Family stories of the Rape of Nanking

My wife asked her students to collect stories from their grandparents from the Rape of Nanking. Many of the student’s families had fled the city, and other simply didn’t hand anything in. The following are four accounts of what happened in Jiangsu province during the war with Japan as remembered by witnesses of the tragedies.

I’m publishing this partially in response to Yoshikazu Kato’s comments made during his visit to Nanjing, in which he stated that he wasn’t certain of the facts of the event, and that further research should be done.

All I know about that period of history is from my grandma. At that time my grandma was very young, about 7 or 8 years old. One night when the whole family was sound asleep, without any warning, the Japanese soldiers rushed into the small village. These cruel soldiers set fires, shot innocent crowds and assaulted women.

My Grandma was hidden together with her elder sister under a straw mattress. She was very afraid, but she was told “No cry, no tears, no sound.” Through a small opening, my grandma witnessed these bloody Japanese stab her friends, kill her neighbors and steal their money. After the Japanese did all of these things, they moved the bodies together and set a fire to destroy the evidence.

In my hometown, Shigang, there used to be 12 temples, but the Japanese burned them and took everything valuable. So now we can only see 2 of them.

My neighbor was a soldier, and he told me why he joined the army. In the year 1939, the enemies came again and they fired off several rounds of artillery at our town. One of them landed near the house where his aunt lived. She was 53 years old and had lived alone. When she died, her belly was ruptured and her organs were outside. It was very tragic. In addition, he witnessed a Japanese soldier kill a pregnant woman and cut open her stomach after raping her. He was furious but he couldn’t do anything then. After that he decided to drive out the aggressors.

When I was a child I noticed a deep scar on my grandmother’s arm. I wondered how she got it, and so she told me this story.

When she was my age (~20), she worked with her two girlfriends in the field. After work they returned home. On their way back, a Japanese appeared with a gun. He shouted at them. Seeing this, my grandmother and her friends ran as fast as they could. Suddenly, my grandmother heard the report of a gun. She saw one of her friends fall down, and not get back up. Then she heard a second shot. Her other friend had been hit. The girl escaped the Japanese clutches, but later died at home. My grandmother was also shot, however she made it home and recovered slowly.

Although my grandma is alive, she lost her good friends forever. My grandmother is scarred not only physically but mentally.

My grandfather was an 8-year-old boy at that time, and saw his neighbor’s house collapse with his own eyes. As everybody knew, the city was not safe anymore, so his family and him escaped from the city to the rural area to seek shelter.

During the days in the country, grandfather witnessed a moving scene. The Japanese captured a man in a gray coat (it seemed like the clothes of a Chinese soldier) and believed him to be a Chinese soldier. Many people knew that he was a soldier, so they dare not help him. The moment before he was beheaded, a young country woman stepped out of the crowd and cried, “He is not a soldier but my husband. How could you kill him? Our son is still at home waiting for his father!” She hugged him tightly with tears. Then, the Japanese set him free.

The Japanese were still in the city and they always did theft and arson. In case of being raped, many girls went to the Nanking Safety Zone. So did grandpa’s sisters and female cousins. even in there, they still felt terrified, so these poor girls used coal to darken their faces and cut their hair. These “girls” are greatly thankful to these kind-hearted, civic-minded and conscientious foreigners to this day.

11 responses to “Family stories of the Rape of Nanking”

  1. I’d would have loved to share some of my own family’s stories about Nanjng, but I’m afraid I’ll have to keep them for my ‘memoirs’ (if I ever get round to even write them on index cards!). I will say that one of my aunts was a UK Foreign Office diplomat on secondment to the British consulate-general in Nanjing and witnessed the full bloody horror of the massacre there from run-up to finish. Many of the recollections told to me by my aunt had been from her official field dispatches back to the main Embassy in Beijing. One of her stories that relates to your article was how the British and other European consular staff were working in close cooperation with the Nazi German consulate in setting up the Safety Zone for the benefit of the local Chinese. I’m sorry to say I can’t go into this right now, but I just wanted to put in my twopence worth that not all German officials at that time were cold-blooded Nazis siding with the Japanese.

    • Tom says:

      I think the best known foreigner from the Rape of Nanking though was John Rabe, who held Hitler in the highest regards. Rabe was convinced that if German high command knew the real situation they would stop the Japanese. He of course was wrong about this, and was silenced after returning to Germany ’38.
      Part of the reason for that Germany was somewhat two-faced in China was that they had been training the Nationalist army for some time, and didn’t know who exactly to side with when their allies started fighting.

      I’m actually working on a diary from this period, we should talk.

      • Oh, yes, that John Rabe character. The only thing I ever knew about Rabe was from the “World at War” series (BBC, 1970s).

        I don’t know what I could contribute. I work purely from memory when it comes to my family’s recollections about the war in China (or anywhere else) – and it’s in drips and draps, and usually elicited ad hoc by articles like this one. My email and stuff are on my (still-in-furloughed) blog under ‘Contact.’

  2. Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

    thenakedlistener: Thank you for putting in your twopence worth. It is good to get an eye witness account of the Rape of Nanking which offers more nuanced information than the usual stereotypes. Your relatives sound an interesting bunch. I do hope you get to write your “memoirs” one day.

    • Oh, I don’t know about my folks being anything near an interesting bunch, but a few of them lived through ‘interesting’ times and places that they rather wanted to forget.

      One of the more interesting recollections from my aunt about the Japanese invasion force in Nanjing was that it was led by Japanese officers (obviously), with a sizable contingent of Koreans as non-commissioned officers. And one of the reasons why they were so effective in reducing Nanjing was that the force used Japanese-born ethnic Chinese as field intelligence/coordinating personnel. I’ve never seen this ‘fact’ mentioned in any book or writing anywhere.

      My aunt also said Japanese (and Japano-Chinese) intelligence officers tried to coordinate field coordination with German intelligence operatives in situ. Apparently the German Consul-General gave orders to them to ‘frustrate’ their cooperation with the Japanese. Clearly, refusal to cooperate meant the German might be sent back to Germany for ‘termination,’ so giving out contradictory intel was the order of the day, thereby buying time to ferry refugees into the Safety Zone. This part of my aunt’s recollection did get coverage in some books, but seems like the Chinese authorities today don’t mention this at all.

  3. BB says:

    Very interesting to read these personal stories; and good to be reminded once again of the horrors of war and how totalitarian, fascist regimes often result in a complete disregard for human life and compassion.

  4. Tom says:

    There is a book again called the Rape of Nanjing written by two Chinese – this is bilingual Chinese / English and has many photographs taken by Japanese soldiers showing many many atrocities.
    Chinese people being beheaded and bayonetted etc. Some photographs are of the same atrocity taken by different people – Some of this is very hard to look at it is so terrible.

    The Good German of Nanjing is an account of John RBA- it is along time since I took it off my book shelf but I think much of it based on Rabe’s diary

    • I know this book. Many of the pictures in it are come the Imperial War Museum in UK (which, apparently, has the world’s largest collection of Nanjing-related war photos). The IWM pictures were also used extensively in the ‘World at War’ TV series.

  5. Anonymous says:

    thank you to you and your wife for sharing this difficult stories.

  6. justinchina says:

    Tom, you can ping me, i have digital copies of all Minnie Vautrin’s journals for your Diary project if you would like them. they are stored in Yale’s Libraries, i got them copied at one point. a little hard to read in places, but as first hand as you can get. someday, sit and read Rabe’s journals, and Vautrin’s journals side by side…interesting differences of recollections in places.

  7. Chuck Gurney says:

    I cant understand why the Japanese were so terrible to the people of Nanking. When I read of these atrocities that the Japanese soldiers did to the Chinese people I have a very hard time imagining such savagery. I cant bear the thought that very young Chinese women were assaulted and raped. Innocent civilians massacred.
    I watched the movie The Flowers of War. Its based on actual events at the Winchester Cathedral in Nanking 1937. A story of untold heroism and sacrifice by unlikely people. I cried everytime I watch this movie, It tore my heart out. Why is our world like this?

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