I first visited the Nanjing Massacre Memorial (more accurately, "The Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders") in 2003. The visit made me reevaluate my view of World War II history, but not in the way you might think. Until now, many years of reading and studying history had made me think that Japan's neighbors had a real grievance regarding treatment of early 20th century history. It was this exhibit in Nanjing that made me think something was wrong with that view. Far from being a remembrance of the dead, the memorial is a grotesque artwork display with the sole purpose of stoking hatred towards Japan and encouraging an unproductive resentful nationalism.
As Sino-Japan relations have taken a turn for the worse over the past few years, due entirely to friction over the issue of history, the memorial has received new government-funded artwork: a "peace bell" (supported by three pillars to represent the 300,000 people who died), and a statue of now deceased Iris Chang.
Chinese snapping shots of each other outside the memorial.
There is no doubt that Japan carried out a brutal war in East Asia that left millions dead. The attack on Nanjing was the first major battle of the war. The original capital of the Guomingdang Nationalist Government led by Chiang Kai-shek, Japan thought a swift and decisive defeat at the city would end resistance. But the Nationalist government fled before fighting began (moving the capital to Chongqing), and the ensuing siege of Najing left countless thousands dead. Chinese Communist Party memorial planners seem to think the best way to describe this is with 3 meter tall statues of severed heads and limbs.
This is what I mean by "resentful nationalism."
The memorial is huge, but it's short on facts. You walk through a garden with artwork commemorating certain incidents, and you finally arrive at the one actual display: a heap of excavated bones seen in the bunker in the right of the picture below.
Statues, artwork, and gravel
More tourism in front of the victims banner. The number of alleged victims grows every year, and this carving is now outdated;
current Chinese government estimates place the death toll at 340,000.
I see the Nanjing Memorial as an unfortunate tool of nationalism. It has nothing to do with the victims or the history. The memorial wasn't constructed until 1984, more than 45 years after the incident. Rather, it's a tool of the Chinese Communist Party to legitimize their rule. And to make sure the kids are taught the message at a young age, the 1990s saw a promotion of Nanjing's history in school education.
Dedicated as a National Youth Education Site by former Premier Jiang Zemin in 1995.
What has changed since I was last here? In 2003, the site was practically abandoned. I wandered through the memorial and the only other people were a group of Japanese tourists who raced past us, led by their Chinese tour guide who appeared embarrassed that the site was on the day's agenda. The admission price was 10 yuan, or about US$1.25.
In 2005, the entrance officials gruffly asked us our nationality. After we replied "American," they let us in for free. The place was full of Chinese tourists. There was even a grainy CCP propaganda video at the end celebrating the martyrs.
The late Iris Chang, the newest deity to be enshrined at the Nanjing Memorial. Chang, a Chinese-American, was the author of the graphic 'history' book "Rape of Nanjing." I would argue that her book was more the expression of a personal psychosis than genuine history, and may have been why she committed suicide at the age of 36 in November 2004.
Of course, the highlight of the trip to Nanjing was meeting yet another ComingAnarchy regular commenter, Heirabbit. A scholar of Chinese literature and a long-time resident of China, Heirabbit showed us to a great dumpling restaurant and fun discussions of world affairs.
With noted contrarian Heirabbit!
When I posted pictures of Dali on the blog in December, Heirabbit commented: "Don’t tell the communist party there’s a place with preserved history in China. They’ll go over there and bulldoze it." Which brings me to my next entry...