1937-2007 Nanjing Revisited

1937-2007 Nanjing Revisited

Summary of the history of Nanjing from 1937-2007.

On April 30, 2008, Dr. Robert Bates gave the following presentation on attending the Academic Conference in Nanjing of the Memorial to the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre on the occasion of the 70th Anniversary. 

In 1931 Japan took control of Manchuria, and a process of pushing at the north of the rest of China began.

By 1937 it was quite clear that a full scale Japanese invasion was planned.  Dr M. Searle Bates, my father, had been teaching history at the Univ. of Nanking since 1920, and was one of the first to teach Russian and Japanese history in China, believing that Chinese students of history needed to understand these powerful neighbors.  After completing his doctoral studies at Yale in 1934, he had given some time to study Japanese and Russian language at Harvard in 1934-35, and he respected the Japanese people and their culture.  In no sense was he “anti-Japanese.”

He was active in the Institute of Pacific Relations & the International Fellowship of Reconciliation.  Our family spent the summer of 1937 in Japan, where he contacted peace-minded Japanese, including Christian leaders, and at least one member of the Diet, or Parliament, to see if the looming war could be averted.

When the Japanese invasion beginning at Beijing began in July, 1937, my dad returned to Nanjing.  On August 8, 1937 the Japanese landed at Shanghai, and met stubborn resistance from Chinese forces; but Shanghai fell Nov. 8.  Heavy Japanese bombing of Chinese cities, inflicting numerous civilian casualties, continued. Nanjing, then China’s capital, was clearly the next target.  At Nanjing, they bombed and sank the USS Panay, an American gunboat.  It was reported that all Americans who had been in the city were on board. [Since some of you may wonder, at the time my mother and brother and I were still in Japan. My brother was in the Canadian Academy in Kobe, Japan.  My mother and I stayed with Disciples missionaries Reddy Doan and Jessie Trout in Tokyo.  I can remember being encouraged to stay out of the way for a while when the Panay news came. Fortunately, my dad was able to get word to us that he had NOT been on the Panay, via a Japanese reporter.]

My dad and Lewis S C Smythe, Disciples,  joined with 13 other foreign missionaries (Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist & YMCA} and businessmen from Germany, Britain, Denmark, & the US  in forming the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone. [A further International Red Cross Committee included Disciples Minnie Vautrin and James McCallum as well as Smythe and Bates.]

The Safety Zone Committee, by informing the Japanese Embassy,  tried to minimize Japanese bombing and shelling in the designated area prior to the Japanese entry into the city, with a fair degree of success.

(Please note that war was not declared  between Japan and China, and therefore the Japanese Embassy functioned throughout)

By the time the Japanese military entered Nanjing, many Chinese troops had left the city.  Their general, obeying higher orders, had left, and not long after, many remaining Chinese troops shed their arms and uniforms, doing their best to become civilians.

The Japanese troops were turned loose in the city soon after their entry, and  six weeks of looting, burning, torturing, raping, and killing began. Some 20,000 cases of rape were estimated by the Safety Zone Committee. The killed have been estimated at as many as 300,000.  The prewar population of the city was about 1 million, but by the time of the Japanese army entry, many had left the city, and others had entered, so the actual population number was not clear.

Bodies were left in the streets for weeks. Various Chinese Buddhist and benevolent societies tried to provide burial, but the numbers were overwhelming.

During this period, the International Safety Zone was relatively safer than elsewhere in the city, but there were Chinese taken from the Safety Zone and killed, as well as some killed in the Safety Zone, with looting and rape also.  But 1000’s still poured into the Zone from elsewhere in the city.

The Safety Zone Committee members, unarmed, were called day and night to save women from rape or from being taken away, and to save folk from being killed. My father reported having had a pistol put to his head several times in one day. [Their white faces probably saved them and allowed them to act.  No doubt this was because Japan still wanted western resources, particularly American oil and scrap iron, and partly because of their simply being from western countries.]

Probably the one who felt the pressure the most was Minnie Vautrin, in charge of  Ginling Women’s College and the 1000’s of women and children  refugeeing there.  Although others of the International Committee came to help her from time to time, she bore the brunt of the burden, facing down Japanese soldiers repeatedly.  Something of a perfectionist, she later “broke” under the strain of not having saved all of those under her care.  She was brought back to the U.S., but ultimately committed suicide here in Indianapolis.

James McCallum drove the Drum Tower Hospital ambulance to pick up wounded around the city day and night, fighting to keep himself awake.  Lewis Smythe was the Secretary of the Committee, preparing most of the frequent reports to Japanese authorities, which  reports were sent on to Tokyo.  Grace Bauer, also Disciples, worked in the Drum Tower Hospital to help care for the wounded who poured in.

My dad was particularly useful in helping to get the word out to the wider world about what was going on.  He provided information to Tillman Durdin of the New York Times for some of the earliest newspaper reports, and to H. J. Timperley of the Manchester Guardian, who authored what I understand was the first book in English on the subject, Japanese Terror in China.

We must not forget the key role that John Rabe of Siemens Company, a German Nazi Party member, played as the Chairman of the Safety Zone Committee.  He wore a swastika armband, though it did not always dissuade the Japanese soldiers.  In his absence, the German swastika flag was even torn down at his residence by rampaging Japanese soldiers.

After a greater degree of order was restored in the city, in due course the Safety Zone was disbanded, foreign embassy staff returned to the city, freedom of movement for residents resumed for the occupied town.  My father then reported on the Japanese renewal of opium traffic, which had   all but disappeared under the earlier Chinese administration.

The Japanese military used opium to pay laborers and prostitutes, helping to undermine the people.  Bates reported this to the English language press in Shanghai and elsewhere.  Further, he was in Japan each summer through 1940 to give more accurate information to persons there about what was actually happening under Japanese occupation in China.

After the war,  Bates, Smythe, and other foreigners present during the 1937 Nanking terror, testified at the Tokyo International War Crimes Trials and at the Nanjing Trials also. There has never been a real apology from the Japanese government for what took place in Nanjing and elsewhere. Today, extreme right wing politicians in Japan insist that there were no such events. The Japanese military leaders judged by the Tokyo War Crime Trials to be criminals are honored today at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.  If and when a new Japanese Prime Minister goes to pay his respects at the Shrine, it instigates major condemnation from China, Korea, and other Asian countries.

We are deeply appreciative of ZHU Xiao-ling’s work in obtaining an invitation for Sue and me to attend the Academic Conference in Nanjing of the Memorial to the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre on the occasion of the 70th Anniversary. 

At the closing banquet for the conference proper, Director ZHU Cheng Shan of the Memorial Hall chatted briefly with us. We told him that we would be coming by again with our children and grandchildren in a couple of  weeks.  When he found out that I was 79, he observed that in China one is counted a year old at birth, so I was 80 by that count, a big event in Chinese tradition.  Accordingly, the director said he would try to arrange a birthday party with our family present.

When we came to Nanjing in late December with our two daughters, a son in law, and five grandchildren, Director ZHU gave us a personally conducted tour of the new Museum/Memorial Hall.  The exhibits and architecture were very impressively done concluding with a strong appeal for peace and reconciliation with Japan.

And the “birthday party” was an elaborate banquet! Director ZHU said something about my father’s contribution in helping to save Chinese during the Massacre.

I should note that Sue and I  also visited the Amity Foundation, which is the service program led by Chinese Protestants, and a partner with our Week of Compassion and Church World Service. Amity is focused     especially    on disaster response and development for the poorest, work with the disabled, urban  migrants, and with folks who have HIV-AIDS. They have a newly emerging concern for environmental concerns.

Amity Press has now printed 50 million Bibles, and other Christian literature, distributed in China. When there is a break in their Bible printing for China, Bibles are printed for export (Asia, Africa) [NB for Bible “smugglers”]  Further, we were impressed with the outstanding service of Gulou or Drum Tower Hospital, begun by the first Disciples missionary to China, William Macklin of Canada in the late 19th century.  In their museum, they have exhibits to remembermissionaries who helped them in the past, including members of the Safety Zone Committee.

The Church is growing rapidly in China, with a  tremendous need for trained leadership.  Disciple funds support ministerial training in China, at the Nanjing Theological Seminary and the Shaanxi Bible School in Xi’an.