Apology for a Rape

Dec 13, 2010
*Special to asia!
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The Nanjing Massacre is a sore point in Sino-Japanese relations and something has to be done about it soon.

A Sino-Japanese time bomb is ticking. If nothing is done to defuse it, it will explode in December 2007, when China commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Rape of Nanjing.

Japan, under its new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and China, directed by President Hu Jintao, have tried to forge a better understanding. It is clear that it benefits everyone (the US being the only exception) for the two North Asian economic giants to work with, rather than against, each other.

But the Nanjing incident stands in the way. It is the single most

controversial issue faced by Hu and Abe. More than anything else from America’s role in Asia and North Korea’s nuclear ambition, to the scramble for Russian oil and Japan’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council Nanjing looms large. And it will loom even larger, fanned by the growing patriotism among the 1.3 billion Chinese, and the proliferation of Internet sites and blogs on Japan’s worst atrocity in China.

On December 13, 1937, Nanjing, an ancient capital along the Yangtze River also called Nanking by Westerners, fell to Japan, an early victim of the eight-year Sino-Japanese war. Japanese soldiers went on a rampage for as long as six weeks, raping, killing, looting, burning, and torturing. Under the pretext of eliminating enemy agents, the Japanese killed a large number of innocent civilians. The number of dead has never been accurately recorded. China claims up to 300,000 non-combatants were killed; Japanese researchers placed the upper limit at 200,000. Other nations placed the number between 150,000 and 300,000.

Japan has never directly apologised for the incident, though various Prime Ministers have expressed regret. The extreme nationalists in Japan have also denied its existence, claiming it is a trumped-up charge by China against Japan. And successive Japanese PMs, noticeably Abe’s predecessor Junichiro Koizumi, have made it a point to carry out annual visits to a controversial shrine for the war dead, which infuriated the Chinese.

Ten years ago, the West’s interest in Nanjing was revitalised by the publication of the book, "The Rape of Nanjing", on its 60th anniversary. It was written by Iris Chang Shun-Ru, a Chinese-American freelance historian and journalist, who penned the account motivated partly by her grandparents’ stories about their escape from the massacre. It became a bestseller in the US, though some argued against the authenticity of the accounts. Chang suffered a prolonged bout of depression and committed suicide in 2004.

Japan may drag its feet on Nanjing, but the Japanese in the US have taken the matter into their own hands. An annual memorial service is conducted, the latest on December 9 last year in San Francisco’s Japantown, in the Issei Memorial Hall of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California. It attracted a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 300 people, among them two dozen students from local high schools.

An attendee, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Lillian Sing, who is co-founder of the Rape of Nanking Redress Coalition, said Japan must apologise for its deed. If it does, "we welcome (it) and we would work with Japan to allow Japan to get into the United Nations Security Council even," she said.

Soon after, a Sino-Japanese meeting was convened in Beijing to discuss "how to bring our historical understanding more in line", according to officials. Each country fielded 10 experts who attempted to hammer out a framework for future discussions during the two-day meeting. Let’s hope they agree on something before December 13, 2007, arrives.


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lee han shihLee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.


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