China remembers 1937 massacre

By Chen Heying Source:Global Times Published: 2014-12-16 18:38:01

A boy kneels down and mourns at a memorial monument at Hanzhongmen in Nanjing on Saturday. Photo: CFP

On the face of elderly Li Xiuying, deep gashes could be seen among her wrinkles.

They were stab wounds left by Japanese soldiers on December 19, 1937, the late woman's daughter Lu Qi recalled.

In a basement of Wutaishan Primary School in Nanjing hid Li and several Chinese women before three Japanese soldiers approached in an attempt to rape them.

Trying to fend off the soldiers, Li, 19, who was seven months pregnant, was jabbed 37 times by bayonets until the last stab at her belly made her collapse, the daughter told the Global Times.

It was not until the evening that Li's father dared to send her to the hospital in order to avoid being detected by Japanese soldiers. Unfortunately, her first baby was stillborn.

Li was one of the survivors of the month-long Nanjing Massacre, or the Rape of Nanking, that began from December 13, 1937.

Lost happiness

Nanjing was the capital of the Kuomintang government, and a major war target for Japan. The freezing winter of 1937 saw the invading Japanese army kill tens of thousands of people within six weeks. Chinese historians set the estimate at 300,000 dead, while international estimates range from 40,000 to 350,000 or more.

Chang Zhiqiang, now 86, often reflects on the happy days before the Japanese invasion. "Nanjing was a prosperous city," he said. "Life was full of fun. There were storytellers, acrobats and magicians."

Chang's father ran a small grocery store. "He was quiet and reserved," he said. "My mom was very clever and made all kinds of shoes for children. Everyone liked her."

As the Japanese army approached Nanjing, refugees from the north flooded in, while locals fled. A telegram sent on October 28, 1937 by Kouki Hirota, the then Japanese Foreign Minister, suggested that there were more than 530,000 people still living in the city.

Chang recalled that several Japanese soldiers entered the house where his family were hiding. He remembered one man fighting the intruders with his bare hands, so that others could have time to escape.

But Chang's parents, concerned about being separated from their children, were caught by the Japanese.

"A [Japanese] devil bayoneted my mom and my sister and brothers hurried to protect her," recalled the old man, his voice trembling.

"One of my younger brothers was 3 years old and was scared of anything, even dogs. But at that moment, he bit the devil's hand."

Chang's youngest brother was still a toddler. After his mom was attacked, he fell to the ground. The soldier speared him with his bayonet and tossed him into the air.

When the baby landed, Chang, then only 9 years old, lay down with his brother and passed out.

After a while, he opened his eyes. The Japanese soldier had left. He saw his mom breastfeeding his youngest brother while collapsed on the floor bleeding as both of them died.

All his brothers died and his last memory of his father was his lifeless body surrounded by a pool of blood. Only Chang and his sister survived.

It was not long until he heard that dozens of bodies had been buried, like fodder, in a vegetable field. One sight remains etched in his mind, a baby nuzzled up against a woman, milk, tears and snot turned to ice. The two bodies were frozen together and nobody could separate them.

Living fossils

"My mum died at 86 years old in 2004. Before that we had always raced against time because she was like a living fossil who can recount that piece of history," Lu said.

As more survivors of the Nanjing Massacre pass away, it is a challenge for us to prevent that piece of history from passing into silence, Lu said.

Sun Zhaiwei, a research fellow with the Jiangsu Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that "only when we respect and engrave the history in our mind can we live with dignity and avert a repeat of that painful history." Sun spent more than 30 years reviewing the death records and concluded that some 246,000 bodies had been buried.

December 13, 2014 marked the first time that the Nanjing Massacre was commemorated at the national level though Nanjing has been holding memorial ceremonies on this day for the past two decades.

The names of Chang's loved ones are etched, along with 10,000 more, on the 70-meter-long memorial wall in the Memorial Hall of the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders.

More names will be added in time, but the documentary records of individuals are often scanty, given wartime conditions.

"The national memorial also served a role in preventing Japanese from revising the wartime history," Tong Zeng, known for his attempts to pursue civil claims against Japan, told the Global Times.

Some right-wing Japanese nationalists refuse to recognize the scale of victims, discredit survivors, and even go so far as to claim that the massacre was entirely fabricated. The Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 convicted Class-A Japanese war criminals from World War II among the war dead, is also a frequent focus of controversy. Another recurring issue is that some right-wing Japanese textbooks brush over the massacre or distort the historical facts. 

Eiken Hayashi, an Osaka-based political research fellow, told the Global Times via email that "not only the Japanese government but also all the Japanese people, including the establishment should understand history in a way that all the Asian (particularly China and Korea) people and countries will be satisfied."

"In addition to the national memorial ceremony at which we offer tribute to the victims, we have to give them more support on ordinary days when they recount the atrocities of imperial Japanese army and demand compensation and apologies from the Japanese government on behalf of the late victims," Tong said.

Material compensation is not important any more for those who "crawled out of the piles of dead people," Tong added."What they need is psychological comfort that they do not fight alone, but fight for the whole nation to demand deserved apologies."

Xinhua contributed to the story
Newspaper headline: Blood and terror

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