After church on Sunday, we found our way to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial – an extremely sobering museum and memorial to a tragedy often overlooked.
If you don’t know, at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, Japan attacked China. During the second major war, just before and during WWII, Japan had successfully taken over Shanghai and the then capital city of Nanjing.
However, the Japanese didn’t just occupy the Chinese cities and countryside. Instead, the Japanese army committed the barbarous acts of slaughtering, raping, pillaging and more to 300,000 people in and around Nanjing making the city a bloody dismembered mass grave.
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This memorial is a mix between the Holocaust museum and war memorial park. As you approach the entrance you’re greeted by statues depicting actual people and events with direct quotes from witnesses and survivors. It sets a very solemn tone for your visit that unfortunately is punctuated by the Chinese tour guides with their loud speakers and seemingly unaffected visitors who are joking and playing around on the grounds and in the exhibits.
As we went to the gate, the guards held back the line and waved us to go through a different turnstile. They had us sign into a guestbook to indicate where we are from then let us go ahead before they reopened the other gate.
The museum recounts the events of the massacre and shows many things that a person shouldn’t want to see. It is very much like the Holocaust museum except the number of people. Unlike that museum, this one did not have any regulation on how many people were in at one time so it was impossible to read everything or see everything. I read many of the plaques that I could and got the main storyline of what happened.
About a third of the way through the main exhibit, you start to find firsthand accounts of what happened from survivors and witnesses. This is where I started getting a headache from wanting to cry but not being able to because of how angry I was getting that anybody could commit these acts of cruelty.
After the museum that tells you the story and encourages us to learn from our history, you walk out to the first of the memorials. There is a cross, a large bronze Chinese funeral bell, a wall with the words 300,000 victims written in many languages and more.
As you continue through the memorial, you find stones that once marked the mass gravesites throughout Nanjing. There is eerie music playing and a barren landscape covered in cobblestones meant to represent the bones buried beneath them since the memorial was built over one of the biggest mass graves.
Just after this you walk into one small building that has signs saying solemn silence, although I don’t think that’s what it said in Chinese because some of the Chinese people were not in the least bit quiet. If you weren’t affected by the museum, then this should seal the deal because in this building is collection of graves that were unearthed at this site.
If that didn’t affect you in some way then the next building really should because it’s an even bigger area of the mass grave unearthed for us to see the bones of those buried there.
After this is a courtyard with an eternal flame and a place to pray for the victims. In true Chinese fashion, this place that should be very reverent had a person selling incense and flowers. The next building before entering the peace garden is a hall for reflection. It is a dark room with the walls being made of polished black marble or granite that reflected the only light in the room given by hanging electronic candles. This created an effect of seeing only slight reflections or shadows of the people walking through as their images receded into the infinite reflections as if ghosts or spirits.
The last area you walk through is the peace garden with a grand statue of a woman releasing a dove, the only part of the memorial really visible from outside the walls. There is also a reflecting pool and some white pigeons they have flying around the park.
On a lighter note
In Nanjing we also went to IKEA and ate at two American places not found in Hefei, Papa John’s and Carl’s Jr. I’m happy to report that a Papa John’s pizza is just as delicious in China as it is in the USA. Carl’s Jr. was especially yummy too; however, they did not have my favorite burger on the menu, the guacamole bacon burger. They did have free refills on drinks and free wifi.
I’ll probably be back to Nanjing at least once if not more times while I’m in Hefei. After all it is just over an hour train ride and not too expensive.