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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 August 2005, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
Victory for Japan's war critics
By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Tokyo

A Chinese boy stands by a display showing hundreds of photographs of survivors of the Nanjing massacre, at an exhibition in Beijing, 23 August 2005.
Many in Japan dispute the scale of killing in Nanjing in 1937
A Japanese court has rejected a claim that journalists made up the story of a killing competition carried out by Japan's army in China in 1937.

It is a rare legal victory for the critics of Japan's wartime past.

The relatives of two officers, accused of taking part in a race to decapitate Chinese soldiers, had sued for damages, claiming the report was fabricated.

Japan and China dispute the scale of murder, rape and looting during Japan's wartime occupation of parts of China.

As Japan's Imperial Army approached the Chinese city of Nanjing in 1937, war correspondents sent back home morale-boosting reports which were published in national newspapers.

One described the exploits of two officers who were said to have staged a competition to be the first to behead 100 Chinese soldiers.

The two men were later executed by the Chinese government.

'Not proven'

Two years ago, though, their relatives lodged a claim for $330,000 (36m yen) in damages from two newspapers - one, whose forerunner published the story in 1937, and another which carried an article repeating the allegations in 1971.

The families claimed the stories were false because they had not been proved. Now Tokyo's district court has rejected their suit.

The officers had admitted they raced to kill 100 people, the judge said.

Although the original article included some false elements and exaggeration, since a final historical assessment of the contest has not been made, it is difficult to say it was fiction, he added.

The journalist who wrote the follow-up article in the 1970s claimed the case had been brought by those trying to deny the Nanjing massacre.

It is an event still disputed by scholars in Japan and China, and continues to cause difficulties between the two countries more than half a century after it happened.

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