First port visit since Second World War signals warming ties between Asian rivals.
There were tears in his eyes and anger in his voice.
His fingers trembled, his lips quivered as he recalled the day when soldiers of the Imperial Japanese army marched into Nanjing and he remembers how they scarred the city and the people for life.
“I saw bodies lying on both sides of the road, they were everywhere,” said Xiang Yuan Song.
|Invading Japanese troops launched a six week
campaign of violence on the city of Nanjing
“The Japanese killed my brother and raped my sister. I can remember everything like it was yesterday and I can never forget.”
Xiang was a 10-year-old boy at that time. He survived because he was rounded up and put into a Japanese detention camp. It probably saved his life.
Nanking, as it was then known in the West, fell to the Japanese on December 13th 1937.
In the years previously the city had been the capital of the nationalist Kuomintang government of the Republic of China.
What followed was six weeks of rape and slaughter. Surrendering Chinese soldiers were killed but the majority of dead were civilians.
What is known as the Rape of Nanjing is largely forgotten by the outside world – it didn’t compare with the Holocaust. But to the survivors, this city and China itself what happened was just as devastating.
According to eyewitness reports from foreigners, film and photographic evidence, and testimony from survivors, the Japanese barbarity knew no bounds.
Stories emerged of children being bayoneted to death, pregnant women having their foetus cut from their stomachs, beheadings, and mutilation. It is a long list of almost unimaginable horrors and one of modern China‘s darkest moments.
|Soldiers joined an estimated 100,000 mourners bowing in respect at Thursday’s memorial [AFP]|
On Thursday, as China marked the 70th anniversary of the start of the killings, a new multi-million dollar extension to Nanjing’s Massacre Museum was opened so the city and the world will not forget what happened.
It is dedicated to more than 300,000 people the Chinese say were slaughtered by the invading Japanese army.
Outside there are statues of victims with captions saying “quickly run, the devils are coming.”
It is an impression many in China have had of the Japanese since that period of barbarity, resulting in difficult diplomatic relations between the two countries.
|Japanese monks joined ceremonies
marking the massacre anniversary [AFP]
Japanese accounts of the events of late 1937 dispute the number of dead, some say it was only a few hundred and while others call it an “incident” rather than a massacre.
Many in China believe Japan has not fully atoned for its crime.
Lin Bo Yao is Chinese but was born in Japan and speaks fluent Japanese and is now the secretary general of the China-Japan friendship association.
For him Japan’s counterclaims over the massacre are supported by many including politicians.
“The largest right-wing organization in Japan denied the existence of the Rape of Nanjing,” he told Al Jazeera.
“These include about a quarter of all the congressmen in Japan – even eight cabinet members and the prime minister.”
Inside the Museum is a large building housing the human bones of victims which have been excavated over the last 10 years.
|Up to 300,000 people died in the
massacre according to China [AFP]
The remains include those of many children.
Nearby is the so-called “10,000 corpse trench” – the final resting place of many Chinese who were killed by the Japanese, some of whom were said to have been buried alive.
For some of the Chinese visitors it is the first time they have had the chance to look closely at the evidence of the massacre.
But 75-year-old Shi Xiu Qin cannot. She is a massacre survivor and she is blind.
One of the last things she saw was her mother being raped. Then, to quieten her cries she says, Japanese soldiers gouged out her eyes with a bayonet.
“They were raping my mother while I stood next to her. I was only five-years-old, my mother was crying so I did too and the soldiers kept shouting at me but I didn’t understand. And then they cut my eyes.”
Such an act is almost beyond belief.
Any normal person visiting the Nanjing memorial museum tends to ask two questions – ‘how?’ and ‘why?’. The people who know the answers are almost all dead.
But on Thursday’s anniversary ceremonies one Japanese man in a wheelchair came to visit the museum.
He refused to be interviewed, but we were told he was a soldier who was stationed in Nanjing during those six weeks.
Maybe he was a soldier with a conscience. If so, it didn’t go as far as offering an explanation to what he or his fellow soldiers did during that period.
|Cheng Yun, an 88-year-old massacre survivor,
says he cannot forget but can now forgive
A huge peace statue stands at one end of the museum grounds.
Although the anniversary has reignited the controversy over the Nanjing massacre it comes at a time of warmer relations between China and Japan, possibly an indicator of further improved relations in the future.
But watching the video, gazing at the photos and hearing the first hand accounts of the survivors, it helps to explain why there is so much animosity here towards the Japanese.
Seventy years on, the survivors of 1937 now number only a few hundred. Nanjing’s Massacre museum was built so not one would forget.
At 88, Cheng Yun is one of the oldest survivors still alive. He was shot three times in his leg and says while he cannot forget what the Japanese did, he can now forgive.
“We should educate the younger generation both in China and Japan to be more friendly towards each other in the future,” he told me.
“We should never ever let such a tragedy happen again.”