When Britannica Kept Silent on East Asian Atrocities

By Eamonn Fingleton

TOKYO, Japan -- For those who still doubt that the West suffers remarkable blindspots in East Asia (see my earlier contributions in this space), some research I did today brings startling news. I checked the 1970 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica and found it contained NO reference to the Huang He atrocity of 1938. Perhaps even more remarkably, its account of the Nanking massacre of 1937 amounted to just one sentence (in an entry on World War II). In a reference to the invading Japanese forces, it stated: "They took Nanking on Dec. 13, 1937, and slaughtered thousands of its inhabitants."

To be fair, it should be noted that later Britannica editions give both the Nanking and Huang He atrocities stand-alone entries. Britannica's recent estimates of the number of deaths in Nanking range from 100,000 to 300,000. As earlier noted, recent editions put the number of deaths from the Huang He flooding at between 500,000 and 900,000.

Eamonn Fingleton is the author of
In the Jaws of the Dragon: America's Fate in an Era of Chinese Dominance.

Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open for 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Global

From This Author

Just In