The Rape of Nanking

What exactly was the Rape of Nanking, and what events immediately led up to it?

Based on what most sources say, the Rape of Nanking was a six week period, beginning in 13 December, 1937 in which the Imperial Japanese Army perpetrated rape, murder, arson, and theft among other various forms of war crimes. It has been estimated that during the incidence, 20,000 women were raped, and these included the elderly and the infants. The soldiers would conduct a door-to-door search for young girls. In the process, a great number of women were taken captive, gang-raped, and then killed immediately often through explicit mutilation. As such, objects such as long Bamboo sticks would be inserted into their private parts. According to Yoshida (2006), young children were cut open in order to allow penetration. Aside from this, there were episodes in which the Japanese troops coerced families into acts of incest. For instance, they forced sons to rape their mothers. The event was also characterized with massacre on the civilians.

After Nanking was captured by the Japanese troops, fleeing residents were indiscriminately shot dead, or even bayoneted. Moreover, those people that the Japanese Army suspected to be members of the Chinese army, but had shed their uniform and opted for civilian clothing were apprehended and taken to open fields where they could be shot, used for bayonet practice, or cruelly killed before being buried in mass graves. According to Masters (2007), pregnant women were also targeted. Their stomachs would be bayoneted, in most cases following rape.

The event was also characterized by extrajudicial killing with the targets being Chinese war prisoners. These could be captured and led to the Yangtze River where they could either shot, bayoneted, or blown in landmines before being set on fire. Theft and arson was also commonplace. It has been reported across research that at least one third of the city was destroyed through acts of arson. The Japanese army are said to have set newly built governmental buildings along with civilian homes on fire. Since there was no resistance, the Japanese troops were able to take Nanking’s valuables. As a result, there was massive burglary and looting.

Most researchers report that the goal and purpose of the massacre was not clear-cut. However, they have attempted to discuss some of the perceived causes. Foremost, it is believed that following the start of the World War II, the Japanese Military Dictators saw China as the chief outlet for their expansionist and imperial ambitions. Therefore, they had to invade the country and occupy it. Secondly, it is believed that the Japanese inhibited the notion that they were superior to every race. In this regard, they believed that performing a massacre was justified to them.

Why might it be difficult to write the history of this event with absolute precision? What kind of sources might historians use for this? Why might these sources be problematic?

Despite the vast sources that report on the Rape of Nanking, it might be extremely difficult to write a history of this particular event with absolute precision. This is especially so due to the differing accounts that have been presented. Indeed, for this and other historical events, what has been reported contradicts, and this makes it hard to pin down what exactly happened. Most of the sources contradict, and this makes it difficult to know which information presents the actual picture of the event. The best source that historians ought to use is the primary sources.

There are the original materials, which have neither been altered nor distorted, as evaluated by several scholars who include their findings in their publications. Such sources are essential as they usually offer new input to historical nature of questions. However, there are various challenges with such sources. Jones (1999) expressed that primary sources are in most cases fragmentary, difficult to analyze and interpret, and ambiguous. They contain familiar words and social contexts but give obsolete meanings to them.

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