Nanjing Massacre Becomes a Political Football

As reactions to Nagoya mayor Kawamura Takashi’s denial of the Nanjing Massacre rumble on, Adam Minter examines an emerging discussion about ‘ownership’ of China’s history:

… [T]he Chinese officially claim that 300,000 civilians were killed; this is based on the high estimate international war-crimes tribunals and local courts made after World War II. Meanwhile, many non-Chinese denialists respond that it was simply impossible for 300,000 people to be killed by a small Japanese force in a six-week period. A precise Chinese rebuttal, though, is difficult: The Japanese destroyed records of their actions in the city. Chinese historians have been able to name just 10,311 actual victims of the massacre.

For some, this inability to account for more victims represents much more than just a failure of research, but indicates the Communist Party’s patterned callousness toward human tragedy. In this context, one microblogger in Sichuan province went so far as to invoke the party’s alleged efforts to suppress the names of students killed in poorly built schools that collapsed during the catastrophic 2008 Wenchuan earthquake:

The names of the victims on the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall’s “Wailing Wall” totals 10,311 … Hiroshima announced a total of 253,008 victims of the atomic bomb based on accurate records. But up until today, the list of students killed in the Wenchuan Earthquake remains sensitive.

Ran Yunfei expressed a similar view in a previously featured interview at The New York Review of Books:

Right now the government says 300,000 (were killed) and the Japanese say the number is much lower. Some Japanese even claim it wasn’t a massacre. They say, “Okay, if it was a massacre show us the list of the dead. Where’s your list of 300,000?” The government can’t provide this, not even 10 percent of it. Why? Because Chinese governments don’t value an individual life. It’s true. After 70 years they’ve only accounted for 10,000. That’s because they don’t care about individuals.