Rana Mitter on studying the Nanjing Massacre


This week marks the 80th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanking, which began with the fall of the capital of the Republic of China on December 13, 1937.

Few events in modern Chinese history have a historical valence comparable with the Nanjing Massacre. The wholesale slaughter of Chinese soldiers and civilians, the notorious “killing contests,” and, of course, the horrific sexual violence visited on Chinese women during the six weeks that followed Nanjing’s fall inhabit an understandably large part of China’s historical memory. The details of the event, however, and the way that those details are remembered, remain a sticking point in relations between China and Japan.

On the podcast to discuss his own study of the Nanjing Massacre, and the way that historical atrocities are remembered around the world, is Rana Mitter of Oxford University. Rana teaches the history and politics of modern China, and has written several excellent books on China, most recently, China’s War with Japan, 1937–1945: The Struggle for Survival, which was released in the U.S. with the title Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937–1945.

Rana also works with the nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves, which works to provide educational resources about historical atrocities. See in particular these pieces on Nanjing:


Jeremy: Re-recommends some previous recommendations from Kaiser: the trilogy of spy novels by Adam Brookes set in Beijing — Night Heron, Spy Games, and The Spy’s Daughter — and Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History, by Kurt Andersen.

Rana: The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography, by Joshua Fogel, a sober, sane, and objective treatment of some controversial questions. And a lighter selection, Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan, a fictionalized account of the first woman diver to serve in the U.S. Navy in WWII. Bonus: Rana has an interview with Jennifer that will air on the BBC’s Arts and Ideas podcast in early 2018.

Kaiser: The Empire of the Steppes, by René Grousset, a fantastic book about Central Asian history. And The May 4th Movement, by Chow Tse-tung, a seminal work on the most important intellectual movement of 20th-century China.