Story of Chu-Yeh Chang – A Survivor of Nanking Massacre

(Talk presented at the Nanking Massacre 70th Anniversary Commemorative Event

at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, New Jersey – 12/18/2007)

My name is Chu-Yeh Chang, and I was born in one of the old capitals of China, Nanking. I personally lived through the cruelty and persecution of the Japanese military during the Nanking Massacre and would like to share that with you today.

I am 84 years old. Seventy years ago on December 13, 1937, when I was 14, 50,000 of the Japanese military invaded and occupied Nanking, thus beginning this terrible and unthinkable massacre. According to the trial that took place between August 1946 and February 1947 by the Far East International Tribunal Court, formed by the United Nations’ War Crimes Investigation Committee, the estimated number of Chinese murdered by Japanese military during the six-week-long Nanking massacre was between 340,000 and 400,000.

I belonged to a family of eight, with 4 younger siblings (2 brothers and 2 sisters), a great-grandmother of 80 years old, and my parents. My father worked as an accountant for the Jiang-Ning county government. Knowing that Japanese military was bombing the residential area in Nanking, we were very scared, so we locked our doors, left our house behind, and crossed the Yangtze River to the countryside to escape the Japanese occupation. Our relatives in the countryside, in the midst of moving inland themselves, could not accommodate us, so we ended up staying in this little town Wu-Yi along the Jin-Pu railroad line, hoping to catch the train to move westward, as the Chinese Nationalist troops had also moved westward. There were so many people escaping to the west that there weren’t any train tickets available for us to purchase, except for very expensive tickets which we couldn’t afford. Soon afterward, this escape route was also closed, as the Japanese military wasted no time to occupy the towns along the railroad.

There was also a Japanese military engineering troop, stationed in Wu-Yi, waiting for orders to repair roads and bridges, so that the Japanese troops could go inland to chase after the Chinese Nationalist troops. This Japanese troop drafted my father and me to help them move equipment and machinery. One day the officer of this troop happened to see me, and communicated with me by writing down the Chinese characters on paper. He asked how old I was and whether I went to school. I told him that I was 14 and in 8th grade. He was pleased with my answer and took out a picture from his wallet and told me, "This is my 14-year old son, and he is about your height also." He then took me to eat and shared his food with me. He told my father that he would like to teach me some Japanese everyday using the English alphabet as phonetic symbols. He also taught me some Japanese song which I still remember how to sing. But I never knew the meanings of the lyrics until almost 60 years later in 1996 when I was invited to give a talk on the Nanking Massacre at Okinawa University in Okinawa. During that talk, I sang that song, and the Okinawans told me that song was about sending soldiers off to war and was an old folk song from Hokkaido part of Japan.

On the New Year Eve of 1937, this officer took me to the farmers’ village to catch chickens and dig out scallions for a feast; we also decorated the doors with rice straws, and drank wine to celebrate the New Year. Never did I know that this very night would turn out to be so devastating in my life! That night, five Japanese soldiers charged into our house, forced my father and me out, and then raped my mother, my 80 year old great-grandmother, and my 11-year-old sister. My father sent me to get urgent help from the officer. Unfortunately, by the time I woke up the officer and hurried him to my house, my great-grandmother had already died and was lying in a pool of blood from this violent abuse and unbearable suffering. When he scolded those soldiers, I couldn’t help lashing out loudly the Japanese curse word I knew of, "bagayalu", at them as well. One of the soldiers got very mad and punched me to the ground. That hit on my head has caused permanent partial loss of hearing on my left ear. When the officer took away those soldiers, he told me that for our safety’s sake, my family should leave as soon as possible. My father and I wrapped my great-grandmother’s body in quilt and carried it to a small temple nearby. We found an empty coffin but no lid, and hurriedly put her body in and covered it with whatever things we could find on the ground. We also put my mother with her coverings in a one-wheel cart which we found. With me pulling the rope in front of the cart, my father pushing and balancing the cart handles in the back, together with all my siblings, we fled Wu-Yi in no time and went to a smaller village named Tang-Jing-Zi. We stayed there for about a month until after the Chinese New Year. When my father heard that the city of Nanking and its surroundings were getting more orderly relatively speaking, my father led us back to Wu-Yi. The Japanese military had left Wu-Yi already, and we went back to the small temple, but could not find great-grandmother’s body or coffin. Maybe she had been buried by others already.

Crossing the Yangtze River on a small boat back to Nanking, we saw many dead bodies bloated like balloons floating around us, and the smell of the corpses from the upstream Ba-Gua-Zhou Island made me feel like puking. These bodies were often the result of killing practices and competitions among the Japanese troops, and many of the bodies were without their heads as decapitation was one of the Japanese’s favorite execution methods.  The walls of the city moat were covered with blood drops and bullet holes.

Numerous residents continuously came back to the city and everyone looked very worried. According to the Japanese new rule, before entering the city, everyone must apply for this so called "good citizen ID", issued only after investigation by the occupying Japanese authority. Even with this "good citizen ID" on hand, each resident when entering the city had to bow and present this ID to the Japanese soldiers guarding the city entrance. If the soldiers detected any tiny bit of disrespect from the resident, they would slap his face or drag him inside for torture. Furthermore, if the Japanese guards noticed any marks on the foreheads that might be the result of wearing a Chinese soldier’s hat, the Japanese guards would conclude that the person was a Chinese Nationalist soldier and would have pulled him aside for questioning or execution.

When we finally arrived home, we found that all the doors and windows were gone and the entire house was ransacked. We settled in the house after tidying up the place a little, but started worrying about how we could support our lives without any apparent means. My father asked me to go to this Hong-Zhi-Lang fermentation factory and bought many fermented tofu and preserved vegetables at wholesale price and went to the streets to sell to people, hoping to get some profit to help support our family’s daily needs. I went all over the city, but did not see many people out on the street. Instead, I often found dead bodies in the damaged or destroyed houses. I did see people with Tong-Shan-Tang (a funeral house) logo on their sleeves moving around searching for dead bodies.. Since by then my nose had developed this sharp sense of smell for dead human bodies, including the ability to distinguish dead human bodies from other animals’ dead bodies, I often helped them find dead bodies in some overlooked areas and notified the body-searching team where to dig. For each such body I discovered, they would pay me one Mao (1/10 of a Yuan), while they would get one Yuan from a local Chinese charitable organization. Within a period of three months, I helped locate about one thousand dead bodies.

Although there were grave dangers posed by the Japanese troops in Nanking, many heroic acts were performed by many people, including many foreigners (Germans, Americans, British, Danish, etc.) who were living in the international zones in Nanking (at that time, many foreign powers had jurisdictions over certain parts of Nanking). These westerners set up an International Safety Zone and helped save about 200,000 Chinese from being killed and about 20,000 women from being raped. After the war, many retired Japanese soldiers confessed and provided their criminal photos to the public.  Also many Japanese lawyers and people volunteered to help the Chinese victims to file claims for reparation in Japanese courts.

In spite of the atrocities committed by the Japanese soldiers against my family, I am not seeking any revenge, and do not hold any animosity against the Japanese people. The fact that I have become a Christian has helped me to forgive the Japanese. I tell my three children and nine grandchildren that they must not hate, but they must never forget this part of history. I don’t want this kind of things to happen again to anyone else in the future.