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UPDATED: March 17, 2014 NO. 12 MARCH 20, 2014
Why Has China Set a Memorial Day for the Nanjing Massacre?
By Zhu Chengshan

PRAYING FOR PEACE: Buddhist monks and citizens hold a candlelight memorial in Nanjing on the evening of December 12, 2013, to commemorate the victims in the Nanjing Massacre committed by Japanese Invaders in 1937 (XINHUA)

The Seventh Session of the 12th Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) ratified a decision on February 27 to set a National Memorial Day for Nanjing Massacre Victims. What is the significance of this decision?

Looking back at world history since World War II, countries have adopted different ways of mourning their nation's loss of life in the war. Such commemorative activities continue to this day, as people are moved to mourn war victims and engage in deep reflection.

Just after the end of World War II, it was inscribed in Poland's legislation that every year on January 27, the country would invite survivors of the war, old Red Army soldiers who participated in the liberation of the concentration camps, as well as politicians from relevant countries, to Auschwitz Concentration Camp National Museum for commemorative activities, while similar activities are also convened across the country. In November 2005, UNESCO set January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Every year on this day, international metropolises like New York and Paris conduct activities in remembrance of the tragedy.

The United States commemorates the Pearl Harbor attacks by the Japanese, which fell on the early morning of December 7, 1941 (Hawaii time), and marked the opening of the Pacific War. The then U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed this day the Day of Infamy and announced war against Japan. On December 7 every year, the U.S. Government, the military and the public reflect on the Pearl Harbor incident. From Hawaii to Washington D.C., local governments lower their flags to half-mast, and the military presents wreathes, commemorating more than 2,400 Americans who lost their lives in the incident. On December 7, 2013, President Barack Obama announced the decision to set the aforementioned date as the country's National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

Japan's Hiroshima and Nagasaki also have commemorative activities for the victims of atomic bombs in 1945. After World War II, except for during the Korean War in 1951, on August 6 and 9 every year, Japan has held large-scale activities in the two cities to mourn victims and pray for peace. Japan's incumbent prime minister, presidents of the Senate and the House of Representatives, as well as leaders of Japan's major political parties attend commemorative ceremonies. Since 1999, Japan has invited large powers in possession of nuclear weapons to attend the ceremony. In the past, the United States declined this invitation, but since 2011, it has sent representatives to the ceremony. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was invited to prayer ceremonies in Hiroshima in 2010. Comparatively, the national memorial day of China has come a bit late.

The call of the people

To set a national commemorative day for the Nanjing Massacre victims has been strongly called for by the Chinese people for many years.

Starting December 13, 1937, invading Japanese solders conducted a cruel massacre in the city of Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu Province, for more than 40 days. The notorious massacre shocked the world. There is irrefutable evidence for the atrocious behavior that openly flouted international law.

On December 13 every year since 1994, there has been a tradition to conduct commemorative ceremonies for the survivors and victims of the massacre in Nanjing. Several times, they have asked the state to stress commemorative activities for Nanjing Massacre victims. Scholars and experts who have been long engaged in researching the history of the massacre have also proposed that the commemorative activities at the provincial level or city level are not enough to mourn the victims. Such activities demand the attendance of China's state leadership to show respect for the loss of life of the victims and fulfill their responsibility to history.

On March 9, 2005, in the Third Session of the 10th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Zhao Long, a member to the CPPCC, for the first time submitted the proposal to set December 13 as China's National Memorial Day for the victims of the Nanjing Massacre. On March 9, 2012, Zhao again submitted this proposal in the Fifth Session of the 11th CPPCC National Committee. Meanwhile, on March 10 that year, in the Fifth Session of the 11th NPC, some deputies also submitted the proposal to set a national commemorative day for victims of Nanjing massacre in 1937. The setting of the national commemorative day meets the people's will and, when all is said and done, it is the people's will that matters the most.

For the future

By conducting national commemorative activities, China expresses its wish that such a massive tragedy will not repeat in the future and that human beings will live in peace and harmony. It shows the rest of the world that the Chinese people will always remember our history and we have strong determination to safeguard peace. Forgetting history might lead to repetition of tragedies and undermine peace.

Mei Ru'ao, a judge who attended the International Military Tribunal for the Far East on China's behalf trying class-A war criminals like Iwane Matsui, who was the principal criminal in the Nanjing Massacre, warned that forgetting history might result in future catastrophes. Of course, to review history is not for revenge, but it is a warning. As Li Xiuying, a survivor of the massacre, said before passing away that, "We must remember history, but not hatred." When Nanjing was embroiled in the massacre in 1937, Li was a 19-year-old pregnant woman. Japanese soldiers left 37 cuts on her body, but she fortunately survived.

After visiting the Memorial Hall for the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre on December 13, 2013, Takaiane Yasunori, a professor from Japan's University of Nagasaki, said, "I am most impressed by the Nanjing Massacre, and I am shocked by all of the historical photos exhibited here. In the past, I always believed that Japan was the only country that was hurt by that war, but this is not the truth. It is necessary for Japanese people to know Japan's crimes against the Chinese people during World War II, and more importantly, Japan must reflect deeply on this period of history."

However, as a country that hurt others, Japan has never stopped making carping comments on the Nanjing Massacre, which has already been a legal verdict and historical judgment. Particularly, Japan's right-wing group­—represented by Shinzo Abe—is trying their best to whitewash Japan's invasion to other countries and also the pain it caused to others. Some people in Japan, like Naoki Hyakut, a novelist and one of the board members of NHK, have even attempted to deny the Nanjing Massacre. Such denials are shocking.

Against this backdrop, reconfirming the fact of the Nanjing Massacre in legal forms and holding national commemorative ceremonies for the victims mean to refute shameless claims of some Japanese, maintain historical truth and promote peace for all. To remember history and to pursue peace for the future are the true purpose of China setting a national commemorative day.

The author is the curator of the Memorial Hall for the Victims in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders

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