In December of 1937, while international attention was focussed on Adolf Hitler as he re-armed Germany and expanded the borders of the Nazi Reich, the former Chinese capital, Nanking (now Nanjing) was being brutally attacked in the massacre that would come to be known as the ‘Rape of Nanking.’

Japan had long been seeking to conquer China and had even boasted that it would take no longer than three months to do so. The north-east Manchurian region had already been captured and, even though the battle was far more intense and damaging than expected, Beijing had also been seized. The unexpected losses the Japanese army suffered in taking the city fuelled the great ferocity that took Nanking and its protectors by storm. Although the Chinese soldiers greatly outnumbered Japan’s, they were poorly led and badly organized. This, coupled with the intensity of Japan’s attack, resulted in a Japanese victory: it took only four days for the army to enter the city. On December 13th 1937, the Japanese army pronounced the order to kill all prisoners of war.

It is estimated that 300,000 of 600,000 civilians lost their lives throughout the 6 weeks of carnage that was the ‘Rape of Nanking.’ Many Chinese soldiers surrendered hoping to save themselves, but the Japanese army viewed surrendering as “an unthinkable act of cowardice and the ultimate violation of the rigid code of military honour drilled into them from childhood onward” (The History Place). The city was said to be running red with blood. The attacks on the Chinese people of Nanking broke the age-old universally accepted laws and customs of war, which had been stipulated in the 1929 Geneva Convention on prisoners of war.

Nanking, Berlin, Rwanda: it is clear that the brutal violence in war brings with it wide-spread and accepted sexual violence. Between 8,000 and 20,000 females were raped by Japanese soldiers and usually stabbed to death after or shot in order to never be able to bear witness. Victims tended to fall between the ages of 15 and 40, however it wasn’t uncommon for women older than 70 and younger than 8 to be attacked. Pregnant women were raped, and then had their unborn child ripped out from them. The Japanese army forced fathers to rape their daughters, sons to rape their mothers, and brothers to rape their sisters. All the while, the rest of the family was forced to watch. Many women were turned into sex-slaves: forced to be servants during the day and sex-slaves at night. It is thought that the ‘Comfort Women’ system (a term for women, mostly Chinese, Korean and Philipino, who were forced into indentured sex slavery to Japanese soldiers during WWII), had its origins in Nanking.

The comfort women who are still alive today still await some apology or compensation from the Japanese government. However, proper recognition for the crimes committed is still a long way off. In April of this year, the mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, said the following “To maintain discipline in the military, it must have been necessary at that time. For soldiers who risked their lives in circumstances where bullets are flying around like rain and wind, if you want them to get some rest, a comfort women system was necessary. That’s clear to anyone.”

Well it’s clear to me that this is an astoundingly problematic opinion. It forgives the mass sexual violence of the past and fertilizes the ground for mass sexual violence in the future.

The following video captures the story of one of Chinese comfort woman:


DeHart, Jonathan. “Osaka Mayor Dodges Censure over Comfort Women Remarks.” The Diplomat. N.p., 31 May 2013. Web. 31 Aug. 2013.

Margolin, Jean-Louis. “Japanese Crimes in Nanjing, 1937-38: A Reappraisal.” China Perspectives (2006): 1-14. Web.

“The History Place – Genocide in the 20th Century: Rape of Nanking 1937-38.” The History Place – Genocide in the 20th Century: Rape of Nanking 1937-38. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Aug. 2013.