By Chen, Deh Chien



PHOTOS from The Rape of Nanking: An Undeniable History In Photograph

MAP of Major Sites of Nanking Massacres







Burial Alive


Killing As Entertainment

The Appalling “killing contest”





















PHOTOS from The Rape of Nanking: An Undeniable History In Photograph


MAP of Major Sites of Nanking Massacres


I have been wondering what I should write for my theological analysis paper. I want something real and practical, something I can relate to. I remember stories I heard as a child growing up in Singapore of the Japanese atrocities committed in South East Asian countries during the Second World War. I knew little of the history of China, where my parents came from. I know there had been Chinese resistance and wars fought against the Japanese. I know nothing beyond that until Iris Chang’s book, The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, became a best-seller in the years following its publication in 1997. It changed all that. So, I thought it best that I write on the Nanking massacre. In the process, I will learn something of China’s history. My feeling is similar, that of wanting to know China’s history with those handful of Chinese authors who wrote the books on the Nanking massacre. There is one big difference though. My study has been made easy by their work. Their meticulous research covered many years and took them to China, Germany, Japan, and the United States, from Government archives, original archives concerning the International Committee for Nanking Safety Zone, Special Collections of Yale Divinity School, survivors’ witness testimonies, personal diaries, Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal and others. What I learnt from this research is how blessed one is to be able to live in peacetime and not be a victim of the horrors of wars. No wartime enemy is the same. Some are crueler than others. Japanese cruelty and atrocities is believed to be the worst committed against humankind in the 20th century. In this paper, I shall list some of the ghastly atrocities committed by the Japanese soldiers against innocent Chinese civilians, and analyze why they came about.

China is not a Christian nation. Most of the population is engaged in ancestral worship one form or the other. They pray to their ancestors, or other idols, for blessings. Even now, not more than 5 % of the Chinese population is Christian. They are not like the Jews who were caught in the horrors of their Holocaust and question whether their God exists. The painful question the Chinese asked is not whether God exist. Those who are Christians may ask that. What they ask is how possibly one can be so cruel and inhuman against another human being. How could there be so much evil in this world? Did the world know what was happening in China? Why did the world not stop it? How can the world stop it? My theological analysis has to look also from a non-Christian perspective.



Six million European Jews died in Nazi extermination camps. There are thousands of books, museum exhibits, documentary and feature films about the holocaust, and the trial at Nuremburg, because the Jews were determined not to let the world forget. Almost sixty years have passed since the War, and relatively little has been published about the Japanese occupation of China, in which it is estimated 30 millions Chinese were killed.[i] Virtually nothing was in print about the Rape of Nanking, the massacre in which the Japanese murdered more than 340,000 Chinese. The bloody history of Japanese aggression in China and elsewhere has been systematically denied or distorted by the Japanese government. Not much is known of it until recently when the Chinese historians and authors began to write.

Japan and China are close neighbors separated by a strait of water. Japan had always eyed China with ambition for her economic resources. Japan’s undeclared war on China started in 1931 where Japanese militarists were ready to take a more active role on the Chinese mainland. They provoked an "incident" that ended in the death of the Chinese warlord in Manchuria and led to the establishment of a puppet state, Manchukuo, ruled by the last emperor of China, Emperor Puyi.[ii] Following the Manchuria conquest, Japanese army marched across China, setting up regional puppet regimes as they went. Japan’s several staged "incidents" resulted in numerous negotiations with China whereby piecemeal surrender of Chinese sovereignty was made to Japan. A brief attack on Beijing in July 1937 at the famous Marco Polo Bridge--a key access to Beijing--set in motion the events that push the world to war. Millions of people died in the aftermath of Marco Polo Bridge Incident. This was the beginning of an all out invasion in Northern China. After Beijing the Japanese moved to Shanghai, where the Chinese put up a strong fight. The Japanese were stalled at the perimeter of Shanghai for over two months. On November 12, Shanghai was captured. Japanese then marched towards the capital city of Nanking. Tokyo was initially not prepared to make that move, as it hoped that the Chinese leader, Chiang Kai Shek, would come to negotiate settlement. Chiang showed no sign for negotiation. The Japanese then moved to Nanking. On December 13, 1937, Nanking fell. The reign of terror began. The conquering Japanese army went on a wild rampage to loot, rape, torture, and burn at will that lasted more than seven weeks. Thousands of disarmed Chinese soldiers were shot or bayoneted. The estimate of soldiers and non-combatants killed ranged from 260,000 to 350,000—more than the combined death toll of both the atomic bombs dropped on Japan (140,000 and 70,000). An estimated 20,000 to 80,000 Chinese women were raped, and many mutilated and killed.[iii] Women suffered the most. It was estimated there were at least 1,000 rape cases a night, according to an eyewitness account.[iv] Japanese invasion of Nanking thus earned the title: The Rape of Nanking, known by the foreigners. In the American Missionary Eye Witness Account to the Nanking Massacre, 1937-1938 (Edited by Martha Lund Smalley, Yale Divinity School Library, Occasional Publication No. 9, 1997), Tien Wei Wu in the Preface states that “by estimations, within three months (December 1937 to March 1938) the Japanese army killed more than 300,000 innocent Chinese and raped up to 80,000 women in the city of Nanking. The manner in which these victims met their death was extremely cruel and diverse (e.g. beheading, bayoneting, burying alive, burning, gang-raping, etc), so ghastly in fact that it made Auschwitz gas chamber appear humane”.

The Marco Polo Bridge Incident was the prologue to the Sino-Japanese War. The Rape of Nanking was the beginning, Act I, Scene I, of Japan’s major assault against China from 1937 to December 1941 when it plunged into war against the United States.[v] The Chinese government finally outlasted Japan in a war that ended only in 1945. Japan could not force China to surrender in those eight years.



In section III, the extracts are quoted in full from The Rape of Nanking: An Undeniable History In Photograph by James Yin and Shi Young (Innovative Publishing Group, Chicago), 1996, p.130-232. It describes in graphic details the atrocities:


i. Beheading

Hiroki Kawano, former military photographer gave a more detailed account of the beheading of Chinese victims:

“I’ve seen all kinds of horrible scenes……headless corpses of children lying on the ground. They even made the prisoners dig a hole and kneel in front of it before being beheaded. Some soldiers were so skillful that they took care of the business in a way that severed the head completely but left it hanging by a thin layer of skin on the victim’s chest, so that the weight pulled the body down to the ditch. I captured that blink of a moment with my camera”.[vi]

ii. Bayoneting

Kazuo Sone wrote in his A Japanese Soldier’s Confession:

“To boost the morale and courage of new recruits during the war, we experimented with bayoneting the enemy. That means using POWs or local civilians as live targets. New recruits without any battle experience would learn from this practice. It was unlucky for the people selected as targets, but it was also a painful experience for the new soldier forced to participate in this experience. Facing the prisoners and civilians, every recruit wore a tense and expressionless countenance, staring with trembling lips and bloody eyes at their victims. They held their bayonet-fixed rifles in such a way as if ready to cry for help and flee. Hearing the order to charge, they nervously leaped forward and yell kill---!

But often those charges lacked energy and determination and the yelling was feeble. It was impossible to finish off a victim with this kind of charge. The human targets wailed and howled in extreme pain. Their blood spurted from the open wounds. At this point, the recruits would be frightened by what they had done. The horrifying scene softened the murderous look on their faces. But when the victims continued to scream in pain, the blood gushing from their bodies, the soldiers would stab aimlessly and repeated, hoping to end their lives quickly and escape the ordeal, until their live targets became motionless.

This kind of killing experience was every soldier's test and ordeal. After this they would be fearless in real battle, and would glory in the act of killing. War made people cruel, bestial, and insane. It was an abyss of inhuman crimes".[vii]

iii. Burial Alive

In his Three Months of Nanking's Ordeal, author Jiang Gong-gu wrote:

"On December 13….[people] were bayoneted, split by swords, or burned. Nothing was more ruthless, however than burial alive. Those miserable howls, that desperate screaming scattered in the trembling air. We could even hear them seven miles away".[viii]

According to Nanking bathed in Blood and Tears, written by Nin Na, in most cases the prisoners:

“… after being caught by the Japanese, were ordered to dig pits for themselves. The second group would bury the first group, and the third group would bury the second group. This brutal and ruthless way of murdering people was unprecedented in the world”.[ix]

Other eye-witnesses described that Chinese captives were also bound hand and foot and planted neck deep in earth, leaving their protruding heads to terrorize people. "The [live burial] victims were all dead long before the onset of starvation and maggots---“ historian David Bergamini wrote, "some jabbed with bayonets, some trampled by horses, some doused with boiling water, some crushed under tank tracks”.[x]

iv. Burning

Burning was also an independent way of killing, as described by KOZO TADOKORO in First-hand Experience of the Nanking Massacre: “At the time, the company I belong to was stationed at Xiaguan. We used barbed wire to bind the captured Chinese into bundles of ten and tied them onto tracks. Then we poured gasoline on them and burned them alive…I felt like killing pigs”.[xi]

v. Killing As Entertainment

Many Japanese soldiers carried heads severed from refugee victims on the ends of their rifles and strolled down the streets, exhibiting their achievement with great joy. Some soldiers poured gasoline on refugees before shooting them with guns. The shots immediately set the gasoline on fire. The victims, being shot and burned, struggled in agony as applauding and laughing soldiers watched.[xii]

vi. The Appalling “Killing Contest”

The photo… was published by the Nichi Nichi Shimbun on December 13, 1937. The appalling story was headlined Contest to kill first 100 Chinese with sword extended when both fighters exceed mark—Mukai score 106 and Noda 105:

“From the slope of Purple Mountain [Zijin Mountain], correspondents Asaumi and Suzuki reported: two brave fighters of the KATAGIRI units, Sub-lieutenant Toshiaki MUKAI and Sub-Lieutenant Takeshi NODA are in a rare race to kill 100 Chinese under the purple Mountain outside Nanking. So far, MUKAI has a score of 106 and his rival has dispatched 105 men”.[xiii]


The most hideous of all the atrocities committed by the Japanese soldiers was the savage rape of the Chinese women. Grandmothers, as old as eighty years, and little girls, as young as nine, did not escape the fate of being raped.[xiv] An eyewitness, Reverend James M McCallum, wrote in his diary on December 19:

“I know not where to begin nor to end. Never have I heard of such brutality. Rape! Rape! Rape!---We estimate at least 1,000 cases a night, and many by day. ……People are hysterical… Women are being carried off every morning, afternoon, and evening. The whole Japanese army seems to be free to go and come as it pleases, and to do whatever it pleases”.[xv]


New China Daily on January 323, 19238, carried a report titled Huge Fires Last Thirty-Nine Days: “…It has been thirty nine days since the city Nanking fell to Japanese hands. But many sites in the city are still burning with huge fires. The city is still in a terror period. All commercial areas have become ruins”.[xvi]

An eyewitness account of Dr. Lewis Smythe, professor of sociology at Nanking University, in War Damage in the Nanking Area, December 1937 to March 1938, Urban and Rural Surveys (later published as the English text Portrait of War Calamity of Nanking, December 1937 to March 1938 in Shanghai, 1938) reported that 73 percent of the houses inside the city were looted by the Japanese soldiers, who also set fires in the city and the villages nearby until February 1938. The fires were deliberately set to the buildings to cover traces of their looting, as well as fun or to keep them warm.[xvii] The verdict of the IMTFE estimated that, from December 13, 1937 to the end of January next year, about one third of the buildings in Nanking were burnt to ashes by the soldiers.



During the mass execution, Japanese army planes indunated Nanking population with many pamphlets dropped from the sky, saying: “All good Chinese who return to their home will be fed and clothed. Japan wants to be a good neighbor to those Chinese not fooled by monsters who are Chiang Kai-Shek’s soldiers”.


The Japanese posted proclamations and persuaded the Chinese to come forward as volunteers for the Japanese Army’s labor corps. “If you have previously been a Chinese soldier or if you have ever worked as a carrier or laborer in the Chinese army” the local Chinese were told, “that will now be forgotten and forgiven if you will join this labor corps”.[xviii] M Searle Bates at the Tokyo War Crime Tribunal testified that 200 men accepted the Japanese offer and were marched away and executed that evening.[xix]


The world was not kept in the dark. News of the massacre continuously reached the global public as events unfolded. New York Times, Chicago Daily News, and Associated Press each had correspondents in Nanking. Reporters provided vivid daily coverage of the battles. It was after the sinking of the American warship Panay that the killing of Nanking’s citizens met international condemnation. President Roosevelt demanded compensation from the Japanese Emperor. The response grew worst as the survivors’ stories and their photograph appeared in all major newspapers.  There was feverish effort made by the Japanese to remove and obscure evidence of killings. The American government was aware of it.

‘During the crisis itself, missionaries on the International Committee wrote countless letters reporting atrocities to the Japanese embassy and the Japanese High Command. Lewis S. C. Smythe, an American missionary, who taught at the University of Nanking and served as secretary of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone, wrote sixty-nine such letters to the Japanese embassy from December 14, 1937, to February 19, 1938’.[xx]

Did Emperor Hirohito Know?

The following is extract from The Rape of Nanking: An Undenaible History in Photographs (p. 284-286):

“This fact is verified by a revealing HIROHITO interview published in the December 1990 issue of Bungei Shunju (literary Spring & Autumn). In the interview HIROHITO further revealed his own role as the actual Commander in Chief of Japan’s war against China…………..

Indeed, HIROHITO paid close attention to developments in the Battle of Nanking. He soon dispatched his uncle, Prince ASAKA, to replace General Iwane MATSUI as Commander of the Japanese Army Shanghai Expeditionary Force –a clear move to tighten his royal control over the army”.

After the war members of IMTFE was puzzled why Emperor Hirohito was not tried as a war criminal. It was soon discovered that a secret deal was struck by the United States to grant immunity to the whole Imperial Household as well as to ISHI, the doctor involved in producing biological warfare, and three other generals in exchange for acquiring Unit 731’s tissue samples from their experiments (p. 302). Unit 731 was the only army branch established by “imperial seal”. It was believed that the emperor read everything that he put his seal to thus making it highly unlikely that he had no knowledge (p. 304). The secret deal was concluded four months before the IMTFET was held.


Why Remember?

The constant exposure of Germany’s Nazi regime is now recognized as a major obstacle to the revival of Nazism in Germany. The Germans are aware of the unspeakable acts of their former leaders. This is not so in Japan. The present generation has little knowledge of the crimes committed by their forefathers. In 1977 Japan’s Education Ministry, in a basic history of Japan, reduced several hundred pages in length to six pages, taken up by photographs of Hiroshima’s ruins, U.S. bombing of Japan, tally of Japan’s war dead, with no mention in the text of the casualties of the other side.[xxi] The following year Class A war criminals were enshrined as “martyr” at Yasukuni Shrine, Japan most revered Shinto temple, which is dedicated to Japan’s war dead. The high priests justified their action because the war criminals had “devoted their lives to the emperor and to Japan”. Ultrapatriotic organizations called the enshrinement “proper” because Japan had no alternative but to fight, and the war was a “sacred mission”. [xxii] In 1982 the textbook controversy became full blown. The Japanese Ministry of Education called the invasion of China as an “advance”, and that the Rape of Nanking was attributed to the resistance of the Chinese Army.

The reaction of the Japanese officials to the protests of their fellow Asians was an echo of the position taken by the Japanese defense at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), also known as the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. The Japanese government agency explained that it would be a distortion of fact to change “advance” into an invasion. Children would lose respect for their forefathers because they did a bad thing. Other critics argued that Japan’s allies, Germany‘s Hitler and Italy’s Mussolini, during the World War II had not use the word aggression when they advanced into other countries. Thus no aggression ever took place.

The world knows that China has been a victim of disastrous wars with Japan. China has been lenient with Japan. China has not demanded Blood Money Compensation from Japan as the Jews had from Germany. For many years some Japanese have not drawn lessons from their defeat. They would not take the defeat lying down. They have not given up their wishful thinking of reviving their old dream of ruling Asia. It is this handful of Japanese who still beautify the evil aspects of the militarists, and refuse by every means to take responsibility for the aggression that we have to be careful of. Harsh reality tell us that history cannot be ignored, nor should they be distorted. We should not let history repeat itself. We should take our stand to defend the truth and dignity of history.

Why remember ?

The victims have died and the world has remained indifferent. Elie Wiesel in his theological reflection says that whether we want it or not the Holocaust affected all subsequent events.

“If there is a lesson to be found …. It is for the world to learn, not for us…The world should learn its lessons on its own level for its own good, namely: when people do things of this nature to Jews, tomorrow they will do them to themselves. This perhaps, may be our mission to the world: we are to save it from self destruction”.[xxiii]

Why remember ?

It is understandable that a great nation does not want to be reminded of the dark side in its history. Whitney R Harris, a member of the Allied prosecution at Nuremburg said:

“This is as it should be, provided that in shunning the evil of yesterday we do not forget the wrongs to which it led—and having forgotten them believe them never to have happened”.[xxiv]

Why remember ?

Peace and development are the common wish shared by most peoples. The causes of war still exist. Various wars are still raging in many parts of the world. Human beings are still killing human beings. The nuclear war capability and biological warfare made wars crueler. We should educate people through history lessons and wake millions up to oppose wars of aggression and to distinguish its source. This is our mission.

Why remember ?

There are those who know what the word humanity means. Ms Minnie Vautrin, an American missionary, was one of the unsung heroes. In the dark days of the rape of Nanking, she showed love and courage, risking her own life, to protect Chinese women from being molested by the invading Japanese soldiers. She turned Ginling Women College (known also as Ginling University) into a shelter especially for women and children. The grateful refugees and their families addressed her as the “Living Goddess” or the “Goddess of Mercy”. Her life was written into a biography: “American Goddess at the Rape of Nanking - The Courage of Minnie Vautrin” by Hua-Ling Hu (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville), 2000. Her life represented “the brightest example of humanity, love, and goodness” (United Daily, April 8, 1997).[xxv] Emma Lyon, her niece, told the author that: “Aunt Minnie deeply love the Chinese people all her life. She regarded China as her home”. Her words moved me to tears.

Why remember ?

Senator Paul Simon of Illinois wrote:

‘The book gives us an insight into one’s life, one period of our history, and into what takes place regularly during a war. Throughout the centuries, men who have been trained to kill as a patriotic duty have found no barriers of conscience to raping and plundering. The eyewitness accounts—one witness the author quotes called it “hell on earth”---are graphic reminders of the need for peace as well as for growth in sensitivity to human rights.

Contrary to the “wisdom” of some, humanity can make progress. …..People with ideals who are wiling to work hard for those ideals, like Minnie Vautrin, can change the course of history’.[xxvi]

Why remember ?

The Most Reverend Desmond M Tutu, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, 1984 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, in the Forward of The Rape Of Nanking: An Undeniable History In Photograph, by James Yin and Shi Young, commented that:

‘to sweep under the carpet the atrocities which occurred in Nanking in 1937-38 and turn a blind eye to the truth is at best a gross service to future generations, and at worst to be criminally negligent and irresponsible. A record such as this book is an essential part of our history. However terrible, we must not be sheltered from the evils of our past. If we attempt to forget and try to believe that human nature is good all of the time we will bitterly regret our amnesia, for our past will come to haunt us. We know that while created inherently good, any one of us can fall to depths of evil we might never believe possible. It is part of the way we are and why it is so necessary to constantly be alert to our failings’.[xxvii]

Against Silence          

            The Nanking massacre was in 1937. The Jewish holocaust followed later where 6 millions Jew were killed between 1942 and 1945. I often wondered if the world had broken its silence against the atrocities in Nanking, would it have averted the holocaust in Auschwitz. Maybe, I do not know. Eli Wiesel is adamant against silence. He believes that the memory of holocaust must be kept alive, not for the dead themselves but for the living and future generations. One must face question and not be indifferent. Indifference is the enemy. Indifference to evil is worse than evil. This is true for both the individual and the community. 

“But we must talk about it…….If we do not question the camps, then we will not question extermination by H-bomb. If there is any value in man, it is only when he faces up to these questions and answers them honestly.”[xxviii]

Elie Wiesel believes that everyone writes for different reasons, and aims. For him the purpose of literature is to correct injustices. Survivors of the Holocaust must write, write, write….. to bear witness. That must be their duty. The Germans did not want their crimes to be remembered. He sees that whoever forgets, and whoever tends to forget and moves others to forget, is an accomplice of those murderers.

“For the sake of our children and yours, we invoke the past in order to prevent its reoccurrences. Ours is a two fold commitment: to life and truth”.[xxix]

“Let ours be an offering of hope and song. We must always remember from where we have come. But, more important, we must know where they are going”[xxx].

To prevent another holocaust, one must do something to improve human condition. One must speak of the atrocities committed. But it is difficult. There is the dilemma faced by those who most personally involved in the massacre: how to speak the unspeakable? But if a single life can be saved, one must speak. If by retelling the story can alert others of the possibilities, then the retelling must take place. Turning away from one of the greatest human tragedies is neither wise nor moral. The danger that threatens our society is ills from the past. They remained uncured. It is in man's best interest to bare these ills, so that they are rendered less menacing. Knowledge and morality must go hand in hand.  "Knowledge without morality is sterile. Knowledge without an ethical imperative becomes inhuman ", Elie Wiesel said. There are killers who are well educated. A theology of the holocaust is an attempt to interpret this evil responsibility for the present.           

Where is God?

God is omnipresent. He is present everywhere. He is there when one is happy. He is there when one is suffering. To the several hundreds of thousands of Chinese victims, who died in the massacre, there was no agonizing question: Where was God? They did not know of God. They were unlike the Jews in the Holocaust. The greatest problem posed by the Holocaust, to Elie Wiesel was the love of God. There were questions: Where was God?  Why did God not speak or act? Why did God seemingly remain indifferent? No such problem was here in Nanking. God’s love was manifested everywhere in the agape love of the American missionaries. They risked their lives by remaining in China, so that they could help the Chinese. Their eyewitness accounts, as well as the survivors’ testimonies, on the atrocities enabled justice to be brought later at the IMTFE, or the Tokyo War Crimes Trial. One of the eyewitnesses, Ernest Foster’s letter home, wrote:

‘Throughout all these experiences in China, reports from all quarters are unanimous that the opportunities for Christian witness and service have never been greater than today. By hundreds and thousands people are asking for the strength and courage which they have seen the Church profess. Chinese have exhibited wonderful courage, faith, and forgiveness under very trying circumstances.

Regular classes and services are held daily at Ginling University where Ernest has spoken to large groups of women and girls, and at Nanking University. On March 14, there was a workers’ meeting to decide about lending further help to Ginling University, which now has over one thousand women and girls enrolled in twenty two classes studying the life of Christ as recorded by St. Mark. They are very short of teachers, so they have appealed to Ernest and John Magee to help, in addition to their taking the preaching every afternoon. This will give you some idea of the opportunities before us for the spread of the Gospel’.[xxxi]

The foreign missionaries and businessmen stayed in the defenseless city when the Japanese entered. One such person was John Rabe, the dedicated Chairman of the International Committee of the Nanking Safety Zone. He was a German businessman and a Nazi official, and therefore someone to whom the Japanese would have to extend some courtesy. He had lived in China for thirty years. Through Babe’s diary we see the Christian love he had for the Chinese. His letters of protest, on behalf of the International Committee, to the Japanese commander of Nanking were used later in the Tokyo War Crimes Trial. Rabe’s letter marked the beginning of the documentary record of the Rape of Nanking.

There is one problem that all of us share in a massacre or holocaust –Jews and Christians alike--even though we approach it in different ways. This is the crisis of belief that is forced on us. Can one still believe in a God where such monstrous evil, pain and suffering take place? It precludes easy faith in God or in humanity. In all of Wiesel’s work, there is a despair concerning the human condition, and the possibilities for redemption. For Wiesel, despair is the prerequisite for the Jews’ adoption of a revolutionary relationship with both man and God. It is suspected that despair towards men and other nations have led the Israeli to a necessary selfreliance as the only possibility for survival.

In the article On Losing Trust In The World by John Roth (Echoes From the Holocaust, Rosenberg, Myers Edition, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1988, p.163-167) Roth said: “If hope is allowed to seem an unrealistic response to the world, if we do not work towards developing confidence in our spiritual resources, we will be responsible for producing in due time a world devoid of humanity---literally”. One’s trust in the world depends on one’s determination to resist the world’s horror with lucidity. Elie Wiesel’s works testify that he does not despair. “Hatred, indifference, even history itself may do their worst, but that outcome does not deserve to be the final word”.

 If I had been directly involved where my family members were killed, I would be in agony and despair. If I could cry easily when my father passed away, I would be traumatized if my family members were massacred. I would be at such pain not knowing where to begin or where to end. I would, most probably, lose my faith but not quite. Like Elie Wiesel, the healing process would be long. But ultimately, I would come back to God. I do not know how to live in a world where there is no God. My hope is always in God, not in human being.

Presence Of Good And Evil

How can we explain the evil in this world? How does it come about? Why does God, the God of love allow good and evil to co- exist?

According to Augustine’s theodicy, God did not create evil. God created the world and everything in it good. The whole creation, including the material world is good. Evil is a “privation of good”--the voluntary turning away of the being from goodness. Evil is the privation from good--misused freedom. Evil is real. Augustine does not deny its presence and its potent power. Evil does not exist in its own right as one of the original constituents in creation. Evil can consist only in the corrupting of a good substance. Man is created mutable, and is subject to corruption, and evil is the corruption of the mutable good. Evil enters this world only when God’s creature renounces its proper role in the divine scheme and ceases to be what it is meant to be--good. The decrease in goodness is evil. When we see the evil nature in man it is the perversion or disintegration of something good. God, by giving man freewill, allows man to do what he wills--to do good or evil. Freewill is thus the cause of evil. Augustine believes that a man’s action is determined by his inner nature. We do what we do because of our nature. A man has to be held responsible personally for his acts because of what he willed. The origin of evil therefore lies hidden within the mystery of freedom.[xxxii]

When evil things happen, man’s faith in God is shaken. However faith must be tested. But it must not remain “severed or sundered”. Elie Wiesel believes that one must press on. One cannot simply accept faith as such. One needs to pass through a period of anguish, because without faith our world would be empty, and we could not survive.[xxxiii] What we see today, adds Wiesel, is “a failure of humanity, perhaps a failure of rationalism, but certainly a failure of politics and commitment, a failure of all systems…”.

How Could Such Evil Be Perpetuated?

The answer is godlessness. Both the Germans and the Japanese worship the figure of one human being. The Japanese see their Emperor as their god. The Germans threw away their constitution and worshipped Adolf Hitler as their god. Where the man is the Devil, evil reigns.

Japan is a land full of temples, where the population worships the Shinto form of Buddhism. The Japanese military did not seem to practice peace, as advocated in Buddhism, but aggression. Japan, like China, is not a Christian nation. The Japanese army was not restrained by the moral consciousness of a Christian nation. One cannot measure Japan by Christian standards but by humanity’s standard. The Japanese atrocities reminded me of the Jewish Holocaust. I am drawn by the parallelism. Both Japan and Germany worship the figure of one human being. The Japanese emperor was their God and the Japanese army swore allegiance to him. The Japanese emperor took responsibility of the actions of his Imperial Army as he was the Commander in Chief. Germany is supposedly a Christian country. However the Nazis were religious rebels. Hitler showed contempt for Christianity and had no Christian values. Once the Nazi established themselves in power, all German officials were compelled to take an oath of allegiance to the person of Adolf Hitler, just like the Japanese army to the person of their emperor. Hitler acquired a God-like ability to determine right or wrong. His will became the “collective conscience” of the Germans very much the same way as the will of the Lord is the standard of right and wrong for the Jews and Christians. Hitler accepted the moral responsibility for the actions of those loyal to him. Hitler completed the transformation of the moral system. Right or wrong were no longer determined by obedience or rebellion to God. If God does not exist all moral constraints under Judaism and Christianity do not apply. Where there is no God or God is absent, everything is permissible. Evils reign. Like the Japanese, they regarded their captives as inanimate objects, less than human beings.

There was no reason for the Japanese to murder the innocent civilians or the armless soldiers. The utility of the victims did not deter the Japanese or the Nazi to carry out the systematic slaughter. The Japanese and the Nazi permitted themselves the freedom of killings that they did not have in peacetime.  Like the German participants in Nazi crimes, the Japanese soldiers’ response had been that they acted under their superior’s orders. The truth is that both nations were Godless. They went on a rampage of murders without fear of God and without a moral conscience. The Japanese soldiers were brain washed that they could do anything to the enemy, and that they were patriotic. Had Japan been a Christian nation, maybe history might come out differently. There would not have such gross atrocities committed. For the Nazi in a world devoid of God, the death camp was the place where the morally impossible became the commonplace.  “A world without God would be a world with no impediment to the gratification of desire, no matter how perverse or socially harmful”.[xxxiv]

What is our response to evil? Dorothy Rabinowitz in The Holocaust As Living Memory said:

“We can respond to monstrous evil by chronicling it, reporting it, and reminding all listeners that whatever else they forget they may not forget that evil, lest they make its repetition possible”.[xxxv]

Moral Conscience / Moral Evil

The history of the 20th century consists of a rollcall of expendable people. The Armenians, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Serbians, Vietnamese, Cambodians, American Blacks, Bosnians, Palestinians, Chinese and so forth, all have been on the slaughtering block of history. Looking at the evidence one may come to the conclusion that human life is insignificant, human nature is hateful, and that human beings have the tendency to turn on one another for advantage, power and comfort. Who count as persons? John F Kavanaugh, S J in Who Count As Person- Human Identity and the Ethics of Killing (Georgetown University Press, Washington, DC, 2001, p. 71-137) makes a radical (but Christian) and very persuasive argument as to the evils of killing another human being. He argues that the history of ruthless violence is evidence of the undeniable fact of moral evil in the world—the cost of human freedom where men and women choose to negate the fundamental moral limit of our lives by willing the extermination of the “other”. There is a spectrum of justification for killing, and exceptions for choosing to extinguish human life. Every perpetrator of outrage has good reasons for every death: to defend ones’ life, his name, his property, his family, his heritage, his race, his nation, his religion and so on. There is always a moral “absolute” invoked, but never the absolute value of a human life.

I find his argument very persuasive. In the Bible God prohibits us to kill another human being. Ever human being is made in the image of God. God is the giver of life, and he is the one to take away life. In every human being, there is that ethic rooted in the very existence of every person, the inherent goodness imbued in him.  This is what makes ethics possible and ultimately the ground for human rights. To will to kill a human being is to be able to kill the foundation of ethics, the moral goodness itself. There are greater and lesser evil acts of killing, but one quality that make all acts share in common is the willed extermination of personal life.[xxxvi] A deliberate killing is a conscious act. It turns a person into a thing. This is exactly what happened when the Japanese massacred the Chinese. Testimonies of the soldiers said that after some time, they did not feel any guilt. They were killing pigs, an inferior form of being. The deliberate intent to kill is crucial. Killing can also be unintentional. Killings may further evil motives and purposes, which qualify as murder. The intent to kill is a radical compromise to moral life.

Human being is born with a conscience. Our life journey starts with a conscience, and ends when life ceases. The question what makes us human, and who counts as human is therefore important. An English journalist, observing the Sisters of Charity in Calcutta, reason:

“Either Life is always and in all circumstances sacred, or intrinsically of no account; it is inconceivable that it should be in some cases the one, and in some the other”

                                                                        ANNIE DILLARD, For the Time Being

Pain And Suffering

Can God suffer? Anselm, Luther, Kitamori, and Moltmann are strong advocates of the concept that God can suffer. In The Wounded Heart of God the author, Andrew Sung Park, argues that the suffering of God is manifested on the cross of Jesus Christ, as well as in Jesus’ whole life. Every victim’s suffering involves God’s presence, as advocated by Luther. Jesus’s death was an example of an innocent victim’s suffering where God was fully present. The meaning of the cross must not be construed exclusively as “God’s suffering for humanity, but also as God’s protest against the oppressor”.[xxxvii] Anselm’s notion of sin is that sin injures someone else. Sin creates anguish and injury in God as God is compassionate.  The injury Anselm describes is the deep anguish (or despair), called han by Park, of God. After Anselm, Luther was the first major theologian to talk of the pain of God. As God loves righteousness every sin insults and wounds God. Killing is a sin. Every massacre must be agonizing for God. God is a God of love and a God of grace. To be born, to suffer, to die, are characteristics of the human nature, which the divine nature also shares. Luther states that God meets us in suffering and death, i.e. anguish or han is the meeting point between God and humanity. Is God present at the massacre? The answer would have to be YES! God was there with the victims and the oppressors. The victims, who did not know Christ, did not know the presence of God. Kitamori, a Lutheran theologian, spoke of the suffering of God in his Theology of the Pain of God, which he wrote in response, after the painful defeat of Japan in World War II. Kitamori uses Luther’s concept of wrath and the love of God. He asserts that the essence of God means the heart of God, which is pain. The pain of God is the “heart of the gospel”.

Both Luther and Moltmann hold that we first understand the event of Christ’s crucifixion by participating in Christ’s death. We can participate indirectly by taking part in the suffering of the oppressed, the downtrodden, the naked, and the imprisoned if we are to meet God crucified. Without knowing the suffering of the people in the world we cannot understand the cross of Jesus Christ or the reality of God. The cross is God’s unshakable love for his creation. Park states that creation is “God’s covenant with human and indicates the divine commitment to the well-being of humanity. Until humanity is made whole, God will be restless”.[xxxviii] Park says that the traditional knowledge of God’s attributes such as “omnipotent”, “omnipresence”, and “”omniscience” are meaningless unless they speak to our lives. They need to be revaluated in light of the “han-ful” life of Christ. Park summed up that: “God’s heart is wounded when God suffers for the pain of humanity (Anselm). God’s heart is wounded when God embraces those who cannot be embraced (Kitamori). We can meet the wounded God at the cross through participating in Christ’s death (Luther, Moltmann)”.

Forgiveness And Reconciliation

The Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt in her study on The Human Condition shared her discovery that the only power that can stop the painful memory is the “faculty of forgiveness”. Forgiveness is God’s invention for coming to terms with a world where people hurt one another. He first began by forgiving us, and invites us to forgive one another. Forgiveness comes in four stages. The first stage is hurt. The second stage is hate. The third stage is healing. The fourth stage is the coming together. Lewis B Smedes in Forgive and Forget writes that if we can travel through all four, we achieve the climax of reconciliation. We can only forgive people and not things. People are accountable for what they do.

Rabbi Harold Kushner in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People asked the question: Where is God and what is he doing when decent people are hurt, deeply and unfairly? He does not believe that it is God’s fault, but he nevertheless challenges us to forgive God anyway. We all hate God sometimes. We are angry with God, but we dare not curse him like Job. We forgive God. We hate life instead. Jesus cried out at the cross: “My God, My God, why have thou forsaken me?” Did God abandon Jesus? No, He was suffering with Jesus at the cross, suffering the pains of the vulnerability of love. What we do for healing is like forgiving God.  When we forgive, we release ourselves from the pain. Healing takes time. This is particularly so if the person is a monstrous evildoer. What does God do when a person kill. God forgives the sinner, but he is punished. He gets the justice he deserves. Tani Hisao, the lieutenant general of the 6th Division of the Japanese army in Nanking, a division that perpetuated many of the atrocities in the city, was sentenced to death at the Nanking war crimes trials in 1947 after the verdict found him guilty of violating the Hague Convention concerning “The Customs of War on Land and the Wartime Treatment of Prisoners of War”. He helped slaughter an estimated three hundred thousand lives in Nanking.[xxxix]

In December 1988, Motoshima Hitoshi, the mayor of Nagasaki, was courageous enough to say that he believed that Emperor Hirohito was guilty of wartime crimes. He believed in seeing the truth as it was, a small step in reconciliation. He was shot but miraculously survived the assassination attempt. The Chinese have forgiven the atrocities of their Japanese neighbors. But they have not forgotten the event. Like the Jewish Holocaust, libraries and memorials were built in the city of Nanking to commemorate the dead, and to let the world never to forget. Forgiveness does not mean one has to forget. If the memory forgets what is there to forgive?


There was no Japanese “final solution” for the Chinese people. The Imperial government endorsed the deadliest “Three-All” policies: loot all, kill all, burn all in Northern China.  Whatever the outcome of postwar history, the Rape of Nanking is a shame on the honor of humankind. Up to today the Japanese government has not officially issued an apology or acknowledged the crimes they committed in Nanking to the Chinese government. Sixty years later, Japan as a nation still attempts to bury the victims of Nanking into historical oblivion. Japan has not paid any blood money as compensation to the Chinese. Germany on the other hand has forced itself to admit that they were guilty of war crimes. Germany has paid DM 88 billion in compensation and repatriation to the Jews, and another DM 20 billion to be paid by the end of 2005.[xl] The Swiss Banks have also come forward to pledge billions of dollars to create a fund to replace what was stolen from the Jewish bank accounts. The story of the Nanking Massacre is barely known. Only a handful of people have written document and narrate it to the public. Unlike the Armenian Genocide, there is no Chinese or non-Chinese theologian who wrote on the massacre. The world is still a passive spectator to the many deaths and genocides around it. Only recently a small movement started in Japan as a vocal minority who believes in confronting Japan’s past, as it has become an embarrassment to her citizens.  In 1997, the Japanese Fellowship of Reconciliation apologized for Japan’s past mistakes and asked for forgiveness. I do not think that war will be eliminated but I hope we can all learn from history’s past mistake, where war can be avoided.  The Rape of Nanking is to be seen as a fact and a story where human beings can easily be molded into a killing machine. Let us all remember not to do unto thy neighbors what we do not want others to do unto us.


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Bergamini, David. Japan's Imperial Conspiracy (William Morrow Company, Inc. New York),1971.

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Kitamori, Kazo. Theology of the Pain of God (John Knox Press, Richmond), 1965.

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Leaman, Oliver. Evil and Suffering in Jewish Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge), 1995.

Leikovitz, Elliot. Dimensions of the Holocaust: Lecture at NorthWestern University (NorthWestern University Press, Evanston), 1990.

Lu, David J. From the Marco Polo Bridge to Pearl Harbor (Public Affairs Press, Washington, D. C.), 1961.

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Park, Andrew Sung. The Wounded Heart of God (Abingdon Press, Nashville), 1993.

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Pike, Nelson. God and Evil (Prentice-Hall, Englewood), 1964.

Rummel, R J. China’s Bloody Century (Transaction Publishers, News Brunswick), 1990.

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Smedes, Lewis B. Forgive and Forget (Harper & Row, Publishers, San Francisco), 1984.

Simon, Ulrich E. A Theology of Auschwitz (Victor Gollanez Ltd., London), 1967.

Wiesel, Elie. Evil and Exile (University of Notre Dames Press, London), 1990.

Wiesel, E. Against Silence: The Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel (Irving Abrahamson Edition, Holocaust Library, New York), 1985.

Yin, James and Young, Shi. The Rape of Nanking: An Undeniable History In Photograph (Innovative Publishing Group, Chicago), 1996.

Zang, Kaiyuan. Eyewitness to Massacre: American Missionaries Bear Witness to Japanese Atrocities in Nanjing (M E Sharpe, New York), 2001.



[i] Yin, James and Young, Shi. The Rape of Nanking: An Undeniable History In Photograph (Innovative Publishing Group, Chicago), 1996, p. xiii.

[ii] Zang, Kaiyuan. Eyewitness to Massacre: American Missionaries Bear Witness to Japanese Atrocities in Nanjing (M E Sharpe, New York), 2001, Preface, xvii.

[iii] Zang, Forward, ix.

[iv] Brackman, Arnold C. The Other Nuremburg (William Morrow and Co. Inc., New York), 1987, p. 181.

[v] Lu, David J. From the Marco Polo Bridge to Pearl Harbor (Public Affairs Press, Washington, D. C.), 1961, Forward, iii.

[vi] Revolutionary Document, Vol. 109 (History Committee for the Nationalist Party, Taipei, China), 1987, p. 79; Yin, James and Young, Shi, p. 132.

[vii] Sone, Kazuo. Personal Account of the Nanking Massacre (Shairyu Sha Publishing, Tokyo), 1984; Yin, James and Young, Shi, p. 156.

[viii] Jiang, Gong-gu. From Historical Materials of the Nanking Massacre by the Japanese Invasion Army (Jiangsu Rare Books Publishing, Nanking), 1985, p. 77; Yin, James and Young, Shi, p. 157.

[ix] Lin, Na. From Cosmic Wind Magazine, No. 71, China, July 1938; Yin, James and Young, Shi, p. 173.

[x] Bergamini, David. Japan's Imperial Conspiracy (William Morrow Company, Inc. New York), 1971, p. 36.

[xi] Moriyama, Kohe. The Nanking Massacre and Three-All Policy: Lesson Learned from History (Chinese Translation),Sichuan Educational Publishing ,1984, p. 10.

[xii] Japanese Aggressors’ Atrocities in China (China Military Science Institute),1986, p.156.

[xiii] Nichi Nichi Shimbun, December 13, 1937. Also see Timperley, H. J. What War Means: Japanese Terror In China, pp. 284, 285.

[xiv] Hu, Hua-Ling, p. 83; The article in English version was published in Chinese American Forum 7.4 (April 1993): 20-23.

[xv] Pritchard, R. John and Zaide, Sonia M. The Tokyo War Crimes Trial: The Complete Transcripts of the Proceedings of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, 27 Vols. (London: Garland Publishing, 1981-1987), 17: 41216; Hu, Hua-Ling, American Goddess to the Rape of Nanking (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsvile), 2000, Preface, 97.

[xvi] New China Daily, January 23, 1938.

[xvii] Hu, Hua-Ling. p. 83.

[xviii] Brackman, p. 179.

[xix] Brackman, p. 179.

[xx] Zang, Forward, p. x.

[xxi] Brackman, p. 27.

[xxii] Brackman, p. 28.

[xxiii] Berebaum, Michael. Theological Reflections on the Works of Elie Wiesel (Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, Conn.), 1979, p. 35.

[xxiv] Brackman, p. 30.

[xxv] Hu, Hua-Ling, Preface, xx.

[xxvi] Hu, Hua-Ling, Forward, xiii.

[xxvii] Yin, James and Young, Shi, p. x.

[xxviii] Wiesel, E. Against Silence: The Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel (Holocaust Library, N.Y.)1985, p. 125.

[xxix] Ibid. p. 127.

[xxx] Ibid. p. 207.

[xxxi] Zang, p. 165.

[xxxii] Hick, John. Evil and the God of Love (Harper and Row Publishers, N.Y.), 1966, p. 67.

[xxxiii] Wiesel, Elie. Evil and Exile (University of Notre Dames Press, London), 1990, p. 11.

[xxxiv] Rubenstein, Richard L. After Auschwitz Radical Theology and Contemporary Judaism (Bobbs-Merrill Co. Inc., N.Y.), 1966, p. 13.

[xxxv] Leikovitz, Elliot. Dimensions of the Holocaust: Lecture at NorthWestern University (NorthWestern University Press, Evanston), 1990, p. 61.

[xxxvi] Kavanaugh, John F S J. Who Count As Person- Human Identity and the Ethics of Killing (Georgetown University Press, Washington, DC), 2001, p. 119.

[xxxvii] Park, Andrew Sung. The Wounded Heart of God (Abingdon Press, Nashville), 1993, p. 112.

[xxxviii] Ibid. p. 123.

[xxxix] Chang, Iris. The Rape of Nanking-The Forgotten Holocaust Of World War II (Basic Books, New York), 1997, p. 172.

[xl] Chang, Iris. p. 220.