Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Nanjing, some troubling points

A year or so ago, I posted this at my original blog site. That site seems to be defunct now, so I am reposting here.

A few years ago, a friend told me she went to the Yu Hua Tai Martyr's Museum in Nanjing, and that it was a real tear-jerker of an experience. I am not sure whether it was the fact that she commented on the cruelty of the Japanese in Nanjing during WWII, or if I just linked it to The Nanjing Massacre because of my knowledge of that event. Somehow, I expected that event to be the focus of the museum.

But what I found in the museum on a recent visit there was troubling to me on so many levels. Most of what was troubling to me was tied to the fact that very little of the museum is dedicated to the Nanjing Massacre. Instead, a walk through the two floors of plaques, letters from the dead, clothes, photos, and all sorts of momentos will show that the attrocities committed by the Japanese during the war are not the real important event to be recorded by communist China today. What is more important is to get across that the Kuomingtang used Yu Hua Tai Gardens as an execution ground for the communists during the early years of the 20th century, before the Rape of Nanjing even happened. I don't know any better way to express what is so troubling about this than to simply enumerate the many bothersome points.

Troubling Point #1
If the story as told by the Martyr's Museum at Yu Hua Tai Gardens is to be believed, there were far more Chinese killed by Chinese than were ever killed by the Japanese, and with no less cruelty. As a long time reader of such books as Wild Swans and Life and Death in Shanghai, I find this point not too much of a stretch. Those books and other similar memoirs of survivors of the Cultural Revolution who still remember the prewar period paint a horrifying picture of the experiences of the Chinese over the past century. What was suffered at the hands of the Japanese was horrible, no question. How much worse is it when the same attrocities were likewise committed by one's own countrymen against one's own people?

Troubling Point #2
This is not the first time I have heard the story that is represented at the Martyr's Museum. I've linked those books above which tell this story, and have also read many others like them. In addition, I've seen the story in another museum, this one in Taipei. In Taipei, the story is -- of course -- told very differently. There, it is the communists who were committing all sorts of attrocities, with the KMT trying desparately to defend the people. From books such as Wild Swans, the story represented is that both the KMT and the communists were ruthless and had little regard for the people, seeking only to see their own party in power at the end of the day. Based on subsequent events and political developments in both Taiwan and the Mainland, I suspect this view is the one closest to the truth. It is, at the very least, the one with which I am most sympathetic.

Troubling Point #3
The political rhetoric at the museum is appalling. It is not, to me, touching or moving, though it seems to be so to many visitors there. To me, it is more than just a little sickening. At the Martyr's Museum (ahem!), the story is told of the "KMT Insurrectionists" (aka "The KMT Rebels") vs. "The Communist Patriots." When the patriots finally came into town, they "liberated" Nanjing. It may be hard to believe, but I don't think they did that without bloodshed. Indeed, they did so without the slightest bit of mercy shown toward the "Rebels." (Another strange point -- it seems in Taipei's museum that they got the team names mixed up. There it is the communists who are the Rebels, and the KMT who are Patriots. Odd, that.)

Troubling Point #4
The deaths commemorated at the Martyr's Museum are mostly the death of kids. The oldest martyr I found was 23 years old. The majority were between the ages of 18 and 20. There were some as young as 15. These children fought bravely, but stupidly. They were brainwashed, as is clearly evident by the many letters and poems plastering the wall in the museum (which many visitors describe as moving -- I just call them extraordinarily sad). It reminds me of a scene in The Soong Sisters where a group of students demonstrate on the streets where Chiang Kai Shek is driving, making a horrifying sacrifice of one of their own in an attempt to catch his attention. They fought and died as true believers, with the message of the Party on their lips. For this they are remembered today as martyrs. Martyrs to the cause. Their short lives sacrificed by men and women who had lived longer -- long enough to know better, you'd think.

Troubling Point #5
This is really just a culmination of the above points, I suppose. The goal stated over and over by both the KMT and the Communists (a goal that rises out of the thought of Sun Yat Sen) was to build a New China. In 1949, history (as told in China) tells us that this was finally achieved -- Communist China was born. My question, though, is for whom was it born? What was the point? If it was for the young people of China, then it was a wasted effort. So many of the young people of China were sacrificed to the ideal of the New China. Who, then, is left to enjoy the fruits of that effort?

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