Nanking Massacre 1937


The tension between Japan and China sources back to the late 1800’s, the first Sino-Japanese War. Japan wanted to become the leading eastern power and was ready to invade China for land and resources. The Japanese crushed the Chinese marine fleet and China was forced to sign the humiliating “Treaty of Shimonoseki,” forcing the Chinese to pay 200 million in war indemnities and cede Taiwan, Pescadores and Manchuria to Japan. By 1904, Japan had doubled their army and armaments and was well into their “Golden Era of Prosperity.” However, by the 1920’s, Japan’s successful age ended. Post World War I, Japanese armament factories shut down, costing thousands of people their jobs, and international business quickly collapsed. Japan also suffered from a devastating earthquake in 1923 and China boycotted Japanese exports. After the Great Depression in the United States occurred in 1929, Japan was in an extreme depression and quickly became envious of China’s prosperity. By the 1930’s, expansionist ideologists gained enthusiasm from right-winged ultra-nationalists and wanted a military dictatorship to control the economy, nationalize property, and dominate Asia. The mission was to overhaul society and to eliminate bureaucratic, economic and political obstacles while also avenging themselves against China and Europe, who snubbed Japan in the Treaty of Versailles. By the early 1930’s there was an undeclared war with China and there were many small scale attacks on China. Soon, Japanese schools acted as military training schools as textbooks became vehicles or military propaganda, administrators taught boys how to handle guns and fostered racist Chinese environments. Schools were no longer for the benefit for the student but for the country as individualism was punished and obedience was a virtue. By 1937, there was a full scale war with China, appropriately named the second Sino-Japanese War. Japan started the invasion in the Tientsin-Peking Region and the Shanghai vs. Japanese marine ration was 10:1. The Japanese wanted revenge and approached Nanking.

When the Japanese army arrived in Nanking on December 13th, 1937 led by leader Nakajima Kesago and lasted for about six weeks. The Emperor at the time, Emperor Hirohito, who was described do be a “little Himmler,” oversaw the invasion and made many aggressive and bold commands. Prince Asaka Yasohiko was also in high command and, once he himself arrived in Nanking, his first order was to “Kill all captives.” At the time, there were more than 500,000 prisoners held in Nanking.  this day, it is still unsure how many people were killed in the Nanking Massacre, but there have been numbers ranging from 200,000 – 300,000. The Japanese’ war tactics were particularly brutal as the goal was for their captives to lose heart and comply with their demands. One example of an execution tactic was the Japanese herded 15,000+ men in a river and shoot multiple machine guns until all had deceased. Another widespread war tactic was rape of the Nanking women. Japanese soldiers were conditioned to think that all Chinese people were pigs. That sense of worthlessness translated even more so to the opinions of women and their worth sexually. Another popular form of extermination was public bayonetting and decapitating. Japanese soldiers had become so desensitized to death that killing became a sporting event and form of competition. There was a pair of soldiers in particular who had been competing to see who, amongst the two of them, would decapitate 100 captives first. This tally had been widely followed in the Japanese press and shows the extent of disregard and disrespect that the Japanese soldiers had for their victims. Mass murders committed by the Japanese lasted in Nanking for six weeks until foreign intervention and Japanese shame finally compelled Japan to withdraw and begin to cover up their atrocities.


We built our model, formally known as the Memorial for the Victims of the Nanking Massacre, with intention of creating an experience. Every detail in our memorial represents a different component of the massacre that we feel important. The specific details of these rooms aren’t shown in our model or rendering but I will walk you through the design now.

The first room tells the history of the massacre.

The second room, slightly smaller then the first, goes in to detail about the Japanese invasion on to Chinese land. To create a dramatic simulation, in order to get through this room, visitors must walk across a spread of skulls. An idea adapted from the Jewish Museum in Berlin, on the ground there metal skulls, one for each of the roughly, 300,000 victims. Stepping on the skulls provides for an intense and powerful experience that is intended to emulate the Japanese intruding on to the Chinese land. As the visitor will learn in the next room, decapitation of Chinese civilians and soldiers was a common method of murder.

The third room, the smallest of them all, represents the core of the conflict. This room is designed to be intense and conflicting, creating an alternate experience for the visitor. This room is almost an obstacle course with shard edges and beams disrupting the space.

The elevated tunnel that crosses the entire building is the tunnel of denial and confusion. The tunnel is dark and narrow, with the only light coming in at the ends. The walk through the tunnel is supposed to promote distortion as the visitor aimlessly walks through it. This tunnel represents today’s denial and confusion surrounding the massacre. The Nanking genocide is usually not taught in schools and is heavily denied in Japan still today. Ideally, the slope of the tunnel is so acute that you hardly feel an upward slant but once you reach the roof, you notice that you are elevated above the issue. We want our visitors to leave the memorial feeling like they fully understand the conflict and can now have an educated prospective on what really happened. Amidst all the confusion that the burdens this event, there is clarity within education.

Lastly, the roof of the memorial (which is really ground level) represents enlightenment. The roof has a beautiful garden and the walls have the name of every victim written on it. Our whole memorial is underground to show how this whole issue is relatively “buried” and unknown. The floor is translucent so when the visitor looks down, they can see all three rooms (but from the rooms you can not see up). Represents growth and life.

Position Statement of Rationale For Memorial Of Nanking Massacre

We chose to memorialize the Nanking Massacre because it is a genocide that neither one of us knew much about. Annie learned a bit about it in her history seminar with Ms. Wiley last semester, but Kendra had actually never even heard of it. After Annie proposed this topic to Kendra and she did some research, it became clear that this genocide has little public exposure. The main memorial is in Nanking, China and even that within itself, isn’t much[1]. We think the reason why there isn’t much exposure to these events is because many people still deny that the massacre ever occurred, and claim that the atrocities (violent murders and rape) that took place, “were just part of war.” The Rape of Nanking needs a memorial to educate the public and to bring light to these events that have been previously kept in the dark. Our memorial will be unique in many ways. First off, we want the building itself to tell a story. We are going to use symbolism to create an emotional experience for the visitor.  We want to take the visitor on a journey that emulates the timeline of the Nanking Massacre. In the first room the visitor will learn the history and basic facts about the second- Sino Japanese war and the massacre that took place afterwards. In the next room, the visitor will learn about the Japanese invasion onto Chinese soil. Next, the visitor will enter an intense area that represents the rape and pain that the victims went through. To convey these messages we will use powerful architecture and lighting. This idea is much like the Jewish Museum in Berlin[2]. We only really want the first room (the history room) to show primary documents and evidence, while the other rooms focus more on emotion. Connecting to the last room is a long dark tunnel that cuts diagonally through the building. The tunnel represents the confusion and the denial surrounding the Nanking genocide. The tunnel ends on the roof of the memorial, opening to an outdoor final memorial. The juxtaposition between the dark, claustrophobic, tunnel with the bright, open, outdoors represents our hope to reach enlightenment. We want out visitors to leave the memorial with a sense of understanding, clarity, and insight. They will physically be at the top of the issue looking down on the events (there will be glass on the roof so you can look down and see the other rooms).  We do not think there is a memorial in the United States yet (or at least one of signifiant scale), so we would build ours in the United States to bring this issue (which many believe is a “foreign event”) to the states. We want to educate our citizens (particularly the youth) and help bring justice (even if that’s only in the form of recognition) to the victims of this horrific tragedy.

[1] “The Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanase Invaders.” Nanjing 1937. (accessed May 8, 2013).

[2] “Homepage.” Jewish Museum Berlin. (accessed May 8, 2013).

Design Plan:

Below are some images of the digital rendering for our memorial recognizing the Nanking Massacre. We intend the memorial to be set in Washington DC so thatthe memorial will serve as a clear message to the United States Government. The United States had involvement in the Nanking Massacre, regardless of whether or not it was  direct, and the memorial should serve as a clear message of recognition and reflection. Being that the United States is also one of the the biggest world powers, maybe the memorial could compel the US government to pressure the Japanese Government to recognize the atrocities committed against the Chinese and be more open and apologetic.

The materials we used for the making of this model are as follows:

– 2 ply and 4 ply ~2′ x 2′

– Foam core

– Acetate (clear and blurred) 2′ x 2′
– Glue


For this memorial, audience members would have already made a choice that aims them in the right direction: they’ve already chosen to come to the memorial and educate themselves about a difficult topic. This memorial also encourages attendees to look at this massacre more holistically and with reflection as the step by step and chronologic set up is crucial to the experience. By ultimately ending at the rooftop sanctuary, where the floor and walls are transparent, the audience will be compelled to sit in a neutral, natural setting, reflect on the information that is literally below them and choose what they want to do about it. Whether it’s simple awareness or active advocacy, each museum attendee will  hopefully choose some kind of action. Regardless of size or intensity, their decision is a choice nonetheless that will hopefully change the perspective of each museum attendee.



Design Process




photo (13)

photo (11)

photo (12)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: