There's a reason why the Japanese occupation of China during World War II is referred to by my family and other members of the Chinese community as the Forgotten Holocaust. Please read on to find out why.
Japan formally declared war on China in 1931. Until the end of WWII in 1945, approximately two-thirds of China was occupied by the Japanese. During that occupation, it has been estimated by the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal and Chinese war historians that approximately 20 million people died as a result of attacks, massacres, starvation, and germ warfare.
Japanese soldiers routinely killed Chinese civilians in some of the brutal ways imaginable. Decapitations were a common method of executing people. Women were raped regularly and forced into sex slavery. Doctors performed bizarre experimentations and amputations without any anesthesia. Germ warfare experiments were carried out on POWs and civilians.
The peak of all this brutality came at the Rape of Nanking. On December 13, 1937, approximately 50,000 Japanese soldiers invaded the then capital city of Nanking. The order was then given to kill all captives in the city - a total of about 500,000 Chinese that were trapped. In the span of eight weeks, over 350,000 Chinese lost their lives in a city pillaging that saw men, women, and children being butchered with machetes, bayonets, machine guns, live burials, fire, and wild dogs. Not only were the women raped and mutilated but children were forced into depraved acts with their own family members. Competitions were held among the soldiers to see who could kill the most Chinese in one day.
At the conclusion of WWII and the surrender of the Japanese, the United States brokered a deal with the Japanese that saw the transfer of Japanese germ warfare knowledge to the Americans in exchange for silence on the atrocities committed in the Asia Pacific region. Japanese records that were seized by the Americans were never completely analyzed nor microfilmed and, hence, there was no effort made to understand the scope of the Japanese actions as there was for the Germans.
To date, there has still not been any formal recognition of the horrifying experience of the Chinese under Japanese occupation. The Japanese government has not made a full-fledged apology, other than simple statements of "remorse" (which itself only came in 1995 by the then Prime Minister of Japan, Tomiichi Murayama). Japanese schools still do not teach their students of what happened and hard-line officials still make regular praises to their "war heroes".
The international community has not done much to push Japan for an apology. The Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal was held and some high-ranking officers were hanged but, unlike the further seeking of Nazi war criminals today, this has not continued. Reparations were issued in the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty but this came to a $15/head payment for POWs. No further reparations were made.
Worse still is the general stance taken by the Chinese government. Because of its co-dependency on Japanese trade, it has not made any true effort to seek further reparations.
In 1979, when the United States first compiled a list of 60,000 war criminals from WWII, none of the names were Japanese. To date, while there have been several memorials erected in the memory of the Jewish Holocaust, there has yet to be a memorial erected for the mass murder of my people.
I'm not here to tell anybody that what happened in China was worse than the systematic murder of the Jewish population by the Nazis. Rather, I'm telling those who will listen that this is still a footnote in history for most people...and that it is simply wrong to close our eyes to what amounted to the genocide of my people. The sheer horror of it has just as much impact to me and my family.
I strongly urge those who want to read more about the Japanese occupation of China to pick up The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II by Iris Chang (HarperCollins, 1996) or James Yin Shi Young's The Rape of Nanking (Innovative Publishing Group, 1996).
It is with great interest that I've been following the wu's at The Rape of Nanking. Most of them seem to follow the numbers quoted by various sources, including Iris Chang and John Rabe. My focus here is not so much on the numbers (which, admittedly, we'll never know the exact number) but, rather, the disgraceful continuation of non-action by all parties involved, including China. In all of the debates about the number of dead, this particular aspect of the terrible times seems to have been overlooked.