One of the big thing about traveling for me (apart from food) is the chance to read about the history of the city because I am always of the belief that there is something special worth knowing in most places where people have lived. One of the things that continue to alarm me is the ravages of war throughout our short history on Earth, while I did have sympathy for the innocents who died in Japan during the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings; it’s also undeniable the pain that was inflicted on Nanjing by Japan – and the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall aims to remind us of that.
The Nanjing Massacre happened during 1937 when Japan invaded China, Nanjing at the time was the capital of China and reading about the past, it’s evident that China never expected Japan to be able to breach the capital. The official number of deaths is still contested but the range is between 30,000 and 300,000 – that said, any death from war is one too many. The museum itself is split into outdoor and indoor exhibits.
Outdoor and Statues
The outdoor area mainly consists of statues depicting the horrors of the invasion – there are short snippets of the experiences by the victims as well.
Post the outdoor area, you’re led to the indoor exhibit.
Indoor – Witnesses and what happened
The indoor area is a little more focused on the informational aspect of the Nanjing Massacre – there were various recounts of what happened and also details about the Nanjing Safety Zone – which is an area where locals had refuge from the violence. While I don’t deny that what happened was bad – the narrative and also items on display was a bit on the nose in terms of the propaganda – which you can’t blame the Chinese government because “soft” power is never something they know how to use.
Past the informational section, you’re also brought to an area called the “grave” where on display were bones similar to the killing fields in Phnom Penh. That said, I don’t know whether it’s just the presentation or the propaganda machine’s inefficiency – a fair amount of people there questioned whether the area looked real as we walked around.
The Unofficial End
Once you’ve passed the exhibit and informational area, you’re brought to a very nice outdoor area where there was a really nice memorial – the area is actually quite tranquil and it was nice to see the emphasis on peace.
The Official End
However, and to be very honest, I felt that it was unfortunate that the memorial have to be tied to this. After you’re past the “peace” area – everyone is funneled into what I consider as unnecessary propaganda – the building was massive and very blunt in it’s message that the PRC was the greatest and plastered all over the place is now the very ambitious Xi. Surprisingly, the locals seems to love this area more than the actual history before.
War is never a good thing, and whilst history has shown that society as a whole grows through war, the cost of any life is one too many – especially when it comes to deaths of innocents. However, I’m also of the opinion that using victims as a tool to push a political agenda is cruel, instead, I’d rather the exhibit to have ended at the Unofficial End and allow people to just reflect and remind themselves not to make the same mistakes.
Your “Final Thought” is an important and significant statement. I fully agree with you. Using victims to push a political agenda seems more the rule than the exception at too many memorials in too many countries. Great post.
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