Nanjing memorial visit

We’ve been in Nanjing for over a month! It’s startling to see time fly by so quickly. I’m in the fourth week of classes at Nan Da, feeling small victories every time I learn a phrase that’s not a simple vocabulary word, like ‘and what’s more,’ or ‘what’s to be done?’ Liz has started meeting with tutors, so she’ll be advancing her learning skills as well.

We’ve also worked out some of the kinks in our apartment, like figuring out which combination of appliances trips the fuse box. We can go days (sometimes) without having to make the extra trip down the stairs to flip the switch. Even in the absence of a holiday we still get occasional fireworks outside our window, which is fine since Leo has learned to sleep through them.

This last weekend we had a tremendous time with a good friend visiting from Shanghai, Orianne. She was visiting there on business from the States, and made it out here for two days to see us and the local sights. We saw Sun Yat-Sen’s mausoleum, a local temple to Confucius, and the memorial museum to the Nanjing Massacre. She also translated numerous restaurant menus, effectively tripling our knowledge of the different types of dishes we can order, all without the extra anatomical additions!

The Nanjing Massacre Museum deserves at least a passing observation. This brand-new exhibit features artifacts and historical reflections on World-War era aggressions made by Japan against China. The main focus is on a six-week period between December 1937 and January 1938, where Japanese troops brutally pillaged Nanjing and the surrounding countryside. The museum captured the savage reality of these events- 300,000 out of 1 million resident civilians were killed, by means of 28 mass-executions and hundreds of incidental executions by the Japanese occupiers. People were herded together in groups of thousands and then mowed down by machine guns, or were cruelly beheaded one at a time in front of soon-to-be victims. When sunlight grew short, executioners sped the process by dousing crowds with gasoline and setting them alight. Women, children, and elderly were not spared. 20,000 cases of rape were reported. Bodies literally piled in the streets. Thanks to a group of less than 20 foreign residents of American and European citizenship, an International Safety Zone was cordoned off in the city, about 1/8th the area inside the city walls. Hundreds of thousands of refugee civilians took shelter here to escape the slaughter. Our apartment actually resides within this historical zone, as it hugs tight to the university area.

This gruesome period of history is not so frequently reported in US textbooks, so we wanted to give at least some mention in case people are unfamiliar with it. It definitely deepens our appreciation for the dark times this city has seen, notwithstanding the 70 years of history in the massacre’s aftermath. It’s amazing that there are still survivors from that time living in Nanjing today- their testimonies were the most gripping elements of the whole exhibition. Needless to say, diplomatic tensions still lie between the two countries to this day. Relations have improved, but it will be a considerable time before they are completely normalized.


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March 2008
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