Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date

Spring 4-2015


Between 1937 and 1945, in the pursuit of imperial objectives, the Japanese military committed heinous acts against its Asian neighbours. These atrocities, though systematic, widespread and purposeful, have rarely been seen in terms of genocide. For many this is intuitively correct. The Holocaust has become synonymous with the term genocide and some scholars, such as historian Steven Katz, have argued that it is, in fact, the only true case. As such, the absence of concentration camps and overt declarations of a genocidal intent mean that Imperial Japan does not neatly fit into the model of genocide as viewed through the lens of the Holocaust. Furthermore, the role of Japan as victimiser has been played down, often overlooked, and in some circles contested, in historical research. It is only in the past fifteen years or so that English language works on Japanese atrocities have begun to appear. Similarly, a number of genocide scholars have, recently, begun to slowly and sensitively move away from the rigidity of the Holocaust paradigm to explore the connections between genocide and empire. Despite this expanding body of research, Imperial Japan, which has a place among some of the more violent and brutal manifestations of imperialism in the twentieth century, has received relatively limited attention. In this paper, and my PhD more generally, I address this neglect by exploring the genocidal dynamics of Japanese imperialism in the context of this research. I argue that, though Japanese imperialism was not obviously genocidal, and in fact, genocide was often in opposition to Japan’s professed goals of cooperation with other Asian peoples, at times, violence escalated to such a scale and intent that it became punctuated by what A. Dirk Moses describes as ‘genocidal moments’. Drawing on Moses’ framework, I explore these ‘moments’ by analysing atrocities committed in China and Southeast Asia between 1937 and 1945. In particular, I focus on the ‘Three Alls’ policy employed in China in the 1940s and the purges of the Chinese population in Singapore and Malaya in 1942. This paper is based on several months’ research in the collections at the Library of Congress, as well as the US and British National Archives where I have utilised a variety of sources, including government documents, periodicals, diaries, memoirs and trial transcripts. Elements of this paper derive from a number of chapters of my thesis, but it is best described as a combination of introduction to genocide in the Japanese Empire and preliminary conclusions over how this relates to the broader body of research on the connections between imperialism and genocide.