Timperley, What War Means: The Japanese Terror in China

Harold Timperley (ed.), What War Means: The Japanese Terror in China. A Documentary Record. London 1938

Last updated: 01/06/2023

Timperley worked as journalist for the Manchester Guardian. He spent the years 1921 until 1938 in China, and parts of the year 1937 in Nanjing. During the attack on Nanjing, Timperley lived in Shanghai. His reports from Shanghai of the Japanese invasion were of course censored by the Japanese authorities but still became one of the most important contemporary information channels for an English-language audience about the Sino-Japanese War.

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His book “What War Means” sparked discussions among its Western audience, but fell short of influencing the British policy in East Asia. Because Timperley later worked for the Chinese Ministry of Information and had close connections to the Kuomintang, his testimony has also been contested as being untrustworthy and partisan. However, it is widely regarded as an important historical source.

The book contains 288 pages of personal testimonies of Timperley himself as well as of foreign residents of several Chinese cities, many Chinese and also some Japanese newspaper articles. Official documents regarding the Japanese misconduct in China are spread across the respective chapters of the book, such as estimations of inflicted damage, collected by the Shanghai Municipal Council. They reach from the very beginning of the war in summer 1937 until spring 1938.

Documents from Nanjing are collected thematically in four out of seven Appendices. The subjects are for example “Robbery, Murder and Rape” or “Promise and Performance” and fill the pages 173 to 282. Most of these texts are lists of crimes committed and letters of the International Committee, comparable to those assembled in the collection of Shuxi Xu. The final Appendix is dedicated to official reports by the Japanese authorities regarding the conquest of Nanjing, but only contains one newspaper article.

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