"I Will Never Forget": Voices of Survivors

Three testimonies from survivors of the Nanjing Atrocities are included below. They are only three of many and each has been translated from Mandarin Chinese.1 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.

Survivor testimonies—firsthand accounts from individuals who lived through war and atrocities—supplement what we learn from historians and other secondary sources. Their voices offer perspectives on difficult and often unimaginable situations people experienced during war and collective violence. We must remember that testimonies given decades later are voluntarily given and are based on individual experiences and personal memories. They are also self-edited and must be understood and listened to with these factors in mind.

At the same time, some scholars suggest that the very thing that makes survivors’ accounts so powerful can also affect their reliability. While some read survivors’ stories as evidence to be weighed along with other sources, we know these accounts offer something more. They teach us not only about the past, but about memory as well. For many people they force a confrontation with the past, reminding us that behind numbers or documentary accounts are human beings.

Testimony of Wen Sunshi

My name is Wen Sunshi, this year I turn 82 years old. My house was originally in the Xiaguan district of Nanjing. I was married in 1936 of the Chinese lunar calendar. My husband’s original surname was Guo, but because my family had arranged the marriage, he changed his name to Wen—my surname.

When the Japanese entered the city on the December of 1937, many retreating Chinese Nationalist troops attempted to cross  the river to escape, with some even coming to my house to board. When the sky was getting dark, my entire family took refuge at the nearby [Hutchinson International].2En route, we saw Japanese warships rake down crossing Chinese troops with indiscriminate machine gun fire.

The refugees at the [Hutchinson International] were many. One day, six or seven Japanese troops arrived, all of them armed with guns, knives hanging by their waists. They took six or seven maidens from the crowd of refugees. I was among those taken. There was also a maiden I recognized, her name was Little Qiaozi. One Japanese soldier forced me into an empty room. I can remember him being chubby, with a beard. Once we were both in the room, he used a knife to force me to take off my pants—I would be killed if I didn’t. I was thus raped in this manner.

After the rape, the Japanese soldier turned to me and said “opened path, opened path” and I was released. In order to avoid the Japanese soldiers coming again to hurt us, that night, the manager of the [Hutchinson International] ferried us—about eighteen maidens—to the cellar of the Egg Beating room. Those among us also included several maidens who had escaped from the Suzhou prefecture of Jiangsu. I hid in that cellar for several months, with the owners secretly sending me food. Only after the situation was deemed “peaceful” did I return to live with my mother and father. I had lived in the [Hutchinson International] for more than a year before I had returned home.

My husband knows that I was raped by a Japanese soldier, but empathizes with me. He passed away a couple of years ago. In my home, I can’t bear to tell my sons and daughters, and I’m worried that other people will find out and look down upon me.

At that time, my cousin was only eighteen-years-old. He was taken away by the Japanese troops and never returned. I personally watched as the Japanese troops massacred many people. We had a neighbor, elderly Ms. Zhen, who was about eighty-years-old. She thought that because she was old, she could remain at home and be fine. In actuality, she was brutally murdered by the Japanese, with her stomach slashed open. There was also a tea specialist, who couldn’t bear leaving his home. He was also murdered by the Japanese.3

Testimony of Chen Jiashou

My name is Chen Jiashou. I was born on September 16, 1918. When the Imperial Japanese Army invaded Nanjing in 1937, I was living in a small Nanjing district with my Uncle, Mother and Father, my two brothers and my sister. At that time, I was only 19 years old. I was an apprentice. After the Japanese invasion, I, along with several other people, collectively escaped to a refugee camp by Shanghai Road. At that time, since the refugee camp had run out of food, I ventured out to replenish the supply. But because of some casual remarks I made while lining up, I was taken by some nearby Japanese soldiers and brought to a pond adjacent to Shanghai Road. Having not stood there for more than two minutes, I watched as a group of armed Japanese soldiers hustled several lines of about two hundred Chinese troops toward the edge of the pond, surrounding them with weapons to prevent them from escaping.

At that time, I was also ordered to stand among the front line of Chinese soldiers. I was only 19 years old, and terribly frightened.

Thus, the instant the Japanese soldiers opened fire on us all, I immediately fell toward the ground, faking my death. Struck by the flying bullets, my Chinese comrades all piled up on my body. Right up till it got dark and the Japanese soldiers had all left, I lay under the dead bodies, not daring to move. Only then did I climb out from under the pile of bodies. It was thus how I became a fortunate survivor of the Nanjing massacre.

I was captured again by the Japanese near Sanhe Village, and sent to work at a Japanese-occupied silk factory near nowadays’ Nanjing medicine factory. It was at this time that I witnessed more Japanese atrocities first-hand. One time, after I finished transporting ten barrels of gasoline to the Japanese military depot near the train station, Japanese soldiers brought me to a basement. Aside from large wooden boxes, the basement also contained a bed. The two Japanese soldiers ripped off the bedsheet covers and indiscriminately opened fire upon it. On the bed lay four women, all dead.

Another time, as I came back from transporting provisions, I walked near the main hall of the Nanjing medicine factory. I saw a few hundred ordinary citizens collapsed on the road. Driving a truck, the Japanese troops evidently saw them as well, but simply paid no attention and pretended not to see them. They drove directly over the people, transforming the place into a bloodbath.

I will never forget a memory like this:

One day after work, I walked to the entrance of Changshan Park. A man surnamed Tse heard the sound of a Japanese truck, so stuck his head out to take a look. Coincidentally, he caught the eyes of the Japanese troops, who immediately disembarked and tied Old Tse up, forcing him to kneel on the ground. One of them took out a bayonet, and violently hacked at Old Tse’s head. Unfortunately, though the back of Old Tse’s neck was sliced through, his head hung on by the remaining front part of his neck—he was still breathing  and alive, collapsed on the floor. Seeing this, the Japanese soldiers then raised their leather boots, mercilessly kicking him around the Changshan Park’s grounds. It was only then, with his head severed and his body trashed, that Old Tse passed away.

I will never forget the violence, the atrocities and the aggression that the Imperial Japanese soldiers enacted during the Nanjing Massacre.4


Testimony of Mr. Chen Deshou. Interviewed by Yanming Lu. Chen: My last name is Chen, spelled with the “ear” and “east”, De is the “de” from virtue, and Shou is the “shou” from longevity. My name is Chen De Shou.

Lu: What year were you born?

Chen: 1932

Lu: You were born here in Nanjing?

Chen: Yes, in Nanjing.

Lu: What type of work did your parents do?

Chen: My mother was a housewife, my father was in clothing, he owned a clothing store.

Lu: What did your grandparents do?

Chen: My grandfather was a tailor, he also made clothes.

Chen: My grandmother too.

Lu: So your family ran a tailoring shop?

Chen: No, a clothing shop, a clothing store.

Lu: Do you remember what it was like in your family store at the time?

Chen: Yes.

Lu: Can you talk a little about it?

Chen: Life in our household was a full one. There was my paternal grandfather, my paternal grandmother, my parents and a younger brother. My mother was pregnant. My father’s sister also lived with us, and she had two kids who came to live with us. Life was very hard. In 1937, at that time, Japan, the Japanese troops . . . they were setting off bombs, throwing bombs, see at that time, they wanted to . . . to . . . hiding from the planes. Around December of 1937, there were so many people, they fled to escape the troubles. Why didn’t our family go? Because our family was in the clothing ordering business, and my father got a contract to make uniforms for the soldiers, uniforms that were for the local army. This money though, was stuck, so there was no cash, and without the money, you couldn’t escape, right? So we didn’t leave, we lived in this house. Where was our house? It was near Nanjing’s Sanshan Rd, in what is now the street just behind the Gan Family Courtyard. My house was #4. . . .

Life was pretty happy and full. Now on December 13, there came change that turned our world upside down. At that time, at the end of the alley, at the end of the alley we lived in, it was called TianQing St. The Japs started a fire, they started a fire at the end of the alley, and the blaze was fierce. My father, being a warm hearted man, he went out to put out the fire. And he never came back. From the moment he left that day, he never came back, he was gone. So only my grandparents, my mother, my aunt, the young and the old, were left at home. On the morning of that day, a Japanese devil5took a bayonet, a rifle, and with the bayonet he came in. When he came in, we thought everything was as usual, my grandfather even brought out candies for him, telling him to eat, and treating him as a guest. He said he didn’t want that, he said one sentence: “I want a woman.” My mother was pregnant, with a big belly, so he didn’t want her. He dragged my aunt, and at the time she was nursing my little girl cousin. The house we lived in had 3 rooms, each behind the other, we were in the third, in the third room. He took my aunt, and dragged her from the third room to the second room, he was going to humiliate her, he was about to rape her.

My aunt was an educated woman, she would rather die than submit, so she struggled, she struggled with that Japanese devil. Then the devil picked up a knife, and stabbed my aunt, piercing her 6 times, in her thigh as well, she was bleeding there as well as from her chest. At the time when he dragged her to the front, my grandmother, and I was an obedient little boy, she brought me forward, so I witnessed my aunt’s death with my own eyes. I was 6 at the time, only 6, but I was old enough to remember things. My aunt handed my little cousin over to my grandmother, and said, “Mother, my heart aches, please give me some sweetened water.”

So my aunt, my grandmother, my grandmother carried my little cousin to the back, and poured a bowl of sweetened water, from the third room to the second and back to the front. When she got there, my aunt had already stopped breathing, she didn’t get to taste the bowl of sweetened water her mother brought. So, just like that, my aunt died. And then that very night, my mother, she gave birth to her child, at that time she gave birth. Giving birth at that time, when there was no one there to help, was extremely difficult. So we stayed at home.6

At this time, we kept my aunt’s body in the second room, within that room’s entry we put down a door, and her on it, she lay there close to 3 days, we had no other choice, grandfather was old, around 70, he was an old man. We had no one in the house who could work, we couldn’t get a coffin, right. The child my mother bore didn’t have anything to eat, in a few days our household  food ran out. The Japanese devils, were really hateful to the extreme, see, he could kill without batting an eyelid. He could rape and kill without batting an eyelid. And then, on the third day, a Japanese soldier arrived—this was a soldier, not a Japanese devil. He had a short gun on him, a short gun. And then he also spoke Chinese, he could understand my grandfather, and he could talk so my grandfather understood. He said that back in Japan he was a shop keeper, not a soldier, he was conscripted, he didn’t have a choice, he was conscripted here, and from the looks of him he wasn’t a soldier, he was a petty official. He took my grandfather out to the streets, found a couple of youths, and then found a  few able bodies and went with them to a coffin shop and brought back a coffin to our second room, that is the room before ours, and put my aunt in the coffin. We couldn’t bury her, so we had to put her on the ground open to the sky, like that. And then he took my grandfather, and went out, to a rice shop and a soy sauce shop and found some food, then put it in a bag and carried it back to us, and so we survived this hardest of hard times, see.

Now the Japanese devils, they wouldn’t let a single woman off the hook, right. After my mother gave birth, she put the bloodied paper on the floor. When they came they’d want to see it, and after they saw it, they knew she’d had a baby, they didn’t want her and they’d leave. This harassment went on everyday, there was nothing we could do.7

Survivors of the 1937 Nanjing massacre pose for a photo during a ceremony in Nanjing on July 6, 2013.


  • 1 : The first two are published in a collected volume distributed at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall in China, and the third is transcribed from the USC Shoah Visual History Archive of oral testimonies. Throughout the testimonies some survivors refer to the events from December 13, 1937, through the end of March 1938 as the “massacre."
  • 2 : Hutchinson international was a major British company with significant industries and investments in China, and is part of today’s Hutchinson Wampoa Limited.
  • 3 : Zhu Chengshan, ed., Japanese Invaders in Nanjing Massacre Survivor Testimony (Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press, 2005), 469.
  • 4 : Ibid., 9.
  • 5 : This term is a pejorative term used for a Japanese imperial soldier.
  • 6 : Here the transcription reads 家中没得人, which sounds like it means they couldn’t find someone to help with the birth. The next line, 所以留在家里面, does not provide a subject, so it is assumed Chen refers to the entire family staying at home, rather than just his mother.
  • 7 : Chen Deshou, interview by Yanming Lu, December 15, 2012, interview 52120, trans. USC Shoah Foundation, Visual History Archive, USC Shoah Foundation, Los Angeles, CA.

Connection Questions

  1. Compare these stories to the documents from other readings in this chapter. How are they similar? What differences do you notice?

  2. Choose one testimony. How do the survivors describe their relationship to the past? What stories do they tell? How have they been impacted by the events they describe? What dilemmas were the women presented with, both in the past, but through their survival as well? What insights do these testimonies offer into the history we are learning? What insights do they offer into human behavior?

  3. As you read the testimony, who had power? What were the consequences of resistance?

  4. In this testimony Chen Deshou uses two terms to describe Japanese soldiers, the first term he uses is “Japanese Devil,” a pejorative term used to describe members of the Japanese military during the World War II. Elsewhere in his testimony he uses the term “soldier”, explaining he “was a soldier, not a Japanese devil.” What distinction is he making?

  5. Author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel has spent many years reflecting upon the important and intimate role testimonies play in understanding this history of periods of mass violence, atrocities and genocide. Wiesel once said, “For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

    From Wiesel’s statement, what is his view of the role of survivor testimony? In your opinion, why do you believe these survivors continue to tell their stories despite having to recount very difficult memories?

  6. What do you think is the purpose of survivor testimony in understanding history? Do testimonies from war, atrocity or genocide hold a different significance than other periods of time? Why or why not?

  7. As students of history, what do you need to take into consideration when reading survivor testimony? What other evidence is important to weigh when piecing together the facts of an event from personal accounts?

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