A healthy serving of tragedy, with just a dash of cheeseball commercialism on top

28 09 2009

So this weekend, with Missy making up a school day at work, I decided to visit the Nanjing Massacre Memorial site. I know it’s probably not the most upbeat place to visit on a weekend, but it’s an important historical event, so I figured Saturday would be as good a day to see it as any. So after doing some work on my computer at school, I grabbed my camera, some loose change and set off walking.

Part 1: The Walk. So it seemed to make the most sense to me to walk over to the Gulou metro station relatively close to the foreign language school. There I could charge up Missy and I’s bus cards, then catch Bus 48, which stopped right at Mochou Lake, a small park on the outside of the city walls that was a short jaunt from the memorial. After 15 minutes, I got to Gulou, went down to the office and charged up our cards, which was easy and pain-free, thankfully. Then I grabbed an ice cream cone from the local McDonald’s and walked up to the bus stop that was nearby the metro stop, where I discovered that it was not Bus 48 that stopped there. Oops! So here’s what happened: I confused Bus 48, which runs by the Wu Tai Shan Stadium where we saw the soccer match with 15 people, then heads on to Mochou Lake with Bus 20, which picks up at Gulou, then runs by the two big universities in town before terminating somewhere else. Well, not really having a good idea what to do, and of course forgetting to bring my map, because I’m a genius, I hopped on a Bus 20. My thought was that I could take it until it turned down onto a street near Mochou Lake (hopefully) and then walk over or catch Bus 48. So I rode the bus for a while, and it turned off to stop at this site that looked like an old school or something. Really pretty, as all parks in Nanjing are. I wandered around the park a bit, then went over to the bus stop, which of course had no stop for Bus 20. “Well that’s easy,” I thought: “I know where I’m going, so I’ll just walk in that direction.” So I crossed a large city street, then turned up it and went south, passing a bunch of little stores selling what looked to be restaurant supplies. After about 10 minutes, I saw a foot bridge passing Qinghai River, a smaller river that snakes through Nanjing. So I crossed the bridge with the logic that it would reach the lake soon. The road the foot bridge was on ended soon, so I ended up taking another left and another right onto another street which I didn’t recognize. At this point I was about ready to throw in the towel and catch a taxi back, but I thought I’d at least take a picture of the neighborhood to show all you foreigners. So I took my camera out, and presto! The battery is dead. Well, so much for that idea. So I decide to walk to the next street, just to see if I recognize it before heading back, and I realize it’s Mochou Lu, which should, in theory, lead to the lake. So I take Mochou Lu and walk for a few minutes and hit another street I don’t recognize, but no lake. After this, I elected to try and call some of my fellow teachers in the hope they could get on their computers and search where I was and tell me where to go. Of course no one answered. So at this point I decided to just walk to the next bus and take it back in the direction of the school, since most buses either start or terminate near the Xinjiekou shopping area or Gulou. When I get to the bus stop, I didn’t recognize any of the bus numbers, but I did see what appears to be a gate to a park so I go up and cross the street and go in. And it was Mochou Lake! Somehow I just couldn’t see it over the trees. The lake itself wasn’t anything too great, but the grounds have lots of small buildings and rocks in traditional Chinese garden style, and there was a large pond full of lillies that was quite pretty. Of course my camera was dead, so you’ll just have to believe me. While I was wandering, I ran into an old man who greeted me in English and wanted to chat. So he asked me the usual stuff (Where I was from, Where I taught, Whether I liked China, etc…), and then when we were done chatting, I asked him where the Massacre Memorial was. He didn’t recognize the term, so I said Japan and did a sort of fist-crushing a little guy gesture, and his response was “Oh! Oh! That way! That way!” He told me that if I hopped on any bus I’d make it to the memorial at the third stop. Strangely, he was pointing back in the direction I had last come from. So I hopped on the bus, and lo and behold, there it it was.

Part 2: The Memorial. So the grounds of the memorial are very stark and eerie. I was completely impressed by the landscaping, which is probably best characterized as minimalist. The museum stands out amid a mostly concrete and gravel landscape, pointing up into the sky. There are some mildly ghoulish statues of people in pain, and there are a few plants scattered throughout the monument. It’s very affecting. Since this is China, it wouldn’t be a real monument without music piped in, but in this case, it was just the sound of one bell being rung. Personally, and I’m not quite a softy, I found it very arresting and sad just entering the grounds. The monument is free, so I went through the gate, wandered around a bit, then entered the museum. And the museum is … well, disappointing. There are quite a few artifacts and materials rescued from Japan’s attack on China and Nanjing, especially, and I thought all the exhibits on the lead-up to the Japanese occupation of the city were very interesting.
Unfortunately, once the Japanese attack, the museum becomes a showcase of unrelenting gore and anti-Japanese propaganda. I’m well aware of the horror of the Rape of Nanjing, and it’s definitely an awful moment in history which only serves to highlight how truly evil people can be if they’re put in a certain position, but with that said, the museum certainly does nothing to heal wounds. Rather, they are left open and raw, and it’s a pointed way for the Chinese to say “We do not forgive you.” And maybe they shouldn’t, but there is only so many photos of dead babies and mothers I can look at, no matter the historical relevance. After, oh, 15, I feel that the point is made. So I finally made it through all the exhibits on the occupation, having seen more than my fill of bodies piled on the riverside. The next room was a gift shop selling candy, ice cream and necklaces. That’s China for you. At this point, I thought I had made it through the museum, but I was wrong, because I then entered another row of exhibits on “Other atrocities committed by the Japanese in China.” More descriptions of really awful attacks on innocent civilians followed, interspersed with the occasional “Martyrs who died in defense of the motherland” exhibits, before moving on to where the Chinese dug up mass graves in the ’80s and ’90s, and finally, a small exhibit on “the
reconciliation.” Then the next room was another gift shop. But not only was it a gift shop, but it was a gift shop where they were selling replicas of the swords the Japanese officers used to decapitate Chinese prisoners. I kid you not. This was basically the final straw for me, so I wandered around the grounds a bit more, once more reveling in the quiet beauty of (most of) the memorial, before hitching a bus back home.

Finally, if anyone has any interest in finding out what happened during the Rape of Nanjing, you should read the book by Iris Chang (The Rape Of Nanking). It’s really an awful time in world history – 300,000 Chinese killed and countless women and children killed and raped by the Japanese. It’s important to remember, and it’s also a terrible reminder of how awful this country had it for a long time – since the Japanese invasion was soon followed by the Cultural Revolution. But that is a story for another day. As for the memorial, I might visit it again, but I’m certainly staying out of the museum. -Jeremiah




2 responses

28 09 2009

from what I’ve read recently, the Chinese are not into reconciliation with anything to do with Japan and they still like Mao despite the Cultural Revolution. Is interesting.

28 09 2009
Prince B

So I”m guessing you didn’t buy on of those swords.

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