China Observes Its First National Memorial Day


December 13 marked the beginning of the Nanking Massacre (南京大屠杀 / 南京大屠殺) or the Rape of Nanking, a six-week period of mass murder and mass rape committed by Japanese soldiers against the civilian population of the city following the fall of the then-capital of the Republic of China during the Second Sino-Japanese War.  Estimates of the number of deaths range from 40,000 to 300,000, the higher estimate being the official number recognized by the current Chinese government.  A post-war Allied Tribunal counted 142,000 deaths.

This year, on the 77th anniversary of the event, the People’s Republic of China’s observed its first National Memorial Day (国家公祭日 / 國家公祭日) .   Commemorations to honor the victims of the atrocities have been held regularly on December 13 in Nanjing since 1994, but the first proposal for a national commemoration was brought to a legislative committee in 2005.  Various attempts to establish a memorial day followed over the years, but it was not until February 27, 2014 that legislation establishing the Memorial Day as well as September 3 as Victory Day over Japan, was ratified by the National People’s Congress.  Zhu Chengshan (朱成山), curator of the Memorial Hall for the Victims in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders (侵华日军南京大屠杀遇难同胞纪念馆 / 侵華日軍南京大屠殺遇難同胞紀念館) sayssetting of the national commemorative day meets the people’s will and, when all is said and done, it is the people’s will that matters the most” and that commemorations “demand the attendance of China’s state leadership to show respect for the loss of life of the victims and fulfill their responsibility to history.”

At a high-profile ceremony at the Memorial Hall, Chinese President Xi Jiping paid respect to the victims and was firm in his criticism of the massacre deniers (whose arguments range from earnest defense to the downright kooky) which in the past has included members of the Japanese government: “[H]istory shall not be altered with the passing of time, and facts not erased by crafty denial…Any dismissive attitudes towards the history of the invasion and any comments glorifying the war are harmful to peace and justice of the human race.”  His hope for improved Sino-Japanese relations sounded conciliatory but also jabbed at Japan:

“We should not bear hatred against an entire nation just because a small minority of militarists launched aggressive wars. The responsibility for war crimes lies with a few militarists, but not the people. However, we cannot at any time forget the severe crimes committed by aggressors.”

“The purpose of the memorial ceremony for Nanjing Massacre victims is to recall that every good-hearted person yearns for and holds a firm stance of peace, but does not try to prolong hatred.”

“Only if everyone cherishes and safeguards peace, and only if everyone remembers the bitter lessons of war can there be hope for peace.”

“The Chinese and Japanese people should live in friendship from generation to generation and make joint efforts to contribute to the peace of humanity.”

Likewise, China Daily‘s op-ed about the commemoration entitled “Nanjing homage day not to plant hatred” is sharp in its criticism of Japan, highlighting China’s role as a victim and missed opportunities for improved relations.  The Japan Times and the English-language version of The Asashi Shimbun simply republished Reuters’ article about Xi’s address.  Japan’s apologies have been considered unsatisfactory have met shifting goalposts.

Xi’s address can be viewed with an overdub in English here, and photos from the ceremony can be found from Xinhua here and here, and on People’s Daily.   More information about National Memorial Day and the Chinese perspective on events can be found on CCTV’s special page for the holiday and in this 15-minute segment.

You can learn more about the Nanking Massacre from Nanking, a Peabody Award-winning film researched and produced by former AOL Vice-Chairman Ted Leonsis who was inspired by Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nankingprobably the most influential English language book about the topic.

From the film’s official website: “The story is told through deeply moving interviews with Chinese survivors, chilling archival footage and photos of the events, and testimonies of former Japanese soldiers. At the heart of Nanking is a filmed stage reading of the Westerners’ letters and diaries, featuring Woody Harrelson, Mariel Hemingway and Jurgen Prochnow. Through its interweave of archival images, testimonies of survivors, and readings of first hand accounts, the film puts the viewer on the streets of Nanking and brings the forgotten past to startling life.”

Since Leonsis has said, “I’m not worried about piracy. I want people to share the movie.”  Here it is:

Here’s CCTV’s documentary about Iris Chang:

Image: People’s Daily via Twitter