape of Nanking.

The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II is the title of a 1997 bestselling book written by the Chinese-American author, Iris Chang. In Chang's view, the Japanese government hasn't adequately apologized for the violent taking of Nanking during the Chinese Holocaust. Chang's book is available in various languages and is one of the earliest English language books about The Rape of Nanking. Although some critics claim Chang's book is inaccurate in parts, many others praise the work.

Much of the research for Chang's book came from the diaries of Minnie Vautrin and John Rabe who were part of The Nanking Safety Zone. The Zone was formed by foreigners in Nanking. It held about 25 refugee camps that received donations of money and food from the City of Nanking.

The Japanese army had agreed not to enter The Nanking Safety Zone as long as it contained non-military personnel only. Nazi party member John Rabe was one of the leaders of The Nanking Safety Zone project. The Japanese army accused Rabe of permitting non-uniformed guerrilla soldiers into the Zone and they used this information as permissionto go into The Nanking Safety Zone and rape and kill many people there.

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Discussion Comments


I heard that Iris Chang was driven to suicide by the FBI. Is there any truth to this claim?



This is an interesting but controversial point. Einstein petitioned his colleague Freud to help him charter a contract to discourage war and evil in the world, but Freud declined, stating that war was a necessary part of the human subconscious which would necessarily demonstrate itself. I wonder if these inhuman killers were simply all-too-human.


One has to think of the plight of the Japanese soldiers and put oneself in their shoes to understand their seemingly psychopathic atrocity. They were each under a very stringent command which had enormous expectations of honor or death. Each day was like being driven on by hierarchical forces, and harsh slaps in the face being transferred down the chain of command were common. In this kind of typically Japanese environment, it is not uncommon to have people snap and give way to their strongly suppressed urges.


The Japanese committed a similar atrocity as the Germans in that they massacred the founders of their belief system. The Judeo-Christian system of understanding and social order in Europe had come from Israel, and Germany massacred Jews en masse. In the same way, the Japanese showed a blatant disregard in raping and murdering countless Chinese.


The Nanking Massacre is especially atrocious to the Chinese because it signifies an outright rebellious patricide. The Chinese see themselves as the cultural leaders of East Asia, and were once an influential empire which brought Korea, Japan, and Vietnam out of the dark ages with their strict and effective social code. In attacking China, Japan was demonstrating a lack of gratitude and an intentional slight toward the Chinese.

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