The claim that the Japanese army killed 300,000 people in Nanking, China, in 1937 became widely accepted with the publication of Chinese author Iris Chang’s book The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II in 1997. Before we discuss this matter, one thing must be made clear: Killing 20 civilians and/or POWs, much less thousands or hundreds of thousands, is a war crime, and those who take part in such crimes should be severely punished. There is no credible doubt that many of the Japanese soldiers who fought in Nanking committed war crimes and deserved to be punished. What is a “massacre”? I think the killing of “just” a few dozen innocent people constitutes a massacre or an atrocity. I believe that about 40,000 people—soldiers plus civilians—were wrongfully killed in Nanking, so I have no problem with the term Nanking Massacre to describe the crime. With these stipulations understood, let us look at some facts regarding the 300,000 figure and Chang’s book. The points below do not address all the problems with the 300,000 figure, but they are a decent introduction to the problems with Chang’s case. * To provide some context and perspective, even if one assumes that the 300,000 figure is correct, it should be pointed out that the Chinese Nationalists killed at least 400,000 people in Xuzhou in 1938. When the Nationalists were retreating from Xuzhou in June 1938, they purposely breached the southern dyke of the Yellow River in order to flood the Japanese’s path to Wuhan (even though the Japanese were not advancing), and in so doing they killed a bare minimum of 400,000 civilians (Peter Harmsen, Storm Clouds Over the Pacific, 1931-1941, Casemate Publishers, 2018, locs. 1895-1907). This is still the largest, deadliest act of environmental warfare in history. Some scholars conclude that at least 500,000 innocent civilians were killed in the Yellow River flood, calling 500,000 “the lowest estimate” (Diana Lary, "Drowned Earth: The Strategic Breaching of the Yellow River Dyke, 1938," War in History. April 1, 2001, pp. 191–207, SAGE Journals: Your gateway to world-class research journals). Why didn’t FDR condemn this atrocity? Why haven’t the Nationalist Chinese been subjected to the same kind of withering criticism that the Japanese have endured over Nanking? Why isn’t there a memorial at Xuzhou to honor the 400,000-plus victims of Chinese Nationalist barbarism? * Nearly all the photos in Chang’s book had nothing to do with the Nanking Massacre. Chang either did not know this or deliberately used irrelevant photos to mislead her readers. The Japanese scholar Dr. Ikuhiko Hata, who is widely respected even by some of Chang’s defenders, has done the most to work to discredit the photos. Dr. Joshua Fogel notes, Hata is largely responsible for discrediting virtually every one of the photographs that adorn the pages of Iris Chang’s book. (“Response to Herbert Bix,” The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, August 9, 2003, p. 4, https://apjjf.org/-Joshua-A--Fogel/1637/article.pdf) * The International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), aka the Tokyo Tribunal and the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, spent considerable time on the massacre, and the prosecution offered four figures for the death toll: 100,000, 127,000, 200,000, and 300,000-340,000. The IMTFE seemed to settle on the figure of 200,000. * In February 1938, just two months after the massacre, the Nationalists’ Central News Agency stated that the Japanese had killed 60,000 to 70,000 POWs in Nanking (Masahiro Yamamoto, Nanking: Anatomy of an Atrocity, Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2000, p. 110). At the same time, an official Nationalist spokesman said that 20,000 civilians had been killed in Nanking (Ikuhiko Hata, "The Nanking Atrocities: Fact and Fable," Japan Echo, August 1998, pp. 47-57). Yet, four years later, Chiang Kaishek, the Nationalist leader, claimed that 200,000 people had been killed in Nanking (Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, "The Messiness of Historical Reality," in Wakabayashi, editor, The Nanking Atrocity, 1937-38: Complicating the Picture, New York: Berghahn Books, 2008, pp. 3-5). * Months after the massacre, the Chinese Communists claimed that the Japanese had killed 42,000 people in Nanking. * The burial records do not support a figure anywhere close to 300,000: The Red Swastika Society, a charitable organization that was operating with the approval of both the Japanese occupiers and the International Safety Zone Committee, reported having buried 40,000 people. Another charitable group, which was called the Tsun-shan-tang but whose history is not well known, said it buried 110,000 bodies. The sum of these figures is 150,000. The average daily figure for the Red Swastika was 320 burials, and the average for the Tsun-shan-tang was 75 through March 1938. But in a three-week period of April, the latter society claimed to have buried an additional 105,000 corpses, or a staggering 5,000 per day; this is close to an impossible feat. I surmise that this group operated as a "subcontractor" of the Red Swastika and judge its count to be unreliable. Because the two charity organizations probably overlapped in their responsibilities at some of the burial sites, at least some of the corpses are likely to have been counted twice. Also, burials would have included those of soldiers killed in action and civilians who died either of illness or from being caught in the crossfire. (Hata, “The Nanking Atrocities: Fact and Fable,” Japan Echo, online reprint, available at A Japanese Perspective on the Nanjing Massacre - China Politics Links) * At the Tokyo Tribunal, the defense tried to enter evidence that the 300,000 figure could not be correct because Nanking’s population was only about 200,000 in December 1937, when the massacre occurred. Defense attorney Michael Levin said, Mr. Brooks calls my attention to the fact that in another portion of the affidavit is contained the statement that 300,000 were killed in Nanking, and as I understand it the total population of Nanking is only 200,000 [at the time of the massacre]. (IMTFE, Proceedings, Court Reporter’s Transcript, August 29, 1946, p. 4551) The presiding judge, William Webb, refused to allow the defense to enter evidence of Nanking’s population at the time of the massacre. Six contemporaneous records from Nanking support the figure of 200,000 for the population of Nanking when the Japanese army entered the city, and none suggest a higher figure: Between December 13 (the day the Japanese breached the gates of Nanking) and February 9, 1938, the International Committee issued 61 missives addressed and hand-delivered to the Japanese, American, British, and German embassies, on an almost daily basis. Most of them are of complaints about misconduct on the part of Japanese military personnel or requests to military authorities for improved public safety or food supplies. These 61 documents are contemporaneous records, and should certainly be considered primary sources. . . . They were compiled by Dr. Hsü Shuhsi, a professor at Beijing University, under the title Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone. They also appear in their entirety in What War Means, edited by Manchester Guardian correspondent Harold Timperley, and were submitted as evidence to the IMTFE. As shown in the photograph on p. 4, the version edited by Hsü Shuhsi bears the imprimatur of the Nationalist government: “Prepared under the auspices of the Council of International Affairs, Chunking.” It was published by the Shanghai firm Kelly & Walsh in 1939. Any treatment of the Nanking Incident that disregards these valuable resources is suspect. There are four references to the population of Nanking in late 1937 in Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone; all of them state that the total refugee population was 200,000. A report written by James Espy, vice-consul at the American Embassy, and dispatched to the United States, and another report written by John Rabe, chairman of the International Committee, also mention that Nanking’s population was 200,000. (Masaaki Tanaka, What Really Happened in Nanking, Tokyo: Sekai Shuppan, Inc., 2000, pp. 3-5, available at http://www.sdh-fact.com/CL02_1/7_S4.pdf) Clearly, the Japanese army could not have killed 300,000 people in a city with a population of 200,000. * In June 1938, six months after the massacre, John Rabe, a German business leader in Nanking and the chief of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone, provided a written estimate of how many people were killed in Nanking, and it was far below Chang’s number. Rabe is famous and honored for sheltering Chinese citizens during the sacking of Nanking and for protesting to Japanese officials about the conduct of Japanese troops. In his letter to the German government, Rabe said the following: According to Chinese claims, 100,000 civilians were killed; this, however, is probably somewhat of an overstatement. We foreigners view the figure as having been from about 50,000 to 60,000. * Japanese army field reports on the fighting in Nanking seem to indicate the total number of soldiers and civilians killed in Nanking was about 40,000, according to Dr. Hata: Both the veterans' group KaikÙsha and I accordingly decided to shift our attention to a search for the field reports of the units involved. We managed to find reports from 16 of the 56 battalions directly involved in the battle for Nanking--in other words, just under 30% of the total. These documents of course do not use the word "massacre." But they record, as part of their military operations, the "annihilation" of the remnants of the defeated army, including soldiers who had changed into civilian clothes (a common practice in the Nationalist Army), and the "execution of prisoners." One reason such records were kept was to serve as future reference for the granting of medals. If those keeping them had had any sense that these acts were illegal killings, they would naturally not have put them down in writing. Fujiwara Akira has calculated that these field reports record the killing of 12,921 Chinese soldiers who were either prisoners or remnants of the defeated army.6 The figure for the Japanese Army as a whole can only be estimated by extrapolation. This is not such a simple task, however. A full 60% of the 12,921 killings recorded were carried out in two incidents involving just two units, namely, the execution of prisoners by the Yamada Detachment and the extirpation of those thought to be soldiers in civilian clothing in the International Safety Zone conducted by the Seventh Infantry Regiment. It is hard to reach a consensus on how the actions of the recorded battalions should be extrapolated to the battalions whose field reports cannot be found. Using the existing reports and adding in various estimations, I have come up with a figure of 40,000 for the total of soldiers and civilians killed. . . . (A Japanese Perspective on the Nanjing Massacre - China Politics Links). * Some people later claimed that they saw “mountains of dead bodies” near the Guanghua Gate, but other eyewitnesses dispute this claim: In The Battle of Nanking, Vol. 6, former Asahi Shinbun correspondent Kondo states that “there were corpses of both Chinese and Japanese military personnel outside Guanghua Gate, the result of the bloody battle fought there. But I don’t recall there being a lot of them. I saw no dead civilians.” Also, Futamura Jiro, a photographer who worked for Hochi Shinbun and later Mainichi Shinbun, states, “Together with the 47th Infantry Regiment, I climbed over the wall into the city, but I saw very few corpses there.” (Tanaka, What Really Happened in Nanking, p. 14, http://www.sdh-fact.com/CL02_1/7_S4.pdf) * Many Japanese soldiers who were in Nanking during and/or just after the battle emphatically denied that “hundreds of thousands” of people were killed there. Most of them admitted that war crimes occurred and that some of their fellow soldiers behaved in a disgraceful manner, but they insisted that the number of wrongful deaths was nothing close to 300,000. Of course, many people will immediately dismiss their claims as self-serving lies. But one of those soldiers, a staff officer with the 10th Army, happened to have taken a picture of the Guangha Gate soon after the Japanese army captured the city, and Theodore and Heroka Cook confirmed that it showed no piles of dead bodies (Theodore and Heroka Cook, Japan At War: An Oral History, New York: The New Press, 1992, pp. 35-37). * Very few books on the Nanking Massacre mention what the Chinese did to the Japanese in Tongzhou, a few months before the Japanese army captured Nanking. On July 29, 1937, when all but a handful of the Japanese soldiers in the small city of Tongzhou left the city to aid in the attack on Beijing, the city’s Chinese auxiliary police force attacked. They killed most of the few Japanese soldiers in the city and 63% of the Japanese and Korean civilians in the city, including many women and children (223 out of 385) (locs. 1384-1398). The Chinese hung some of the victims’ heads in wicker baskets from the parapets of the city’s gates. One family of six was thrown into a well with their hands tied together and pierced with steel wire. A pregnant Japanese woman was stabbed with a bayonet, and a child had his nose pierced crosswise with wire—amazingly, both survived but were scarred for life. “Avenge Tongzhou” became of rallying cry for Japanese soldiers as they headed south toward Nanking (Harmsen, Storm Clouds Over the Pacific, 1931-1941 (Casemate Publishers, locs. 1384-1398). This does not excuse the Japanese army’s conduct in Nanking, but it does provide context. For those who want to do more research on the Nanking Massacre, I have found the following sources to be valuable, especially Dr. Hata’s research. I don’t agree with all these sources contain, but I think they present important information on the subject: A Japanese Perspective on the Nanjing Massacre - China Politics Links Dr. Hata’s long article “The Nanking Atrocities: Fact and Fable” http://www.sdh-fact.com/CL02_1/7_S4.pdf Tanaka’s book What Really Happened in Nanking: The Refutation of a Common Myth. I think some of Tanaka’s conclusions are wrong, but he presents a great deal of important evidence that contradicts the 300,000 figure and that casts serious doubt on Iris Chang’s reliability. https://apjjf.org/-Joshua-A--Fogel/1637/article.pdf Dr. Joshua Fogel’s reply to Herbert Bix on the Nanking Massacre. Dr. Fogel says the following about Dr. Hata: “Hata, no matter how much one may disagree with him, is an eminent scholar who has for over forty years been writing numerous excellent studies of Japan at war. He was certainly writing about the Nanjing Massacre before Iris Chang or Lee En-han were, and his book on the subject, first published in 1986 and translated into Chinese, is still an authority in the field.” https://www.amazon.com/Nanking-Anatomy-Atrocity-Masahiro-Yamamoto/dp/0275969045 Masahiro Yamamoto’s book Nanking: Anatomy of an Atrocity. This book includes chapters written by authors from both camps in the debate. http://www.sdh-fact.com/book-article/110/ Shūdō Higashinakano’s book The Nanking Massacre: Fact vs. Fiction. Dr. Higashinakano is a professor of history at Asia University. I think his death toll estimates are far too low, but he presents a lot of valid information that you won’t find in most books on the subject.