Battle for the capital and the Rape of Nanjing
2015-08-24 15:46:00

78 years ago, Japanese troops seized the then Chinese capital Nanjing and committed one of the worst war crimes in modern history, the Nanjing Massacre. But even today, there are still rightwing groups in Japan who deny that the massacre took place. Today, in the first episode of our series, Battle Scars.


History cannot be washed away. Nanjing, the capital of the Republic of China, witnessed one of the darkest events of the Second World War.


In December 1937, Japanese troops had already taken Shanghai, and now reached the gates of Nanjing. Weeks of aerial bombardment reduced the city to ruins. Then a bloody siege started.


98-year-old Wu Chunxiang defended a part of the city where the heaviest fighting took place.


"We fought on high ground called Zijinshan, which was the most crucial defense point. The enemy fought ferociously, launching heavy shelling and bombardment," Wu Chunxiang said.


China deployed its best forces to defend the city. When the siege started, the head of the state Chiang Kai-shek made a high-profile pledge to hold out against Japan no matter the cost.


His newly appointed Commander in chief Tang Shengzhi routes of retreat for Chinese troops to be cut off. This determination won moral support internationally, but not the battle at home.


After days of intense shelling, sections of the city walls collapsed. Japanese troops flooded into the city from this gate, called Zhonghuamen. Surrounded and overwhelmed by the heavily armed invaders, Chinese soldiers continued to defend the city in street battles.


For the sake of saving strength for future defenses, Chiang Kai-shek ordered to the troops to retreat. Unfortunately, that retreat turned into a disastrous stampede.


Not having seized enough boats in advance, the mighty Yangtze River was impossible for the retreating troops to cross. The Chinese army paid a heavy price for the sudden change in plan.


"It was very chaotic. The enemy was right behind us. Tens of thousands of wounded soldiers swarmed into the Yangtze River, trying to escape the city. The enemy planes kept dropping bombs, and the machine guns kept shooting at us.


Our squad started with 600 soldiers, but after the retreat, there were only 150 men left," Wu Chunxiang said.


The Chinese army was battered, but not destroyed. The Kuomintang government, retreating all the way from this port called Pukou to the city of Chongqing, refused to surrender and continued their resistance. That irratated the Japanese generals, who ordered their troops to commit one of the worst war crimes ever in modern history, the Nanjing massacre.


From December 13th, 1937 to Feburary 1938, the Japanese troops slaughtered over 300,000 defenseless Chinese, most of them civilians.


The scale of the atrocity shocked the world. Yu Changxiang is one of the few survivors. The path under our feet is a mass grave. It's his father's final resting place. Yu Changxian's father's name is carved on the wall of the memorial site.


"The killing happened every day, every minute, every second. My mother and I were hiding in a basement for weeks, and when we came out, everyone we knew was killed. As for my father, I didn't even know when and how he was killed. All I saw was that the bodies were piling up everywhere in the city," Yu Changxian sai.


This is the only surviving footage of the Nanjing massacre. The man who filmed it was John Magee, an American missionary, who stayed in Nanjing after it fell to the enemy. At the end of the Second World War, he testified about the massacre at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East.


"The killing began immediately in several ways, often by individual Japanese soldiers or up to 30 soldiers together, each one seeming to have power of life or death. And then soon, it was organized killing. The people were being killed by rifle fire and machine gun principally. Also we knew there were people being bayoneted to death," said John Magee, American missionary.


Each year, Nanjing holds memorials for those who perished during the Japanese atrocities. The point is not to incite hatred, but to remind the public of the importance of peace.


But at the same time, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continues to deny the history of the Second World War and glorify aggression.


He paid high-profile visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which worships the country's war dead including those who ordered troops to carry out the Nanjing Massacre.


His newly appointed cabinet member Tomomi Inada goes so far as to claims that the massacre didn't happen.


"This is outrageous. The Abe government lies without even pretending to be speaking the truth. The massacre happened, and all my friends and relatives died except my mother. Their denials today hurt us deeply," Yu Changxian said.


In 2013, Wu Changxiang and three other war veterans came to Nanjing, with an apology that moved the conscience of the nation.


"The four of us beg the people of Nanjing for forgiveness," the soldiers said, "In 1937, our troops failed to protect civilians. And because of our failure, the people in the city suffered tragic miseries in the time that followed."


The four of us beg the people of Nanjing for forgiveness. In 1937, our troops failed to protect the civilians. And because of our failure, the people in the city suffered tragic miseries in the time that followed. -- veteran soldiers who defended Nanjing, 2013


Survivor Yu Changxiang says the war heroes, who tried their best to defend them, need to make no apology, and that those who should apologize are still silent. Editor:Rose