Last Updated on Nov.22





   THE JAPANESE strategy for Nanking was
simple.The imperial army exploited
the fact that the city was blocked by wa-
ter in two directions. The ancient capital lay
south of a bend in the Yangtze River that first
coursed northward and then turned to flow
east. By converging upon Nanking in a semi-
circular front from the southeast, the Japan-
ese could use the natural barrier of the river
to complete the encirclement of the capital
and cut off all escape.
   In late November, three parallel Japanese
troops rushed toward Nanking. One force
traveled west under the southern bank of the
Yangtze River. Its troops poured into the
Yangtze Delta, through the Paimou Inlet
northwest of Shanghai, and along the
Nanking-Shanghai railway, where the Japan-
ese air force had already blasted away most
of the bridges. These troops were led by Naka-
jima Kesago, who had worked as a member

of Japanese army intelligence in France and later as chief of the
Japanese secret police for Emperor Hirohito. Not much has
been written about Nakajima, but what has been written is
over whelmingly negative. David Bergamini, author of Japan's
Imperial Conspiracy, called him a "small Himmler of a man, a
specialist in thought control, intimidation and torture" and
quoted others describing Nakajima as a sadist who packed for
his journey to Nanking special oil for burning bodies. Even his
biographer, Kimura Kuninori, mentioned that Nakaiima had
been described as "a beast" and "a violent man."
   Another force readied itself for a bold amphibious assault
across Tai Hu, a lake situated halway between Shanghai and
Nanking. This force moved west from Shanghai in a route south
of Nakaiima's troops. Directing the movement was General
Matsui lwane, a frail, slight, tubercular man with a tiny mustache.
Unlike Nakajima, Matsui was a devout Buddhist from a scholarly
family. He was also the commander-in-chief of the Japanese
imperial army for the entire Shanghai-Nanking region.
   A third force traveled further south of Matsui's men and
swerved northwest toward Nanking. Heading this force was
Lieutenant General Yanagawa Heisuke, a bald, short man with
literary interests. Perhaps to a greater degree than most other
Japanese involved in the Rape of Nanking, his life during the
invasion is veiled in mystery. According to his biographer,
Sugawara Yutaka, the fascist clique that took control of the
Japanese military had expelled Yanagawa from their ranks be-
cause he attempted to stop their 1932 coup. After his marginal-
ization and demotion to the reserves, Yanagawa served as a
commanding officer in China and performed "great military
achievements... including the surrounding of Nanking," but
the military withheld his name and photograph from publica-
tion at the time. Thus Yanagawa was known to many in Japan
as "the masked shogun."
   Little was spared on the path to Nanking. Japanese veterans re-
member raiding tiny farm communities, where they clubbed or
bayoneted everyone in sight. But small villages were not the only
casualties; entire cities were razed to the ground. Consider the
example of Suchow' (now called Suzhou), a city on the east bank

of Tai Hu Lake. One of the oldest cities of China, it was prized
for its delicate silk embroidery, palaces, and temples. Its canals
and ancient bridges had earned the city its Western nickname as
"the Venice of China". On November 19, on a moming of pour-
ing rain, a Japanese advance guard marched through the gates of
Suchow, wearing hoods that prevented Chinese sentries from
recognizing them. Once inside, the Japanese murdered and plun-
dered the city for days, burning down ancient landmarks and ab-
ducting thousands of Chinese women for sexal slavery. The
invasion, according to the China Weekly Review, caused the popu-
lation of the city to drop from 350,000 to less than 500.
   A British correspondent had the opportunity to record what
was left of Pine Bay, a suburban city of Shanghai, nine weeks
after the Japanese had passed through it. "There is hardly a
building standing which has not been gutted by fire," he wrote.
"Smoldering ruins and deserted streets present an eerie specta-
cle, the only living creatures being dogs unnaturally fattened
by feasting on corpses. In the whole of Sungchiang, which
should contain a densely packed population of approximately
100,000, I saw only five Chinese, who were old men, hiding in
a French mission compound in tears. "


  But the worst was still to come.
  On December 7, as the Japanese troops zeroed in on
Nanking, General Matsui grew feverishly ill in his field head-
quarters at Suchow---another flare-up of his chronic tuberculo-
sis. The illness struck Matsui right when power shifted from his
command to that of a member of the imperial family. Only
five days earlier Emperor Hirohito had promoted Matsui out of
the action while dispatching his own uncle, Prince Asaka Ya-
suhiko, to the front to replace him. Under the new order, Mat-
sui would be in charge of the entire central China theater,
while Asaka, a lieutenant general with a thirty-year tenure in
the military, would take responsibility as the new commander-
in-chief of the army around Nanking. As a member of the royal

family, Asaka possessed power that would override all other
authority on the Nanking front. He was also closer to Lieu-
tenant General Nakajima and General Yanagawa than to Mat-
sui because he had spent three years in Paris with them as a
military intelligence officer.
   Little is known as to why Hirohito chose at this critical mo-
ment to give Asaka this position, though Bergamini believes it
was done to test Asaka, who had sided with the emperor's
brother Chichibu against Hirohito on a political issue during
the February 1936 army mutiny. On the palace rolls, Hirohito
had singled out Asaka as the one member of the royal family
who possessed an attitude that was "not good" and apparently
gave his uncle the appointment at Nanking as an opportunity
to redeem himself.
   At the time it seemed like a trivial change, but later, for the
lives of hundreds of thousands of Chinese, it would prove to
be a critical one.
   It is hard to describe what really happened behind the
scenes in the Japanese army because many of the details were
given by Matsui and his colleagues years later at their war
crimes trial, or by sources who may be unreliable, and they are
therefore cited with caution. But if their testimony can be be-
lieved, this is what we learn. Wary of the imperial newcomer
and the potential for abuse of power, Matsui issued a set of
moral commandments for the invasion of Nanking. He or-
dered his armies to regroup a few kilometers outside the city
walls, to enter the Chinese capital with only a few well-disci-
plined battalions, and to complete the occupation so that the
army would "sparkle before the eyesof the Chinese and make
them place confidence in Japan." He also called a meeting of
staff officers before his sickbed and proclaimed:
The entry of the Imperial Army into a foreign capital is a great
event in our history... attracting the attention of the world.
Therefore let no unit enter the city in a disorderly fashion.
... Let them know beforehand the matters to be remembered
and the position of foreign rights and interests in the walled
city. Let them be absolutely free from plunder. Dispose sentries

as needed. Plundering and causing fires, even Carelessly, shall
be punished severely. Together with the troops let many mili-
tary police and auxiliary military police enter the walled city
and thereby prevent unlawful conduct.
    But events were brewing elsewhere over which Matsui had
no control. On December 5, the story goes, Prince Asaka left
Tokyo by plane and arrived on the front three days later. In an
abandoned country villa near field headquarters some ten
miles southeast of Nanking, Prince Asaka met with General
Nakajima, his colleague from his Paris days, who was now re-
covering from a flesh wound in his left buttock. Nakajima told
Asaka that the Japanese were about to surround three hundred
thousand Chinese troops in the vicinity of Nanking and that
preliminary negotiations revealed that they were ready to sur-
    After Asaka heard this report, it was said that his headquar-
ters sent out a set of orders, under his personal seal, marked
"Secret, to be destroyed." We now know that the clear message
of these orders was.. "KILL ALL CAPTIVES." What is not clear is
whether Asaka himself issued the orders. *

* Taisa lsamo, Asaka's staff officer for intelligence, later confessed to friends
that on his own initiative he had forged the order. Another Japanese officers,
Tanaka Ryukichi, said that in April 1938, Taisa, then the head of the 74th
wing of the Japanese army, told him an interesting tale. Taisa told him that
when his troops landed at Hangchow (of Hangzhou) Bay and pushed in-
land, nearly 300,000 Chinese troops were cut off from retreat, so they threw
away their weapons and surrendered to the Japanese. ”To arrange for so
many prisoners, to feed them, was a huge problem, " Taisa reportedly said.
   As the story goes, Taisa seized upon a quick-fix solution to eliminate the
food problem: "I immediately issued orders to all troops.. 'We must entirely
massacre these prisoners!' Using the name of the military commander, I sent
these orders by telegram. The wording of the order was to annihilate."
   We will never know if this story is true, but it must be noted that even if
Taisa had indeed forged the kill order on his own, this. does not absolve
Prince Asaka of responsibility for the massacre. Asaka could have issued an
order to cancel the massacre once it started and court-martialed his intelli-
gence officer.

    By the time Japanese troops entered Nanking, an order to
eliminate all Chinese captives had been not only committed to
paper but distributed to lower-echelon officers. On December
13, 1937, the Japanese 66th Battalion received the following




   There was a ruthless logic to the order. The captives could
not be fed, so they had to be destroyed. Killing them would
not only eliminate the food problem but diminish the possi-
bility of retaliation. Moreover, dead enemies could not form
up into guerrilla forces.

    But executing the order was another matter. When the
Japanese troops smashed through the walls in the early
predawn hours of December 13, they entered a city in which
they were vastly outnumbered. Historians later estimated that
more than half a million civilians and ninety thousand Chi-
nese troops were trapped in Nanking, compared to the fifty
thousand Japanese soldiers who assaulted the city General
Nakajima knew that killing tens of thousands of Chinese cap-
tives was a formidable task: "To deal with crowds of a thou-
sand, five thousand, or ten thousand, it is tremendously
difficult even just to disarm them.... It would be disastrous if
they were to make any trouble."


Because of their limited manpower, the Japanese relied heavily
on deception. The strategy for mass butchery involved several
steps: promising the Chinese fair treatment in return for an
end to resistance, coaxing them into surrendering themselves
to their Japanese conquerors, dividing them into groups of one
to two hundred men, and then luring them to different areas
near Nanking to be killed. Nakajima hoped that faced with the
impossibility of further resistance, most of the captives would
lose heart and comply with whatever directions the Japanese
gave them.
    All this was easier to achieve than the Japanese had antici-
pated. Resistance was sporadic; indeed, it was practically
nonexistent. Having thrown away their arms when attempting
to flee the city as the Japanese closed in, many Chinese soldiers
simply turned themselves in, hoping for better treatment
Once the men surrendered and permitted their hands to be
bound, the rest was easy.
    Perhaps nowhere is the passivity of the Chinese soldiers bet-
ter illustrated than in the diary of the former Japanese soldier
Azuma Shiro, who described the surrender of thousands of
Chinese troops shortly after the fall of Nanking. His own
troops Were assigning sentry and billet in a city square when

they suddenly received an order to round up about 20,000
prisoners of war.              .
   Azuma and his countrymen Walked some nine or ten miles
in search of the prisoners. Night fell, and the Japanese finally
heard a rumbling, froglike noise. They also saw numerous ciga-
rette lights blinking in the darkness. "It was a magnificent
view," Azuma wrote. "Seven thousand prisoners all in one
place, gathering around the two white flags attached to a dead
branch, which flew in the night sky." The prisoners were a
ragged assortment of men wearing blue cotton military uni-
forms, blue cotton overcoats, and caps. Some covered their
heads with blankets, some carried mat-rush sacks, and some
carried futons on their backs. The Japanese lined the prisoners
up into four columns, with the white flag at the head. This
group of thousands of Chinese soldiers had waited patiently
for the Japanese to fetch them and direct them to the next Step
in the surrender process.
   The reluctance of the Chinese army to fight back stunned
Azuma. To a man who came from a military culture in which
pilots were given swords instead of parachutes, and in which
suicide was infinitely preferable to capture, it was incompre-
hensible that the Chinese would not fight an enemy to the
death. His contempt for the Chinese deepened when he dis-
covered that the prisoners' numbers exceeded those of the cap-
   "It was funny yet pitiable when I imagined how they gath-
ered whatever white cloth they could find, attached it to a dead
twig, and marched forward just to surrender," Azuma wrote.
I thought, how could they become prisoners, with the kind of
force they had---more than two battalions---and without even
trying to show any resistance. There must have been a consid-
erable number of officers for this many troops, but not a single
one remained, all of them having slipped away and escaped, I
thought. Although we had two companies, and those seven
thousand prisoners had already been disarmed, our troops
could have been annihilated had they decided to rise up and

    A welter of emotions filled Azuma. He felt sorry for the Chi-
nese soldiers, thirsty and frightened men who constantly asked
for water and reassurance that they would not be killed. But at
the same time their cowardice disgusted him. Azuma suddenly
felt ashamed for ever having been secretly afraid of the Chinese
in previous battles, and his automatic impulse was to dehu-
manize the prisoners by comparing them to insects and ani-
They all walked in droves, like ants crawling on the ground.
They looked like a bunch of homeless people, with ignorant
expressions on their faces.
    A herd of ignorant sheep, with no rule or order, marched on
in the darkness, whispering to each other.
    They hardly looked like the enemy who only yesterday was
shooting at and troubling us. It was impossible to believe that
they were the enemy soldiers.
    It felt quite foolish to think we had been fighting to the
death against these ignorant slaves. And some of them were
even twelve- or thirteen-year-old boys.
    The Japanese led the prisoners to a nearby village. Azuma re-
called that when some of the Chinese were herded into a large
house, they hesitated to enter, looking upon the place as if it
were "a slaughter house." But finally they gave in and filed
through the gate. Some of the prisoners struggled with the
Japanese only when the latter tried to take away their blankets
and bedding. The next morning Azuma and his comrades re-
ceived an order to patrol another area; they later leaned that
while they were on patrol the Chinese prisoners had been as-
signed to companies in groups of two to three hundred, then
    Probably the single largest mass execution of prisoners of
war during the Rape of Nanking took place near Mufu Moun-
tain. The mountain lay directly north of Nanking, between the
city and the south bank of the Yangtze River; an estimated fifty-
seven thousand civilians and former soldiers were executed.
    The killing proceeded in stealth and in stages. On December
16, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper correspondent Yokoto re-
ported that the Japanese had captured 14,777 soldiers near the
artillery forts of Wulong Mountain and Mufu Mountain and
that the sheer number of the prisoners posed problems. "The
[Japanese] army encountered great difficulties since this was
the first time that such a huge number of POWs were cap-
tured," Yokoto wrote. "There were not enough men to handle
    According to Kurihara Riichi, a former Japanese army corpo-
ral who kept diaries and notes of the event, the Japanese dis-
armed thousands of prisoners, stripped them of everything but
their clothes and blankets, and escorted them to a row of
straw-roofed temporary buildings. when the Japanese military
received orders on December 17 to kill the prisoners, they pro-
ceeded with extra caution. That morning the Japanese an-
nounced that they were going to transport the Chinese
prisoners to Baguazhou, a small island in the middle of the
Yangtze River. They explained to the captives that they needed
to take special precautions for the move and bound the cap-
tives' hands behind their backs---a task that took all morning
and most of the afternoon.
    Sometime between 4:00 and 6:00 P.M., the Japanese divided
the prisoners into four columns and marched them to the
west, skirting the hills and stopping at the riverbank. "After
three or four hours waiting and not knowing what was going
on, the prisoners could not see any preparations for crossing
the river," the corporal wrote. "It was then growing dark. They
did not know... that Japanese soldiers already encircled them
in a crescent formation along the river and they were in the
sights of many machine guns. "
    By the time the executions began, it was too late for the Chi-
nese to escape. "Suddenly all kinds of guns fired at once, " Kuri-
hara Riichi wrote. "The sounds of these firearms mingled with
desperate yelling and screams." For an hour the Chinese strug-
gled and thrashed about desperately, until there were few
sounds still coming from the group. From evening until dawn
the Japanese bayoneted the bodies, one by one.
    Body disposal posed a mammoth problem for the Japanese.
only a fraction of the total number of men who perished in

and around Nanking were slaughtered at Mufu Mountain, yet
the cleanup there took days. Burial was one method of dis-
posal, but General Nakajima complained in his diary that it
was hard to locate ditches large enough to bury heaps of seven
to eight thousand corpses. Cremation was another, but the
Japanese often lacked sufficient fuel to do a proper job. After
the Mufu Mountain massacre, for instance, the Japanese
poured large drums of gasoline on the bodies to burn them,
but the drums ran out before fires could reduce the remains to
ashes. "The result was a mountain of charred corpses," a Japan-
ese corporal wrote.
    Many bodies were simply dumped into the Yangtze River.


After the soldiers surrendered en masse, there was virtually no
one left to protect the citizens of the city. Knowing this, the
Japanese poured into Nanking on December 13, 1937, occupy-
ing government buildings, banks, and warehouses, shooting
people randomly in the streets, many of them in the back as
they ran away. Using machine guns, revolvers, and rifles, the
Japanese fired at the crowds of wounded soldiers, elderly
women, and children who gathered in the North Chungshan
and Central roads and nearby alleys. They also killed Chinese
civilians in every section of the city: tiny lanes, major boule-
vards, mud dugouts, government buildings, city squares. As
victims toppled to the ground, moaning and screaming, the
streets, alleys, and ditches of the fallen capital ran rivers of
blood, much of it coming from people barely alive, with no
strength left to run away.
    The Japanese systematically killed the city dwellers as they
conducted house-to-house searches for Chinese soldiers in
Nanking. But they also massacred the Chinese in the nearby
suburbs and countryside. Corpses piled up outside the city
walls, along the river (which had literally turned red with
blood), by ponds. and lakes, and on hills and mountains. In
villages near Nanking, the Japanese shot down any young man

who passed, under the presumption that he was likely to be a
former Chinese soldier. But they also murdered people who
could not possibly be Chinese soldiers---elderly men and
women, for instance---if they hesitated or even if they failed to
understand orders, delivered in the Japanese language, to move
this way or that.
    During the last ten days of December, Japanese motorcycle
brigades patrolled Nanking while Japanese soldiers shoulder-
ing loaded rifles guarded the entrances to all the streets, av-
enues, and alleys. Troops went from door to door, demanding
that the doors be opened to welcome the victorious armies.
The moment the shopkeepers complied, the Japanese opened
fire on them. The imperial army massacred thousands of peo-
ple in this manner and then systematically looted the stores
and burned whatever they had no use for.


These atrocities shocked many of the Japanese correspondents
who had followed the troops to Nanking. A horrified Nichi
Mainichi Shimbun reporter watched the Japanese line up Chi-
nese prisoners on top of the wall near Chungshan Gate and
charge at them with bayonets fixed on rifles. "One by one the
prisoners fell down to the outside of the wall," the reporter
wrote. "Blood splattered everywhere. The chilling atmosphere
made one's hair stand on end and limbs tremble with fear. I
stood there at a total loss and did not know what to do."
    He was not alone in his reaction. Many other reporters---
even seasoned war correspondents---recoiled at the orgy of vio-
lence, and their exclamations found their way into print. From
Imai Masatake, a Japanese military correspondent:
On Hsiakwan wharves, there was the dark silhouette of a
mountain made of dead bodies. About fifty to one hundred
people were toiling there, dragging bodies from the mountain
of corpses and throwing them into the Yangtze River. The bod-
ies dripped blood, some of them still alive and moaning

weakly, their limbs twitching. The laborers were busy working
in total silence, as in a pantomime. In the dark one could
barely see the opposite bank of the river. On the pier was a
field of glistening mud under the moon's dim light. Wow!
That's all blood!
    After a while, the coolies bad done their job of dragging
corpses and the soldiers lined them up along the river. Rat-tat-
tat machine-gun are could be beard. The coolies fell backwards
into the river and were swallowed by the raging currents. The
pantomime was over.
   A Japanese officer at the sane estimated that 20,000 per-
sons had been executed.
    From the Japanese military correspondent Yukio Omata,
who saw Chinese prisoners brought to Hsiakwan and lined up
along the river:
Those in the first row were beheaded, those in the second row
were forced to dump the severed bodies into the river before
they themselves were beheaded. The killing went on non-stop,
from morning until night, but they were only able to kill 2,000
persons in this way. The next day, tired of killing in this fash-
ion, they set up machine guns. Two of them raked a cross-fire
at the lined-up prisoners. Rat-tat-tat-tat. Triggers were pulled.
The prisoners fled into the water, but no one was able to make
it to the other shore.
From the Japanese photojournalist Kawano Hiroki:
Before the "Ceremony of Entering the City," I saw fifty to one
hundred bodies drifting down the Yangtze River. Did they die
in battle, or were they killed after being taken prisoner? Or
were they slaughtered civilians?
I remember there was a pond just outside Nanking. It
looked like a sea of blood---with splendid colors. If only I had
color film... what a shocking shot that would have been!
    Sasaki Motomasa, a Japanese military correspondent at
Nanking, observed, "I've seen piled-up bodies in the Great
Quake in Tokyo, but nothing can be compared to this."

Next, the Japanese turned their attention to the women.
    "Women suffered most, " Takokoro Kozo, a former soldier in
the 114th Division of the Japanese army in Nanking, recalled.
"No matter how young or old, they all could not escape the
fate of being raped. We sent out coal trucks from Hsiakwan to
the city streets and villages to seize a lot of women. And then
each of them was allocated to 15 to 20 soldiers for sexual, inter-
course and abuse."
    Surviving Japanese veterans claim that the army had offi-
cially outlawed the rape of enemy women. But rape remained
so deeply embedded in Japanese military culture and supersti-
tion that no one took the rule seriously. Many believed that
raping virgins would make them more powerful in battle. Sol-
diers were even known to wear amulets made from the pubic
hair of such victims, believing that they possessed magical
powers against injury.
    The military policy forbidding rape only encouraged sol-
diers to kill their victims afterwards. During an interview for
the documentary In the Name of the Emperor, Azuma Shiro, a
former Japanese soldier, spoke candidly about the process of
rape and murder in Nanking:
At first we used some kinky words like Pikankan. pi means
"hip," kankan means "look." Pikankan means, "Let's see a
woman open up her legs." Chinese women didn't wear under-
pants. Instead, they wore trousers tied with a string. There was
no belt. As we pulled the string, the buttocks were exposed. We
"pikankan." We looked. After a while we would say something
like, "It's my day to take a bath," and we took turns raping
them. It would be all right if we only raped them. I shouldn't
say all right. But we always stabbed and killed them. Because
dead bodies don't talk.
    Takokoro Kozo shared Azuma's bluntness in discussing
the issue. "After raping we would also kill them," he recalled.
'Those women would start to flee once we let them go. Then
we would 'bang!' shoot them in the back to finish them up."

According to surviving veterans, many of the soldiers felt re-
markably little guilt about this. "Perhaps when we were rap-
ing her, we looked at her as a woman," Azuma wrote, "but
when we killed her, we just thought of her as something like
a pig."
    This behavior was not restricted to soldiers. Officers at all
levels indulged in the orgy. (Even Tani Hisao, the senior gen-
eral and commander of the Japanese 6th Division, was later
found guilty of raping some twenty women in Nanking.) Some
not only urged soldiers to commit gang rape in the city but
warned them to dispose of the women afterwards to eliminate
evidence of the crime. "Either pay them money or kill them in
some out-of-the-way place after you have finished, " one officer
told his underlings.


    The killing and raping subsided when Matsui Iwane, still weak
from his illness, entered the city on the morning of December
17 for a ceremonial parade. After recovering from his bout of
tuberculosis, he traveled upriver on a naval launch and rode by
car to the triple archway of the Mountain Gate on the east side
of Nanking. There he mounted a chestnut horse, wheeled it to
face the direction of the imperial palace in Tokyo, and led a
triple banzai for the emperor for Japan's national radio broad-
casting company: "Great Field Marshal on the Steps of
Heaven---banzai---ten thousand years of life! " He rode down a
boulevard that was carefully cleared of dead bodies and
flanked by tens of thousands of cheering soldiers and arrived
at the Metropolitan Hotel in the northern part of town, which
held a banquet for Matsui that evening.
     It was sometime during this banquet, the record suggests,
that Matsui suspected that something had gone terribly amiss
at Nanking. That evening he called a staff conference and or-
dered all unnecessary troops transferred out of the city. The
next day the Western news media reported that the Japanese
army was engaged in a giant conspiracy of silence against Mat-

sui to prevent him from knowing the full truth of the Nanking
   When Matsui began to comprehend the full extent of the
rape, murder, and looting in the city, he showed every sign of
dismay. On December 18, 1937, he told one of his civilian
aides: "I now realize that we have unknowingly wrought a
most grievous effect on this city. When I think of the feelings
and sentiments of many of my Chinese friends who have fled
from Nanking and of the future of the two countries, I cannot
but feel depressed. I am very lonely and can never get in a
mood to rejoice about this victory." He even let a tinge of re-
gret flavor the statement he released to the press that morning:
"I personally feel sorry for the tragedies to the people, but the
Army must continue unless China repents. Now, in the winter,
the season gives time to reflect. I offer my sympathy, with deep
emotion, to a million innocent people."
    Later that day, when the Japanese command held a burial
service for the Japanese soldiers who died during the invasion,
Matsui rebuked the three hundred officers, regimental com-
manders, and others on the grounds for the orgy of violence in
the city. "Never before," Matsumoto, a Japanese correspondent
wrote, "had a superior given his officers such a scathing repri-
mand. The military was incredulous at Matsui's behavior be-
cause one of the officers present was a prince of Imperial
descent. "
    By Sunday, December 19, Matsui was moved to Asaka's
headquarters outside the city and put on a destroyer the fol-
lowing day to be sent back to Shanghai. But once there he
made an even more shocking move, one perhaps driven by
desperation: he confided his worries to the New York Times and
even told an American foreign correspondent that "the Japan-
ese army is probably the most undisciplined army in the world
today." That month he also sent a bold message to prince
Asaka's chief of staff. "It is rumored that unlawful acts con-
tinue," he wrote. "Especially because prince Asaka is our com-
mander, military discipline and morals must be that much
more strictly maintained. Anyone who misconducts himself
must be severely punished. "

    On New Year's Day, Matsui was still upset about the behav-
ior of the Japanese soldiers at Nanking. Over a toast he con-
fided to a Japanese diplomat: "My men have done something
very wrong and extremely regrettable. "
    But the raping went on, and the killing went on. Matsui
seemed incapable of stopping it. If one can believe the story
Matsui told years later, his brief visit to Nanking even reduced
him to tears in front of his colleagues. "Immediately after the
memorial services, I assembled the higher officers and wept
tears of anger before them, " Matsui told his Buddhist confessor
before his hanging in 1948. "Both Prince Asaka and Lieutenant
General Yanagawa... were there. I told them everything had
been lost in one moment through the brutalities of the sol-
diers. And can you imagine it, even after that, those soldiers
laughed at me."


One of the most bizarre consequences of the wholesale rape
that took place at Nanking was the response of the Japanese
government to the massive outcry from Western nations.
Rather than stifle or punish the soldiers responsible, the
Japanese high command made plans to create a giant under-
ground system of military prostitution---one that would draw
into its web hundreds of thousands of women across Asia.
"The Japanese Expeditionary Force in Central China issued an
order to set up comfort houses during this period of time,"
Yoshimi Yoshiaki, a prominent history professor at Chuo Uni-
versity, observes, "because Japan was afraid of criticism from
China, the United States of America and Europe following
the cases of massive rapes between battles in Shanghai and
Nanking. "
    The plan was straightforward. By luring, purchasing, or kid-
napping between eighty thousand and two hundred thousand
women---most of them from the Japanese colony of Korea but
many also from China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indone-
sia---the Japanese military hoped to reduce the incidence of

random rape of local women (thereby diminishing the oppor-
tunity for international criticism), to contain sexually transmit-
ted diseases through the use of condoms, and to reward
soldiers for fighting on the battlefront for long stretches of
time. Later, of course, when the world learned of this plan, the
Japanese government refused to acknowledge responsibility,
insisting for decades afterwards that private entrepreneurs, not
the imperial government, ran the wartime military brothels.
But in 1991 Yoshimi Yoshiaki unearthed from the Japanese De-
fense Agency's archives a document entitled "Regarding the Re-
cruitment of Women for Military Brothels." The document
bore the personal stamps of leaders from the Japanese high
command and contained orders for the immediate construc-
tion of "facilities of sexual comfort" to stop troops from raping
women in regions they controlled in China.
    The first official comfort house opened near Nanking in
1938. To use the word comfort in regard to either the women
or the "houses" in which they lived is ludicrous, for it conjures
up spa images of beautiful geisha girls strumming lutes, wash-
ing men, and giving them shiatsu massages. In reality, the
conditions of these brothels were sordid beyond the imagina-
tion of most civilized people. Untold numbers of these
women (whom the Japanese called "public toilets") took their
own lives when they learned their destiny; others died from
disease or murder. Those who survived suffered a lifetime of
shame and isolation, sterility, or ruined health. Because most
of the victims came from cultures that idealized chastity in
women, even those who survived rarely spoke after the war---
most not until very recently---about their experiences for fear
of facing more shame and derision. Asian Confucianism---
particularly Korean Confucianism---upheld female purity as a
virtue greater than life and perpetuated the belief that any
woman who could live through such a degrading experience
and not commit suicide was herself an affront to society.
Hence, half a century passed before a few of the comfort
women found the courage to break their silence and to seek fi-
nancial compensation from the Japanese government for their



Now we come to the most disturbing question of all---the state
of the Japanese mind in Nanking. What was inside the mind of
the teenage soldier handed a rifle and bayonet that propelled
him to commit such atrocities?
   Many scholars have wrestled with this question and found it
almost impossible to answer. Theodore Cook, who coauthored
the book Japan at War: An Oral History with his wife Haruko
Taya Cook, admits that the brutality of the Rape of Nanking
baffles him. He finds no parallels in the history of civil war in
Japan; rather, systematic destruction and mass slaughter of ur-
ban populations appear to be part of Mongol rather than
Japanese history. Trying to examine the mind-set of the Japan-
ese at Nanking, he said, was like peering into "a black hole."
    Many find it difficult to reconcile the barbarism of Nanking
with the exquisite politeness and good manners for which the
Japanese are renowned. But certain military experts believe
that these two seemingly separate behaviors are in reality en-
twined. They point to the awesome status of the ancient samu-
rai, who for centuries possessed the power to lop off the head
of a peasant if he failed to give the warrior a polite answer to
his questions. "To this day," an American naval intelligence of-
ficer wrote of Japanese culture during World War II, "the Japan-
ese idea of a polite answer is one satisfactory to the questioner.
Is it surprising that good manners are a national trait with the
Japanese? "
    Other experts have attributed Japanese wartime atrocities to
Japanese culture itself. In her book The Chrysanthemum and the
Sword, the American anthropologist Ruth Benedict wrote that
because moral obligations in Japanese society were not univer-
sal but local and particularized, they could be easily broken on
foreign soil. Other experts blame the non-Christian nature of
Japanese religion, claiming that while Christianity puts forth
the idea that all humans are brothers---indeed, that all things
were created in God's image---Shintoism in Japan purports
that only the emperor and his descendants were created in
God's image. Citing such differences, these experts have con-

cluded that some cultures, however sophisticated they become,
remain at their core tribal, in that the obligations the individ-
ual owes to others within the tribe are very different from those
owed to outsiders.
   There is an inherent danger in this assumption, for it has
two implications: one, that the Japanese, by virtue of their reli-
gion, are naturally less humane than Western cultures and
must be judged by different standards (an implication I find
both irresponsible and condescending), and two, that Judeo-
Christian cultures are somehow less capable of perpetrating
atrocities like the Rape of Nanking. Certainly Nazis in Ger-
many, a devoutly Christian country, found a way in the 1930s
and 1940s to dehumanize the German psyche and even demo-
nize peoples they had declared to be enemies of the Germans.
what resulted were some of the worst crimes against humanity
this planet has ever seen.
    Looking back upon millennia of history, it appears clear
that no race or culture has a monopoly on wartime cruelty. The
veneer of civilization seems to be exceedingly thin---one that
can be easily stripped away, especially by the stresses of war.
    How then do we explain the raw brutality carried out day af-
ter day after day in the city of Nanking? Unlike their Nazi
counterparts, who have mostly perished in prisons and before
execution squads or, if alive, are spending their remaining days
as fugitives from the law, many of the Japanese war criminals
are still alive, living in peace and comfort, protected by the
Japanese government. They are therefore some of the few peo-
ple on this planet who, without concern for retaliation in a
court of international law, can give authors and journalists a
glimpse of their thoughts and feelings while committing
World War II atrocities.
    Here is what we learn. The Japanese soldier was not simply
hardened for battle in China; he was hardened for the task of
murdering Chinese combatants and noncombatants alike. In-
deed, various games and exercises were set up by the Japanese
military to numb its men to the human instinct against killing
people who are not attacking.
    For example, on their way to the capital, Japanese soldiers

were made to participate in killing competitions, which were
avidly covered by the Japanese media like sporting events. The
most notorious one appeared in the December 7 issue of the
Japan Advertiser under the headline "Sub-Lieutenants in Race to
Fell 100 Chinese Running Close Contest. "
Sub-Lieutenant Mukai Toshiaki and Sub-Lieutenant Noda
Takeshi, both of the Katagiri unit at Kuyung, in a friendly con-
test to see which of them will first fell 100 Chinese in individ-
ual sword combat before the Japanese forces completely
occupy Nanking, are well in the final phase of their race, run-
ninig almost neck to neck. On Sunday [December 5]... the
"score," according to the Asahi, was: Sub-Lieutenant Mukai,
89, and Sub-Lieutenant Noda, 78
A week later the paper reported that neither man could decide
who had passed the 100 mark first, so they upped the goal to
150. "Mukai's blade was slightly damaged in the competition, "
the Japan Advertiser reported. "He explained that this was the
result of cutting a Chinese in half, helmet and all. The contest
was 'fun' he declared."
    Such atrocities were not unique to the Nanking area. Rather,
they were typical of the desensitization exercises practiced by
the Japanese across China during the entire war. The following
testimony by a Japanese private named Tajima is not unusual:
One day Second Lieutenant Oho said to us, "You have never
killed anyone yet, so today we shall have some killing practice.
You must not consider the Chinese as a human being, but only
as something of rather less value than a dog or cat. Be brave!
Now, those who wish to volunteer for killing practice, step for-
    No one moved. The lieutenant lost his temper.
    "You cowards!" he shouted. "Not one of you is fit to call
himself a Japanese soldier, So no one will volunteer? Well
then, I'll order you." And he began to call out names, ''Otani---
Furukawa---Ueno---Tajima! " (My God---me toot )
     I raised my bayoneted gun with trembling hands, and---
directed by the lieutenant's almost hysterical cursing---I walked
slowly towards the terror-stricken Chinese standing beside the

pit---the grave he had helped to dig. In my heart, I begged his
pardon, and---with my eyes shut and the lieutenant's curses in
my ears---I plunged the bayonet into the petrified Chinese.
When I opened my eyes again, he had slumped down into the
pit. "Murderer! Criminal! " I called myself.
    For new soldiers, horror was a natural impulse. One Japan-
ese wartime memoir describes how a group of green Japanese
recruits failed to conceal their shock when they witnessed sea-
soned soldiers torture a group of civilians to death. Their com-
mander expected this reaction and wrote in his diary: "All new
recruits are like this, but soon they will be doing the same
things themselves. "
    But new officers also required desensitization. A veteran of-
ficer named Tominaga Shozo recalled vividly his own transfor-
mation from innocent youth to killing machine. Tominaga
had been a fresh second lieutenant from a military academy
when assigned to the 232nd Regiment of the 39th Division
from Hiroshima. When he was introduced to the men under
his command, Tominaga was stunned. "They had evil eyes," he
remembered. "They weren't human eyes, but the eyes of leop-
ards or tigers."
    On the front Tominaga and other new candidate officers un-
derwent intensive training to stiffen their endurance for war. In
the program an instructor had pointed to a thin, emaciated
Chinese in a detention center and told the officers: "These are
the raw materials for your trial of courage." Day after day the
instructor taught them to how to cut off heads and bayonet liv-
ing prisoners.
On the final day, we were taken out to the site of our trial.
Twenty-four prisoners were squatting there with their hands
tied behind their backs. They were blindfolded. A big hole had
been dug---ten meters long, two meters wide, and more than
three meters deep. The regimental commander, the battalion
commanders, and the company commanders all took the seats
arranged for them. Second Lieutenant Tanaka bowed to the reg-
imental commander and reported, "We shall now begin." He
ordered a soldier on fatigue duty to haul one of the prisoners

to the edge of the pit; the prisoner was kicked when he resisted.
The soldiers finally dragged him over and forced him to his
knees. Tanaka turned toward us and looked into each of our
faces in turn. "Heads should be cut off like this," he said, un-
sheathing his army sword. He scooped water from a bucket
with a dipper, then poured it over both sides of the blade.
Swishing off the water, he raised his sword in a long arc. Stand-
ing behind the prisoner, Tanaka steadied himself, legs spread
apart, and cut off the man's head with a shout, "Yo!" The head
flew more than a meter away. Blood spurted up in two foun-
tains from the body and sprayed into the hole.
    The scene was so appalling that I felt I couldn't breathe.
    But gradually, Tominaga Shozo learned to kill. And as he
grew more adept at it, he no longer felt that his men's eyes
were evil. For him, atrocities became routine, almost banal.
Looking back on his experience, he wrote: "We made them like
this. Good sons, good daddies, good elder brothers at home
were brought to the front to kill each other. Human beings
turned into murdering demons. Everyone became a demon
within three months. "
    Some Japanese soldiers admitted it was easy for them to kill
because they had been taught that next to the emperor, all in-
dividual life---even their own---was valueless. Azuma Shiro,
the Japanese soldier who witnessed a series of atrocities in
Nanking, made an excellent point about his comrades' behav-
ior in his letter to me. During his two years of military training
in the 20th Infantry Regiment of Kyoto-fu Fukuchi-yama, he
was taught that "loyalty is heavier than a mountain, and our
life is lighter than a feather." He recalled that the highest honor
a soldier could achieve during war was to come back dead: to
die for the emperor was the greatest glory, to be caught alive by
the enemy the greatest shame. "If my life was not important,"
Azuma wrote to me, "an enemy's life became inevitably much
less important.... This philosophy led us to look down on the
enemy and eventually to the mass murder and ill treatment of
the captives. "
    In interview after interview, Japanese veterans from the
Nanking massacre reported honestly that they experienced a

complete lack of remorse or sense of wrongdoing, even when
torturing helpless civilians. Nagatomi Hakudo spoke candidly
about his emotions in the fallen capital:
I remember being driven in a truck along a path that had been
cleared through piles of thousands and thousands of slaugh-
tered bodies. Wild dogs were gnawing at the dead flesh as we
stopped and pulled a group of Chinese prisoners out of the
back. Then the Japanese officer proposed a test of my courage.
He unsheathed his sword, spat on it, and with a sudden
mighty swing he brought it down on the neck of a Chinese boy
cowering before us. The head was cut clean off and tumbled
away on the group as the body slumped forward, blood spurt-
ing in two great gushing fountains from the neck. The officer
suggested I take the head home as a souvenir. I remember smil-
ing proudly as I took his sword and began killing people.
    After almost sixty years of soul-searching, Nagatomi is a
changed man. A doctor in Japan, he has built a shrine of re-
morse in his waiting room. Patients can watch videotapes of
his trial in Nanking and a full confession of his crimes. The
gentle and hospitable demeanor of the doctor belies the horror
of his past, making it almost impossible for one to imagine
that he had once been a ruthless murderer.
    "Few know that soldiers impaled babies on bayonets and
tossed them still alive into pots of boiling water," Nagatomi
said. "They gangrened women from the ages of twelve to
eighty and then killed them when they could no longer satisfy
sexual requirements. I beheaded people, starved them to
death, burned them, and buried them alive, over two hundred
in all. It is terrible that I could turn into an animal and do
these things. There are really no words to explain what I was
doing. I was truly a devil."


37."specialist in thought control, intimidation and torture": David
    Bergamini, Japan's Imperial Conspiracy (New York: William
    Morrow and Company, 1971), p. 16.
37. "a beast": Kimura Kuninori Koseiha Shogun Nakajima Kesago
    [Nakajima Kesago, General of the Individualist Faction]. (Tokyo:
    Kojinsha, 1987), p. 212.
37. "masked shogun": Sugawara Yutaka, Yamatogokoro; Fukumen
    Shogun Yanagawa Heisuke Seidan [Spirit of Japan: Elevated Con-
    versation from the Masked Shogun Yanagawa Heisuke]. (Tokyo:
    Keizai Oraisha, 1971), p. 9.
37. Consider the example of Suchow: Wu Tien-wei, "Re-study of the
    Nanking Massacre, " Journal of Studies of China's Resistance War
    against Japan (China Social Science Academy), no. 4 (1994):
    43. Central Archive Bureau, China No. 2 Historical Archive
    Bureau; Jilin Province Social Science Academy, ed., Pictorial
    Evidence of the Nanjing Massacre (Changchun, PRC: Jilin Peo-
    ple's Publishing House, 1995), p. 31; Dick Wilson, When
    Tigers Fight: The Story of the Sino-Japanese War, 1937-1945
    (New York:Viking, 1982), p. 69. 
38. The invasion, according to the China Weekly Review: China
    Weekly Review (March 1938).
38."There is hardly. a building standing": Manchester Guardian re-
    porter Timperley wrote this account, which was telegraphed
    to London by another correspondent on January 14, 1938.
38. On December 7, as the Japanese troops: For this section on
    Asaka's replacement of Matsui, see Bergamini, Japan's Imperial
    Conspiracy, ch. 1, p. 22.
39. "not good": Kido, Nikki, 468, quoted in ibid., p. 23.
39. "sparkle before the eyes": Nakayama Yasuto, testimony before
    IMTFE, "Proceedings," p. 21893 (see also pp. 33081ff.,
    37238ff., and 32686 [Canberra]), quoted in ibid., p. 23.
39."The entry of the Imperial Army": Quoted in ibid.; see also
    IMFTE judgment, pp. 47171 -73, National Archives.
40. After Asaka heard this report: Bergamini, Japan's Imperial Conspir-
    acy, p. 24; Information on footnote on Tanaka Ryukichi comes
    from Pictorial Evidence of the Nanjing Massacre, p. 35. (Bergamini's
    book is poorly footnoted so it must be used with caution.
    However, the citation suggests that he interviewed Tanaka.)
41. "BATTALION BATTLE REPORTER": Quoted in Jilin Province
    Social Science Academy, ed., Pictorial Proof of the Nanking Mas-
     acre, p. 62. The English translation of this command appears
     in Yin and Young, The Rape of Nanking, p.115.
42. "To deal with crowds of a thousand": Kimura, "The Battle of
     Nanking: Diary of 16th Division Commander Nakaiima," Chuo
     Kouron Sha [Tokyo] (November 24, 1984). Nakajima's  diary ap-
     peared in a December 1984 supplement to the Japanese peri-
     odical Historical Figures. The English translation of parts of his
     diary appears in Yin and Young, The Rape of Nanking, p 106.
43. "It was a magnificent view": Azuma Shiro, Waga Nankin Pura-
     toon [My Nanjing Platoon] (Tokyo: Aoki Haruo, 1987).
44. fifty-seven thousand: IMTFE verdict.
45. "The [Japanese] army encountered great difficulties": Quoted in
     Honda Katsuichi, Studies of the Nanking Massacre (Tokyo: Ban-
      sei Sha Publishing, 1992), p. 129.
45. "After three or four hours": Kurihara Riichi, Mainichi Shimbun,
      August 7, 1984.
46. "The result was a mountain of charred corpses": Honda Kat-
     suichi, The Road to Nanking (Asahi Shimbun, 1987), quoted
      in Yin and Young, p. 86.
46. After the soldiers surrendered en masse: For this section, "The
     Murder of Civilians," see Gao Xingzu, Wu Shimin, Hu Yun-
     gong, and Zha Ruizhen (History Department, Nanjing Uni-
     versity), "Japanese Imperialism and the Massacre in Nanjing-
      An English Translation of a Classified Chinese Document on
     the Nanjing Massacre, " translated from Chinese into English
     by Robert P. Gray ( See, also China News Di-
     gest, special issue on the Nanjing massacre, part 1 (March 21,
46. Corpses piled up outside the city walls: Gao Xingzu, "On the
     Great Nanking Tragedy," Journal of Studies of Japanese Aggres-
     sion Against China (November 1990):70.
47. These atrocities shocked many of the Japanese correspondents: The
     English translations of the Japanese journalists' accounts of
     the Nanking massacre appear in Yin and Young, The Rape of
     Nanking, pp. 52-56.
47. "One by one the prisoners fell down": Ibid.
47. "On Hsiakwan wharves": Imai Masatake, "Japanese Aggression
     Troops' Atrocities in China, " China Military Science Institute,
      1986, pp. 143-44.
48. "Those in the first row were beheaded": Omata Yukio, Reports
     and Recollections of Japanese Military Correspondents (Tokyo:
     Tokuma Shoten,1985).
48."Before the 'Ceremony of Entering the City'": Quoted in
     Moriyama Kohe, The Nanking Massacre and Three-All Policy:
     Lessons Learned from History (Chinese-language edition,
     People's Republic of China: Sichuan Educational Publishing,
     1984), p. 8.
 48. "I've seen piled-up bodies": Quoted in Yang Qiqiao, "Refutation
      of the Nine-Point Query by Tanaka Masaaki," Baixing (Hong
      Kong), no. 86 (1985).
49. "Women suffered most": Quoted in Hu Hua-ling, "Chinese
      Women Under the Rape of Nanking," Journal of Studies of
      Japanese Aggression Against China (November 1991 ): 70.
49. Surviving Japanese veterans claim: Azuma Shiro, undated letter
      to the author, 1996.
49. Soldiers were even known to wear amulets: George Hicks, The
     Comfort Women: Japan's Brutal Regime of Enforced Prostitution in
     the Second World War (New York: Norton, 1994), p. 32.
49."At first we used some kinky words": Interview with Azuma Shiro
     in In the Name of the Emperor (film), produced by Nancy Tong
     and co-directed by Tony and Christine Choy, 1995.
49. "After raping, we would also kill them": Quoted in Hu Hua-ling,
     "Chinese Women Under the Rape of Nanking," p. 70.
50. "Perhaps when we were raping her": Shiro Azuma, undated let-
      ter to the author, 1996.
50. raping some twenty women: "The Public Prosecution of Tani
     Hisao, one of the Leading Participants in the Nanking Mas-
     sacre," Heping Daily, December 31, 1946.
50. "Either pay them money or kill them": Quoted in Bergamini,
      Japan's Imperial Conspiracy, p. 45.
50. "Great Field Marshal on the Steps of Heaven": Quoted in
     Bergamini, Japan's Imperial Conspiracy, p. 39.
50. The next day the Western news media: Hallett Abend, "Japanese
      Curbing Nanking Excesses," New York Times, December 18, 1937.
51. "I now realize that we have unknowingly wrought": Okada
     Takashi, testimony before IMTFE, p. 32738.
51. "I personally feel sorry": Ibid., pp. 3510-11.
51. "Never before": Dick Wilson, When Tigers Fight, p. 83.
51. "the Japanese army is probably the most undisciplined army":
      lbid., p.83.
51. "It is rumored that unlawful acts continue": Bergamini, Japan's
      Imperial Conspiracy, p. 43; IMTFE exhibit no. 2577; "Proceed-
      ings" (Canberra), p.47187.
52. "My men have gone something very wrong": Hidaka Shun-
      rokuro's testimony, IMTFE, p. 21448.
52. "Immediately after the memorial services": Hanayama, p. 186,
      quoted in Bergarmini, p. 41.
52. "The Japanese Expeditionary Force in Central China": Yoshimi
      Yoshiaki, "Historical Understandings on the 'Military Com-
      fort Women' Issue," in War Victimization and Japan: Interna-
      tional Public Hearing Report (Osaka-shi, Japan: Toho Shuppan,
      1993), p. 85.
53. But in 1991 Yoshimi Yoshiaki unearthed: For English-language
      information on Yoshimi's discovery in the Defense Agency's
      archives, see Journal of Studies of Japanese Aggression Against
      China (February 1992): 62. The discovery made the front
      page of the Asahi Shimbun just as Prime Minister Miyazawa
      Kiichi was visiting Seoul, South Korea, in January 1992.
54. "a black hole": Theodore Cook, telephone interview with the
54. "To this day": "Some Notes, Comparisons, and Observations
      by Captain E. H. Watson, USN (Ret) (Former Naval Attaché)
      After an Absence of Fifteen Years from Japan," Office of the
      Chief of Naval Operations, Division of Naval Intelligence,
      general correspondence, 1929-42, folder P9-2/EF16#23, box
      284, record group 38, National Archives.
54. In her book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Ruth Bene-
      dict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese
      Culture (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1946).
56. "Sub-Lieutenants in Race": Bergamini, Japan's Imperial Conspir-
      acy, p. 21. The Osaka newspaper Mainichi Shinbun as well as
      the Tokyo newspapers Nichi Nichi Shinbun and the Japan Ad-
      vertiser (English edition) all reported this killing competition.
56. "One day Second Lieutenant Ono said to us": Quoted in Wilson,
      When Tigers Fight, p. 80.
57. "All new recruits are like this": Ibid.
57. "They had evil eyes": Oral history interview with Tominaga
      Shozo, in Haruko Taya Cook and Theodore F. Cook, Japan at
      War: An Oral History (New York: New Press, 1992), p. 40.
58. "loyalty is heavier than a mountain": Azuma Shiro, undated let-
       ter to the author, 1996.
59. "I remember being driven in a truck": Quoted in Joanna Pitman,
      "Repentance," New Republic, February 10, 1992, p. 14.
59. "Few know that soldiers impaled babies": Ibid.

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