China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
In the debate about the historicity and significance of the Nanjing Massacre (1937/38), documents and oral histories produced by witnesses and survivors play a crucial role. In the absence of a solid body of official sources, they provide important insights into the victimization of the Chinese, the actions of the Japanese, and relief activities. But scholarship has also raised doubts about the reliability and impartiality of these accounts. Which biases and changes of memory may have influenced their recollections? This paper analyzes the Japanese and Chinese reception of the diaries written by John Rabe (1882-1950), a German witness of the Nanjing Massacre. After their discovery and their first use by Iris Chang, Rabe’s diaries were partly published in 1997 in their original German version as well as in English, Chinese, and Japanese translations. However, instead of contributing to a convergence of historical narratives of the Nanjing Massacre they have further fueled antagonistic interpretations of the event between China and Japan, as well as within Japan. Why did this occur? How have the diaries been evaluated in academia and in the wider public? This paper analyzes and compares the reception in Japan and China and evaluates the controversy surrounding the Rabe diaries in the wider context of the role the Nanjing Massacre plays in the commemoration of World War Two and Japan’s imperial past in both countries.