Today marks 70 years since the imperialist Japanese army entered Nanjing, then capital of China, and began one of the most brutal massacres of the 20th century and has led to harsh friction between the two countries in the years since.

I’ve always liked history, in a purely sofa sort of way. Back when my TV spat out more than CCTVgrime I spent hours of well-wasted time watching documentary after documentary on the History Channel.

So, when I came across The Rape of Nanking while I was hanging out in Northern Thailand a few years ago, it surprised me that I had gone a quarter of a century on this planet and never heard of Nanjing, never mind anyone raping it.

nanjingmassacre.jpgWhen I ended up moving to China not long after, I was a bit taken aback by the overt hate and racism towards Japan and Japanese. I mean, sure I had only relatively recently heard of the horrors that befell Chinese at the hands of Japanese soldiers – but that was nearly 70 years ago, how could they still be pissed about it?

But I think it’s my ignorance towards this part of history that is largely responsible. We shout the loudest when no one is listening, and for a long time no one was listening to China.

However, now the country is front and centre under the world’s spotlight. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that China is choosing now to air some of their old wounds. Now they have a voice, now people are listening.

And we should listen. Not because China’s hate for modern-day Japanese is justified, as it so obviously isn’t. Not because China deserves any sort of “poor me” sympathy, it’s a big boy and can take care of itself.

We should listen because if we ignore it, ignore it from our text books to our collective consciousness, it will never go away.

Chinese, when speaking of the Nanjing Massacre, often draw parallels of brutality between the Nazis towards the Jews and the Japanese towards the Chinese. These are the desperate comparisons of people who feel they’ve not got the recognition they deserve.

I say “desperate” because no matter how you spin the Nanjing Massacre, which at its highest numbers holds a death-toll of about 300,000 people, can you compare this to the roughly 6 million Jews that were exterminated under the Nazis.

nanjingmassacre2.jpgBut these drastic comparisons are made in an effort to give the world an analogy they understand, and in that we should be paying attention. The Jews of Europe (and a number of other groups of people slaughtered by the Nazis) suffered an atrocity that in a lot of ways defined the 20th Century.

The fact that the world as a whole sympathize with the Jews and demonize the Nazis has paved the way for the healing that was needed. But that’s where the Sino-Japanese tension hits an awkward wall.

The Nazis were a group that for the most part doesn’t exist in the modern world. They were an evil that was crushed by the powers of good. It all makes for some great TV. And when was the last time you looked at a German and thought “dirty Nazi”? It doesn’t happen, because we don’t connect the two.
However, the Japanese are still the Japanese. So, when the Chinese shout and yell about the evils of the Japanese, they’re not talking about modern Japanese, they’re talking about the brutal invaders of seven decades ago – but it all sounds the same, and in that even the shouters lose sight of what they’re yelling about.

If the situation between Japan and China is ever going to change, I feel three things need to occur.

  • China, focus your anger on the past, not the present – and don’t lose perspective on that.
  • Japan, stop letting right-wing denying ass hats be the Japanese “expert” voice of this topic, as having a vocal element shouting “it didn’t happen” and timid element whispering “yes it did” is transparent and stupid.
  • The world, listen. We’re all going to have PLENTY of opportunity over the next year or so to view an ENDLESS string of movies and articles related to those movies that will paint various pictures of what happened in Nanjing. If we all absorb this event into our consciousness, maybe China wont have to yell so loud for us all to hear and to understand.

Some related links

New movies about the Nanjing Massacre and/or Japanese Occupation of China


  1. ok~there’re two points i have to make

    first of all, i want to say that we Chinese do not DISCRIMINATE Japanese tho it is true that we hate them. Therefore, there’s no racism involved.
    (personally i dont hate Japanese though, I think to some extent they’re role models to Chinese.)

    secondly, the reason why we no longer associate German with Nazi is that German had long ago acknowledged their crime and had apologized genuinely. Now German have faced their devilish deeds and for that they deserve forgiveness. But shame on Japanese! Don’t you think it’s simply absurd that they deny their crime and pretend that nothing happened 70 years ago? Now i know that some Japanese do feel sorry/guilty, but that’s not enough. Had they make any official apology to China, we would have forgived them. Maybe all we are asking is an apology, a genuine one.

    Trust me, no one would really want to carry hatred on forever.

  2. I sometimes wonder what would happen if there were some sort of Warschauer Kniefall on the part of Japanese leadership. How would China react? Could the Chinese continue on with such blatant anger if Hiroshima included a memorial for those murdered in China and Korea by Japanese soldiers. Had the US been smart about it, they would have forced an official apology out of Japan as well as resolving Law of Sea and territory disputes immediately after the war, but instead now we have 70 years of hate and the Diaoyu islands. It is true, however, that the onus of reconciliation lies on the injured party. You can’t force someone to forgive you, but it’s always possible, for your own sake, to forgive those who don’t deserve it.

  3. Casamia,

    Um, the government of Japan has apologized 17 times, I think. Whether that was sincere or not is hard to say, but you can’t deny there HAVE been apologies.

    The trouble is, I don’t think the Japanese government will EVER do the German style apology. And the Government of China will never forgive Japan. Both sides are childish and using the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people as a political tool. Hence, this problem will never be solved.

    “first of all, i want to say that we Chinese do not DISCRIMINATE Japanese tho it is true that we hate them. Therefore, there’s no racism involved.



    I doubt anything would change. I think the government of Japan needs to do a LOT more, but I really doubt that would do anything. The childish hate of Japan is such a great political tool, and China’s constant propoganda of victomhood is one of the main things keeping CCP in power.

    Your last line is right on. China could take the higher ground and forgive. It won’t happen though.

  4. There are sites which clearly list the Japanese government’s apologies to China. I imagine most are blocked to viewers in China.

    Anyway, as a part-Japanese student of Chinese (well, I start next year) I’m very interested in how Japanese people are treated in China. If the topic interested you and you found time, I’d like to read your thoughts and experiences on the matter. I know that for my Chinese studies I’ll have to choose a Chinese name; I have a Japanese surname (with kanji/hanzi) but if I use that, it would make my Japanese background obvious and perhaps open me up to discrimination.

  5. Chip

    Um, the government of Japan has apologized 17 times, I think. Whether that was sincere or not is hard to say, but you can’t deny there HAVE been apologies.

    I doubt anything would change. I think the government of Japan needs to do a LOT more, but I really doubt that would do anything. The childish hate of Japan is such a great political tool, and China’s constant propoganda of victomhood is one of the main things keeping CCP in power.

    Of course I know they have apologized. But are they sincere? I don’t think so, cuz if they were, why then, did the JP government permitted the publication of their new history textbook? In the new history textbook, Japan claims that Japan invaded China and Korea out of self-defence.

    Wow~~some apology eh? They apologize on one hand and victimize thenmselves in textbooks on the other hand. I don’t accept those apology, we don’t. Apologies so evasive and vague were meaningless, they were as good as NOTHING.

    Now you think we Chinese can’t let go? As time elapses everything fades, even hate. It doesn’t even matter how hard the Chinese government propagandize this “childish hate”. Everything will fade. In fact, many Chinese are softening down these days, but we still need a saying.

    On the other hand, do you think the outcome would be the same if Germany had never done their GERMAN STYLE apology to Jew?

  6. By the way, the words ‘discriminate’ and ‘hate/dislike/disgust/’ are qutie different, so please don’t use those words interchangeably.

  7. Ok, Casamia, here’s one for you.

    I hope Japan apologizes for the 18th time, while the government of China apologizes for Tianandoor, SARS, FA loon gung, the great leap forward, the cultural revolution, and for the hukou system. Let’s not forget beijing’s pollution and the lead in my cousin’s toys. Oh, and the apology has to be sincere, or else I’ll tell my kids to hate Chinese people, and their kids too. Fair?

    And yes, hatred of an entire race IS discrimination.

    By the way, Casamia, how old are you? Were you actually involved in the war against japan? Were you attacked? Has any japanese person ever harmed you? I’ll take a wild guess and assume your answer to all these questions is no.

  8. Alec,

    I personally know some japanese students here, and they’ve told me they’re generally accepted and treated well. Don’t be shy to use your real kanji name, never be ashamed of who you are. My philosophy on relations with people is: if people like me and treat me well, great! But if some people treat me wrong, I’d rather not be chummy with them in the first place. So come on over, you’ll meet some great people, and learn a great language. There are some jerks, but don’t let them ruin it for you.

  9. The biggest idiots are undoubtedly the Japanese deniers. But I also think that it might help if Chinese people understood fascism / ultra-nationalism a bit better. Unlike the former allied countries, whose education systems and media seem obsessed with the Nazis and their rise, I think there is very little understanding in China of how Japan developed into the society which created the murderous Imperial army.

  10. This really has nothing to do with apologizes – I couldn’t care less for apologies. This has to do with accurately acknowledging the facts, which means not rewriting history in Japanese textbooks. The biggest offense here is Japan’s continuous insistence on whitewashing their own history with revisionist accounts. Imagine if Germany changed references in textbooks to the Holocaust as the “Jewish incident,” and gave credence to Holocaust deniers. Imagine if American history textbooks had accounts of slavery that said, “people disputes whether slavery truly occurred on American soil.” That’s what’s happening in Japan – that is what the dispute is about. China has done many bad things as well – no one disputes that. But we’re talking specifically about what Japan has done. Also, there were more that 300k deaths caused by Japanese war crimes, including hundreds of thousands who died as a result of Japanese germ warfare conducted against Chinese civilian populations. In all, there were 17 million Chinese civilian deaths in World War 2.

  11. @Casamia: The reason you’re never going to get a heart-felt responsibility from Japan is because Japan is a country – it doesn’t have a heart. It’s land, borders, buildings… it’s not a person. The apology by your standards can never be good enough. In my mind acknowledgment by the country’s people that Japanese aggression in WWII was wrong is apology enough. But then, I’m not Chinese, nor Jewish – so…

    @Alec: Don’t worry about it man. I’ve met lots of Japanese students and business folk, and I not heard screams of poor treatment from any of them.

    @Chip: I agree. I also doubt the Japanese will do much more than they have – too much time has passed and they’re right to just want to move on with things and not continually have to attempt to atone for the sins of their grandfathers.

    I think what they do need to control is this idea that the voice of these right-wing nationalist dickheads are the voice of Japan – which is completely untrue and a poor representation of the country or its people.

    The situation now with all this crap being printed about Japan “white washing” history is garbage, and somewhat on par with the world reporting that German is becoming overrun with Nazis again when there are just a few vocal racist Aryan dickwads in the country.

    Which is also my response to Andy’s comment – it’s important for EVERYONE to recognize that despite all that history book crap being displayed in every fucking newspaper across the globe – in reality the “modified” text books were produced by a small (but vocal) right-wing group of deniers and is used by 1% or less of the Japanese education system…

    It’s completely out of whack to think this this sort of extremism is the de facto education of Japan’s youth.

  12. First, I think it is wrong of the Japanese government to approve textbooks that play down the Nanking Massacre and it does nothing to ameliorate Sino-Japanese relations.

    Having said that, I think we need to remember that the government approved textbook which sparked the anti-Japanese protests in 2005, was but one textbook and there are many Japanese textbooks that do mention the tragedy, some of which give the figure of 200 000 casualties. Here are a couple of excerpts from a number of Japanese history textbooks:

  13. First off, I’ve met plenty of Chinese who think more of their people died at the hands of the Japanese than Jews at the hands of Nazis.

    By the logic of China, I should still hate the Germans. I’ve tried explaining to a number of them why I don’t hate the Germans and why I shouldn’t. It never does sink in.

    And the Chinese don’t even think Hitler was evil!? I walked into a restaurant that is proud of the fact that they won’t serve Japanese (tons of articles and propaganda on the wall about that). And then, they hang a photo of Hitler right next to one of Elvis. Something is seriously screwed up with that mentality.

  14. I agree! I agree! I am so glad someone else has said this. Both sides are at fault. The Chinese use the issue for political leverage, when some disagreement comes up with Japan, over trade etc. the Chinese can always make use of the old war crimes issue. This is not the way politics is conducted in Europe, in the United Kingdom we dont blame the Germans for the bombing of Coventry when were angry at their economic policy, for instance.

    But the Japanese, both government and population, continue to give credence to the ludicrous idea that this didnt happen. The vocal far-right is allowed to monopolise the debate, and the Japanese public are so insular that theyre receptive to philosophies that absolve their guilt. Bizarre rightists in positions of power are allowed to make the most ludicrous statements, and create the most ludicrous policies.

    Japan MUST stop publishing text books etc. that misrepresent their role in WW2, they must stop treating what amounts to holocaust denial as real scholarship, they need to stop tacitly endorsing the far-right. China needs to realise that harking back to the 1940s everytime there is a disagreement with its neighbours is not the way modern states do business. It achieves even less for China than it does for Japan, and even devalues the horrific events of the war.

  15. WW2 was a shameful period for humanity….. and for those who say we can never let this happen again, IT IS!! In Africa attrocities on a similar level to WW2 are occuring as i type this message. Japan wont apologies because then they will be in a position in which they must make reparations. Japan isnt going to attack anyone ever again because it doesnt have an army and even then…. the UN/SC would prevent them AND they are democratic and are allies of the US and much of the international community. i dont see any problems here…. Like many countries who are accused of genocide, Japan will never recognize it, China will never forgive. END OF STORY!!!!

    The US doesnt even teach about the Japanese invasion much (maybe 2-3 pages of it) not even that its a genocide. Let China and Japan bitch over who did what… neither will apologize/forgive its all about politics and legal trouble….

    how about global warming, N Korea nuclear testing, economy, drug cartels moving their industry in to the US? =P

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