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Many atrocities were reported to have been committed as the Japanese army advanced from Shanghai to Nanjing.
According to one Japanese journalist embedded with Imperial forces at the time, "The reason that the [10th Army] is advancing to Nanking quite rapidly is due to the tacit consent among the officers and men that they could loot and rape as they wish." Novelist Tatsuzō Ishikawa vividly described how the 16th Division of the Shanghai Expeditionary Force committed atrocities on the march between Shanghai and Nanjing in his novel Ikiteiru Heitai (Living Soldiers), which was based on interviews that Ishikawa conducted with troops in Nanjing in January 1938.
The defense force blocked roads, destroyed boats, and burnt nearby villages, preventing widespread evacuation.
Rabe commented on how efforts to remove these Chinese troops failed and Japanese soldiers began to lob grenades into the refugee Zone.
Although the massacre is generally described as having occurred over a six-week period after the fall of Nanjing, the crimes committed by the Japanese army were not limited to that period.
By mid-November the Japanese had captured Shanghai with the help of naval bombardment.
The General Staff Headquarters in Tokyo initially decided not to expand the war due to heavy casualties and low troop morale.