Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Not An Incidental Incident

I believe you can tell much about a people by the type of TV programmes they watch, and regular readers might remember my musings on Latin American telenovelas and Southeast Asia's love of karaoke. Well, China has its own TV obsession: violence in general and kung-fu in particular. It is hard to switch on a TV here without seeing either a kung-fu soap (personally I'm quite partial to them, especially the ridiculous slapstick comedy), or some low-budget, low quality war drama pitting the plucky locals against the dastardly Japs. Now I don't know what exactly this says about the Chinese, but it does let me link nicely to my next topic.

You see, I happen to be in Nanjing, which was the capital of China once during the early Ming dynasty and also at the beginning of the 20th century (Nanjing actually literally means "southern capital", whereas Beijing means "northern capital"). I wish the city were famous for its impressive city walls, which are the longest in the world, or for being the final resting place of Sun Yat-Sen, the father of modern China. Unfortunately it is most famous for the absolute blackness of its darkest hour. It is here that one of the worst wartime atrocities ever was committed during the Second Sino-Japanese War (the war started in 1937 and later merged into the chaos that became World War 2), or, as it's called here, The War Of Resistance Against Japanese Agression. This ugliest of events is known as the Rape of Nanking (although some Japanese history textbooks call it the Nanking Incident). After capturing the city in December 1937 the Japanese troops went on the rampage committing atrocities on the civilian population, some of which even I am too squeamish to write about. It is estimated that some 300,000 people were massacred in various brutal ways (at the memorial there's even a Japanese newspaper article from the time that describes a competition between 2 Japanese officers to kill as many Chinese as possible using only their swords; the winner managed 106) and over 50,000 women (from 7 to 77) were raped. I feel the massacre here was perhaps worse than the Jewish holocaust simply because the atrocities were committed individually, up close and personal, rather than "industrially". Learning about this makes me understand, at least partly, the general antipathy of the Chinese towards the Japanese; plus the Japanese don't do themselves any favours by stubbornly refusing to say they're sorry and instead state that they "regret what happened" (the difference may just be semantics, but it makes a lot of difference to some people).

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