Books marking the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War at the Beijing International Book Fair (WEI YAO)
Zhang Shujian, a retired public servant and currently President of the Women Photographers' Association of Cangzhou, north China's Hebei Province, has spent over three years taking photos of 120 women over the age of 85 and compiling them in a photo essay book.
In the book, the women recount the atrocities committed by Japanese forces during their war of aggression against China, which was launched in 1931 and ended in 1945 with Japan's unconditional surrender.
The book is part of a two-volume series titled The Red Memory published by the Hebei Fine Arts Publishing House in July, with the other volume devoted to the stories of counter-Japanese soldiers who are still alive. The series was among hundreds of books on the war promoted at the 22nd Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF) on August 26-30. Over 2,000 publishing houses from 82 countries participated in the event.
This year's BIBF featured a book exhibition marking the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War. More than 800 titles were on display including photo collections, historical literature and literary works. Audio books and e-books exploring that part of history were also showcased at the exhibition.
Zhang was commissioned by the local government in 2011 to look for and visit women in rural areas of Cangzhou born before 1930 who had assisted the armed forces of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The CPC-led Eighth Route Army founded counter-Japanese base areas in Hebei during the war of resistance.
A book on China's contributions to victory in World War II published by the Beijing-based Foreign Languages Press
One fact struck Zhang when she paid visits to the "old mothers," a respectful term locals use to address senior women: Very few of them had photos of themselves. As a photographer, she decided to shoot their photos.
"The old mothers felt very pleased to have photos of their own. They would show them to friends and relatives—whoever paid a visit," Zhang told Beijing Review.
During her visits to these women, the photographer would ask them about the war. They would tell her how they suffered Japanese aggression and what they did to support resistance efforts.
For instance, 93-year-old Ge Funu, one of the protagonists of Zhang's book, said she once helped several women captured by Japanese soldiers from a neighboring village escape. In addition, she composed songs that encouraged local people to unite together to fight invaders. Ge and her peers also made clothes and shoes for Chinese soldiers and took care of the wounded combatants.
After the three northeastern provinces of China fell into the hands of the Japanese within a few months following the September 18 Incident in 1931, Hebei became the main target of Japanese aggression. Japanese forces began to invade the province in 1933. It is estimated that there were over 5.48 million casualties in the province during the war, accounting for one fifth of its population in 1937.
When she learned that the Hebei Fine Arts Publishing House wanted to turn her photos into a book, Zhang decided to reshoot the photos with her colleagues in the photographers' association. In order to capture the perfect moment, she had to visit some veterans over three times.
"I was deeply touched when I first read the draft of the book," said Tian Zhong, Executive Deputy Editor in Chief of the Hebei Fine Arts Publishing House. "There is a story behind each picture, which illustrates a national spirit that should never be forgotten."
Zhang Jixiang, a 70-year-old writer from Zuoquan County, north China's Shanxi Province, is also engaged in passing on this spirit to younger generations.
His Irrefutable Evidence, published by the Beijing-based New World Press, includes photos from a Japanese pictorial that recorded wartime crimes committed by Japanese forces in China.
"The pictorial provides strong evidence for Japan's invasion because it comprises photos taken by the invaders themselves. In the face of these photos, who can deny the fact of aggression?" Zhang Jixiang said, referring to Japanese right-wing activists' attempts to whitewash their country's wartime crimes.
Zhang Jixiang's hometown changed from Liaoxian to Zuoquan after the county's namesake senior Eighth Route Army officer was killed in action. Zuo Quan (1905-42), Deputy Chief of Staff of the Eighth Route Army, was the highest-ranking CPC officers who lost their lives in the war.
Inspired by the patriotic spirit of his fellow countrymen, Zhang Jixiang dedicated himself to writing about his home county's counter-Japanese stories after retirement and has published five works in this genre.
His next project is to write a book about the counter-Japanese stories of the 370 or so local villages that come straight from the mouths of residents over 90 years old. He has been able to interview people ages 90 and upward of all the villages.
"Every village has stories of fighting Japanese invaders and every village suffered massacre," said Zhang Jixiang. "Zuoquan's fight exemplifies the nationwide war of resistance. As a local resident, I have the responsibility to document that part of history and leave it to future generations."
Zhang Shujian also feels that preserving and passing down stories of the war is an urgent task.
"For my generation, our parents lived through the war, and they kept telling us about it. However, for my son's and my grandson's generation, the history of the war may become vague and obscure," said Zhang Shujian. "I hope that young people can memorize history and cherish today's peaceful life."
In the three years when Zhang Shujian was taking photos of the old mothers, 13 passed away. "The physical conditions of these women are delicate. Many people urged me to seize the opportunity; otherwise after they pass away, nobody will be able to give a personal account of the war," she said.
Notably, the books on the war published in China have drawn attention abroad. For instance, the Hangzhou-based Zhejiang People's Publishing House has signed copyright export agreements with South Korean publishers on its books about Japanese germ warfare in China during World War II (WWII) and Chinese women forced into sexual slavery by Japanese forces.
Many more publishers are eyeing the international market. At the BIBF, the New World Press signed a contract with the China International Television Corp. on the publishing of a book based on the latter's documentary The Oriental Battlefield, which offers a panoramic view of China's contributions to the victory of Allied powers in WWII. The former will promote the book, which will come out in seven editions in various languages, at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany in October.
Liu Wei, Deputy Manager of the Yayuncun Books Building in Beijing, said the publishing sector is willing to contribute to the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the victory of the war of resistance. "Books can recapture wartime hardships with stark facts," he said.
Copyedited by Kylee McIntyre
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