- The Nanjing Massacre:A Review Essay
In the historiography of Sino-Japanese relations, there is not a more sensitive, controversial, and intensely tragic subject than the Nanjing Massacre of 1937-1938. Yet even with the enormous expansion in East Asian studies in the postwar period, the Massacre has not been explored in any great detail by Western historians, at least not until relatively recently. This is not to say that it was unknown, for it certainly was known. However, textbook accounts of Japanese history in particular have regularly bypassed this event; articles and monographs addressing it at length have rarely been produced by respected figures at the major universities. Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (Basic Books, 1997) changed this radically with its highly personal, impassioned, and sensational account of the atrocities that were committed. Historians of East Asia who have read Chang's book realize that she was not trained as a historian, nor is she an academic by profession. While scholars of Chinese, Japanese, and/or East Asian history should be thankful that her book has focused international attention on a crucially important topic, they can hardly be expected to rest satisfied with Chang's account. New work is now appearing with some regularity, from various corners, expanding our understanding of the Massacre and the highly politicized historiography and journalism that still surrounds it. [End Page 321]
The publication of Honda Katsuichi's (1933-) The Nanjing Massacre: A Japanese Journalist Confronts Japan's National Shame will surely contribute enormously to a more informed historical understanding of that brutal atrocity and the highly charged, seemingly unending, controversy surrounding it in Japan. Honda's writings are exceptionally significant because they helped to open up, in the early 1970s, what has become nearly three decades' worth of discussion of the massacre by Japanese scholars, lawyers, journalists, veterans, and private citizens. While most respectable historians and journalists addressing the subject have sought to reveal the admittedly revolting facts, outspoken ultraright wingers have invariably countered their efforts with repeatedly vehement denials. Unfortunately, the ultraright is so outspoken that occasionally their views seem to be the only ones being voiced. The publication of Iris Chang's sensational bestseller, The Rape of Nanjing: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, has given the debate new dimensions, especially due to Chang's use of John Rabe's (1882 - 1950) Diary1 corroborating the massacre. However, it was in relation to Honda's writings that the major Japanese participants in the debate over the historical character of the massacre first articulated their positions. Karen Sandness deserves praise for translating, and Frank Gibney for editing, this extremely important volume. It will be required reading for anyone attempting to understand the massacre as a historical event and the debate over it as a reflection of Japanese thinking about atrocities committed by the imperial army in the 1930 s.
Honda is not a professional historian; rather he is an exceptionally influential journalist who, since 1958, has written numerous feature stories for the Asahi shinbun, Japan's second largest newspaper, with a daily circulation of over twelve million. Honda has published a prodigious number of books on topics ranging from mountaineering and exploration to studies of peoples whose cultures have put them at odds...