safety zone

Nanking Safety Zone

The Nanking Safety Zone (Japanese: 南京安全区 Nankin Anzenku, 南京安全地帯, Nankin Anzenchitai) was a demilitarised zone for Chinese civilians set up on the Eve of the Japanese breakthrough in the Battle of Nanking (November 22, 1937). Following the example of Jesuit Father Robert Jacquinot de Besange in Shanghai, the foreigners in Nanking created the Nanking Safety Zone, managed by the Nanking Safety Zone International Committee led by German businessman and Nazi party member John Rabe. The zone and the activities of the International Committee were responsible for savng the lives of many thousands of Chinese civilians during the Nanking Massacre.


The Safety Zone bordered roads on all four sides, and had an area of approximately 3.86 km², with 25 refugee camps centred around the US Embassy. This is approximately the same size as Central Park in New York.

The City of Nanking affirmed the existence of the Safety zone, sent cash and food, and staffed security personnel in the zone. The Japanese army did not recognise its existence, but they promised that as long as it remained demilitarized the Japanese army would not invade the area.


The Japanese Army claimed that there were guerrilla soldiers in the Safety Zone and blamed it on John Rabe allowing anyone not wearing uniforms to enter. Citing this reason, Japanese soldiers forcibly entered the Zone.

The Japanese soldiers committed atrocities in the Safety Zone that were part of the much larger Nanking Massacre. The International Committee appealed a number of times to the Japanese army, with John Rabe using his credentials as a NSDAP member, but to no avail. From time to time the Japanese would enter the Safety Zone at will, carry off a few hundred men and women, and either summarily execute them or rape and then kill them.

In late January 1938, the Japanese army forced all refugees in the Safety Zone to return home, and claimed to have "restored order". On February 18 1938, the Nanking Safety Zone International Committee was forcibly renamed "Nanking International Rescue Committee", and the Safety Zone effectively ceased to function. The last refugee camps were closed in May 1938.

After the months-long Nanking Massacre, John Rabe and his International Committee were credited with saving 50,000 - 250,000 lives despite the ongoing massacre.

However, certain right-wing and nationalist Japanese authors and politicians claim that as a part of the Nanking Massacre, the Safety Zone never existed. . The museum of the Yasukuni shrine omits any mention of the Nanking massacre and proclaims that "The Japanese established a safety zone for Chinese civilians and made a special effort to protect historical and cultural sites. Inside the city, residents were once again able to live their lives in peace."


See also


  • Rabe, John, The Good Man of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe, Vintage (Paper), 2000. ISBN 0-375-70197-4
  • Vautrin, Wilhemina, Minnie Vautrin Papers. Special Collection, Yale Divinity School Library, Record Group No. 8 and No. 11.
  • Online Documentary - the Nanking Atrocities, 2000.

Further reading

  • Timothy, Brooks, ed. Documents on the Rape of Nanking, The University of Michigan Press, 2002. (includes a reprint of "Hsu, Shuhsi, Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone, Kelly and Walsh, 1939".)
  • Zhang, Kaiyuan, ed. Eyewitnesses to Massacre, An East Gate Book, 2001. (includes documentation of American missionaries; M.S. Bates, George Ashmore Fitch, E.H. Foster, J.G. Magee, J.H. MaCallum, W.P. Mills, L.S.C. Smyth, A.N. Steward, Minnie Vautrin and R.O. Wilson.) (Google Book version)

Search another word or see safety zoneon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature