Visiting Nanjing: The Nanjing Massacre Memorial

Most guide books and blogs won’t put Nanjing as a highlight to visit during a trip to China. It doesn’t have any impressive architecture such as Shanghai, or stunning scenery such as the Li river.

However, Nanjing is definitely worth a visit if you are near. There is some beautiful natural landscape and lots to see in and around the Zijin (purple-gold) mountain. But the place you must visit in Nanjing is the Memorial Hall of the Nanjing Massacre. Here you will learn about the history of the city, the Rape of Nanjing as it is often referred to.

On August 13th 1937 the Japanese took over the city of Nanjing; they looted, burned, raped and killed. According to the memorial, more than 300,000 innocent people were killed during the Japanese invasion of the city.  To remember the massacre, to tell the stories, remember those who died, and those who survived, the memorial hall was built. Specifically, it was built around the same area where the massacre happened and, as such, some buildings have the remains of those killed inside. They have been discovered and preserved for people to see.

Before entering the memorial area, while queuing, you can see statues. The most prominent being a 20ft tall woman, half exposed, holding her dead child in her arms. It’s a stark image and that’s just the start of it. While you begin to queue there are also people there trying to sell you Chinese flags. While many people did buy them (particularly those with children), I felt very sad that people were making money from this kind of “tourist” attraction. I understand the reason for Chinese tourists buying them, a sense of nationalism as they are about to see and learn about their country’s history. For me, however, it was somewhat inappropriate.

The memorial site was much larger than I imagined. Outside were monuments; inside were photos, stories, and accounts from people who were there. You get a very real idea of what happened during the time the Japanese were in the city. Some photos are distressing and you come out feeling so very sad.

Mitch and I visited during a bank holiday weekend. As always happens during Chinese bank holiday weekends, it was super busy. It was so busy that for me, it was a bit stressful walking around. Everyone is so eager to get in and look at stuff that I couldn’t always concentrate on what I was reading.

Never the less, I learnt a lot which I previously did not know. Once again, our education system is selective about what it teaches us in history. While we all know what was happening in the West during WW2, the East also had scenes which saw lots of innocent people killed. Nanjing is worth a visit to learn about this, to grasp an understanding of China’s history beyond the dynasties and communism. China dealt with war just as we did, and in Nanjing it becomes very real.

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