Japanese genocide in China

My Chinese girlfriend tells me that she was taught in school that during the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s and 1940s, over 30 million Chinese were killed. Granted China had nearly half a billion people then, but still if true, it would make the Nazi extermination of Jews pale by comparison. I don’t really trust Chinese history books though. Is there a more “official” count?

No, your girlfriend and her history books are wrong, at least according to every Western history book I’ve ever read. Russia was by far the worst hit by any country during WW II and its combined civilian and soldier death toll was only(!) around 26 million. I believe China was next in having the most deaths but it fell a bit short of the 30 million your girlfriend has been taught.

I am not sure that thirty million is correct for china either , but the japanese invasion went from 1932 to wars end, while the sovs went from 1941 to wars end. So its possible, not to mention alot of figures were aproximate.


Umm, I doubt that the japanese went after the chinese in such a fashion to eradicate the population, like the Nazi’s did with the jewish population of europe as well as the other undesirables.

As well, I am gonna assume that most of the casualties were the result of combat, starvation , malnutrition , execution and what not , rather than the death factorys of aushwitz.

Not to belittle the casualties of the chinese people , but Europe had suffered close to 50 million casualties in WW2 , Stalin had starved close to 20 million people in the ukraine , as well as what was happening with the china war.

By the way , are you actually living in Saigon ?


Don’t know the total, but if you haven’t read of the Rape of Nanking, you should. Roughly 370,000 there alone.

Matthew White’s Historical Atlas of the 20th Century, listing the death toll by country, with sources, estimates China’s death toll at 10.5 million while noting that Rummel estimates 20.44 million deaths and Martin Gilbert’s A History of the Twentieth Century v.3 (citing Ho Ping-ti) estimates 15-20 million.

(If you look at the individual figures, you will also note that a lot of them are attributed to the simultaneous civil war in China.)

China had been in turmoil for so long with the Civil War, and then the 1932-1945 war that honestly any predictions are just rough guesstimates. There wasn’t any one group keeping reliable casualty figures for the whole period of the Japanese invasion. And census records and such are fairly worthless considering I’d be surprised if there even was a census during the time, and even with a census China could probably still show net gains despite 30m killed over a 13 year period.

I’d say definitely over 10m Chinese were killed, definitely under 50m. I’d consider 50m a bit ludicrous but if good evidence were found to show it, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’d say 20-30m sounds about right, though.

Good point. My mind completely glossed over the Sino-Japanese War.

Japan invaded in 1931, by the way.
Here are some Wikipedia articles on the atrocities commited by the Japanese on the Chinese during the war: The Rape on Nanking, Unit 731, and Forced Prostitution.

Also, Sino-Japanese Relations.

hopefully Tamerlane can jump in with some facts. But here ya go, part of this is definition. There were an awful lot of “collateral” causualties. For example, when the Japanese invaded China proper, Chiang Kai-shek deliberately flooded thousands of miles to slow the Japanese advance. This caused horrific related deaths from disease and starvation. Are these numbers included?

Don’t forget that the Chinese civil war raged throughout the Sino-Japanese war. Okay, sometimes it raged and sometimes it smouldered. Nonetheless, there was an ongoing civil war during the entire Sino-Japanese war. Are these casualities (both direct and indirect) included?

A staggering number of Chinese died both directly and indirectly. However, there was not generally a policy of outright genocide or scorched earth by the Japanese, but neither were the Japanese considered a beneign occupation.

The Japanese did horrific things in China, and an awful lot of Chinese died both directly and indirectly. Don’t think anyone can put a number on it.

I have also read estimates that the Japanese themselves were responsible for 10 million Chinese deaths, a number that presumably excludes deaths inflicted by Chinese factions upon their own people. The Japanese were rather brutal occupiers, as demonstrated by the Rape of Nanking and their attempts to create bubonic plague outbreaks in the peasantry to the north. They also used live Chinese POW’s for bayonet practice. Not nice at all, but I don’t believe they ever had the stated goal of annihlating the Chinese as a people.

To put that in perspective, though, estimates of the death tolls of Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution are in the neighborhood 10-40 million EACH.

Well, I actually have little tyo add to China Guy’s post. The problem is that accurate numbers just are not to be had and teasing out different causes during that chaotic period aren’t always easy.

To quote Edward L. Dreyer from his book China at War, 1901-1949 ( 1995, Longman Group Limited ):

*The Chinese sources cited above for Japanese casualties claims that the Chinese suffered 3,211,000 military casualties ( including 1,320,000 deaths ) of which 2,521,000 casuaalties ( including 1,029,000 ) were in 1937-1941. These statistics should not be taken literally: only 130,000 missing are reported for the entire war, and none prior to 1941, even though entire formations disintegrated in the 1937-8 debacle especially. Nevertheless even bad statistics can be revealing: the high proportion of deaths to total casualties testifies to the low level of medical care commented on by almost all foreign observers, and the Chinese figures also testify to how little fighting there was in China after the United States entered the war.

For the long-suffering Chinese people the Japanese invasion meant death and deprivation on a scale that made the military anarchy of the warlord period look benign. The failure of the Japanese to establish a stable collaborationist regime in China proper, in contrast to Manchuko, aggravated the suffering. Japanese policy was to repress resistance by harsh reprisals, regardless of civilian losses; Chinese leaders similarly talked about, and occasionally practiced, equally ruthless methods. No statistics can be cited with assurance, but the two most dramatic cases of civilian loss ( the breaking of the Yellow River dikes by the Chinese, and the Three All suppression by the Japanese following the Hundred Regiments campaign ) each produced several million civilian deaths, and they were not the only examples.*

So it is rather hard to say - I would say that 30 million is perhaps a high estimate, but probably not out of the realm of possibility.

However just how much of that you can chalk up to the Japanese specifically is problematic. If we take the two examples above, certainly the scorched earth ‘Three All’ ( ‘Kill All, Burn All, Destroy All’ ) suppression campaign was a purely Japanese atrocity. If not deliberately genocidal per se, it was still deliberately brutal and designed to clear out pro-communist support in the countryside. But the Yellow River dikes is more a case of multiple blame - the Japanese ultimately by invading certainly, but Chiang Kai-shek’s order to blow the dikes was incredibly callous and heedless of peasant suffering. It temporarily saved his military position, but at an apalling cost and ultimately helped turn the countryside firmly against him when the civil war loomed.

  • Tamerlane

One of the VJ day programmes on TV was about Japanese use of the Chinese in experiments on biologhical weapons and toxic gases. They would try poisons out on people just to see how long it would take them to die. They had an enormous facility in Manchuria where these experiments were taking place - the cover story was that it was a lumber yard , so the people brought in for experiments were referred too as ‘logs’. The also experimented with airborne delivery of toxins over towns and villages, just to see how many, if any would survive. According to the programme, the Americans hushed up some of what had been going on in return for the data that the Japanese had collected. Google ‘Unit 731’ or look at this link

The Japanese were worse than the Nazis in this respect - and they escaped punishment.

Thanks for all the great information. I guess things just happen on a grander scales in China. Millions of deaths can be the result of a single action, like the breaking of dikes. It’s a bit mind boggling really. My girlfriend is from Ning Bo, which she describes as a small town of five million people.

Note to Declan: yes, I actually live in Saigon.

I checked out a lot of the links in this thread but I am left with a question: were any of these camps actually liberated, while they were still active, by Soviet or American troops, as the Nazi death camps in Europe were? I read that the Soviets moved into Manchuria and found evidence of the camps, but did the Allies capture any of these facilities while the experiments were still going on?

I don’t have the book with me at the moment, but I believe Hal Gold’s Unit 731: Testimony stated that the camps were shut down before Allied troops came in. None of the prisoners survived.

Mao’s Great Leap Forward from 1958-1962 has a death-count of 30 mil plus.

30 mil seems high for the war by the Japanese.