The Nanking Massacre: The Chinese and Japanese Sides of the Stories

The Nanking massacre can be understood from different perspectives even when two authors agree on the fundamental facts. Lee En-Han, a Chinese historian (Li, chap.4), focuses on the statistics of casualties, while Kasahara Tokushi, a Japanese historian, takes into account more the background and mentality of the Japanese soldiers who conducted the massacre (chap.5).

Lee En-Han focuses on statistics (such as 21 million Chinese casualties during the Sino-Japanese War), and the tactics the Japanese used to fight the Chinese. Lee further discussed eyewitnesses' testimonies (50-51). Note that of the 100 eyewitnesses testified at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, Li only discussed some of those by American witnesses to achieve the effect of objectivity. He also quoted Chief Prosecutor of the Nanking District Court's figure, partly because it included records of two local philanthropic societies that helped in burying the corpses after the massacre,(51-54) and the figures researched by Chen Guangyu, chief prosecutor of the Nanking District Court, hoping to build his case of the numbers of deaths in the Nanking Massacre with historical objectivity. (51-56)

What makes the Chinese death toll in the Nanking Massacre such a contentious point for the Chinese was partly because they felt the Japanese who conducted atrocities in China were not sufficiently punished after the war. (57) To enhance his argument, Lee quotes from John Dower, the American author of the Pulitzer prize winning book Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, that the Japanese had no reason to charge the Americans for dropping the atomic bombs while forgetting they themselves had killed so many in China.(58-59). Furthermore, the "revisionist" movement deemphasizing the death toll in the massacre by conservatives in Japan that started in the 1960s and retaining much strength till today fueled the author's motive. Lee further supports his argument with contemporary publications in mainland China and Taiwan (see Greater China for an explanation of the differences between mainland China and Taiwan), as well as publications in the English language since 1950, which all agree on a figure of 300,000 or above for the death roll in the Nanking massacre. (64-67)

To some extent, Lee's argument, however he wanted it to be objective, was biased because he did not allow any validity to any Japanese claims of victimhood or charges of wrongdoing by the allied powers during the Tokyo War Crimes Trial. To claim Chinese victimhood during the Nanking Massacre, he suppressed the memory of any Japanese victimhood.

It is interesting to note that Kasahara Tokushi, a progressive Japanese historian, would document the story in a different way than Lee, the Chinese historian we just read. Tokushi does not insist on the figure of 300,000 or above. For him, the main point is clarifying the event. Therefore he starts by first giving the definition of the perimeter of the massacre: where and when, and what kind (killing, bodily injuries, and violation of property rights).(pp.75-76)

Being a Japanese historian, Tokushi was also able to tell the causes of the Massacre from a Japanese perspective, such as indoctrinations in Japan of racial discrimination against other Asians, and Japanese discrimination against women at home, as well as Japanese soldiers' frustrations after they found out they were not being sent back to Japan after the battle over Shanghai as scheduled, but were dispatched to fight in Nanking. (77-80) In recounting the history of the battle over exposing the Nanking Massacre to the Japanese public, Tokushi also narrates his own experience of archival research outside of Japan to find more evidence of the Nanking Massacre, and his defense of the Japanese historian Ienaga Saburo, who was nominated for a Nobel Prize of Peace for his years of fight with the Japanese courts over textbook revisions that exclude the Nanking Massacre. He also ends the article on a happier note than his Chinese counterpart Lee on how the Japanese are becoming more pro-active in correcting the memory of the Nanking Massacre despite official denial.