Chinese Plan for a Nanjing Memorial to 'the Good Nazi' Reopens War Wounds

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The Nanjing Massacre remains a touchstone of China-Japan conflict nearly seven decades after the event. Now Chinese plans to honor John Rabe, a Germany citizen in Nanjing, for his efforts to protect Chinese citizens from slaughter have inflamed tensions with Japan over war and rare memory. The Chinese plan offers a rare example in the annals of warfare in general, and China in particular, of recognizing in a public and prominent way the achievements of a foreign national in a world that is dominated by nationalist icons.

The official Japanese response to the issues is emblematic not only of the ability to put war issues behind it but also of the fact that serious historians differ on many of the specifics of the massacre. The present article presents Chinese conclusions about casualties, notably 300,000 dead and 80,000 rapes. However, as David Askew has noted in “New Research on the Nanjing Incident,” several of the most exhaustive Japanese and international studies suggest that figures closer to 100,000 deaths may be more plausible.

With Chinese archives still closed, and with Nanjing deniers continuing to challenge the important research findings of critical Japanese historians, important issues pertaining to the massacre remain contested. Likewise, the number of lives saved by the actions of Rabe and other members of the international community remains moot. What is not in question is the fact that the Japanese military committed major atrocities at Nanjing. Is it possible that historians of China and Japan will eventually produce a common understanding of the events of Nanjing? If the recent history of East Asian nationalism is a guide, that will not be any time soon. The stakes, however, are high in terms of the peace and prosperity of Northeast Asia. Japan Focus

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