The Tokyo Centre for Air Raid Damage

By Austin Smith

This post is an edited version of content found in the Japan Fieldwork Diary 2016.

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The Tokyo Centre for Air Raid Damage.

The Tokyo Centre for Air Raid Damage  is an unassuming building located in Kōtō-ku (江東区) in an area identified as the epicentre of the firebombing of Tokyo (known as the “Doolittle Raid”) on 10th March 1945. This area of Tokyo is a world away from the internationalised districts of Ginza, Shibuya and Asakusa many foreign tourists will be familiar with and as I walked along the canal attracting curious glances in the baking heat I felt as if I had landed back in Tokushima rather than in one of the twenty-three wards of one of the world’s “Global Cities”. The centre, which opened in 2002, is open five days a week (closed Mondays and Tuesdays) and includes exhibits, a library of material relating to bombing and the broader wartime experience and space for public lectures about the event over three floors. There is also office space used for staff and researchers.

On entering the centre I got the impression that the staff were surprised to see a foreign visitor and it soon became clear that I was in fact the first visitor of the day, despite the fact it was almost lunchtime by the time I arrived. The second and third floors of the exhibit were opened for me and I was encouraged to watch a fifteen minute DVD titled “What is the Great Tokyo Air Raid?”/ 『東京大空襲ってなに?』(2016) before walking around. While the sections narrated by survivors had English subtitles provided there were long sections of film in Japanese language only. This included an extremely graphic clip from Imai Tadashi’s War and Youth『戦争と青春』(1991) in which scenes of firebombing had been remastered. The narration emphasises the importance of looking beyond the death toll and damage statistics to consider the individual experience. The death toll, which is estimated at close to 100,000 people is presented as being of a similar magnitude to that of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima despite the fewer efforts being made to publicly commemorate the event. The final message of the DVD is the need preserve and promote the memory of the Great Tokyo Air Raid to future generations in the name of peace.

After viewing the DVD I took in the two floors of exhibitions starting from the entrance by the television and working around in an anti-clockwise direction. The first section was a small display of images from other bombed cities such as Osaka, Nagoya, Kobe, Fukui, and Kawasaki. The next display was an interactive Tokyo Air Raids Oral History Map produced in 2014 by a team of researchers supported by the Japan Science and Technology Agency.

The next two displays placed the Great Tokyo Air Raid in context by including details of the war in Asia and the Pacific region and the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” followed by images of instances of civilian bombing from across the world such as Dresden, Guernica and Chongqing. This served to show that the Japanese were not the only victims of bombing in the period and that they were also perpetrators of bombing foreign cities during that period.

The second half of the room was filled with seating arranged for public speaking. The walls of this room were dominated by artwork, some were children’s impressions of bombing and others were done by professional artists. One artist that particularly caught the eye was Onozawa Sanichi (1917-2000) as his artwork looked very similar to the work of Iihara Kazuo, an artist who has painted scenes of the Great Tokushima Air Raid. Onozawa helped rescue victims of air raids during the war and his own house in Koishikawa District was burned to the ground during the Yamanote Air Raid. One of the most remarkable images showed the victims of the air raid as angels looking down on the prosperous modern cityscape along the Sumida River. The artwork was accompanied by a map showing the extent of damage done to Tokyo during the air raids with death tolls represented by circles of varying magnitude.

The third floor of the centre was an exhibition space broken down into sixteen sections which were introduced by both Japanese and English panels. The sections had an overwhelming focus on education and the wartime experience of civilians and children and I got the impression that this was because the exhibition was being pitched to an elementary school children audience.

The sections were as follows – 1. ‘The beginning of the expansion of the war’ including currencies and ration books introduced in countries occupied by the Japanese,  2. ‘Air Defence’ including air defence booklets, air defence uniforms, air defence hoods and gas masks, 3. ‘Early Air Raids’ including scorched statues of Ebisu and Buddha, 4. ‘The March 10th Raid’ including photos of the extent of damage and charred bodies, 5. ‘The Yamanote Raids’ included a scorched air defence hood, diaries, tactical mission reports and children’s clothing along with maps of war damage, 6. ‘Introduction of Kokumin Gakkō’ information about the education system which was introduced from April 1941, 7.’A new war begins’ were information is provided about the attack on Pearl Harbour (with the date given as 8th December 1941), 8. ‘I don’t need it till I win’ references to patriotic songs and slogans, 9. ‘Patriotic Media’, 10. ‘School Drills’ showed preparations made for air raids from 1935 to 1942, 11. ‘School Evacuation’, 12. ‘The War Ends’, 13. ‘Education Policies of New Japan’ showed changes made to the education system during the Occupation, 14. Kokumin Gakkō system ends’, 15. ‘War victim compensation campaign’ states that campaigns for compensation for war victims and pensions for veterans were rejected by GHQ, 16. ‘Message of Peace’ accompanied by a large print of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica and a small collection of diaries, letters and books.

This concluded the exhibition. On leaving the centre I asked the staff which of the books on offer were the most popular amongst visitors and they introduced me to the Illustrated Great Tokyo Air Raid.

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Photographs of Tokushima city during the post-war period (1946-1961)

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The Tokushima cityscape was transformed during the post-war period.

The fifty-one photographic images contained in this post are recent additions to the Tokushima Air Raids Digital Archive showing the reconstruction of the city during the Occupation and post-war period (1946-1961). These English translations have been provided to mark the 71st anniversary of the Great Tokushima Air Raid. This selection includes images from the first Awa Odori festival of the post-war period, improvements made to the city’s transport infrastructure and efforts to redevelop the city centre.

Every effort has been made to retain the essence of the original Japanese text and all of the information provided. The responsibility for any inaccuracies is entirely my own.

The original Japanese language version of this archive can be found here: http://shinmachigawa.com/pg106.html

The photographs in this collection are courtesy of the Tokushima Prefectural Archives.

Scenes from Tokushima city centre in 1946

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Citizens walking along the old Shinmachi Bridge (29 January 1946).
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The Jeep was a symbol of the Occupation forces (1946).
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Awa Odori staged for the first time after the war (1946).
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Bon Odori at Kuramoto Market shortly after the war (1946).
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Awa Odori staged for the first time after the war (1946).

Scenes from Tokushima city centre in 1949

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Looking towards Tenjin Shrine from Shinmachi Bridge (13 August 1946).
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The Motomachi area viewed from  the station (9 July 1949).
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The view from the station in the direction of Shinmachi (9 July 1949).
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A trailer bus that ran from Tokushima Station (1949).
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The view from what is now Daiku-machi towards Shinmachi Bridge (13 August 1949).
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A view of Bizan from Shinmachibashi 1-chome (13 August 1945).
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The new Shinmachi Bridge under construction (1949).

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The opening of Shinmachi Bridge [the former bridge] (1 January 1949).
Scenes from Tokushima city centre in 1950

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Shinmachibashi Kitazume (1950).
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A view of Shiroyama from Shinmachibashi (1950).
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Marushin Department Store (1 January 1950).
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Tokushima Station Square: A view of Tokushima Station Square from the diagonal road (9 May 1950).
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Tokushima Station Square: A view of Tokushima Station Square from the diagonal road (9 May 1950).
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A view of Shinmachi from Shinmachi Bridge (25 January 1950).
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A view of Shinmachi from Shinmachi Bridge (January 1950).

Scenes from Tokushima city centre from 1952 to 1955

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The view of Higashi-Senba from Shinmachibashi Kitazuma (1950).
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A view of Mt. Bizan from Shinmachibashi (1952).
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Green space by the banks of the Shinmachi River (1952).
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Transplantation of Washington palms (June 1953).
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Shikoku Broadcasting’s Shinmachibashi office (1953).
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A commemorative photograph taken in front of a trailer bus to mark the crossing of the new bridge (November 1955).

Scenes from Tokushima city centre from 1956 to 1957

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A news flash about votes being counted in the southern part of Shinmachi (June 1956).
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A female engineer (1957).
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Taxis in front of Tokushima Station (1957).
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Mt. Bizan cherry blossom viewing bus (1957).
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Buses in front of Tokushima City Hall (1957).
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Shinmachi Bridge (1957).
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Water-skiing on the Shinmachi River (1957).
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Tokubus New Year preparations (1957).

Scenes from Tokushima city centre from 1958 to 1959

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Station square in its present form (13 June 1959).
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From Shinmachi Bridge to the station (13 June 1959).
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Station square in its present form (13 June 1959).
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Station square in its present form (13 June 1959).
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Shinmachi River Bank Park and Shinmachibashi (1959).
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The view from Tenjin Shrine (1959).
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Shinmachi River Bank Park (1959).
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Shinmachi River Bank Park Shinmachi Bridge (1959).
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The view from Marushin Department Store (1959).
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Station square in its present form (13 June 1959).
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Shikoku Broadcasting viewed from Shinmachi Bridge (5 April 1958).

Scenes from Tokushima city centre from 1960 to 1961

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The Shinmachi area viewed from the “driveway” (February 1960).
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The new and old Shinmachi bridges after completion (1960).

Nittō Airlines was founded as the Japan Tourism Flight Association on 2nd April 1952 and renamed Nittō Airlines co. ltd. on 1 March 1959. The airline operated regular passenger flights across Japan using seaplanes. The company had its headquarters in Kita-ku, Osaka and the first service ran between Osaka International Airport and Shirahama in Wakayama Prefecture on 1st January 1955. The company offered scenic flights in the direction of Nanki and Setouchi. From 1960 the range of destinations was increased to include regular flights to Tokushima, Kochi, Nanki-Shirahama, Kushimoto, Shima (Mie Prefecture) and Niihama (Ehime Prefecture). There were also irregular flights to places such as Beppu. The good thing about using seaplanes was that the destinations did not have to have an airport because the planes could simply take-off and land on water.

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Nittō Airlines airplane (1961).
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Nittō Airlines airplane named “Swallow” (1961).
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Nittō Airlines airplane (1961)

Introducing the Tokushima Air Raids Digital Archive

By Austin Smith.

The former Takahara Building on the banks of the Shinmachi River, Tokushima.
The former Takahara Building on the banks of the Shinmachi River, Tokushima.

Tokushima was one of a number of Japanese cities bombed during a major assault which coincided with American Independence Day. The bombing began on the evening of 3rd July 1945 and continued throughout the night. Sixty-two percent of the city was hit by incendiary bombs from B29 bombers. Approximately one thousand people died and about two thousand were injured.

The Tokushima Air Raids Exhibition is a small photographic collection which is exhibited every July to mark the anniversary of this event. The exhibition is held in the former Takahara Building, a western-style building that survived the bombing. It stands on the banks of the Shinmachi River and the room in which the exhibition is held retains the original windows which were cracked on that night. The photographs in the collection span the twentieth century history of Tokushima City, including pre-war, wartime and post-war images.

The Tokushima Air Raids Digital Archive was launched in 2013 and is available all year round. I have written English explanations for the collection to coincide with the 2014 exhibition and to make the modern history of Tokushima accessible to a wider audience for years to come.

Every effort has been made to retain the essence of the original Japanese text and all of the information provided. Some contextual information has been added to aid understanding for the foreign reader. The responsibility for any in-accuracies is entirely my own.

Here are some of my favourite images from the collection along with their English explanations (these images are courtesy of the Tokushima Prefectural Archive) –

Awa Odori at Shinmachi Bridge
Awa Odori at Shinmachi Bridge

This photograph shows a line of Awa Odori dancers passing over the Shinmachi Bridge. Bon Odori was re-branded as “Awa Odori” by the Tourist Association of Tokushima in 1932 to promote the event nationally as a tourist attraction.

The Sako area of Tokushima.
The Sako area of Tokushima.

There was almost nothing left of the Sako Otani area. Yet, surrounded by the misery of war, an elderly couple relax in an open-air bath. Beautiful colours usually grace Sakoyama in spring but this wartime scene is desolate.

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Awa Odori in front of City Hall after the war (1946).

The famous dance festival which had been suspended during the war years was restored in 1946. This is a scene from that time, in front of Tokushima City Hall. The presence of occupying soldiers watching is a symbol of the post-war era.

The Taiping Rebellion and Problems Memorialising Internal Conflicts Pose for Modern China

By Lewis Tatt

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The actions of the Japanese in Nanjing can, and arguably should, be placed on the same regional timeline as the Qing dynasty’s brutal suppression of the Taiping Rebellion in the 1860s. The Taiping Rebellion triggered a large scale civil war, with the death toll estimated to be in the tens of millions, yet the event does not recieve the same level of national or international attention as the actions of the Japanese in the 1930s. The Taiping Tianguo (literally meaning “Heavenly Kingdom of Peace”) was finally crushed in 1864 having failed to overthrow the Qing. A massacre was subsequently carried out against the population of the Taiping capital, Nanjing.

Within the current climate of Chinese patriotic education it is easy to overlook the fact that in the mid to late nineteenth century China’s ruling dynasty were largely considered a foreign elite – due to their Manchu ethnicity. This provides a contrast to the international narratives surrounding the Nanjing massacre, discussed in a previous article,  from a regional perspective Western powers and Japan were not the only “foreign” invaders that the city has suffered at the hands of.

In 1896 Han Chinese intellectual Tan Sitong wrote – “How were we able to allow the vile tribes of Mongolia and Manchuria, who knew nothing of China or Confucianism, to steal China through their barbarity and cruelty? After stealing China, they dominated the Chinese thanks to the system they had stolen, and shamelessly used Confucianism, which until then had been unknown to them, to oppress China, which until then was foreign to them.” Contemporary commentary such as this demonstrates that, in some circles, the Qing dynasty and its imperial armies were seen as foreign conquerors.

There are few memorials to these events despite their scale and historical importance. When I finally located such a site on the outskirts of Shanghai access was denied on the basis that it was undergoing refurbishment. It appeared that new information boards were being installed – perhaps an indication of changes in official historiography filtering through this site. The number of new apartment buildings in the area suggest the refurbished memorial will become the focal point of a new community, in line with the national policy of patriotic education.

Despite resulting in more deaths than the First World War, the Taiping Rebellion does not have the same psychological weight and association with brutality as the Nanjing massacre. Chinese historiography frames the Taiping Rebellion as a peasant rebellion and a precursor to the communist revolution, there are no statistics provided in Chinese university textbooks, it is not even stated that a large number of people died. In contrast, the war of resistance against Japan contains many statistics and graphic details of the events that took place.

One book, The Outline of Modern Chinese History, which is compulsory reading for university students of all subject majors in China, simply states with regard to the fall of Nanjing in 1864:

“In the spring-summer of 1864 the Taiping armies in Sunan, Zhejang and Wannan were completely defeated, [Nanjing] was surrounded with no food or relief force in sight. Li Xiucheng [the Taiping commander] recommended they flee the city and disperse, but Hong Xiuquan [the Taiping leader] was determined to fight to the death. In June 1864 Hong Xiuquan succumbed to disease and in July the Hunan army laying siege to Nanjing made a breakthrough. The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom peasants’ war was defeated.”

It is worth noting that Hong Xiuquan is the only fatality detailed in this description of a conflict that resulted in tens of millions of deaths.

The desire to present this event as a peasant’s rebellion is evident at Nanjing’s Taiping Kingdom History Museum (太平天国历史博物馆). The emphasis is on the economic and social aspects of the Taiping, with information boards discussing agrarian reform and social policy. Once attention turns to the bloody collapse of the Taiping capital in 1864, an impressive diorama of post-siege Nanjing is displayed – missing from this scene are the graphic representations of death found at every opportunity at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall. Remarkable, given that the diorama depicts the final scene of one of the bloodiest conflicts in world history.

Playing down the horrors of the Taiping Rebellion is politically expedient for present day China. Chinese society has become increasingly depoliticised since the 1978 opening and reform policy was introduced, and even more so since 1989. The Chinese government desires stability and this involves not criticising or questioning its legitimacy. If the population were even indirectly encouraged to criticise a previous government then this could potential open the gate for criticism of present day China.

Furthermore, the overwhelmingly Han Chinese nature of the Taiping Rebellion would raise the issue of the foreignness and imperial expansionist nature of the Qing Dynasty, this would be a threat to a country that is fighting for its territorial integrity on the basis that it is the rightful successor of the Qing.

Conflicts of National and International Memory at The Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall

By Lewis Tatt

For the people of China, The Nanjing Massacre requires no introduction. In the Chinese mind-set this event is as significant as The Holocaust is in the European consciousness. However, international understanding of this event appears to be lacking – particularly in Europe where it is often overshadowed by tragedies closer to home. In East Asia, memory of Nanjing remains a barrier to Sino-Japanese relations more than seventy-five years on.

In late 1937, the Japanese army, intent on crushing the Chinese National Government (KMT) closed in on the capital, Nanjing. The KMT were forced to retreat following weeks of air raids and Nanjing was left weakly defended. When the city was finally captured a bloodbath ensued with “mopping up” operations being carried out along with the mass murder and rape of civilians. It is estimated that somewhere between two hundred and four hundred thousand people were killed in Nanjing over a six week period. The Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall (侵华日军南京大屠杀遇难同胞纪念馆), constructed in 1985, can help us begin to understand how memory of this event is presented to the Chinese people.

The agenda of the site becomes clear on approaching the museum –  a large sign proudly proclaims this “Grade four A” tourist attraction (国家AAAA级旅游景区), an unusual accolade for a memorial site to the victims of a massacre. The tone is further set by a series of graphic sculptures lining the path towards the main entrance – mothers holding dead babies, dead children lying on the ground and babies suckling on the breasts of their dead mothers. However, these scenes were the product of the artist’s imagination and offer little more to the memorial experience than an opportunity to stir emotion and to take photographs.

A sculpture of a child crying while a baby suckles on it's dead mother
A sculpture of a child crying while a baby suckles on it’s dead mother

While the museum itself is clearly the main attraction, it must be remembered that it is located within a wider memorial site consisting of sculptures, memorials and several other smaller exhibition halls. The first floor of the museum depicts events through the use of graphic images, objects and information boards. The overwhelming impression given by The Nanjing Massacre Massacre Memorial Hall is that the emphasis is on the visualisation of Japanese brutality rather than the meaningful memorialisation of the victims.

One particularly striking eyewitness description details how two women had been “gang raped to death, then had a perfume bottle and a walking stick inserted into their vaginas” (轮奸死后,下身分别被插入一个花露水瓶子和一根竹手杖). It is difficult to believe that either the victims of such a crime or their relatives would want to have their deaths described in such brutal detail to the general public. What is perhaps more shocking is that an almost life-size mock-up of the scene has been constructed in the museum for all to voyeuristically observe. This, despite an eyewitness claiming that the scene was “too horrible to look at” (令人惨不忍睹). The whole experience is more akin to an interactive attraction, like The London Dungeon, than a memorial or museum.

A reconstructed scene at The Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall
A reconstructed scene at The Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall

The second floor provides a historical background to The Nanjing Massacre – essentially a narrative of Japanese incursions and aggression against China from the Meiji Restoration onwards. Histories of China’s “Century of Humiliation” (found in textbooks or at other memorial sites) tend to use the Opium War as a starting point, however, The Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall choses a more Japan orientated perspective.

Japan is described as the “the main force” that invaded China, following the Boxer Rebellion in 1902 (日军充当八国联军侵华主力). This perspective seriously downplays the role of Western powers. British and French forces ran amok in Beijing and the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, famously encouraged the German forces to act so brutally that “no Chinese will ever again dare to look cross-eyed at a German”.[1] However, this context of Western aggression in East Asia, which unquestionably shaped Japanese foreign policy, is often overlooked.

The Nanjing Massacre Museum, and the majority of current Chinese historiography, places events firmly within a national historical context. The implications and motivations for this are in line with the Chinese patriotic education system. On the way out of the museum this sentiment is reinforced with a prominent quote from former president Hu Jintao that “This is a good place to carry out patriotic education. We must never forget the patriotic education of the young.” (这里是进行爱国主义教育的好地方,任何时候都不要忘记对青少年进行爱国主义教育)

To the enlightened outsider, it becomes clear that the museum places events within a narrative of Chinese victimisation at the hands of the Japanese. A more objective historical framework would perhaps include the First and Second Opium Wars, the Sino-French War of 1885, the Sino-Japanese War of 1895 and the eight power intervention of 1902.

Another international aspect that is neglected by this museum is Japan’s war time aggression against other Asian countries. For example, the Manilla massacre was carried out in equally brutal fashion. For a Filipino visitor, these events would fit into a broader context, not simply a tale of Japanese aggression against China. China was not the only victim of Japanese aggression. In this respect the museum epilogue, describing how “the Japanese militarists launched an aggressive war against China” (日本军国主义发动[…]侵华战争), with no mention of Japan’s other victims, captures the sentiments of the whole museum. Collectively acknowledging all of the victims of Japan’s war time aggression would dilute the sense that the Chinese were purposefully victimised and make the museum less useful as a site of patriotic education.

The Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall repeatedly enforces the view that “lessons learnt from history must not be forgotten […] the Nanjing massacre proves that war is a catastrophe for human civilisation.” (历史的教训不要忘记[…]南京大屠杀事实证明,这正是对人类文明的浩劫). In contrast, most western war memorials, as Jay Winter describes, are often as much about forgetting the past as they are about memory, “a way of remembering which enable the bereaved to live with their losses, and perhaps to leave them behind.”[2]

A recontruction of a mass grave located nearby, the grave itself is also open to the public
A recontruction of a mass grave located nearby, the grave itself is also open to the public

Regrettably, The Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall serves more to re-open old wounds than to help them heal. At times the museum literally refuses to bury the past. The museum itself is located on the site of a mass grave discovered in the early 1980s and there is a hall where visitors can view an excavated pit in which the skeletons of the victims have been reassembled. This removes the victim’s right to an honourable burial, a right usually afforded to victims of war at war memorials and war cemeteries in Europe. All in all, this is a disorientating visitor experience shifting from a site of patriotic education to a memorial for solemn reflection and at times becoming nothing more than a gory “tourist attraction”.


[1] Julia Lovell, The Opium War.

[2] Jay Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History.

The Struggle for Memory on the Bund

By Lewis Tatt.
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With reference to the Tokyo war crimes trials that followed Japan’s defeat in World War II, historian Carol Gluck claimed that the trials “also put history on trial” and constituted “an invasion of one country’s history by another”. The struggle for history, however, does not just take place in the courtroom, in the textbook or in the classroom. The battle for historical ownership takes place in the physical space around us, and few places display this battle better than the Bund in Shanghai.

The Bund (外滩) is an area that runs along the eastern bank of Shanghai’S Hunagpu River. This area was formerly part of an international concession carved out when the city was opened as a treaty port in 1842, following the First Opium War. Now, nineteenth and early twentieth century colonial architecture overlook the super-tall skyscrapers of the Pudong financial district on the opposite side of the river – this creates a stark visual contrast between a semi-colonial past and the success of China’s rapid economic development and imminent rise to super-power status.

These narratives of past and present are not as separate as they may at first seem. The rise of Shanghai as a world financial centre, at least up until the 1930s, was mostly a result of the foreign trade and investment which followed the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing. This fact creates a tension, between a national historical narrative that sees foreign encroachments upon China’s sovereignty from 1842 onwards as a national humiliation (国耻), and a local Shanghai-centric narrative in which foreign encroachment has brought economic prosperity.

The Oriental Pearl Television Tower (东方明珠电视塔), constructed in 1994, is the cornerstone of the development of Shanghai’s Pudong area. Upon completion it was China’s tallest man-made structure at 468 metres. It has since been joined by other super-tall structures but remains a symbol of China’s post-opening and reform development. At the base of the tower is the Shanghai History Museum, which narrates the history of Shanghai’s development from the 1840s to the 1930s.

Conflicting narratives of national humiliation and Shanghai’s urban development which was the result of foreign encroachment are reflected in the museum exhibits. A display depicting the 1842 battle of Wusong, in which the British Navy swept aside Shanghai’s costal defences, describes the Qing naval commander Chen Huacheng as having died heroically in battle (英勇阵亡). This is immediately followed by a display of the Bund, economically prosperous with foreign ships sailing down the Huangpu River. This potentially creates a misleading association between the prosperity of the Bund and the heroic death of Chen Huacheng. The fact is there is a clear difficulty in combining the first display’s narrative of foreign imperialist aggression against China with the second display’s narrative of prosperity resulting from that aggression.

This struggle for ownership of history is also evident in the fact that the physical composition of the Bund is not exactly as it was in the 1930s. Although the foreign architecture of the banks lining the Bund remains in place as a historical reminder, it is easy to forget what is no longer there. Various monuments and statues erected in the former foreign concession are conspicuously missing. In their place are monuments erected under the present day People’s Republic of China (PRC), such as a statue to Chen Yi, the first mayor of Shanghai after the PRC was established in 1949.

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The most prominent monument that no longer exists is a large Word War I memorial, formerly situated at the end of what is now East Yanan Road. The history of this monument in particular is testament to how one country’s history can invade another. This is not only reflected in the fact that the monument’s construction can be interpreted as an imposition of European history upon China, but also that the dismantling of the monument was not carried out by the PRC. The statue was removed by the Japanese occupation forces after the outbreak of the Pacific war in 1941.

The dismantling of the World War I monument, along with other symbols of Western influence, was taking place whist Japanese occupation forces propagated a historical narrative that portrayed China as the victim of Western imperialism and the Opium Wars as a national humiliation. The reshaping of the Bund’s physical landscape in the form of the dismantling foreign monuments could therefore be interpreted as being part of a propaganda drive attempting to re-shape Chinese history and to garner support for a Japanese led pan-Asia war.

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The most notable memorial at the Bund today is arguably the large white obelisk (see above) the style makes it easily identifiable as a monument to China’s revolutionary martyrs. Such memorials are present across China and, along with revolutionary martyrs’ memorial halls, are an important part of China’s present day patriotic education. A statement of intent is made quite clearly in the Bund History Museum located just below the monument. The opening information board says that the Bund is “evidence of Shanghai’s modernisation” (上海城市近代化的明证) but stresses that “the Bund, after all, belongs to China” (外滩毕竟是中国外滩)

The museum makes it clear that the Bund and the present day prosperity of Shanghai belong to China. By implication, the history of the Bund also belongs to China. The people of Shanghai are looking to the future, but they cannot escape the physical reminders of a past that is still very much relevant to the present day. For the historian, what is no longer at the bund is as significant as what is there when it comes to understanding how historical narratives have been and continue to be shaped.

Yasukuni, from an East Asian perspective.

An adapted version of an MA in East Asian History assignment by Lewis Tatt.

The main hall of Yasukuni Shrine
The main hall of Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo is somewhat notorious. Every year, around August 15th, the issue of whether individuals should visit the shrine to commemorate the war dead is hotly debated in Japan, particularly if one such individual also happens to be the prime minister. Chinese critics are particularly vocal; the Chinese equivalent of Wikipedia calling it the “shame of humanity” (整个人类的耻辱). In 2006, the South Korean President, Roh Moo-hyun, even refused to meet Japanese prime minister, Koizumi Junichiro, in protest of the latter’s visits to Yasukuni. The problem is ultimately a conflict between alternative historical narratives, and by analysing Yasukuni as a site of material evidence we can perhaps come to a better understanding of the narratives it presents.

Yasukuni was built in 1869 to enshrine those who died in conflicts during the Meiji Restoration. It subsequently enshrined military personnel who had died in further conflicts for the state. Having been built under Meiji , Yasukuni commemorates those who died fighting imperial wars and had ultimately died for the emperor. In this sense, Yasukuni is explicitly imperial and militaristic.

A statue of Omura Masujiro on the approach to Yasukuni.
A statue of Omura Masujiro on the approach to Yasukuni.

Even before entering the main precinct visitors are greeted by a statue of Omura Masujiro, founder of the modern Japanese army. The outside of the main hall (above) is decorated with large banners displaying the imperial crest and in 1874 the Meiji emperor composed a poem on his visit to the shrine, which is now displayed in the main hall. One passage of the poem states ‘I assure those of you who fought and died for your country that your names will live forever at this shrine’ (我國の為をつくせる人々の名もむさし野にとむる玉かき).

The poem written by Emperor Meiji
The poem written by Emperor Meiji

It was claimed that those enshrined became kami and joined a pantheon of deities protecting the state. The shrine itself was initially administered by the army and navy ministries. It was later made a ‘special state-funded shrine’, and rituals were conducted on the dates of military victories (until the number became too large to commemorate). On a material level, Yasukuni therefore cannot be separated from the imperial system or Japanese militarism, an important fact when understanding Yasukuni and the debates surrounding it.

Yasukuni was not destroyed after the war, despite the shrine’s clear association with militarism, perhaps on the basis that individuals had the right to honour their war dead. It has also been argued that Yasukuni offers a religious aspect to remembrance, and so fulfils a function that secular memorials cannot. This argument in particular has been forwarded by Georgetown University’s Professor Kevin Doak, who claims rites at Yasukuni are ‘a universal practice that transcends the everyday in order to make a spiritual link to the dead.’ Quite contradictorily, Doak also argues that it is acceptable for Christians to take part in Yasukuni rites precisely because ‘ceremonies of this kind are endowed with a purely civic value.’[1]

This raises the question of whether Yasukuni is actually a religious site, or not, and more importantly whether those visiting Yasukuni consider themselves to be religious (the two are not necessarily related). One particularly significant point that Doak overlooks is how the meaning of Yasukuni changes depending upon whether or not you actually follow Shinto as a religion, and subsequently believe that the souls of the dead really exist there in afterlife, or whether you simply believe enshrinement is symbolic.

In this light, the Meiji Emperor’s poem, quoted above, takes on a new significance. Interestingly, the emperor claims that the names of the dead will live at Yasukuni, not the actual souls. The verb とむる can mean to bury, hold a funeral, hold a memorial service or mourn. It does not imply the souls of the dead exist at Yasukuni or their afterlife is affected.

Similarly, Shinto academic Naokazu Miyaji, speaking on behalf of the shrine after the war, claimed the emperor’s visits meant Yasukuni ‘was very precious to the bereaved families of the war dead’, implying what was really important was what the shrine meant to the living.[2] All this suggests that the site is symbolic.

In reality, Yasukuni serves purely a commemorative purpose,  the problem is what is being commemorated, because, in 1978, fourteen men classified as Class A war criminals were enshrined there.

Yasukuni’s enshrinement of Class A war criminals must be placed within the physical context of the shrine itself, which only commemorates Japanese military dead (one monument, the chinreisha, was built in 1965 to memorialise non-military deaths but lies well hidden from public view, cannot be seen from the main precinct, and cannot be entered).

Located directly opposite the main hall is the Yushukan War Museum, which displays war materials and weapons without any mention of Japanese aggression or atrocities during the war period. For example, a plaque accompanying the Thailand-Burma railway locomotive, displayed at the entrance of the museum, states that the building of the railway ‘was difficult in the extreme’. It fails to mention this ‘difficulty’ involved the deaths of 90,000 prisoners of war and Asian conscripts.

The Mitsubishi Zero which stands in the entrance of the Yushukan War Museum.
The Mitsubishi Zero which stands in the entrance of the Yushukan War Museum.

Whatever the reasons for individuals visiting Yasukuni, prime ministers included, to many observers, particularly Chinese and Korean, it is the symbolic elements that stand out – leading politicians visiting a shrine that glorifies Japan’s war in Asia, is linked to the imperial system that presided over that war, and enshrines Class A war criminals. This act is often carried out without any recognition of, let alone atonement for, the aggression and atrocities committed.

Regardless of the legitimacy of the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, there is no doubt that war crimes took place during the Asia-Pacific War. Critics of Yasukuni do not see the enshrinement of individuals but that of ‘Class A War Criminals’, separate from the individuals and their souls. In effect, the names have simply become symbolic representations of the atrocities attached to them, and to many Chinese observers the enshrinement of individual Class A war criminals amounts to nothing more than the enshrinement of Class A war crimes.

It is likely that many people ‘worship’ at the shrine as a personal act of remembrance and respect for lost relatives or those who died fighting in a war brought about by Japan’s military leaders. However, there is no escaping the fact that the site is national in character, not individual, and enshrinement there is effectively compulsory.[3] By mourning at a national, imperial site the lines between individual and national identity are blurred. In effect people’s desire to mourn the suffering of friends, relatives, or ordinary individuals they can relate to is used to funnel them into a site that fosters nationalism.

A war widow with children.
A war widow with children.

This can be seen in the layout of the shrine itself. For example, a monument titled ‘statue of war widow with children’ is located directly next to a monument to Radhabinod Pal.The ‘war widow’ is not a specific individual, but an intended focal point of mourning or remembrance for ordinary civilians who suffered.

Radhabinod Pal was the only Judge to reject the Tokyo war crimes trial, arguing it was a vindictive act and on that basis all defendants should be acquitted. By placing a monument to ordinary civilians next to the memorial to Radhabinod Pal, Yasukuni appeals to the act of mourning as a means of overcoming trauma and places it within a context that promotes a particular historical narrative. A historical narrative in which the imperial system is venerated, military death glorified, and (as Pal’s memorial implies) Japan’s war criminals innocent. Furthermore, the desire to memorialise individual experiences, represented by the nameless women and children, is utilized to promote a national narrative that fosters national identity.

Radhadinod Pal Memorial
Radhadinod Pal Memorial

It is perhaps for reasons of identity that several Japanese prime ministers have visited Yasukuni. The Tokyo war crimes trial did more than put individuals on trial, it essential put history on trial, with the result that Japan’s modern history became criminalised, something to be ashamed of.[4] Surely nothing stands in greater contrast than the way Britain’s history is glorified by its virtuous role in World War II, and the way Japan’s history is criminalised. Yet Britain’s history as an aggressive imperialistic power can apparently be overlooked, whilst Japan’s cannot.

That this impacted on Japanese national identity is clear. Prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone , who visited Yasukuni in 1985, even stated in his autobiography that he ‘felt humiliated’ by Japan’s defeat in World War II and the fact ‘two-thirds of a century of modernisation […] had been reduced to dust.’ Here Nakasone displays the sense of shame that the war, and subsequent criminalisation at the war crimes trial, has cast over Japan’s ‘two thirds of a century of modernisation.’[5] It’s likely that his visit to Yasukuni was therefore not an attempt to advocate militarism and war crimes, or even an attempt to reject Japan’s war responsibility, but an attempt to reject an America-centred history that casts the shadow of guilt over all of Japan’s modern history and subsequently modern Japanese national identity.

Refrences –

1. Kevin Doak, ‘A Religious Perspective on the Yasukuni Shrine Controversy’, in John Breen, Yasukuni, the War Dead and the Struggle for Japan’s past (London, Hurst and company 2007).

2. Hiyane Antei, ‘An Interview with Dr. Naokazu Miyaji’, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 7, 2 (1966) 148.

3. Norma Field, In the Realm of a Dying Emperor, (New York, Pantheon Books, 1991).

4. Carol Gluck, ‘Past in the Present’, in Andrew Gordon [ed], Postwar Japan as History, (Berkeley University of California Press, 1993).

5. Nat Sayer, Nakasone Yasuhiro: My Life in Politics, (draft of translation), 5-6. Cited in Joshua Safier, ‘Yasukuni Shrine and the Constraints on the Discourses of Nationalism in Twentieth-Century Japan’. (MA thesis, University of Kansas, 1991) 46.

Thoughts on the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum

by Lewis Tatt and Austin Smith

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Ohel Moshe Synagogue, now home to the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum.

The Holocaust requires little introduction to the average Westerner, and so, it might seem shocking that this event, which so often dominates narratives of World War II, is unheard of amongst many Chinese people. The fact is, in China, the ‘European War’ is not seen as the defining event of twentieth century, to the extent that, the term ‘World War II’ (世界二战) is not commonly used – reference to the ‘War of Resistance against Japan’ (抗日战争) is far more common. This is symptomatic of China’s experience of the conflict, and its national history of the twentieth century, which is somewhat separated from ‘World History’.

The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum is therefore a particularly interesting site as it brings together narratives of the Holocaust under the framework of Chinese war memory. In the recent years, a number of public spaces have been established to rehabilitate Chinese history and to bring the presentation of history back in line with wider historical narratives. As part of this trend, in 2007, funding was made available by the People’s Government of Hongkou District to found the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum. The museum is housed in a refurbished synagogue located in the former Jewish district, often referred to as a ‘Shanghai haven’, an area which retains original features of the Jewish settlement.

The initial impression given by the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum is that it represents a shift away from a Sino-centric perspective of history, enough to pique the interest of curious international tourists. The museum’s volunteer guides all spoke a good level of English considering that the museum was somewhat off the standard tourist trail.

Unlike many small museums in the region, information and leaflets were available in both Chinese and accurate English. This could be due to the fact that the majority of visitors to the museum are Western tourists. This area is particularly popular amongst Jewish visitors or those otherwise touched by the horrors of the Holocaust. Because of this fact, this site provides a very interesting contrast with other memorial sites in China – most of which memorialise the revolution and are aimed exclusively at a native audience.

Upon entering the museum visitors are given a brief history of the origins of Jewish Shanghai, a community founded by Russian émigrés, in the main hall of the synagogue. One of the room’s few adornments is a tribute from the Consulate General of Israel in Shanghai.

A tribute from the Consulate General of Israel in Shanghai on display at Ohel Moshe Synagogue
A tribute from the Consulate General of Israel in Shanghai on display at Ohel Moshe Synagogue

The next stage of the tour is held upstairs, where a number of boards providing wider context of the Holocaust have been installed. For the international visitor, this context is perhaps pre-acquired, but, for the Chinese visitor it is eye-opening and potentially opinion forming. However, rather than providing an international context to the Chinese perspective of this history this section of the museum subtly fuses the inevitable victim narrative of the Jews and the Holocaust with an anti-Japanese, Chinese victim narrative.

The first information board the visitor meets describes how Germany, when ‘facing the darkest page of human history’ has ‘shown deep repentance…’ The reader is then informed that ‘there are other countries that refuse to face up to the atrocities of history.’ In the Chinese language version the sentence reads ‘至于那些至今仍不能正确对待历史的国家…’ Literally, ‘as for those countries that still can’t correctly treat history…’ The use of “as for” (至于) implies that a native Chinese reader would have already had a certain country in mind, Japan.

The reader is then informed that the exhibition aims to ‘represent the common effort of Chinese and Jews […] to save lives and dignity from Nazi and fascist atrocities.’ Here ‘Nazi’ refers to German atrocities and ‘fascist’ refers to Japanese atrocities, explicitly linking the exhibition on the Jewish Holocaust in Europe with Japanese atrocities in East Asia.

In this way, the museum brings an external historical perspective in line with the Chinese narrative of victimisation at the hands of Japanese imperialism. By linking these atrocities, Japan’s war conduct is presented as being as abhorrent as the Holocaust. This is perhaps why, when linking the War of Resistance Against Japan to the ‘European War’, Chinese museums and memorial sites still do not refer to the World War II, but instead use the term “International War Against Fascism” (世界反法西斯战争). This Chinese victim narrative is offered as being as undisputable as that of the Jews and the Holocaust. Both narratives are equally as important to the agenda of the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum and its Chinese and Israeli benefactors.

The fundamental problem faced by the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum is that the history of the Shanghai Refugees proves Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan did not collaborate as much as this context would lead us to believe. This results in a struggle of memory, between the history that the Chinese and Israeli influences wish to offer to the visitor and the actual experience of the Shanghai Jews.

'To the People of Shanghai for unique humanitarian act of saving thousands of Jews during the Second World War, thanks in the name of the government of Israel.' Yitzhak Rabin, Premier of Israel (1993).
‘To the People of Shanghai for unique humanitarian act of saving thousands of Jews during the Second World War, thanks in the name of the government of Israel.’ Yitzhak Rabin, Premier of Israel (1993).

During the tour it is easy to forget that, by the time the Jews fleeing the Holocaust arrived in Shanghai, the city was firmly under Japanese control. These refugees were fleeing the Holocaust to find sanctuary in Japanese occupied China. As accommodating as the people of Shanghai were to the Jewish community, they remained at the mercy of the Japanese. As the Asia-Pacific War escalated, the Shanghai refugees were confined to the Hongkou ghetto where they lived alongside the Chinese inhabitants of the area.

This raises some obvious questions, if Germany’s European allies had been complicit in sending Jews to their deaths in concentration camps – how had the Jews of Shanghai survived? And why had the Japanese in Shanghai not succumbed to the same pressures?

When pressed on the issue, a member of staff at the museum admitted that – the Japanese had few issues with the Jews and very little desire to exterminate the Jewish population of Shanghai. This admission reveals the difficulty in associating Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany with regards to the Jewish population of Shanghai. One could even go as far as to suggest that the Japanese protected the community. However, this explicit distinction in absent from the museums display material.

The story of the Jewish experience of life under Japanese rule is told in a separate part of the museum, this section is to be viewed once the broader context of the Holocaust has been (re)enforced. However, attempts to unearth evidence of collaboration between Germany and Japan proved to be unconvincing. The strongest link between Japanese controlled Shanghai and Nazi Germany in this section of the museum is purely visual. A section titled ‘Hard Times in the Hongkou Ghetto’ places two picture of Japanese officials alongside two pictures of German officials. Despite being four separate photographs an association is created between the Japanese and German officials through the photographs’ physical locations.

A caption under a picture of Colonel Josef Meisinger, known as the “Butcher of Warsaw”, explains that he ‘proposed a plan (‘final solution’ in Shanghai) to Japanese occupation authorities in 1942 to murder Jews in Shanghai.’ The use of the term ‘proposed’ suggests that there was no diplomatic pressure from Germany. The fact that the proposal to exterminate approximately 20,000 Jews was rejected by the Japanese is also neglected throughout the exhibit. The museum obscures the fact that Japanese authorities rejected a ‘final solution’ for Shanghai by simply not mentioning this fact – perhaps unsurprising, given the museums victim narrative and a sympathetic prospective audience.

Attempts to compare conditions in the Shanghai ghetto with the concentration camps of Europe are wide of the mark. While it would be wrong to suggest the Jews did not suffer, this was a time of global suffering, there does not appear to have been active maltreatment by the Japanese beyond the formation of the ghetto itself.

Evidence of Jewish settlement in the Hongkou District, Shanghai.
Evidence of Jewish settlement in the Hongkou District, Shanghai.

Attempts to place Japanese atrocities on a par with the Holocaust are common in Chinese memorials, which often seek to emulate or borrow from Holocaust memorials. Qi Kang, designer of the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, even compares his design to Western Holocaust museums. This is perhaps partly an attempt to place the Chinese victim narrative into a recognisable international framework, alongside other victim narratives of the conflict. Modern Chinese history has been brought back into the focus of wider historiography as a result.

It is an oversimplification to speak of just ‘World War II’ or of an ‘International War on Fascism’. Perhaps we do need to be more specific and speak of the ‘War of Resistance Against Japan’, ‘Pacific War’, ‘War in Western Europe’ and the ‘War in Eastern Europe’. Nevertheless, the nature of the problem for Chinese historians remains the same, how to re-internationalise Chinese history whilst maintaining the nationalistic narrative required for by China’s modern patriotic education.

The atrocities committed by Imperial Japan against the rest of Asia are inexcusable but the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum clearly shows that these atrocities were distanced from, and not directly related to, those carried out against the Jews in Europe. From a Japanese perspective, it would be wrong to be overly critical of the implementation of a Chinese victim narrative, after all, this is something post-war Japan has also been guilty of, in light of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

However, the history presented by the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, sponsored by Chinese and Israeli benefactors, is something that should be questioned – sites of war memory should not place emphasis upon particular narratives whilst neglecting other perspectives in order to gain sympathy for a given cause, to appease their target audience or to build ties between nations.

Opening Ceremony of Israel-China Relations Exhibition & Launch of the Shanghai Jews Database Held at the Museum
Opening Ceremony of Israel-China Relations Exhibition & Launch of the Shanghai Jews Database Held at the Museum

Comparing the Songhu Memorials of 1934 and 1989.

The first of a series of articles by Lewis Tatt.
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Before the opening and reform that followed the death of Chairman Mao, the past century of Chinese history was told as a narrative of revolution. Japanese invasion and the Second World War were merely chapters in this narrative, sandwiched somewhere between the overthrow of the Qing dynasty and the civil war between the Communist Party of China (CCP) and the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT).

The Shanghai Longhua Martyrs Memorial Hall (上海龙华烈士纪念馆) exemplifies this traditional narrative, stating that ‘the battle of resistance against Japan […] added a glorious page to the military annals of the Chinese revolution…’

In this historiography, the Chinese nation was not viewed as a weak victim of Japanese aggression. Quite the opposite, China’s war casualties became ‘outstanding sons and daughters of the Chinese nation’ who ‘died heroically’.

Since China’s opening and reform in 1978 this narrative has changed. The 1980s saw an increasing emphasis upon Japanese wartime atrocities, an emphasis that the national consciousness was previously lacking. Consequently, many memorial sites to Japanese atrocities sprang up, such as the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall (侵华日军南京大屠杀遇难同胞纪念馆) which was constructed in 1985.

One book on the Nanjing Massacre, written in 1962, by scholars at Nanjing University’s history department was even, according to its English translator, made a classified document in China and ‘could not be published openly’. This pre-reform period emphasis away from atrocity might have been an attempt to consciously overlook the KMT’s role in the war of resistance against Japan.

The Second World War in China was preceded and followed by civil war between the communist CCP and the nationalist KMT. Defeated in 1949, the KMT fled to Taiwan, where a ‘rebel’ government held China’s seat at the UN until 1971.

Since the defenders at Nanjing in 1937 were nationalist forces and the nationalist government on Taiwan remained a potential threat, this event did not sit easily into a heroic revolutionary communist narrative.

However, following the opening and reform, China has moved towards what Wang Hui describes as ‘depoliticised politics’. In other words, China’s population is discouraged from being politically active. The government desires above all social stability and continuing economic growth. Political activity, particularly of the type witnessed during the Cultural Revolution, could only damage China’s recent economic success.

It has been argued that, under market reform and depoliticised politics, the traditional narrative of heroic revolutionary upheaval became obsolete. Such a narrative, glorifying revolution and encouraging political activity, might even be threatening to post-reform China.

Increased emphasis placed upon Japanese wartime atrocities, therefore, might well have been an attempt to provide a new focal point for Chinese nationalism that was not part of the revolutionary ideal that had been left behind in the wake of market reform.

Most of this idea of a changing narrative is pieced together from relatively recent public history sites and museums. One thing that seems to be conspicuously missing in large cities in China is war memorials produced during or soon after the war. I am of course referring to the types of memorials to World War I and World War II that are found all over Europe.

Perhaps this is down to cultural difference. Chinese culture traditionally places great importance upon revering dead ancestors, with a national holiday designated ‘Tomb Sweeping Day’ (清明节), in which families will gather together to clean the ancestral tombs. Since the family unit has both a designated place and time for remembrance of the dead it is possible that public remembrance in the form of memorials is not as necessary as in Western Europe.

However, at least some memorials were made very soon after conflicts took place. The Battle of Songhu took place in 1932 in what is now a suburb of Shanghai. Two years later a monument was built near the West Lake in Hangzhou. This was probably China’s first monument to the anti-Japanese war, and was dedicated to the 88th division that was sent in support of the 19th Army Corps defending Shanghai.

Songhu Memorial (1934)
Songhu Memorial (1934)

The monument was, however, dismantled in the 1960s. The fact the monument was commemorating the heroic deeds of a KMT army division might not have been entirely unrelated to the dismantling, considering that a nearby monument to the Chinese Volunteer Army of the Korean War survived the 1960s unscathed.

Contemporary photographs (above) reveal the original appearance of the monument, which consisted of a tall concrete block topped with a statue of two soldiers. It is tall, proud and militaristic.

An inscription describes the 88th Army as inflicting serious damage on the Japanese forces (重创日军), but otherwise information is minimal. In many ways, this monument is in sharp contrast with another monument – dedicated to the 19th Army Corps, which the 88th Army had been sent to support in the Battle of Songhu.

memorial (1989)
Songhu Memorial (1989)

Firstly, the 19th Army monument is located near the site of the battle, in a district of Shanghai. Unlike the monument to the 88th Army, it was not constructed soon after the battle and during the continuing conflict with Japan, but over fifty years later, in 1989. The appearance is smaller and much simpler in scale and, perhaps most significantly, it is surrounded by an abundance of large information boards (no less than 18).

Gone is the heroic aura of the monument to the 88th Army, instead, an inscription on the monument itself describes almost tragically the 19th Army Corps being completely wiped out by the Japanese (被日军炮火所毁). A nearby information board echoes this tone, explaining that, because of the huge disparity of strength between the Japanese and Chinese forces, the 19th Army Corps was completely wiped out. (在敌我实力悬殊下终告失败。 十九路军番号亦被取消。)

Rather than just reflecting on the military campaign, as the monument to the 88th army does, the information boards go much further, describing and events that cannot help but anger the reader. One such information board shows a photograph of a Japanese soldier bayoneting what appears to be a bound body with the caption describing the soldier as ‘torturing to death an innocent Chinese civilian’. (虐杀着无辜的中国百姓。)

Evidence of alledged torture at the hands of the Japanese displayed at the 1989 memorial.
Evidence of alleged torture at the hands of the Japanese displayed at the 1989 memorial.

The large number of information boards suggests that visitors to the site need to go away with certain knowledge. This is not a memorial in the sense of being a place where people come to mourn and remember the dead, but a site of patriotic education where everyone from local party members to school children take part in activities. With this in mind the date for the construction of the monument becomes significant; September 1989, three months after a certain incident involving students and tanks in a Beijing public square.

Just as the Chinese population was increasingly beginning to question the government, monuments were appearing that focused not on revolutionary spirit or military heroics, as they previously had, but on an external enemy. The 1934 monument to the Songhu battle fills the viewer with pride, both with its physical presence and its description of martyrs (阵亡将士) who died inflicting heavy losses on the Japanese.

By contrast, the 1989 monument lectures on a victim narrative that angers the reader, once again unifies the Chinese nation against an external aggressor many decades after the event and potentially distracts attention away from other current domestic problems.