The Atrocities section of the website focuses on the Nanjing Atrocities that occurred from December 13, 1937 through the end of March 1938. During this time soldiers from the Japanese Imperial Army ran riot in the captured Chinese capital, unleashing a spree of violence, murder, and rape on the population. At the same time, a small community of Westerners chose to remain in the besieged city and establish what became known as the Nanjing Safety Zone. These handful of individuals assembled the largest body of materials specifically documenting the Atrocities.

Essential Questions:

  • Are atrocities committed during war inevitable?
  • How do you discriminate between wartime violence, war crimes, and crimes against humanity?
  • In times of mass violence, why do some individuals help while others stand by? Is it possible to create a truly "safe zone" in a time of war?

Atrocities Video Gallery

These videos offer both a scholarly account of as well as personal witness to the atrocities that occurred from December 1937 through the end of March 1938.

The Nanjing Atrocities: Crimes of War

Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China Rana Mitter explains the Nanjing atrocities.

Dr. Hong Zheng Reflects on his Earliest Memories of the Second Sino-Japanese War

Dr. Hong Zheng reflects on his earliest memory as a five year old during the Second Sino-Japanese War when Japanese airplanes dropped bombs around his village, forcing his family to seek shelter in an air raid shelter.

The Gravity of the Second Sino-Japanese War

Dr. Hong Zheng recalls the fate of his uncle’s family in Hong Kong during the Second Sino-Japanese War, when Japanese soldiers enter and search their home. Another family, thousands of compatriots, and British POWs, also cannot escape the violence.

Reading in this Section

Genocide & Mass Violence

December 13, 1937

On the morning of December 13, 1937, four divisions of the Japanese army and two navy fleets on the Yangtze River invaded Nanjing. The capital city now became one of the largest cities under the Japanese Central China Area Army (CCAA). The prewar population of over one million had shrunk considerably by November as the Japanese army advanced. On the morning of the 13th approximately 500,000 Chinese still remained. These were largely the poor who had little alternative while those able to leave had either financial resources or a place to go west of Nanjing.

Genocide & Mass Violence

Voices of Soldiers

Soldiers serving in China’s nationalist forces and the Japanese imperial Army left a trail of evidence through letters home, battlefield diaries, and other accounts. One Japanese reserve soldier, Amano Saburo, arrived in Shanghai on November 29, 1937. He was a member of the Sixty-Fifth Regiment, which, like other special units of the imperial Army, was hastily assembled out of an acute need for soldiers following the events at the Marco Polo Bridge. These special units were largely comprised of second- and third-tier reservists. From Shanghai, Amano Saburo marched and arrived on the outskirts of Nanjing, in Mufushan, which lies north of the walled city. He wrote the following letters home to his family.

Genocide & Mass Violence

"I Will Never Forget": Voices of Survivors

Three testimonies from survivors of the Nanjing Atrocities are included here. They are only three of many and each has been translated from Mandarin Chinese. All include memories of extreme acts of violence and trauma. Gender violence is prominent in each testimony and great care and sensitivity should be considered in any use with students.

Genocide & Mass Violence

Hell on Earth: George Fitch

George Fitch's letter, written as the events unfolded in front of his eyes, urgently depicts conditions that he knew few people could testify to and feared few would even hear of.

Genocide & Mass Violence

Wrestling with the Reality of War: Tsen Shui-Fang

While most Chinese with a higher social standing chose to leave Nanjing, there were a handful of Chinese nationals who chose to remain and help. Some were well educated and helped manage and serve as translators while others helped prepare and distribute food, helped with sanitation, or served as police.

Genocide & Mass Violence

A Question of Morality: John Rabe

John H. D. Rabe’s story presents a paradox. He is remembered as a great humanitarian despite remaining a loyal member of the Nazi Party. Born in 1882 in Hamburg, Germany, Rabe first came to Shanghai in 1908. He began working for the Chinese branch of the Siemens Company in 1911 and 20 years later in 1931 transferred to Nanjing and served as director of the Siemens branch office with his wife and two children. Siemens was largely responsible for building the Nanjing telephone lines and supplying turbines for the electrical plant and equipment for the city’s hospitals.

Search Our Global Collection

Everything you need to get started teaching your students about racism, antisemitism and prejudice.