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October 2018. In the summer of 1937 China and Japan became embroiled in a military conflict that would eventually become known as The Second Sino-Japanese War. What had started out as local disputes soon turned very ugly and by the end of the year Japan was in the midst of a full on invasion of China. Having taken Beijing, Tianjin, Jinan and Shanghai, next up was Nanjing, at that time China’s capital city. Japan’s brutal attack began in December 1937 and by the time it was over, some six weeks later, an estimated three hundred thousand Chinese people had been exterminated along with the systematic raping of women and children. Today this dark chapter is observed in a Nanjing city museum and sculpture park built directly on a former execution and burial site that contained over ten thousand corpses. This article’s feature image is taken from the museum’s stunning photo exhibition of the massacre’s survivors.
October 2018. The museum’s main exhibition hall is a dark, underground chamber lit only by a starry, twinkling ceiling and floor-to-ceiling panels containing photographs of those who died at the hands of the Japanese. Set to a soundtrack of soft, haunting music, it’s a powerful setup, albeit one that was hugely compromised by the general behavior of the Chinese tourists around me. Call me a strict traditionalist but I feel the atmosphere should have been defined by respect and quiet reflection, not one of carefree chatter, children running rampant and morons barking on their mobile phones. For me this behavior is nothing new in China, but I really thought it might have been different in a place such as this.
October 2018. The museum is superbly designed and incredibly informative, with creative sections detailing exactly how the invasion unfolded via photos, sculptures, waxworks, paintings, newspaper clippings and interactive touch-screens. Perhaps most sobering of all is one of the original mass grave pits, much like the ones found in Cambodia’s Killing Fields park in Phnom Penh.
October 2018. I found myself touched by the tribute wall to Nanjing’s “foreign friends”, who rather than flee the city as so many did, bravely decided to stay and help the Chinese people.
There’s a special focus on John Heinrich Rabe, a German businessman who famously went above and beyond to protect people from the cruelty of the Japanese. He helped establish The Nanking Safety Zone, which sheltered up to 200.000 people from the atrocities. After Rabe died in 1997 his tombstone was relocated from Berlin to Nanjing where it now has a place of honor in the Massacre Memorial Hall.
October 2018. Aside from the actual killing, the brutality that took place was every bit as appalling as that presented in similar sites I’ve visited in Poland, Cambodia and Vietnam. There are heartbreaking photos of young girls recovering from gang rape in hospital, while Li Zijan’s arresting oil painting Slaughter, Rebirth, Buddha shows bodies being dumped into the pits that sat directly beneath where I stood.
This newspaper photo of two Japanese soldiers tells the sickening story of Tsuyoshi Noda and Toshiaki Mukai, who engaged in a personal contest to see who could be the first to kill one hundred people with a sword. 11 years later, following the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal, both of the officers were extradited to China and executed.
To read more about my visit here take a look at my article Nanjing Massacre Memorial Part II, which focuses on the complex’s stunning sculpture park and gardens.
To read more about my crazy experience simply trying to get myself through the museum doors, take a look at my article on How To Get Into Nanjing Massacre Memorial During China’s Golden Week.
You can also check out my many other pieces from around Nanjing.
Want to delve further afield? Why not tap into my stacks of articles from across China.
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