The Making of the "Rape of Nanking": History and Memory in Japan, China, and the United States

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On December 13, 1937, the Japanese army attacked and captured the Chinese capital city of Nanjing, planting the rising-sun flag atop the city's outer walls. What occurred in the ensuing weeks and months has been the source of a tempestuous debate ever since.

It is well known that the Japanese military committed wholesale atrocities after the fall of the city, massacring large numbers of Chinese during the both the Battle of Nanjing and in its aftermath. Yet the exact details of the war crimes--how many people were killed during the battle? How many after? How many women were raped? Were prisoners executed? How unspeakable were the acts committed?--are the source of controversy among Japanese, Chinese, and American historians to this day.

In The Making of the "Rape of Nanking Takashi Yoshida examines how views of the Nanjing Massacre have evolved in history writing and public memory in Japan, China, and the United States. For these nations, the question of how to treat the legacy of Nanjing--whether to deplore it, sanitize it, rationalize it, or even ignore it--has aroused passions revolving around ethics, nationality, and historical identity. Drawing on a rich analysis of Chinese, Japanese, and American history textbooks and newspapers, Yoshida traces the evolving--and often conflicting--understandings of the Nanjing Massacre, revealing how changing social and political environments have influenced the debate. Yoshida suggests that, from the 1970s on, the dispute over Nanjing has become more lively, more globalized, and immeasurably more intense, due in part to Japanese revisionist history and a renewed emphasis on patriotic education in China.

While today it is easy to assume that the Nanjing Massacre has always been viewed as an emblem of Japan's wartime aggression in China, the image of the "Rape of Nanking" is a much more recent icon in public consciousness. Takashi Yoshida analyzes the process by which the Nanjing Massacre has become an international symbol, and provides a fair and respectful treatment of the politically charged and controversial debate over its history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Yoshida does the field a service in bringing myriad insights together in one manuscript. He succeeds in opening windows on the psychologies behind all positions in the debates, and in highly readable prose."--James Orr, Pacific Affairs

"The Nanjing Massacre is now an iconic event in international history. This book adroitly summarizes how this state of affairs came to pass."--Laura Hein, Northwestern University

"This is by far the most comprehensive and judicious survey of how Japanese, Chinese, and American journalists, scholars, and propagandists have interpreted and polemically exploited this tragic atrocity from its occurrence in 1937 to the present day. Yoshida's incisive, sensitive, and even-handed account is a must-read for anyone interested in World War Two, modern Sino-Japanese history, and East Asian current affairs."--Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, York University

"A serious, sobering dissection of the shifting and conflicting images of the Nanjing Massacre. Yoshida's eye-opening account shows how the popular media in each country have helped to frame the debates and stir controversies about Nanjing ever since."--Tom Havens, Northeastern University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195383140
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/4/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 280
  • Sales rank: 1,259,196
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Takashi Yoshida was educated in both Japan and the United States and is an Assistant Professor of History at Western Michigan University.

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Table of Contents

Part I Allies and Enemies in the Asia-Pacific War (1937-45)
1. Japan: Mobilizing the Nation, Sanitizing Aggression
2. China: Intolerable Atrocities
3. US: "The Rape of Nanking"
Part II The Storm of Postwar and Cold War Politics (1945-71)
4. Japan: Confronting the Nanjing Massacre
5. China: In Times of Civil and Cold War
6. US: Rebuilding Japan
Part III Bringing the Nanjing Massacre into Print (1971-1988)
7. Japan: from "Victim Consciousness" to "Victimizer Consciousness"
8. China: Nationalizing Memory of the Nanjing Massacre
9. US: Focus on Japanese Denials of the Pat
Part IV The Internationalization of the Nanjing Massacre (1989-present)
10. Japan: A War Over History and Memory
11. China: The Nanjing Massacre and Patriotic Education
12. US: Rediscovery of the Nanjing Massacre

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  • Posted March 4, 2011

    Subtle and Not-So-Subtle Distortion of WWII History

    The book is a subtle and not so subtle distortion of the Nanking Massacre, which is best illustrated with several quotes from the book. 1. "In truth, however, the image of Nanjing as the site of particularly brutal atrocities is a more recent construction." How can one honestly claim that the image of the brutal atrocities of the Nanking Massacre is a more recent construction when there were so many well documented eyewitness oral, written, pictorial, and film archives recorded at that time by numerous foreign journalists, businessmen, missionaries, college professors/administrators, and diplomats. One example of such historical eyewitness accounts was the home movie made by the American missionary John Magee (search "Nanking Massacre-Japanese Atrocities filmed by John Magee" on YouTube), who was also the chairman of the Nanking Committee of the International Red Cross Organization. Magee filmed several hundred minutes of movie, which was smuggled out of China and shown to members of the U.S. government, as well as others. 2. "The massacre as it is discussed today did not exist in either national or international awareness until decades after the event." Again, the Nanking Massacre was international news at the time of its occurrence in 1937-1938, and was also part of the 1946-47 trial of the Far East International Tribunal Court under the UN's War Crimes Investigation Committee. 3. "No single account or interpretation of the massacre has emerged as dominant, in part because there is no agreement even as to the basic terms of the debate. Commentators have been unable to agree on the very definitions of the matters they are discussing. They differ as to the proper meaning of words like 'victim', 'perpetrator', 'atrocity', and 'civilian'." It seems that the author is trying to lead people to believe that because there might not be universally agreed upon terminology such as whether a victim must be a civilian and not a captured soldier, then the massive inhuman atrocities reported by the eyewitnesses should not be believable. Because Yoshida also criticized the revisionists in Japan who even deny the existence of the Nanjing Massacre, people may think that Yoshida presented a fair and thorough treatment of the events. Unfortunately, a fair and thorough treatment is clearly not the case when you realize that Yoshida also wrote "Had there not been intense challenges from the revisionists, the history and memory of the Nanjing Massacre might have remained a domestic issue rather than becoming an international symbol of Japan's wartime aggression." Being published by the Oxford University Press under Columbia University's Weatherhead East Asian Institute may lend a lot of prestige and credibility to Yoshida's book. In reality, Yoshida's book presents a revisionist view of the Nanking Massacre under the disguise of scholarly research, and is trying to create confusion in the general public so that people may think that other accounts of the Nanking Massacre were over exaggerated. It is important to note that the Japanese influence in academic Asian studies in the U.S. is substantial through their funding to establish various professorships and research grants.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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