Accounts of wartime sex slavery in confidential Japanese documents released by China

Invasion of Nanjing chronicled in some of 111,000 documents from second World War released

China has released a large hoard of previously confidential Japanese wartime documents, including accounts of the brutal invasion of the wartime capital Nanjing and details of how women were forced into sex slavery in military brothels during the second World War.

The 110,000 documents come from archives in northern Jilin province and include letters written by Japanese soldiers, newspaper articles, and military files unearthed in the early 1950s, the state news agency Xinhua reported.

There was no reason given why the documents should be released now, but their publication comes as tensions between Tokyo and Beijing are running high.

The two Asian giants are sparring over the ownership of an uninhabited archipelago, known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and the Diaoyu islands to the Chinese.


China regularly complains that Japan has not done enough to atone for its invasion in 1931 and often-brutal occupation of China until the end of the war in 1945.

Beijing was furious last December, when prime minister Shinzo Abe visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, where war criminals are honoured among the fallen. Last week, more than 150 Japanese lawmakers and a member of Mr Abe's cabinet paid their respects at Yasukuni.

The documents include Japanese newspapers published on December 23rd, 1937, depicting gruesome killings during the invasion of the wartime capital, known as “The Rape of Nanking”.

“The newspaper reported that Japanese invaders killed 85,000 people within three days, and in one case, bodies were scattered kilometres from a port to a river.”

Some Japanese historians have tried to play down the numbers who died in the invasion of Nanjing. The documents include letters written by Japanese soldiers but subsequently seized by army officers, which give details of how the invaders raped women.

“Japanese armies raped tens of thousands of women in Nanjing, including a 12-year-old girl, and many were even killed thereafter. The crimes were appalling,” ran one letter cited by Xinhua.

The documents are in 395 volumes of photocopied files which were issued by Japan’s foreign ministry between 1931-1945 – the period covering Japan’s invasion and occupation of China.

The documents were buried by retreating Japanese forces at the end of the war as they had no time to destroy them. US troops occupying Japan obtained the remaining ones and transferred them to the US.

They also cover documents from the Japanese army covering the period 1872 to 1945, and from the navy between 1872 and 1933.

“Also published was a continuation of the literature on China’s maritime border regions which proved the Diaoyu Islands have been part of China’s territory since the ancient times,” Xinhua said.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing