The Mau Mau rebellion in 1952 was undeniably caused by the growing tensions between the Kikuyu and the white European settlers in Kenya. Ho
As explained by J.L Margolin in the article, “Japanese Crimes in Nanjing, 1937-38”, for the Chinese the rape of Nanjing was a genocide of substantial magnitude. Although universally historians agree that Japan had committed several atrocities to the Chinese between December 13, 1937 and January 1938. Many Japanese officials continue to deny crimes committed by the Japanese army or at least attempt to lessen the scale of atrocities that they admit to committing. Some extreme denialists that I will discuss later in this paper, such as Takemoto and Ohara, believe that Nanjing was completely fabricated. The atrocities that were committed by the Japanese include the rape of 20,000 Chinese civilians (which was primarily women but also included men, children, and elders) and also approximately 300,000 individuals were murdered by the Japanese army. Unlike Ohara and Takemoto, many Japanese officials will admit that rape and murder did occur in Nanjing, but on a much lesser scale than revisionists have claimed (Margolin, 2006).
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There are five particular aspects of the Nanjing atrocities that Japanese officials will deny as explained by E Neaman in his article, “The Rape of History: Nanking and Japanese Denial.” The deniers, the Japanese officials, believe that the number of individuals murdered in Nanjing was an exaggeration. In particular they target the inconsistency of the reported values as well as the claim that around 300,000 were murdered. They criticize the credibility of eyewitness reports, and that “none of the western civilians have claimed to witness the Japanese committing atrocities in Nanjing.” Deniers will dismiss, corpses lying on the street, as evidence that Japan was committing large-scale atrocities in Nanking. Many officials deny the intentionality of murders occurring in Nanjing and claim that the Japanese were never ordered to purposefully murder the Chinese. Lastly they deny that any Chinese women were raped in Nanjing, let alone 20,000.
To many Japanese the number of individuals murdered is controversial. Authors Yasuo Ohara and Tado Takemoto in their book, “The Alleged “Nanking Massacre”: Japan’s Rebuttal to China’s Forged Claims,” compare the extremities of victims murdered in the massacre. Based on their charts only 50 victims were murdered in the safety zone in 1938. While based on the Nanking district court in 1946, 340,000 Chinese civilians were murdered. They believe that since numbers are so inconsistent that the massacre could not have happened, and the numbers were forged. They also claim that 340,000 individuals could not have been killed in Nanjing since its population was no more than a quarter of 1 million (Yasuo Ohara and Tado Takemoto, 2000).
Iris Chang in her book, “The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II,” dismisses the denier’s claims on the number of individuals murdered because reports show that the population in Nanjing was closer to 1 million. Therefore, it would definitely have been not only possible but probable that around 300,000 Chinese civilians were murdered. This ratio may seem farfetched, but it is certainly not especially when considering that during the holocaust every two of three Jews were killed. In the case of Nanjing it would be roughly every one out of three people. Chang reinforces this idea and explains that historian Sun Zhaiwei”s in his 1990 report, “The Nanking Massacre and the Nanking Population,” states that according to the population in Nanking was one million before conflicts had risen in Nanjing. Zhaiwei based this value on census reports from the time period. Sun also utilized Chinese burial records and estimated that 227,000 individuals were killed. Ohata Hsiao a member of the Japanese army admitted to burning and or disposing of bodies for 3 days beginning December 15, 1937 and he estimates that 150,000 individuals were disposed of in those few days alone. This would likely mean that the 340,000 is a fairly accurate value when you consider both values. Also, one cannot criticize inconsistent numbers, especially ones that were reported 8 years apart. The value of 50 was likely in an inaccurate report to begin with but also was a report created early in Nanjing before much of the killing had been done. If the values were forged they would probably all be the same to emphasize that the event did happen. This is the same case argued by Shermer and Grobman for the Holocaust who note that not all sources report a value of 6 million Jews murdered. Rather every source provides values near to that value as it should be because not everyone’s historical analysis is equivalent in his strategies and outcomes (Chang, 1997).
As noted by Neaman the Japanese deny two particular witness reports. They discredit the testimony of Lu Su who claimed that he was a witness of the murder of over 50,000 Chinese civilians. He stated that the Japanese army bound the Chinese to metal barb wires, shot them in the back of their heads, and either had lit their bodies on fire or dumped them in the river.
The Deniers claim that he claimed this took place at night time and so Su would not have been able to give an accurate estimate of the individuals killed. They also believe that the process of tying the Chinese to wire would have taken too long and given them an opportunity to rebel. The Japanese also discredit the report of John Rabe, chairman of the safety zone committee, who reported that around 60,000 individuals were killed, but reported two others different values the same year. He was the individual who reported the value of 50 early on in the massacre. They also explain that there were fifteen western witnesses who were part of the safety zone committee, and none of them ever admitted to witnessing the murder of Chinese civilians by the Japanese (Yasuo Ohara and Tado Takemoto, 2000)
The Chinese will discredit the Japanese using Rabe’s eyewitness report. Not because his values were necessarily inaccurate but because of the fact that he left early while much the massacre had yet to take place. And in contrast to the Japanese claims about the westerners, Chang quotes those Americans who the deniers speak of. American journalists Archibald Steele, Frank Durdin, and Yates McDaniel state that they were witness to the Japanese forcing thousands of Chinese people to line up and then fall to their knees. The Japanese would then shoot each individual in the back of the head and dispose of their bodies in the nearby river (Chang, 1997).
The Japanese dismiss the bodies on the streets of Nanjing as evidence of the massacre. They explain that there were many bodies on the streets even before the Japanese occupation of Nanjing. They provide reasons for the bodies such as the Chinese army shooting anyone who would try to escape the war. They also believe the corpses were individuals who were shot because they looked distrustful since the Chinese military were ordered to do so to maintain order (Yasuo Ohara and Tado Takemoto, 2000).
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Chang, who had cited several credible books on the Nanjing massacre, explains that the Japanese did in fact massacre the Chinese on the streets and did not always bury bodies do to the large quantity of individuals murdered in a short time spans. Chang even expands upon this thought and explains that many of the Chinese were victims of torture by the Japanese military, these methods include running individuals over, killing them with German shepherds, and freezing people until they died from hypothermia (Chang, 1997).
Japanese officials deny that the army was ordered to intentionally murder Chinese individuals and that there is no official document that gives orders from higher ups to execute this procedure. If there was no document showing orders to kill the Chinese than how can one prove that there were any orders at all? They also believe that there was no motive for the Japanese to murder the Chinese, and if any Chinese were murdered it is because they did not “follow the orders given by the Japanese military” (Yasuo Ohara and Tado Takemoto, 2000).
While there were no documents that showed written orders that does not mean that verbal orders were not given. There were no documents of Hitler ordering the Nazi’s to exterminate the Jews during the Holocaust. However, this is no evidence that there were not orders given. Chang explains that there were also killing contests that took place between the Japanese soldiers and quoted a Chinese witness that heard the Japanese soldiers order one another to count the number of Chinese they kill. Also, remember that Japanese tortured Chinese civilians, how can one do that without intent? (Chang, 1997).
The Japanese believe that rape on a large scale could not have occurred since most of the army had not been allowed near Chinese women who were in the safety zone. Except for the seventh regiment which was made up of less than 2,000 Japanese soldiers (Yasuo Ohara and Tado Takemoto, 2000)
Chang quotes Susan Brownmillor who explains that aside from the rape of Bengali women by the Pakistan army, the rape of Nanjing was the worst mass rape during a period of war in history. She also explains that the Japanese often ignored the safety zone and often went there anyway. They often forced incest among the Chinese, and they also would rape women in large groups. So that is what may contribute to 20,000 although telling the exact number would be very difficult.
- Chang, Iris. (1997). The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. New York: Basic Books.
- Margolin, J. L. (2006). Japanese Crimes in Nanjing, 1937-38: A Reappraisal. China Perspectives.
- Neaman, E. (2002). The Rape of History: Nanking and Japanese Denial. Retrieved from https://phdn.org/negation/gravediggers/gom-2002-nanking_japanese_denial.html#_ftnref5
- Takemoto, Tado and Ohara Yasuo. (2000). The Alleged “Nanking Massacre”: Japan”s Rebuttal to China”s Forged Claims. Tokyo: Meisei-sha, Inc.
wever, despite growing unrest, the precise causes of the rebellion remain unclear. This essay will discuss a number of possible reasons for the revolt, examining the economic, social and political tensions caused by the colonial administration in an attempt to discover the real reasons for the Mau Mau rebellion and why the Kikuyu were so unhappy with their colonial administrators.
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Arguably one of the most important reasons for the Mau Mau rebellion was the economic deprivation of the Kikuyu. The Kikuyu had long been unhappy with white settlers in Kenya taking their land, and their economic deprivation lead to vast discontent throughout the Kikuyu. Despite attempts to address this issue, the Kikuyu’s were ignored. Michael Coray has argued that by failing to create a system through which Africa grievances against white settlers could be settled fairly, the Kikuyu grew more dissatisfied with the colonial administrations failures, thus playing a significant part in the development of the Mau Mau rebellion. Economic deprivation continued throughout colonial rule; by 1948, 1.25 million Kikuyu were restricted to 2000 square miles whilst 30,000 white settlers occupied 12,000 square miles, demonstrating the extent to which the Kikuyu were disadvantaged by the white settlers, causing them anger and resentment. As a result to these poor living conditions, there was a huge increase in the number of Kikuyu migrating to the cities; leading to poverty, unemployment and overpopulation. Despite these factors, it has been argued that economic deprivation was not of particular importance in relation to why the Mau Mau rebellion broke out. Claude Welch has claimed that grievances were expressed primarily on a tribal basis as opposed to a class basis, which he uses as evidence to suggest that economic deprivation is not as significant a factor as one might believe. However, regardless of whether or not it contributed greatly to the break out of the Mau Mau rebellion, there is little doubt that the unrest caused by economic deprivation had an impact on the Kikuyu, and trough this contributed to the Mau Mau rebellion.
As well as economic deprivation, the Kikuyu were arguably angered by their loss of economic independence during the colonial period. As Eric Brown has stated, the loss of land to white settlers meant not only that the Kikuyu were bereft of their land, but also that they had to then find work in order to make a living; usually working for the white settlers. Brown has paralleled this with Serfdom, and argues that Kikuyu reliance on white settlers caused an increase in social tensions amongst the Kikuyu. Though already at a disadvantage, the Kikuyu would also earn on average only a fifth of the payment which white workers would earn for the same amount of work, which only furthered the Kikuyu resentment of the settlers. Despite migrating to the cities, which one might consider puts the Kikuyu at an economic advantage, the Kikuyu were in fact disadvantaged when considering their prosperous position prior to colonial administration; coffee growing in particular was a rewarding industry due to the fertile land held by the Kikuyu, and so the prohibition of coffee growing imposed by the colonial government crippled the Kikuyu. In this light, a rebellion against the British settlers might be seen as inevitable. The Kikuyu were the most populous ethnic group in Kenya, with what Brown calls a “flourishing society; therefore, when the Mau Mau offered them an opportunity to revolt against British colonialism, the group grew rapidly. One could then argue that a main reason why the Mau Mau rebellion broke out was so that the Kikuyu could regain the economic independence that they longed for, and were used to prior to colonial disruption.
However, the social conditions of the Kikuyu cannot be ignored when attempting to address the main reasons for the break out of the Mau Mau rebellion. Harsh restrictions were placed upon the Kikuyu; they were taxed heavily (which when one considers that they were earning only a fifth of the wages white settlers were earning, seems particularly severe), and racial tensions increased. White settlers saw the Kikuyu as agricultural competition, thus explaining why such heavy restrictions were placed upon them. Disciplinary measures were introduced by white settlers on the Kikuyu who worked on their land; workers were often tortured or abused by the white settlers. This horrific treatment of the Kikuyu only angered them further and caused greater discontent between black and white. Alongside their economic deprivation, the Kikuyu and other people of Africa were made to feel like outsiders within their homeland, and became alienated from society. Many Kikuyu had no choice but to become squatters on white land, which to them seemed degrading considering the land was rightfully theirs. There were also increasing tensions between the Kikuyu people themselves. Kikuyu land owners and those forced to work on white land began to despise each other; Furedi argues that this led to the land owners and their white allies releasing “a wave of repression onto those with no land, thus increasing social tensions throughout Kenya. This meant that poorer Kikuyu workers were not only angered by the white settlers but also by their own people, thus strengthening the argument that the Mau Mau rebellion was a ‘peasant revolt’ against the wealthy and the white.
The vast growth of the Kikuyu Central Association also accounts for the break out of the Mau Mau rebellion in 1952. The KCA made its aims clear to reclaim the land taken from them – and ran a campaign of civil disobedience in order to protest against the white settlers taking their land, which demonstrates the unrest amongst the Kikuyu prior to the rebellion. The KCA also made radical demands, for example the return of their land, in hope of returning to their economic position prior to colonial rule. The growth in membership of the KCA can be accounted for in the popular demands it made; for example, higher wages and the right to grow coffee again. It has already been established that the Kikuyu were greatly unhappy with their social and economic position within Kenya, and so the KCA offered them an opportunity to voice their discontent and attempt to make a change through convincing the government that if their demands were not met, they would create more trouble. Despite these protests, the KCA was largely ignored by the colonial government, thus furthering tensions between the two. The KCA’s grievances originated in the 1920s and 1930s, and so by the time the Mau Mau rebellion broke out in 1952, decades had passed with little change to benefit the Kikuyu, and therefore the rebellion had arguably been a long time coming. Consequently, the growth of the KCA reflects the growing tensions amongst the Kikuyu which led to the Mau Mau rebellion of 1952.
Another key reason for the break out of the Mau Mau rebellion in 1952 was the internal divisions within the Kikuyu. It has been argued that there “never was a single Mau Mau. One possible reason for this argument is that the Mau Mau never made their goals clear; many have attempted to discover their goals through Mau Mau actions, and yet there is no solid evidence to suggest what the Mau Mau’s goals might be. Clough has argued that Mau Mau goals were political, and that they wanted to “drive out the white settlers and isolate African “enemies. There is certainly some validity to this argument; as Clough notes, memoirs from Mau Mau meetings show that a great effort was made planning what the Mau Mau relationship should be with detained leaders, and how they would communicate with the British to get their message across, demonstrating the importance of political motivations. Others have argued that their goals were economical, and that as previously stated the Kikuyu people strived to regain their economic independence that was lost through colonialism. The Mau Mau was a rapidly expanding group, and therefore the lack of a well-known, common goal meant that internal divisions were inevitable. Therefore the rebellion in 1952 was arguably caused by Mau Mau intentions to achieve something in order to avoid being seen as a radical group without a goal. However, as Lonsdale has pointed out, despite internal divisions, the Mau Mau were bound to each other by hopes of citizenship and bureaucracy, and therefore perhaps the broadness of such a goal benefitted the Mau Mau rather than causing a failed uprising.
It can therefore be concluded that there were a number of reasons for the break out of the Mau Mau rebellion in 1952. Arguably the most important cause of the rebellion was the economic discontent of caused by white settlers claiming Kikuyu land and its consequences. The restrictions placed upon the Kikuyu, both economically and socially, also played a significant role in the break out of the rebellion, as the Kikuyu were made to feel alienated from their own society and repressed by white settlers. However, the most likely cause of the Mau Mau rebellion was a combination of all the above factors, which led to a growth in discontent amongst the Kikuyu and left them with no other alternative than to revolt. In this sense, it can be concluded that there was not just one cause of the Mau Mau rebellion, but a vast amount of varying causes encompassing economic, social and political tensions.
Grinker, R., Perspectives on Africa: A reader in culture, history and representation (Wiley-Blackwell 1997)
Shaw, C., Colonial Inscriptions: Race, Sex and Class in Kenya (University of Minnesota Press, 1995)
Welch, C., Anatomy of Rebellion (SUNY Press, 1980)
Mwakikagile, G., Africa and the West (Nova Publishers, 2000)
Harcourt, W., Feminist Perspectives on Sustainable Development (Zed Books, 1994)
Furedi, F., The Mau Mau War in Perspective (James Currey Publisers, 1989)
Berman, B., and Lonsdale, J., Unhappy Valley: Conflict in Kenya and Africa (James Currey Publishers, 1992)
Lonsdale, J., ‘Foreword’ in Kershaw, G., Mau Mau from Below (Ohio University Press, 1997)
Clough, M., Mau Mau Memoirs: History, Memory and Politics (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998)
Odhiambo, E., and Lonsdale, J., Mau Mau and Nationhood: Arms, Authority and Narration (Ohio University Press, 2003)
Kenya Information Sheet <http://watchingthewarmakers.org.uk/Downloads/kenya%20info%20sheet.pdf> (Accessed 21st November)
Eric W. Brown The Early Days of the Mau Mau Insurrection <http://www.ccs.neu.edu/home/feneric/maumau.html>
Jens Finke, ‘Kikuyu Colonial History’ <http://www.bluegecko.org/kenya/tribes/kikuyu/history2.htm> (Accessed December 2nd 2009)
Coray, M., ‘The Kenya Land Commission and the Kikuyu of Kiambu’ Agricultural History 52 (Jan 1978)
Grinker, R., Perspectives on Africa: A reader in culture, history and representation (Wiley-Blackwell 1997) pg. 654
Coray, M., ‘The Kenya Land Commission and the Kikuyu of Kiambu’ Agricultural History 52 (Jan 1978) pg. 179-93
 Kenya Information Sheet <http://watchingthewarmakers.org.uk/Downloads/kenya%20info%20sheet.pdf> (Accessed 21st November)
 Shaw, C., Colonial Inscriptions: Race, Sex and Class in Kenya (University of Minnesota Press, 1995) pg. 43
 Welch, C., Anatomy of Rebellion (SUNY Press, 1980) pg. 65-66
Eric W. Brown The Early Days of the Mau Mau Insurrection <http://www.ccs.neu.edu/home/feneric/maumau.html>
 Mwakikagile, G., Africa and the West (Nova Publishers, 2000) pp. 95
 Harcourt, W., Feminist Perspectives on Sustainable Development (Zed Books, 1994) pp. 133
 Furedi, F., The Mau Mau War in Perspective (James Currey Publisers, 1989) pp. 7
 Berman, B., and Lonsdale, J., Unhappy Valley: Conflict in Kenya and Africa (James Currey Publishers, 1992) pp. 446
 Jens Finke, ‘Kikuyu Colonial History’ <http://www.bluegecko.org/kenya/tribes/kikuyu/history2.htm> (Accessed December 2nd 2009)
 Lonsdale, J., ‘Foreword’ in Kershaw, G., Mau Mau from Below (Ohio University Press, 1997)
 Clough, M., Mau Mau Memoirs: History, Memory and Politics (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998) pp. 167
 Brown, The Early Days of the Mau Mau Insurrection
 Odhiambo, E., and Lonsdale, J., Mau Mau and Nationhood: Arms, Authority and Narration (Ohio University Press, 2003) pp. 77