- A Mission under Duress: The Nanjing Massacre and Post-Massacre Social Conditions Documented by American Diplomats by Suping Lu, and: A Dark Page in History: The Nanjing Massacre and Post-Massacre Social Conditions Recorded in British Diplomatic Dispatches, Admiralty Documents, and U.S. Naval Intelligence Reports by Suping Lu
In February 2014, the People’s National Congress, the top legislative organ in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), made December 13 a statutory “National Day of Mourning” to commemorate victims of the Nanjing Massacre in 1937. Given the highly contentious and emotionally charged disputes that surround this historical event—as well as the ethnic and political wounds that still fester today, seventy-eight years later—it is best that I state my own interpretation here briefly in order to avoid misunderstanding. Based on Japanese military records and secondary scholarship, I contend that the Nanjing Massacre comprised mass murder, rape, arson, plunder, air raids on civilians, and the abduction of labor, for both manual and sexual purposes, by Japanese troops from early December 1937 to early March 1938, both inside the walled city and, more important, in its six adjacent counties, where most of the killing occurred. Within those temporal and spatial contours—and the Tokyo war crimes tribunal delineated the event as occurring in Nanjing “and its vicinity”—victims totaled over 100,000 but fell far short of 200,000, while rapes numbered in the thousands. Beyond these vague levels, however, quantitative precision is unattainable at our present stage of research.1 In sum, the Nanjing Massacre is undeniable in fact, but its scale, its causes, its legal and moral ambiguities, and many other key issues are open to honest scholarly debate anchored in empirical evidence.
Suping Lu has published four books that enlarge that store of empirical evidence. He deserves our praise and thanks for scouring the globe to collect primary sources—the kind of grunt work that too many of us avoid or even disdain. A native of the PRC, Lu attended and taught at Nanjing Teachers University, the successor to Ginling (Jinling) College, where part of the massacre occurred. He fondly relates his attachment to the school and his esteem for Minnie Vautrin, a missionary-educator there who, at great personal risk, saved women from rape and murder at the hands of the Japanese. Lu’s first book was They Were in Nanjing (2004).2 In it, he wove a historical narrative linked by quotations from English-language sources such as letters, memos, and diaries composed by long-time Western residents of Nanjing, together with news reports dispatched by foreign [End Page 125] journalists. Lu’s second book, Terror in Minnie Vautrin’s Nanjing (2008), comprised a selection of letters and diary entries left by one such resident, Vautrin.3
Lu is wrong to call these residents “eyewitnesses” and all of their writings “first-hand” accounts, for they did not directly see all the atrocities they described. Textual critique, the skeptical analysis of source materials, is crucial in weighing their evidentiary value for reconstructing past events. True enough, these Westerners were in Nanjing during the massacre, but they were restricted to the Safety Zone measuring “about two square miles in area” (Dark Page, p. 39), as measured by one resident, which covers just one-eighth of the city. Thus, they could see little outside this area, and in Vautrin’s case, little beyond her campus, and so they relied heavily on hearsay to formulate their accounts. The most prolific chroniclers of the massacre, apart from businessman John Rabe, were missionaries, teachers, and doctors fondly attached to their...