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August 1, 2011

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Disturbing but important visit to Nanjing

THE moaning crawls over the jagged rocks and shingle, a gentle ripple representing a most savage offense.

All is gray and uninviting. Slicing through the morning mist, cutting a formidable streak across a gray skyline, the building is a gray shard of concrete upon a dull backdrop.

Visit to the Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders is a disturbing but important experience.

In November 1937, an unprecedented and horrific act of violence ravaged Nanjing, capital city of Shanghai's neighboring Jiangsu Province, leaving a permanent scar not only for Chinese people, but for all men, women and children in a world that refuses to learn from its mistakes.

Japan's aggressive expansion of imperial control culminated in a series of ferocious acts that lead to the most unnatural of deaths for an estimated 300,000 victims - estimated because the number returned to ashes, or lost to the dark depths of Yangtze River, will never truly be known.

Under the weight of comments over the last 30 years from top Japanese officials and ministers, ranging from the 1986 education minister's belief that it was "just a part of war" to the 1994 justice minister's claim that "the Nanjing Massacre and the rest was a fabrication," I ventured uneasily to the memorial site, knowing all too well that there still lies ignorance.

Tracing inexorable paths toward the entrance, flanked by statues of permanent suffering - a ravaged woman falls toward you, clinging to a famished babe. Each statue stoically maintains a horrific story: rape, mutilation, torture and foul murder.

Paths splinter in all directions; buildings break through the coarse rubble, no identifiable sense of direction or purpose is apparent, only the moaning persists. It becomes clear that there is no set path, no logical order, no reason.

An excavated mass grave shows the wreckage of life, bones detached or missing, reflecting the spirit of the museum as a whole - all is displaced, unnatural and splintered. A child's broken skeleton lies in the mute light, and the senselessness begins to make sense.

The hard angles, the sharp lines, the relentless moan; it is all explicitly created by man, an affliction upon ourselves.

The museum is demanding, the terrain is coarse; over gravel, over buildings, through dark recesses, no places to pause, no seats to rest.

In the final room stands a towering testimony to the ruthless efficiency of the invasion. An enormous gray filing cabinet rises up against the wall, the names of the dead compiled and filed eternal. A somber guard looks on, protecting their rights to be named and remembered. The dead rise above and stretch beyond.

As cruel as the stories told, or hostile as the environment is, there is a glimmer of hope.

This memorial remains an unflinching reminder of man's weak past. The question looms; will we learn, or will we repeat? In a way it is comforting to know that the moaning will never cease, as long as we never forget.

Open: Tuesdays-Sundays, 8:30am-5:30pm

Address: 418 Shuiximen St, Jianye District, Nanjing, Jiangsu Province

Tel: (025) 8661-2230

How to get there:

Take high-speed train from Shanghai to Nanjing (about two hours). Then take bus No. 7, 61 or 63 to Jiangdongmen Memorial Station, or take Metro Line 2 to Yunjin Road Station.


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