In the west the Rape of Nanking, when as many as 250,000 unarmed Chinese PoWs were massacred in 1937, is relatively well known. Less well known and even less well understood are other atrocities against the Chinese civilian population during the Japanese occupation of China. Between the 5th and the 12th May there was a massacre of Chinese civilians at Chingjiao, regarded as the second worst in the whole war:
The Changjiao Massacre was directed towards Chinese civilians. It was started by the Japanese China Expeditionary Army. The tragedy occured in Chingjiao, Hunan. The leader was Shunroku Hata. The Changjiao Massacre went on for four days, and 30,000 civilians were killed.
Details are scarce in the English language but there is an account from a survivor (in Chinese) at Xinhuanet.
The Japanese have never really come to terms with their atrocities in the Second World War in the same way that the post war generation in Germany has attempted. There is very little acknowledgement of what happened at an official level. This has been a constant source of frustration for the western survivors of Japanese imprisonment. We understand even less about the attitudes of the Chinese to the Japanese following the years of occupation.
We can get some idea of the Japanese attitude to the Chinese during the time of occupation, from accounts given by the Japanese after the war. Uno Shintaro was a Chinese speaking officer in the Japanese Military Police, the Kempeitai. His role was ‘intelligence gathering’ in the occupied areas of China. He states that this was usually ‘interrogation’ – by which he means torture – of members of the local population. Contempt for the life of the Chinese seems to have been complete. Frequently it seems these interrogations often ended in execution by beheading.
Shintaro gives an account of how these were conducted:
I personally severed more than forty heads. Today, I no longer remember each of them well. It might sound extreme, but I can almost say that if more than two weeks went by without my taking a head, I didn’t feel right. Physically, I needed to be refreshed.
I would go to the stockade and bring someone out, one who looked as if he wouldn’t live long. I’d do it on the riverbank, by the regimental headquarters, or by the side of the road. I’d order the one I planned to kill to dig a hole, then cut him down and cover him over.
My everyday sword was a Showa sword, a new one with the name Sadamitsu. My other sword was called Osamune Sukesada. It was presented to me by my father and dated from the sixteenth century. Sukesada was a sword made for fighting. It cut well, even if you were unskilled. It wasn’t a particularly magnicent sword, but it was the kind the samurai in that time of constant warfare appreciated. It was the best sword for murder.
With Sadamitsu, you couldn’t really take a head with a single stroke. The neck was cut through, but it didn’t fall. Heads fell easily to Sukesada. A good sword could cause a head to drop with just an easy motion.
But even I sometimes botched the job. They were physically weakened by torture. They were semiconscious. Their bodies tended to move. They swayed. Sometimes I’d hit the shoulder. Once a lung popped out, almost like a balloon. I was shocked. All I could do was hit the base of the neck with my full strength. Blood spurted out. Arteries were cut, you see. The man fell immediately, but it wasn’t a water faucet, so it soon stopped. Looking at that, I felt ecstasy. I’m not that way today.
You might ask how it could happen that we could kill people like this. It was easy. Once, for instance, I got a call from divisional headquarters: “You’ve made grandiose claims, Uno, but the area you’re responsible for isn’t secure. How are you going to explain this?” I could only answer that I had no excuse.
I then resolved to clean up things. I dispatched our reserve squad, took the village mayor and others captive, and tortured them. They claimed they didn’t know anything. I was furious. I’ll show them, I thought. I lined them up, nine of them, and cut their heads off.
I knew that only two of them would have bent my Showa sword all out of shape, so I used my father’s sword. As might have been expected, that good old sword did the job with no ill effects. Guerrillas at that time caused enormous losses for our forces. Even killing them didn’t even the score! Among the “guerrillas” I killed were military men and a village chief.
The day I did those nine people, you know, I was quite calm. That night I went out drinking at a restaurant. I brought other captives to bury those bodies. We did that in the open field next to the prisoner encampment. We told them not to look, but in a sense, it was better for us if they did. They would realize that if they got out of line, they too might be in danger.
This account appears in: Japan at War – An Oral History