The Numbers Game
The first thing to bear in mind is that any number given is only an estimate. No one will ever be able to determine the exact death toll of the Rape of Nanking, only a range. And the range is quite varied. Even Miner Searle Batessomeone often cited by those arguing a low estimate, who claimed 40,000 deadwhen asked for an estimate by the International Military Tribunal of the Far East "the question is so big, I don't know where to begin.... The total spread of the killing was so extensive that no one can give a complete picture of it."
The approximately 300,000 figure given by Iris Chang in The Rape of Nanking: the forgotten holocaust of World War II (1997) is hardly the highest estimate that's been giventhough her high profile and the popular response to the book do tend to make her an easy and convenient target. Admittedly, the figure is most likely too high. On the other hand, the low figures offered by " revisionists" tend to be quite low. It shouldn't come as a surprise that the higher estimates come primarily from the Chinese and the lowest from Japanese sourceswho have had a long history of denying or "ignoring" what is sometimes termed as the "Nanking incident" (Japan has been taken to task on other occasions for what seems to be purposely neglecting or omitting wartime atrocities in its text books).
So, a look at the revisionists. Or (in many cases) more properly "deniers," since a denier needn't be one who completely denies the event or events took placethere are some in Japan who dobut also one who tries to mitigate circumstances (I've seen the typical techniques of blaming the victims and saying 'well, the Chinese have committed atrocities in the past') or to seriously downplay the numbers (some have claimed numbers under 1000). The parallels with Holocaust denier's techniques is uncanny.
Two of the more common estimates offered are the diaries of John Rabe, German businessman and head of the local Nazi party (though most agree hardly a ' hardcore Nazi'he's been referred to as the "Oskar Schindler" of Nanking), and a statistical sampling study done by sociologist Dr. L. S. C. Smythe between March and June 1938.
Rabe was the leader of the International Safety Zone Committee, a neutral area where he and other westerners tried to make a sanctuary for Chinese civilians (soldiers, as well). It is estimated that as many as 200,000 may have been sheltered there. At one point the Japanese required registrations and about 160,000 complied (children under 10 and some of the elderly were not counted). In June 1938, Rabe wrote a letter to Adolf Hitler, apprising him of the situation and atrocities that were committed (which he detailed in his diaries). He estimated about 50,000-60,000 were killed. Of course, as with everything else, Rabe's figures are only estimates. As he was under great stress managing the thousands of people who needed care in the zone, it would be difficult for him to get a totally accurate reading on those outside of it (which would include deaths outside the city, itself)in his diaries, he notes that "we 22 Westerners cannot feed 200,000 Chinese civilians and protect them night and day." He also left shortly before the killings ended in February.
As for the zone, it was instrumental in saving the lives of thousands. On the other hand, it wasn't as safe as one would hope. Japanese routinely crossed into it to take away people they claimed were Chinese soldiers (it is true that the army sometimes dressed in civilian clothing) who were usually executed. They also dragged or "lured" away others who generally were not seen again (some of the females as " comfort women"another subject of denial by many in Japanwho tended to not last very long either from the physical punishment of repeated rapes or, in some cases, suicide). It was the job of the Zone Committee to try to stop as much as they could, while trying to care for the sick and wounded and figuring out how to feed everyone.
While Rabe's diaries (and letter) are offered up as evidence for a low count, other's writings seem to be ignored. On the Rapes:
We estimate that at least 1000 cases at night and many by day. In case of resistance or anything that seems like disapproval there is a bayonet stab or bullet. We could write up hundreds of cases a day...."
John McCallum, 19 December 1937, about two weeks into the 6-8 week "incident"
On the killings:
Those who are suspected of soldiers have been led outside the city and shot down by the hundreds....
While thousands of disarmed soldiers who had sought sanctuary with you together with many hundreds of innocent civilians are taken out before your eyes to be shot or used for bayonet practice....
George Fitch, 24 December 1937, again only a few weeks into the killings
Another thing that should be noted, especially when discussing the population
figures is that the population was hardly constant (not in reference to the deaths). There was a continual inflow and outflow of people. The people able to secure passage out in the early days (mostly officials and those with money) and whatever non-Chinese that remained left the city over time. Then there was the incoming refugees
from the surrounding area (many of whose homes had been destroyed and/or burned). In a constant flux
such as that, nailing down a solid population estimate is difficult, at best.
Furthermore, that means is that the "population" of the Safety Zone varied as well and any estimations based on it as if there was a single group that remained there throughout the ordeal (from the beginning and unchanged), is faulty. People moved in and people "moved" out.
Smythe, with the help of Chinese students, did a sampling of 1 in 50 houses in the city, trying to determine the extent of deaths. His reported findings:
- Civilians killed in battle: 850
- Civilians killed by Japanese army: 2400
- Civilians wounded by Japanese army: 3400
- Civilians kidnapped by Japanese army: 4200 (he admits that most of those kidnapped were killed)
This gives another low figure for deaths. Saying that all the kidnapees and wounded died would only give a total of less than 11,000. When his numbers for surrounding counties are added it is still less than 30,000.
That is an incorrect conclusion, though. Number one, the estimation omits the Chinese soldiers that were killed (not in battle but under as what should have been prisoner of war conditions). These unarmed soldiers are part of the figures elsewhere. Number two, since it relied on " witnesses," there is no way to account for the dead in houses where no one survived. Nor from houses where the inhabitants fled. By the time he began the survey (March), people had already begun to return as the period of the Rape was over. He would have found more houses of survivors, anyway. Relying solely on questioning those who were alive in households and no other methods, he was guaranteed to get skewed numbers.
Other estimates also vary, even among the Japaneseeverything from almost complete denial to well over 100,000 (referred to by some as the "radical" or "massacre" faction). While an accurate count is impossible, more sober and moderate estimations can be presented, and should be allowed to be without cries of being anti-Japanese or accusations of it being a way to enforce the (false) stereotype of the cruel, inhuman, imperialistic, warmongering "Jap." It would seem that a figure of 100,000 would not be unduly exaggerated (I note that www.britannica.com states that, while there is debate "most estimates [range] from 100,000 to more than 300,000"; I also note it gives a shorter duration than most historians do). It may even be a bit low. I suspect that it is, but prefer a conservative estimate based on the information available. But that's that point, an estimation based on what information we have available (and carefully evaluated sources) is all we have.
(Sources: www.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/NanjingMassacre/NM.html, Chang's book, www.interq.or.jp/sheep/clarex/discovery/index.html; www.japanecho.co.jp/docs/html/250413.html, www.jiyuu-shikan.org/nanjing/nak.html, the last two "revisionist" sites; other sites on both sides were consulted as well)