SFU English 380: Mutilation and Foreign Relations in the Japanese Novel

A class blog for students of English 380 - "Literature in Translation" - at Simon Fraser University in Autumn 2005.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Rape of Nanking

As you heard in lecture, our present author, Endo Shusaku, was the first major novelist in Japan to confront the wartime atrocities. His novel The Sea and the Poison is based on the vivisection of captured American airmen in World War II. This question is addressed in Silence where it is fictionally re-written into the Edo period: Endo's novels insist that his Japanese readers address the war crimes issue directly.

The issue reached Vancouver this year: in May hundreds of protesters marched to the Japanese consulate to, unsuccessfully, present a petition urging that the Japanese government stop the revision of school textbooks to eliminate mention of the Japanese invasion of China in 1937.

Johns Hopkins magazine has a detailed article on Iris Chang and her study into The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (BasicBooks / HarperCollins, 1997) here.

Terribly, Chang killed herself in 2004, only 36 years of age, after suffering depression, seemingly brought on by her perpetual research into Japanese wartime atrocities: she left unfinished at her death a study into the Bataan death march.

A (grisly) slideshow is available here.


At 9:07 PM, Blogger Louise said...


After my horror upon reading the details of the Rape of Nanking, I reflected on the additional atrocities that humans have committed against their own species. From historical times, when the debauched Roman Emperors raped and killed their own citizens for sensual pleasure, to the Crusades when the Christians in Europe would rape, pillage, and murder in the Holy Land, to modern day wars such as in Yugoslavia, notably Croats against Bosnians there seems to be no end of crimes against humanity. The Americans dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and caused horrific deaths. The Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet has been accompanied by heinous acts of rape, torture and murder against Tibetans. Americans in Iraq at the Abu Graib prison have committed despicable acts. The distancing of war by bombing using “surgical strikes against military installations,” seems to be used to justify a “clean” war. Very well we say but regrettably there is sometimes “collateral damage” such as mistakenly dropping a bomb on a hospital. There is also the distancing of war as business. Is it better to have a leg blown off by an American made land-mine or chopped off by someone with a sword? On a cold winter night, Canadian police officers were accused of dumping two first Nations men outside the city limits where they froze to death. I am not aware of any culture that has an impeccable record.
This is not to whitewash the many horrific atrocities but to question what in the nature of humans that makes our species act in such a sadistic, cruel, and murderous manner? There was a psychological experiment done in which participants were told to administer electric shocks to the subject. The experimenters gave the participants a minor excuse of why they should do this. Although they saw the subjects suffering (actually actors hired to act as the electrocuted ones), screaming and throwing themselves around in contortions of agony, the people administering the electric shocks continued to up the voltage. Upon Maher Arar’s, (a Canadian and Syrian citizen, who was imprisoned, beaten, and tortured in Syria) return to Canada he said that he learned the agony of what it is to be brutalized and as a parent vowed to never strike his children. I think he is right that brutality must be confronted within our individual psyches in addition to outward societal and governmental controls.
I don’t have any answers but I think the efforts to pull secrets out of nations’ closets, make them admit responsibility and hold them to international laws is at least moving in the right direction.

At 10:28 AM, Blogger Louise28 said...

After last lecture I understand that I made the mistake of making cross cultural comments about the "Rape of Nanking" instead of examining this particular atrocity within its own cultural and historical framework.


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