The Nanking Massacre of 1937. Ever heard of it? Even supposing that your answer is yes, chances are that you associate the time with events of the Holocaust and World War II. That was the case for Bangkok, Thailand-based social documentary photographer Amanda Mustard until age 16, when a high school history teacher covered the topic despite it not being a part of the curriculum. Now 23, Amanda has dedicated time researching and creating awareness about the incident. Through her photographs, she illustrates the impact the genocide has had on the lives of survivors.
Beginning on December 13, 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army invaded Nanking, China for six weeks, mass-murdering an estimated 300,000 disarmed soldiers and civilians during it’s gruesome stay. This included as many as 80,000 women who were brutally raped (it is also referred to as the Rape of Nanking). To date, an apology was never addressed by Japan, and some deny such matters ever took place. Despite the discrepancies, victims have had no choice but to face the harsh realities and build their lives around them.
Beginner’s advice ignited Amanda’s idea:
After starting my career as a photojournalist, one of the first things I was told was to shoot the stories that speak to you the most. This was the first thing that popped into my head.
With fewer than 200 survivors remaining, she knew to act fast. Without time to apply for grants, Amanda turned to the public, creating a Kickstarter campaign proposing a goal of $5,000 to fund full travel expenses for her juncture in China. The page raised a total of $7,464.
While attempting to reach out to sources, she came in contact with the mother of the late Iris Chang (author of The Rape of Naking), who invested trust in her project and assisted in accessing subjects. Once equipped with valuable contacts, she began her journey. However, bumps in the road were faced shortly after her arrival. She explains:
I was in China for over a month, and it wasn’t until over halfway that I even saw a survivor, almost three weeks until I spoke to one. It was incredibly stressful; I was on a tight schedule and budget, and definitely had a mid-project meltdown where I didn’t think it was going to be possible.
Amanda believes this was due to the political nature of the topic, paired with the lack-of-awareness they assumed she possessed as a Western journalist. However, she managed to make progress when she approached survivors at the 75th anniversary event at Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, where potential subjects were gathered to embrace their past, free from the interest of outsiders.
From there, the project came to life.
Survivors and their families began welcoming her into their homes and shared their vivid memories and visible scars. Although the stories tell of tragedy, the portraits shine with strength.