Soldiers from the Imperial Japanese Army
enter Nanking in January 1938|
The Nanking Massacre or Nanjing Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanking, was a mass murder and war rape that occurred during the six-week period following the Japanese capture of the city of Nanking (Nanjing), the former capital of the Republic of China, on December 13, 1937 during the Second Sino-Japanese War. During this period, hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians and disarmed soldiers were murdered by soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army. Widespread rape and looting also occurred. Historians and witnesses have estimated that 250,000 to 300,000 people were killed. Several of the key perpetrators of the atrocities, at the time labelled as war crimes, were later tried and found guilty at the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal, and were subsequently executed. Another key perpetrator, Prince Asaka, a member of the Imperial Family, escaped prosecution by having earlier been granted immunity by the Allies.
The event remains a contentious political issue, as various aspects of it have been disputed by some historical revisionists and Japanese nationalists, who have claimed that the massacre has been either exaggerated or wholly fabricated for propaganda purposes. As a result of the nationalist efforts to deny or rationalize the war crimes, the controversy surrounding the massacre remains a stumbling block in Sino-Japanese relations, as well as Japanese relations with other Asia-Pacific nations such as South Korea and the Philippines.
An accurate estimation of the death toll in the massacre has not been achieved because most of the Japanese military records on the killings were deliberately destroyed or kept secret shortly after the surrender of Japan in 1945. The International Military Tribunal of the Far East estimates more than 200,000 casualties in the incident; China's official estimate is about 300,000 casualties, based on the evaluation of the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal. Estimates from Japanese historians vary widely, in the vicinity of 40,000–200,000. Some historical revisionists even deny that a widespread, systematic massacre occurred at all, claiming that any deaths were either justified militarily, accidental or isolated incidents of unauthorized atrocities. These revisionists claim that the characterization of the incident as a large-scale, systematic massacre was fabricated for the purpose of political propaganda.
Although the Japanese government has admitted to the acts of killing of a large number of noncombatants, looting and other violence committed by the Imperial Japanese Army after the fall of Nanking, a small but vocal minority within both the Japanese government and society have argued that the death toll was military in nature and that no such crimes ever occurred. Denial of the massacre (and a divergent array of revisionist accounts of the killings) has become a staple of Japanese nationalism. In Japan, public opinion of the massacres varies, and few deny the occurrence of the massacre outright. Nonetheless, recurring attempts by negationists to promote a revisionist history of the incident have created controversy that periodically reverberates in the international media, particularly in China, South Korea, and other East Asian nations.