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  • A Brief Reply to Suping Lu’s Textual Critique
  • Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi (bio)

I reviewed two of Lu’s books in an earlier issue of China Review International (CRI), vol. 20, nos. 1 & 2 (pp. 125–133). He published a twenty-four-page “Response” to it in vol. 20, nos. 3 & 4 (pp. 259–282). I was quite dismayed by his combative, accusatory, and derisive tone, which I ascribe to his misreading of my review in the heat of passion — not to personal malice toward me. I was also taken aback because I had found much to appreciate and praise in Lu’s books compared with, for example, a much harsher appraisal of his earlier work by Joshua A. Fogel published by CRI.1 I also made suggestions on how Lu’s books could have been improved. In the interests of brevity here, I limit myself to (1) citing one passage from my review, (2) restating its central point about Lu’s methodology, and (3) making one request of CRI readers.

My Basic Position

I stated this position in paragraph 1 hoping that I would not be misconstrued and characterized as “bluntly display[ing] ethnic and cultural discrimination” (Lu, p. 264) or associated with the “right-wing circle in Japan” that makes “denial attempts” (Lu, pp. 280–281).2

I contend that the Nanjing Massacre comprised mass murder, rape, arson, plunder, air raids on civilians, and the abduction of labor, for 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 those vague levels, however, quantitative precision is unattainable at our present stage of research. In sum, the Nanjing Massacre is undeniable in fact, but its scale, its causes, and its legal and moral ambiguities, and many other key issues, are open to honest scholarly debate anchored in empirical evidence.

This position disavows judgments reached at the Tokyo and Nanjing war crimes tribunals, but it neither reflects anti-Chinese sentiment, nor does it make me a denier.

Methodological Flaw

In his response to me, Lu succinctly clarified his scholarly method: “I followed the principle of letting the documents and archival materials speak for themselves, and [End Page 105] kept my opinions, comments, and analysis at a minimum level, so as to provide readers with the opportunity to ‘listen directly’ to those American and British nationals” who left the sources (Lu, p. 259). My point was that the documents that Lu so laboriously collected and published — for which I am grateful — do not support a victim count of 200,000 and 300,000 as tendered by the postwar Tokyo and Nanjing tribunals. Moreover, by strictly adhering to his “principle” without sufficient criticism, elucidation, and explication of the texts, Lu inadvertently lent support to claims by the Japanese denier Tanaka Masaaki — to my own chagrin, I might add. I suggested that Lu could have skirted this pitfall by augmenting his sources with the fruits of secondary scholarship, some of it by Japanese historians who share his political orientation.

One need not be a postmodernist to accept that the “let the sources speak for themselves” approach is fatally flawed. Just selecting some documents for publication and discarding others already introduces a subjective distortion. Lu privileges Tokyo and Nanjing trial records as being closer to the historical truth than secondary scholarship, but despite having praised Lewis S. C. Smythe as an “eyewitness” to the 1937 massacre, Lu has not (to my knowledge) published Smythe’s 1938 primary source, War Damage in the Nanking Area, December 1937 to March 1938 — which was compiled with help from Chinese research assistants right on the spot and far closer in time to the event than the Tokyo and Nanjing trials. I do not know why Lu made this choice of inclusion and exclusion, and I do not impugn his motives, but Smythe’s...


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