Where are The Survivors Now?

The few remaining survivors of the Rape of Nanjing may not be as well cared for as China would like the world to believe.

By Katelyn Livorse


Two years before the start of World War Two in the European theater, Japan invaded China in July of 1937. The Japanese moved swiftly through China, reaching Nanjing, the capital at the time, by December of the same year. It was there that one of history’s worst, and often forgotten, tragedy occurred.

The Rape of Nanjing began when Japanese troops entered the city on December 13, and continued for six weeks. During this time, they brutally raped, maimed, and murdered hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children within those six weeks. Some estimates put the total as high as 300,000 people.

For the Japanese, the fall of Nanjing was both a reward and a turning point in their war against Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist armies. For the Chinese, it was the beginning of a nightmare that would never end.


Who is Left?

It is extremely difficult to pinpoint how many survivors are left. Official numbers given by the Chinese government put the statistics between fifty and two hundred registered survivors. Registered? The Chinese government requires survivors to apply for “survivor status,” a process in which survivors must present their stories to the staff of the Nanjing Memorial Hall where they are “evaluated.” If their stories pass these “evaluations” and are deemed authentic, the person receives special identification documents, marking them as a survivor. Being given the status of survivor entitles the person to “government assistance” and “preferential treatment” The actual number of survivors is likely greater than the estimates available today, due to denying many survivors “status” and not counting them in official estimates.


China’s Assistance

China has worked hard to preserve the stories of the victims of Nanjing. Survivors are often brought into the limelight to share their stories at memorials and are videotaped giving their testimony to the horror and tragedy they witnessed. The Nanjing Memorial Hall, established in 1985, uses artifacts, videos, and sculptures to memorialize and illustrate the atrocities committed in Nanjing by the Japanese. It also receives donations to improve the lives of the survivors. It is unclear whether survivors have seen any assistance from these donations.

In 2022, the entire city came to a halt for a minute of silence to honor the survivors on the 85th anniversary of the tragedy. Lauded by officials, and respected by the public, it seems as though survivors live lives marked by respect and honor.


A Bleak Reality

It appears that China is caring for its survivors. Or is it?

Chen Yun, a soldier in the Chinese army who fought against the Japanese in Nanjing, has a different story. After surviving the horrors of Nanjing, Yun spent brutal years under Chairman Mao in Communist re-education and forced labor camps where he lost his status as a veteran and the perks. Today, he is a registered survivor, but has yet to win an appeal for his veteran status to be re-instated. The government assistance, he says, is worth only $50 US dollars and does not even cover basic necessities. The only reason he has a place to live is because his landlord waives his rent. He only has food because his nephew brings him his meals.

There have been other disturbing stories such as this. Researchers asking for help locating survivors are asked to pay substantial fees. According to authorities, the fees go to survivors for transportation, hotel rooms, and compensation for their time. When researchers asked survivors about this compensation, several replied that they had never heard of such arrangements, or the compensation. When they questioned Memorial Hall staff, in charge of assisting researchers, the staff’s only response was a smile before quickly moving on to other topics.


Abandoned by China

Iris Chang, author of  The Rape of Nanking, tells one of the most shocking stories about the conditions of the survivors today. Chang was one of the first people from the West to videotape the oral testimonies of survivors. He was horrified at the squalor they lived in. Beneath the glittering, prosperous city of Nanjing, victims lived in squalid conditions. Their dark apartments were filled with mildew and the “debris of poverty.” Many had suffered such debilitating injuries that they had not been able to work for decades. Often, they were still living in crushing poverty with no help from their government. Others expressed feelings of hopelessness and betrayal of their own country. For many survivors, the Chinese government’s announcements of forgiveness of Japan crushed hopes of Japanese reparations and an official apology.



It would be unwise to claim that the Chinese government has completely abandoned the survivors. It would be equally unwise, and unjust, however, to claim they have given any noteworthy aid to them. China has a history of leaving its people to fend for themselves and the Rape has proven no different.

As numbers dwindle, the “survivor status” system continues to deprive an unknown amount of people of even the meager benefits their survivor status would afford them. The most important thing people can do is continue to remember the people who suffered, died, and survived.

Preserving their stories, acknowledging their hardship, and believing their testimonies are the least we can do for the people who suffered and continue to suffer from the tragedy nearly one hundred years later.


About the Author

Katelyn Livorse is a sophomore political science and French double major at Grove City College. She is a style editor of the Journal of Law and Public Policy and has written for the college newspaper. Katelyn is also a member of the AEI Executive Council at Grove City College. She holds the position of principal trombonist in the college orchestra.

In 2022, Katelyn became involved in translations of French documents into English, particularly those written during the occupation of France during the Second World War. Upon graduation, she hopes to pursue a career in international relations. When she isn’t writing or studying, Katelyn spends her time drinking too much coffee while enjoying a good book.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the writer alone. They do not necessarily reflect the official position of Grove City College, the Institute for Faith and Freedom, or their affiliates.

Cover image: Kevin Dooley, taken from Flickr (cropped). License.