I was listening this afternoon to NPR’s All Things Considered, and was stopped dead in my tracks by this excerpt from a story about a Japanese survivor of the Hiroshima bombing who became an artist and an ambassador of peace:
Hirayama immediately began sketching out what would become one of his most powerful works, a huge, six-paneled canvas called “The Holocaust of Hiroshima.”
It’s a striking painting; most of the canvas is a blood-red sky, filled with wisps of dirty clouds. In the upper right, the Buddhist god of wrath looks down upon the city.
Hirayama says that despite the sorrow and destruction portrayed in “The Holocaust of Hiroshima,” the painting offers a message of hope.
Clearly, many Japanese citizens — this man included — suffered dearly for the actions of their government. Still, as horrifying as Hiroshima was, I have to wonder if it merits the description of “Holocaust”, especially given the atrocities the Japanese committed for years in China that have still yet to be acknowledged with the same gravity as the Nazi Holocaust.
Consider this: Japan had basically forcibly occupied portions of China since the end of 1931 up until 1945. It began in the Northeastern region — Manchuria — but eventually spread to include the entire eastern seaboard of China, plus Canton, Hong Kong and Hainan Island, as well as Taiwan. The land mass in Japan’s hands was greater than eight Iraqs put together — and with horrific, senseless violence that ranks right up there with the worst of human rights violations, illuminated in this passage from Jonathan Spence’s the Search for Modern China, which describes ONLY the rape of Nanking/Nanjing, a seven-week rampage by the Japanese:
There followed in Nanjing a period of terror and destruction that must rank among the worst in history of modern warfare. For almost seven weeks the Japanese troops, who first entered the city on December 13, unleashed on the defeated Chinese troops and on the helpless Chinese civilian population a storm of violence and cruelty that has few parallels. The female rape victims, many of whom died after repeated assaults, were estimated by foreign observers at 20,000; the fugitive soldiers killed were estimated at 30,000; murdered civilians at 12,000. Robbery, wanton destruction, and arson left much of the city in ruins. There is no obvious explanation for this grim event nor perhaps can one be found. The Japanese soldiers, who had expected easy victory, instead had been fighting hard for months and had taken infinitely higher casualties than anticipated. They were bored, angry, frustrated, tired. The Chinese women were undefended, their men-folk powerless or absent. The war, still undeclared, had no clear-cut goal or purpose. Perhaps all Chinese regardless of sex or age seemed marked out as victims.
That was only one incident during the entire Japanese occupation of China, but it gives you the sense of the depravity of the Japanese aggression — arguably, just from Spence’s description up there, just as bloodthirsty and inhumane as the Holocaust in Germany, given that, in many cases, the Japanese just needlessly raped and murdered innocent civilians, simply because they were Chinese.
Keep in mind, also, that, while 6 million people were murdered in the Holocaust, far more innocent Chinese were murdered in the atrocities by Japan:
The Chinese casualties were 3.22 million soldiers. 9.13 million civilians who died in the crossfire, and another 8.4 million as non-military casualties. According to historian Mitsuyoshi Himeta, at least 2.7 million civilians died during the “kill all, loot all, burn all” operation (Three Alls Policy, or sanko sakusen) implemented in May 1942 in North China by general Yasuji Okamura and authorized on 3 December 1941 by Imperial Headquarter Order number 575.
Every time I hear stories like this about Japan, from the Japanese perspective, it somehow magnifies the very absence of any attention paid to China’s grave suffering at the hands of the Japanese.
I used to wonder why Chinese were so livid over the Japanese…but now I know.
I ask, why is there a Holocaust museum for the Jews, but not also one for the Chinese? Why is it that we turn time and time again to Hitler as the despot whose imitators must never be allowed to reign, yet we somehow turn a blind eye to the Japanese leaders?
I don’t disagree that the Holocaust — and the despair and destruction of human life as a result — deserves recognition. But what about the Chinese?