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.
Nanjing has a very, very long history -- indeed, there are signs it was inhabited before there was a written history in the region. The written records we have date back to the Warring States Period of Chinese history (453-221 BC). And it's history is a colourful and exciting one. It served as capitol of the nation twice (it's name means "Southern Capitol," Beijing meaning "Northern Capitol), once during the Ming Dynasty, and once under Sun Yat Sen's presidency when the country was briefly the Republic of China in the early 20th Century. The city has served as execution grounds at least twice as well, once for the Kuomintang (KMT) when they tried to clear the communists out of the country, and once when the combined British and Qing armies, along with various European and US forces, slaughtered the defenders in the Taiping Rebellion.
Perhaps the city is most famously known, though, for the "Rape of Nanjing" -- the savage massacre it suffered at the hands of the Japanese during WWII. The official numbers tell that about 300,000 were killed during this horrifying event. But as staggering as the numbers might appear, it is the savagery of the crimes committed there that is even more troubling. According to this site, the people of Nanjing were "beheaded, burned, bayoneted, buried alive, or disemboweled." Until today, this is a sore spot with many Chinese, causing a lot of hatred still toward the Japanese. What makes it toughest to swallow, for many is this:
"To this day the Japanese government has refused to apologize for these and other World War II atrocities, and a significant sector of Japanese society denies that they took place at all." (quoted from the website linked above)
When I was in Shanghai about this time a year ago, there was a huge demonstration on the streets of the city -- and on the streets of major cities all over the nation -- about this very issue. The Chinese people, mostly students, were voicing through these demonstrations their displeasure at Japan's refusal to apologize for atrocities committed against the Chinese during the war, and even a refusal to acknowledge those atrocities as a true history. Below are photos of the demonstration. The first two were taken by me. The last was sent by a friend who was in the more crowded areas downtown that day. (I actually tried to avoid the crowd, but still got caught in its traffic in the western outskirts of the city.)
There is so much information about this event in China's history available. I have debated about whether to link to some of the more graphic websites out there, particularly those with photos which show exactly why the name "The Rape of Nanjing" is used more often than the event's other denominator, "The Nanjing Massacre." (The women of Nanjing had it really rough when the Japanese arrived during WWII.) I've decided that those sites are easy enough to find for anyone who really wants to. I do, however, want to recommend this website's writeup and these books . For anyone remotely interested in the modern history of Asia and the mindsets it engenders in the region even today, The Rape of Nanjing is an event that needs serious attention.
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