Academic journal article Journalism History

Each of Us in His Own Way: Factors Behind Conflicting Accounts of the Massacre at Port Arthur

Academic journal article Journalism History

Each of Us in His Own Way: Factors Behind Conflicting Accounts of the Massacre at Port Arthur

Article excerpt

The "Port Arthur Massacre" holds a prominent place in journalism history for the sensationalist accounts by some western correspondents of the slaughter of the city's Chinese inhabitants by conquering Japanese troops in November 1894. Most representative of these accounts were those of James Creelman of the New York World. Forgotten in the history of wartime reporting from Port Arthur, however, are the accounts of A.B. de Guerville, a special correspondent for the New York Herald, who, as an eyewitness of the fall of the city, flatly denied Creelman's account of a massacre. This article seeks an explanation behind the widely divergent accounts of these two American reporters, and in so doing details the complex combination of factors-personal, professional, and political-that influenced the way the fall of Port Arthur was reported.

Commanding the tip of the Liaodong Peninsula in northeast China, the fortified city of Port Arthur (now known by its Chinese name, Lushun) plays as strategically vital a role in the geopolitics of Northeast Asia today at it did 110 years ago when it fell to Japanese troops during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95.1 In the annals of journalism history, the controversy surrounding the coverage of the so-called "Port Arthur massacre" of Chinese residents by conquering Japanese troops in November 1894 occupies no small part as well. As several scholarly studies have pointed out, the lurid reports by James Creelman of Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, and to a lesser extent those of other correspondents working for European papers, regarding the massacre were a foretaste of the methods of sensationalist journalism that would reach full blossom during the Spanish-American War of 1898.

And yet, the only other American correspondent at Port Arthur, A.B. de Guerville, who was working for James Gordon Bennett, Jr.'s New York Herald, offered a different version of events from Creelman. Indeed, one would be hard placed in the history of journalism to find two such conflicting versions of the same event witnessed in the same hours. While Creelman described a city whose streets were "choked with mutilated bodies of men, women, and children" and where "almost the entire population . . . has been massacred and the work of butchering the unarmed and unresisting inhabitants has continued day after day," de Guerville emphatically denied in print that the Japanese had mutilated anyone. He stated in the New York Times, "I did not see one dead woman or child, and do not believe any were killed."2

Previous studies of the Port Arthur affair and its role in journalism history have fallen short on several counts.3 No analyses have examined with any detail the rationale behind the conflicting reports from Port Arthur, focusing rather on the effects such sensationalist accounts had on the American and world public. And because none of these studies examined the accounts of de Guerville, the extent of variance in the two American correspondents' versions has never been established. Nor have previous studies touched upon the role that the Japanese government may have played in the contradictory accounts of the massacre. Finally, the personal dynamics between Creelman and de Guerville, the only two American journalists to cover the war from the Japanese front and to witness the fall and subsequent occupation of Port Arthur, have never been examined in tandem. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that de Guerville has been forgotten in the debate surrounding Port Arthur.

It is not the purpose of this article to determine who was "telling the truth" about the massacre. That is to say, this study makes no attempt to establish precisely what occurred at Port Arthur in the days following that city's fall to the Japanese army in 1894, based upon a comparison of various accounts. Historical scholarship has widely established that though excesses occurred at Port Arthur by Japanese troops, these did not involve the indiscriminant murder of "men, women, and children" that Creelman described. …

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