- They Were in Nanjing: The Nanjing Massacre Witnessed by American and British Nationals, and: Nanking 1937: Memory and Healing
The last ten years have witnessed the stunning production of works in English about the Nanjing Massacre (also known as the Rape of Nanking and the Nanjing Atrocity). Aside from brief mentions in a number of places—especially important is the exemplary essay by the late Lloyd Eastman, “Facets of an Ambivalent Relationship: Smuggling, Puppets, and Atrocities During the War, 1937–1942”1—no scholarly book or article of which I am aware was devoted to this topic until roughly sixty years after the event itself in the winter of 1937–1938. What accounts for such an extraordinary time lag is discussed in a number in places in Nanking 1937, but let us not address that topic here—it is all speculation, much of it psycho-historical, and completely improvable. More to the point is the fact that the scholarly world is much larger than the Anglophone press; elsewhere in the world there has been a continuous flood of writing about those terrible days in the Chinese capital. We who read and write primarily in English are slowly catching up, though we have a long way to go.
What do these two books add to our knowledge? In other words, how do these two works justify their publication? Both do, in fact, offer interesting new perspectives or source material, though both also contain a fair share of tedium. Not every book, of course, is a blockbuster or paradigm shifter, and these two join the majority in this regard. What distinction, then, can these two volumes be said to offer?
Suping Lu’s book is based exclusively on American and British writings from the time of the massacre itself—letters, diaries, newspaper articles, and the like. However, unlike the recent volumes edited by Zhang Kaiyuan and Martha Smalley, 2 Lu’s aim was not to reproduce those original accounts into a sourcebook or document collection but rather to write a scholarly treatment based on those materials. Lu is clearly an assiduous researcher, having dug up primary materials in libraries and archives all over the world. Nonetheless, They Were in Nanjing is no more and no less than an annotated collection of snippets from these primary documents. No effort has been made to integrate his findings with the research of others or to even explain what all this new material is good for, except to reinforce the fact that the massacre occurred. [End Page 146]
The book has a total of 736 footnotes, every one of which contains references only to the English-language primary materials. In the text itself, large chunks of these documents are produced as if they provide some sort of self-explanatory proof of an assumed proposition. There is no mention, for example, of the work of David Askew on exactly the same subject, the foreigners who chose to remain in Nanjing as the Japanese army descended on the city and occupied it. Nor is there any mention of the biography of one of those courageous Westerners, Minnie Vautrin.3 Instead, Lu takes us through all of the available primary sources, knee deep, often with interesting pitted biographies of the individuals involved, but never with any real depth of insight or analysis. He really does not seem to be interested in that.
Repeatedly, we are told how awful the Nanjing Massacre was for its victims. After the third or fourth time, this point—which probably could have been made with a single telling—becomes almost annoying, not because no sane person would disagree but only because it reaches almost preaching proportions. The only work of scholarship—and I use the word...