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Published: April 12th 2011
China and Japan have never been the best of friends. Whenever I asked my students if they liked Japan, I would always be met with an emphatic ‘no’, followed by disgusted looks to why I should even consider such a thing. Sometimes it’s near impossible not to view another nationality differently. Immediately after the 2005 London bombings I couldn’t help but look suspiciously at any Muslim commuters, thanks in part to the fear-mongering media reports. China’s resentment of Japan goes back much further, back to 1937 when China was invaded by ‘The Land of the Rising Sun’.
While many countries that have gone to war have long since reconciled, China’s feelings of injustice and hatred remain strong. This hasn’t been helped by Japan’s refusal to offer a written apology for their invasion. Or the Chinese government’s policy of turning a blind eye to protests regarding Japan. With this common enemy, patriotism has helped unite their people.
This resentment of the Japanese was the sole reason for visiting my next destination, Nanjing. This city is home to one of China‘s finest museums, The Nanjing Massacre Museum. The museum portrays a brutal, disturbing chapter in China’s history.
The Spring Festival
crowds were already peaking as I left Xi’an. Its small train station was unable to cope with the sheer volume of commuters. By early evening, there wasn’t an empty space in the station. As stress levels rose, regular arguments broke out. Still the influx continued. Crammed together like pigs in a slaughterhouse, it took an eight person pile-up at the top of an escalator for the police to start limiting the number of passengers entering the station. A man so intoxicated he’d wet himself, stumbled through the crowds, mumbling incoherently. Water dripped from his hair and forehead as though he’d accidentally flushed his own head down the toilet. A policeman spotted him. After giving him a good few slaps across the face, he led the drunkard out of the station by his ear, like a naughty schoolboy getting caught putting a drawing pin on the teacher’s chair.
Before utter chaos consumed the station, my train arrived. Content with having a seat, I let those passengers with standing tickets battle it out at the front of the queue. Once on the train it didn’t take long before the carriage floor was a sea of empty sunflower seeds intermixed with regular
globs of phlegm. Two polite university students sat opposite me. After shyly initiating conversation I learnt they were travelling home for the holidays. With so many foreigners (both tourists and teachers) in China, I was amazed that this was the first time they had ever spoken to a native English speaker.
To put them at ease, I attempted to converse in Chinese, an act that brought the whole carriage to a hushed standstill. Understanding my basic sentences, other travellers bombarded me with questions. “Do you like China?” “Is Chinese food good?” “How much money do you make?” And my personal favourite, asked with a confused shrug of the shoulders, “Wayne Rooney look like Shrek?” I felt embarrassed that many of the questions I was unable to answer with my Chinese comprehension.
The jovial, friendly atmosphere soon died down as one by one my neighbours fell asleep. On the verge of unconsciousness myself, my eyes drifted in and out of focus. I noticed a small stream of liquid running past my feet. Raising my head, I saw a father adjacent to me had lifted his infant daughter into the air. Oblivious to the potential health problems her actions were
causing, the young girl was happily arcing a stream of yellow urine through her crotchless pants into the aisle of the carriageway, centimetres from my feet. I looked around to see if anybody else had noticed this. No one cared. Nothing surprises me on Chinese trains now.
A non-descript city, my opinion of Nanjing wasn’t helped by dismal weather, slow moving, polluting traffic and a sub-standard hostel. I was in desperate need of clean clothes and a shower. Thanks to a burst water main from the unseasonable cold weather I could do neither. I departed in search of the Nanjing Massacre Museum dirty, unwashed and breaking a personal taboo - wearing the same underwear for a second day.
Nanjing Massacre Museum is one of China’s best. This was immediately obvious from the lack of an admission fee and the Chinglish-free English captions. By keeping the museum free and having excellent information available for all to read, China is able to portray a very clear message to the masses: they were the victims. It’s impossible to argue this case.
First attacking Shanghai, the Japanese moved inland towards Nanjing, the then Chinese capital. Before fleeing, the government urged residents
to remain, to show courage and loyalty. Unfortunately the Japanese didn’t show any compassion towards the unarmed, innocent men, women and children that remained. In the space of six weeks in 1937, over 300,000 inhabitants were murdered and another 20,000 were raped, often before being killed.
The Japanese are noted for their abilities to take a disturbing number of photos on their travels. This little jaunt to Nanjing was no different. They snapped away at the murdered to take home as souvenirs. Freshly be-headed corpses cover the museum walls, alongside other execution images of being drowned, buried alive, used as bayonet practice and for the lucky ones, getting shot to death. Soldiers also took photos immediately after raping Chinese children, mothers and grandmothers. Their naked bodies, vacant stares and pained faces tell their story.
For some of the Japanese infantrymen, their killing escapades brought fame and fortune back home. The ‘hundred head competition’ of Toshiaki Mukai and Tsuyoshi Noda, to see who could behead a hundred Chinese first, soon made them national celebrities. After reaching a score of 105-106, neither could attain who was the first past the post. So they set the new winning target at 150.
A decade later after being committed for their crimes, Toshiaki Mukai and Tsuyoshi Noda were themselves publicly executed in China, an event that drew record crowds.
With an outcry from the international community over the rapes, the Japanese kidnapped girls instead. Kept as slaves in Japanese controlled ‘comfort houses‘, they were tossed out when they either fell pregnant or were full of STD’s. Even for girls not blessed with an attractive appearance, they would receive at least ten customers every day.
Those that survived told harrowing tales of the atrocities. One father returned to his house to find his wife and daughters raped and murdered and with bottles and broomsticks protruding from their vaginas. A boy found his newborn brother frozen to death on their mother’s breast, who was lying dead in the street.
After such a sobering day’s worth of viewing, I thought of no better way to recuperate than to feast on the city’s speciality, salty duck. I ate almost an entire duck to myself, before having to undo the top button on my jeans and admit defeat, much to my wife‘s embarrassment. As I wobbled back to my hostel, with snow falling thickly on
the ground, I noticed the line of businesses located next to the restaurant where I’d just eaten. There was a bar, porn shop and brothel. For some men I’m sure this would make a perfect minimum-effort, night crawl.
Back in my hostel, I fell asleep halfway through watching a TV programme, showing two bears fully kitted out in boxing gear, fighting in the ring. During the mid-round intervals another bear dressed in a frilly skirt and wearing roller-blades was pushed into the screen shot, holding up the round number, before falling down. I’m not a genius, but this reeked of animal cruelty. Freezing cold, I longed for the public heating of north China, something the south doesn’t have.
Nanjing is just a short train ride to Shanghai. Although this thriving metropolis has never really appealed to me, being so close, it would be rude not to visit at least for a day. With the train reaching a top speed of 334km/hr, the journey from Nanjing to Shanghai was over almost as quickly as it had begun. Urban, industrial landscapes whizzed past. I was unable to distinguish where Nanjing finished and Shanghai began. After staring for an eternity to try and see the futuristic skyline through the rain and mist and admiring the colonial buildings of The Bund, a day was ample time. I returned back to Nanjing, ready to leave for Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain), China’s most mesmerising peak.
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