Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In darkness and fear

The Undaunted Women of Nanking: The Wartime Diaries of Minnie Vautrin and Tsen Shui-Fang is being published today in the UK. It tells the story of the Rape of Nanking, in which Japanese soldiers killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and raped many tens of thousands of women. The diaries kept by Vautrin, an American missionary, have already been published and are available online, but this is the first time those of Tsen Shui-Fang, her Chinese assistant, have been made public as well.

The Nanking Massacre or Nanjing Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanking, was a six-week period following the Japanese capture of the city, the former capital of the Republic of China, on 13 December 1937. During this period, hundreds of thousands of civilians were murdered and an estimated 20,000-80,000 women were raped by soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army. The massacre has been, and remains, an extremely contentious political issue between China and Japan, with some Japanese historians trying to downplay the extent of the massacre.

Yale University hosts The Nanking Massacre Project website which provides a digital archive of documents and photographs from American missionaries and others who witnessed the Rape of Nanking. One of these was John Rabe, a German businessman, who helped establish a safety zone in the city, protecting upwards of 200,000 people. He died in 1950, and his diaries were first published in the 1990s - see also The Diary Junction.

Another of the Project’s ‘witnesses’ was Minnie Vautrin. Born in Illinois in 1886, she studied education at the city university, and was then sent to China by the United Christian Missionary Society as a missionary, where she helped build and found Ginling Girls College in Nanking, eventually taking over as Master of Studies. In late 1937, with the Japanese army pressing on Nanking, and most of the faculty having fled, she was left in charge of the college campus

Earlier the same year, Vautrin had begun to write summary notes on her life and work in order to circulate them to friends (reducing the number of letters she needed to send) but, within a few weeks, these notes had become detailed daily diary entries. She kept writing a diary through to April 1940, and the last entry reads: ‘I’m about at the end of my energy. Can no longer forge ahead and make plans for the work, for on every hand there seems to be obstacles of some kind. I wish I could go on furlough at once, but who will do the thinking for the Exp Course?’ Two weeks later, she suffered a nervous breakdown and returned to the US, and a year to the day after she left Nanking, she ended her own life. See Wikipedia, as well as the Yale site, for a little more biographical information.

Vautrin’s diaries, like those written by Rabe, were discovered (or rediscovered) by Iris Chang when writing The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War, a book which became a best selller, but which also attracted some historical criticism - see Wikipedia. Subsequently, Southern Illinois University Press published American Goddess at the Rape of Nanking: The Courage of Minnie Vautrin by Hua-ling Hu, which was heavily based on Vautrin’s diaries. In 2008, the University of Illinois Press published Terror in Minnie Vautrin’s Nanjing: Diaries and Correspondence, 1937-38 (available for preview on Googlebooks).

Now, Southern Illinois University Press has published (early June in the US, and today, 30 June, in the UK - see and The Undaunted Women of Nanking: The Wartime Diaries of Minnie Vautrin and Tsen Shui-fang. The publisher says: ‘Tsen Shui-fang’s diary is the only known daily account by a Chinese national written during the crisis and not retrospectively. As such, it records a unique perspective: that of a woman grappling with feelings of anger, sorrow, and compassion as she witnesses the atrocities being committed in her war-torn country. Tsen Shui-fang’s diary has never before been published in English, and this is its first translation.’

The publisher’s blurb also explains that the editors - Hua-ling Hu and Zhang Lian-hong - have added informative annotations to the diary entries from sources including the proceedings of the Tokyo War Crimes Trial of 1946, Vautrin’s correspondence, John Rabe’s diary, and other historical documents. Also included are biographical sketches of the two women, a note on the diaries, and information about the aftermath of the tragedy, as well as maps and photos - some of which appear in print here for the first time.

The typed manuscript of Vautrin’s diary is freely available for view at the Nanking Massacre Project website. Here are two extracts:

Wednesday 15 December
‘It is so difficult to keep track of the days - there is no rhythm in the weeks any more.

From 8:50 this morning until 6 this evening, excepting for the noon meal, I have stood at the front gate while the refugees poured in. There is terror in the face of many of the women - last night was a terrible night in the city and many young women were taken from their houses by the Japanese soldiers. Mr Sane came over this morning and told us about the condition in the Hansimen section, and from that time on we have allowed women and children to come in freely; but always imploring the older women to stay home, if possible, in order to leave a place for younger ones. Many begged for just a place to sit out on the lawn. I think there must be more than 3,000 in tonight. Several groups of soldiers have come but they have not caused trouble, nor insisted on coming in. . .

The Japanese have looted widely yesterday and today, have destroyed schools, killed citizens, and raped women. One thousand disarmed Chinese soldiers, whom the International Committee hoped to save, were taken from them and by this time are probably shot or bayoneted. . .’

Thursday 16 December
‘Tonight I asked George Fitch [a Chinese-born American missionary head of the YMCA in Nanking] how the day went, and what progress they had made toward restoring peace in the city. His reply was ‘It was hell today. The blackest day of my life.’ Certainly it was that for me too.

Last night was quiet, and our three foreign men were undisturbed, but the day was anything but peaceful. . .

There probably is no crime that has not been committed in this city today. Thirty girls were taken from Language School last night, and today I have heard scores of heartbreaking stories of girls who were taken from their homes last night - one of the girls was but 12 years old. Food, bedding and money have been taken from people - Mr Li had $55 taken from him. I suspect every house in the city has been opened, again and yet again, and robbed. Tonight a truck passed, in which there were 8 or 10 girls, and as it passed they called out ‘Giu ming’ ‘Giu ming’ - save our lives. The occasional shots that we hear out on the hills, or on the street, make us realize the sad fate of some man - very probably not a soldier. . .

Mr John Rabe told the Japanese commander that he could help them get lights, water and telephones service but he would do nothing until order was restored in the city. Nanking is but a pitiful broken shell tonight - the streets are deserted and all houses in darkness and fear.’

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