Last summer I made two trips out to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial (南京大屠杀纪念馆) while studying in Shanghai. Those visits became the theme for a Chinese paper I wrote some weeks later. That paper can be found here.
As has been mentioned before, China was never a complete colony of any single nation. However from 1937 up until the end of WWII the Empire of Japan invaded China with the goal of turning it into a colony. Japan already had colonial claims on parts of China to include the region around Qingdao as well as Taiwan. Their invasion would eventually meet stiff resistance as they approached the then Chinese capitol of Nanjing. However the Japanese were ultimately successful in taking both Shanghai and then Nanjing by December 13, 1937. What followed was one of the darkest chapters of colonialism in China as the army of Imperial Japan stormed the city of Nanjing and killed possibly as many as 300,000 citizens. These deaths and the war crimes that accompanied them are generally referred to collectively as the Nanjing Massacre (also as the Rape of Nanking).
The Nanjing Massacre Memorial was built in 1985 to serve as a reminder to the Chinese people of the events that took place that December. My main goal in visiting the Memorial was to gain an understanding behind the purpose of its existence. I had the opportunity to meet with the Memorial’s Deputy Director, Mr. Chen, who mentioned that the museum has two distinct purposes. One of the reasons he mentioned was the goal to promote world peace. This goal is manifest in a number of exhibits within the memorial, including the Peace Statue which is one of the largest monuments on display.
The second purpose he mentioned was that of cultivating patriotism in the youth of China. This was a sentiment shared by President Hu Jintao who said on his visit to the memorial, “This is a good place to carry out patriotic education.” I feel that these sentiments contradict the goals of peace, as any structure that builds a sense of national unity through the remembrance of past persecutions risks creating a culture bent on revenge not focused on peace.
A certain exhibit in particular on display during my visit caught my attention. It had only the words 勿忘国耻. 振兴中华. (Don’t forget our national shame. Rejuvenate China). This is a phrase I have discussed before, and to me it represents, as well as any single phrase can, the state of China at this time.
My point in all this is not to deny the importance of remembering the darker chapters of world history. On the contrary I feel that we should take time to remember such things for it is a somber reminder of the horrible things humanity is capable of both collectively and individually. However we must do so with an understanding that these horrible traits are a part of each and every one of us and with a resolve to do our part to not allow such atrocities to occur around us.