Nanjing 1937 (aka Don't Cry Nanking) (1996)




Director:     Ziniu Wu. 

Starring:     Han Chin, Rene Liu (Shuqin), Ulrich Ottenburger (John H.D. Robbins, German), Rebecca Peyrelon (Whitney Craft, American), Michael Zannett (John Magee, American Missionary).

family with Chinese husband and Japanese wife caught in the Nanking Massacre


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

A husband and wife with a boy named Xiao-ling and a girl named Haruko carry their few possessions headed for Nanking.  The wife Rieko asks her husband Chen-xian if he really thinks that Nanking is safe?  He tells her, as the capital, of course, Nanking is safe.  There are thousands of refugees headed to Nanking.  Father gets to his house to find that it has been bombed out by the Japanese.  An old woman tells the family that foreigners run a refugee camp in the city.  The family does not think they are refugees.  Chen-xian, after all is a medical doctor, and will be needed wherever he goes.  They must find a place to stay in Nanking.  He is going to go see a friend. 

Dad goes to see Gen-fa at his work in a factory.  A co-worker tells Gen-fa that someone is here from Shanghai to see him. Gen-fa greets his friend warmly.  He tells Chen-xian that his own family has gone to the countryside.  Gen-fa is very willing to help his friend, but he is not so sure when he meets his Japanese wife.  He asks what about the sister-in-law?  She died while giving birth. Chien-xian's wife is pregnant now.  Gen-fa asks him:  "Knowing the situation and you still dared to conceive a half-breed child?"

A Chinese military officer named Deng-tian-yuan drives a jeep through a series of bomb explosions.  He has a western journalist with him named Gary who soon is wounded from the bomb shrapnel.  The soldier decides to ditch the jeep as it is too much of a tempting target.  He pushes Gary out of the jeep and then he jumps out.  Gary is wounded again by shrapnel and it looks like he is dead.  The soldier runs to what he thinks is division headquarters.  He tells the soldiers there that he is the liaison officer from headquarters. 

The deputy commander says that they have lost the ground they held.  The commanding officer shoots himself in the head after telling his chief of staff to take the rest of the men and re-take the ground that they lost. 

In the street Chen-xian talks to a school teacher named Liu Shu-qin.  She tells him to send his son to talk to her and she will see that he is enrolled.  A woman who has family in Guangde asks the doctor about the situation in Shanghai, especially in Guangde.  It is desperate as there have been many battles there. 

Japanese soldiers at their camp complain about having to fight one bloody battle after another.  Their next mission is to capture a place called Xiao Danyang.  They lost one in every five soldiers taking Shanghai.  The Japanese commander of the expeditionary forces in Shanghai comes in to talk to his staff.  He says that they have captured Guangde.  He himself has just been appointed Commander of Expeditionary Forces in Central China.  Now they will take Nanking.  More than 100,000 Chinese troops remain in Nanking.  The plan is to completely surround the city and annihilate the entire military force. 

There are more bombings of Nanking.  Chen-xian runs home and gets his wife and daughter and gets them into a shelter.  In one of the shelters John Robbins and Whitney Craft from the International Security Area take a look at the health care taking place there.  Chen-xian is one of the doctors working on the wounded.  His wife and daughter come to see how he is.  He is doing fine. 

The military situation, however, is not fine.  The Japanese army has occupied the Northeast.  And Nanking is being attacked on five flanks.  Chinese General Tang asks the German ambassador when will the shipments of military supplies arrive? The ambassador has to tell him that Hitler has ordered all shipments to the east be halted. 

The pretty school teacher gets to see her boy friend who is a soldier by telling the guards that she is his wife.  Tian-yuan says the fighting in Nanking will be fierce.  His orders are to die while saving the city.   So, she should get out of the city if she can.  Liu Shu-qin tells him that she is very worried about him.  He tells her not to worry about him -- he is a soldier. 

Shu-qin delivers Xiao-ling at his house.  She meets the Japanese mother and advises her to get her family together and leave.  Mother says yes.  Shu-qin now delivers student Zhen-zhen to her home.  She advises the grandfather to leave the city, but grandfather refuses to leave.   

Father gets some rice for his family.  He sees his daughter and has to hide her with his embrace when Chinese run by saying they must catch the Japanese spies in the city.  Father and daughter go home.  They insist that mother stay inside.  The fear is that mom and Haruko, both Japanese, will be harmed by the Chinese.  Rieko tells her husband that he has upset her and her baby inside her with all this negative talk of Chinese and Japanese divisions.  They kiss passionately. 

The Japanese soldiers are on the move.  The commander takes time to serve as a guide to a huge Chinese temple of worship.  He says the deep relations between China and Japan go back many hundreds of years.  The renowned Japanese monk, Hongta, came to China to study a Buddhist sect.  It was this monk that, back in Japan, founded shingonshu, a Buddhist sect in Koyasan.  From there Buddhism spread throughout Japan.  The commander also tells the officers that they are now within 75 km of Nanking.  Their tanks are within 3 km of Nanking. 

Chinese refugees pour into the international safety zone.  A man over the loud speaker tells them they will be sent to either the Ginling Womens College, Ginling Seminary, the Bible School, Gingling middle school, Nurses' Training Center, the School of Finance, Hotel for Overseas Chinese or other various places.  In the safety zone, Shu-qin teaches her class.  They hear Japanese planes overhead. 

December 10, 1937, the Japanese Army attacks Nanking City.  Airplanes drop bombs all over the city.  The Chinese military fights hard, but they are outgunned by the Japanese.  Japanese tanks burst through the sand bag defenses of the Chinese. 

Grandpa's family leaves, but grandpa stays. 

The Japanese rush the important buildings of the city and win victory after victory.  They celebrate with great cheering once they have taken an important building or complex of buildings. 

December 13, 1937, the Japanese Army takes Nanking.  The Chinese military makes a retreat from the city.  Shu-qin asks a soldier about headquarters to learn something about her boyfriend.  Her boyfriend is still alive and leading his troops in a retreat.  He leaves his men for a moment.  They become surrounded by the Japanese and are all killed.  Japanese soldiers burst into homes and gun down the people inside. They try to rape a Chinese woman survivor, but she runs and they mow her down along with many others.  A soldier gives a boy a grenade to hold and pulls the string on it. 

They find Rieko who pleads with the soldiers telling them she is Japanese.  They let her live.  They give her a Japanese flag and tell her to fly it and to stay inside.  She returns to her family who are hiding in the cellar.  Father grabs the Japanese flag from her hands and throws it on the ground. 

Thousands of Chinese soldiers are taken prisoner.  They are told that the Japanese will guarantee their safety.  Shu-qin's boyfriend, now dressed in civilian clothes, avoids being seen by the Japanese. Many Chinese soldiers are taken to a bombed out building.  A Japanese officer comes over and gives the command to kill all the Chinese soldiers.  The boyfriend watches this in horror and cries. 

The Japanese commander tells Major General Harada that he will be in command of the airport and port.  Soichi will defend the eastern city and suburbs.  The commander says that they will have to make an example out of Nanking.  They must be hard and brutal to show the resistance nationwide that the Japanese will prevail.  He says:  "We can't appear to be soft-hearted."   (No danger of that!)   He gives the order to eliminate the entire population of Nanking. 

The soldiers in the thousands are marched up a hill and down into a depression in the ground, possibly the remains of a mining area.  The order is given and the Japanese all along the rim open up with machine gun fire.  They also throw in satchels of explosives to kill the POWs.   When they have finished, they send in soldiers who bayonet or shoot any survivors.  December 18, 1937, the Japanese Army killed over 57,000 Chinese unarmed soldiers and civilians at Caoxicxia. 

Chen-xian is worried about his wife and the baby.  He tells her to take Haruko and go to the Japanese Embassy and he will take Xiao-Ling to the Safety Zone.  She says she wants to stay with him since they are a family.  But the Safety Zone is only for Chinese, not Japanese.  They go out.  There are dead bodies everywhere and the stench is terrible.  Japanese soldiers stop them.  Two of them are the fellows who met Rieko before and let her go.  The family almost gets by, but the little boy answers in Chinese and the jig is up.  The Japanese attack the father and take him away. 

Rieko and the children go to the safety zone.  She starts talking, but an old man recognizes that she is Japanese from the way she speaks.  He yells out:  "A Jap!" and everyone wants to kill her.  Teacher Liu comes and defends Rieko verbally, thereby saving her from death. 

Japanese soldiers try to enter the international zone, but the international staff stop them.  The Japanese leader says they will be back.  Rieko and the family stay with Liu.  Zhen-zhen cries  because she misses her grandfather.  Her uncle tries his best to console her.  Grandfather himself has been hanged by the Japanese.  The man who finds the body cries over it and then walks through the streets in a state of shock.  He is killed by a sword blow.  The killer is congratulated by his fellow Japanese soldiers.  The fellow has now killed 105 Chinese people with his sword.  In the streets the Japanese are executing people by shooting them in the back of the head when they are on their knees. 

Chinese workers have to remove the bodies for mass burial.  They find one wounded man still alive.  They take him without saying a word to the Japanese. 

The Japanese load pretty Chinese women into trucks to be used as prostitutes for the Japanese soldiers.    

Chen-xian is used as a work slave.  The Japanese soldier cook for who Chen-xian works for, decides to let him go.  He explains that he is Taiwanese.  The Japanese took and occupied Taiwan and many Taiwanese consider themselves Japanese.  When the other Taiwanese soldiers finds out that the fellow let the Chinaman go, one of them kills the cook by slitting his throat. 

Teacher Liu's boyfriend returns to her in the safety zone.  She is so shocked to see him.  They embrace and she cries over having him back.  The children cry too.  Then Chen-xian finds his family.  Rieko runs to him, they embrace and she cries.  The family of four are re-united.  Liu's soldier has to leave, but says he will return to her again. 

The Japanese come in force to the Safety Zone.  John H. D. Robbins, Chairman of the Committee of the Nanking International Security Zone, tells the Japanese soldiers that they are not allowed to come in.  The Japanese don't care and they push their way in.  The Japanese start rounding up women for prostitutes and workers.  Chen-xian desperately tries to protect his family but he gets beat up by two Japanese soldiers.   Rieko saves her daughter from being raped and her family from further harm by shouting that her daughter is Japanese.  The Japanese soldiers leave, but not before one of them kicks Rieko in the stomach area.  The school children try to stop the Japanese from taking teacher Liu, but they can't.  She is gang raped.   

Rieko struggles to give birth, and with the help of her husband and children, she does so.  Teacher Li's boyfriend arrives.  The children are all around her.  They get up and let the boyfriend see her.  She is still alive.  The soldier tells the children that he is leaving with their teacher and they should go with him.  The children go with him. 

Chen-xian tells his Teacher Liu's boyfriend to take the children and he will stay and care for his wife.  But Rieko dies.  The children are take away to safety. 

A song at the end of the film has the lyric:  "Don't cry, Nanking!"


Good, powerful film.  Thank goodness this is my third film about the Nanking Massacre and I can protect myself more emotionally because I now know much of the brutality and cruelty of the Japanese.  Even though it's the third film, I still learned about some new atrocities.  They massacred 53,000 of the captured Chinese troops.  Another thing new to me was that the overall Japanese commander gave the order to kill the entire population of Nanking so they wouldn't have to feed them.  There are two love stories in the film, which is always helpful in these historical films, because you become identified with the people in love and grieve over the harm that comes to them.  It's no longer just statistics.  It's like you knew one or more people killed in the Nanking Massacre.  (I wasn't quite sure if both Rieko and Liu were alive or dead, so I took my best guess.)

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


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