Did the Chinese back down from Nanjing Massacre claims?
Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 30, 2008
In war, truth is the first casualty.
IT BECOMES LESS LIKELY with each passing year that the absolute truth of the events that occurred in late 1937 with the Imperial Japanese army in Nanjing, China, will ever be known.
Dr. David Askew has observed that discussion of the Nanjing Massacre has attracted far more activists than historians. Therefore, it might be advisable to begin any search for the truth of 1937 with the recognition of what came later:
- Imperial Japan is dead, buried, and not coming back.
- Japan and China signed a Treaty of Peace and Friendship in 1978, and the Chinese announced they would renounce war reparations to promote amicable relations in the future.
- The Japanese nevertheless lavished enormous amounts of ODA on the Chinese, partly as de facto war reparations (and partly to reap the benefits of stronger commercial ties).
- The Chinese leadership still demonizes the Japanese when it feels the need to strengthen its political hand both domestically and in bilateral relations.
- It is still possible for Japanese to admit that their behavior was a national disgrace, yet wonder why the Chinese choose to exaggerate when no exaggeration is necessary and use materials of questionable historical accuracy.
Another minor skirmish in the conflict après guerre occurred this month when it was reported in Japan that the Chinese for the first time removed photographs from one of its more than 100 museums devoted to the war due to questions of accuracy. The Chinese denied the report, but in doing so publicly admitted for the first time in their domestic press that there are divergent views between the two countries about the reliability of some of the evidence they presented.
First, here is a quick translation of a Sankei Shimbun article that appeared on 20 December.
The Sankei article
The Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum in Nanjing, China, which has exhibited a photo of a Shanghai railroad depot with the claim that it was in Nanjing, has withdrawn the exhibit of three photographs said likely to be inauthentic, according to a government official. The photos were those of alleged “comfort women”, children massacred by Japanese troops, and an abandoned crying child (first photo). Japanese researchers have shown that they are unrelated to the Nanjing massacre. This is the first time that China has rectified an exhibit at this museum. Nevertheless, many exhibits with a questionable relationship to the facts still remain, including their citation of 300,000 victims and the beheading of 100 Chinese in a contest between two officers.
One of the three photographs was taken before the Nanjing attack and published in the 10 November 1937 Asahi Graph. It shows women and children escorted by soldiers on their way home after performing agricultural work (second photo). The Chinese presented this scene as an instance of the old Imperial army leading women away, explaining that “the women of agricultural villages were taken away and violated, raped, and killed.” This photograph is also known for having been repeatedly used in error both in Japan and overseas. Examples include the post-war book China and the Japanese Army by Asahi newspaper reporter Honda Katsuichi, and The Rape of Nanking (Nanjing) by Chinese-American author Iris Chang.
In addition, the photograph of the children, which was used in a scholarly work about modern Korean history, shows the corpses of Korean children killed by an outlaw gang. The photo of the crying child appeared in the American magazine Life as a news photo and was taken in Shanghai. None of the three photos has anything to do with Shanghai, but the museum—designated as a “model base” for patriotic education—presented them as “tragic historical fact”
Different people have sought the removal of the photos used in error or those claimed to be composites, in addition to the exhibited articles related to the 100 beheadings, shown to have been groundless, but until now the museum has not responded.
A total of 18.97 million people have visited the museum since it opened in 1985, including Japanese students visiting on school trips.
The Chinese director of the museum rebutted the Sankei claim, as reported in a Japanese-language article on the Searchina website. Here it is in English.
The Chinese rebuttal
According to Chinese press sources, Director Zhu Cheng-shan of the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum denied a report by the Sankei Shimbun that three photographs had recently been removed from exhibits, saying “they weren’t exhibited to begin with”. He did recognize that there was a difference in opinion between Japan and China about the photographs in question.
According to Zhu, the three photographs were used to present the backdrop of the war, but were not exhibited as items depicting the Nanjing massacre. The photograph of the abandoned crying child is a photo of the Shanghai South station, and it was used with the caption, “The Japanese Army, (having committed) a slaughter in Shanghai, heads for Nanjing”.
The photograph of the children killed by the Japanese army that the Sankei Shimbun explained was actually of Korean children killed by an outlaw band was removed from the exhibit more than 10 years ago, the Chinese said.
The Chinese also had an explanation for the photograph of the women and children returning home escorted by soldiers after agricultural work, which the Sankei Shimbun said had actually been taken before the attack on Nanjing. They insisted that the frightened farmers wouldn’t have been working in the fields to begin with at that time in the initial stages of the war, but “the photograph was of a scene in winter, basically during which no agricultural work is performed.” They based the legitimacy of their claim on The Record of Violence of the Japanese Enemy, released in 1938 by the Kuomintang government as a way to present the outrages committed against women and children by the Japanese army in the Suzhou and Jiangnan areas.
While Zhu disagreed with the Sankei Shimbun’s explanation of the photographs, he did add, “This signifies the large discrepancy between both countries in regard to the authenticity of the photographs.” It is unusual for the Chinese to present Japanese claims about photographs that they have described as “proof of the massacres of the Japanese army”.
Zhu also explained that the three photographs were discussed in Verifying the ‘Photographs of Proof’ in the Nanjing Incident, written by a right-wing Japanese scholar and published in 2005 by Soshisha. “However,” he explained, “(this issue arose) some time ago, and the news source for the Japanese media report that (the photos) ‘had been recently removed’ is not clear.”
Honda Katsuichi has written extensively on the Japanese military in China, but has often been criticized for accepting without question the claims of the Chinese government and those people to whom the Chinese government permitted access.
Iris Chang has been shown to have used items of questionable authenticity other than the one mentioned above. One of the photographs she used was debunked even before she published it.
This previous post has a link to a paper written by Prof. Askew about how the Chinese and Japanese view the Nanjing Massacre and how their views affect bilateral relations. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Dr. Askew also says the story of the decapitation contest, as reported in a contemporary Japanese newspaper account, is “clearly false”. It is, however, the sort of story believed by those who prefer indulging in emotionalism rather than searching for the truth.
Thanks to reader GoJapan for sending links to both of the stories.