How do various memory websites and scholarly literature pieces of the Nanking Massacre (1937) contribute and influence the shaping of memory and remembrance of this event for the Chinese Americans living here in the United States?

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How do various memory websites and scholarly literature pieces of the Nanking Massacre (1937) contribute and influence the shaping of memory and remembrance of this event for the Chinese Americans living here in the United States?

During the second Sino-Japanese War, when the Japanese soldiers took over Nanking town, the Japanese troops committed atrocities that generally came to be known as Nanking Massacre. That was seven and a half decades ago in 1937[1]. But the memories have been as vivid as the various memory sites and literary works can present them. It is not just the memories of the atrocities that become graphically vivid when we visit the various sites dedicated to remembering the victims of the events of 1937 in Nanking town[2]. A variety of scholars have triggered a heated debate over a number of issues including the casualties, role of the massacre in shaping the national identities of China and Japan and ultimately the role the massacre played in shaping the role of international relations.

While a memory of any atrocity is always a source of revisited grief, the media and commemorations of atrocities of such magnitude as Nanking Massacre can trigger memories in different ways. In this case, various parties play a role in bringing out the memory trigger each in its own way. To understand this we take a critical look at how scholarly literature has contributed to the influence and shape of the memories we see and hear about the massacre. After looking at the scholarly literature, the next step is to look at the various memory sites and then evaluate the role of the media in influencing and shaping the remembrance.

The biggest group in the category of scholarly literature comprises the historians. Historians are concerned with documenting and safeguarding the authenticity of historical events and as such, they have brought forward a debate of significant importance. This is the debate of casualties of the massacre. Besides the debate of numbers, other issues also play a significant role in shaping the memories of the event.

Through the available scholarly literature it becomes possible for an individual to take a critical approach on the implication of war in general and the Nanking Massacre in particular. Literature provides a vivid exegesis of events as they took place hence is able to relieve the memory for those who were there while at the same time helping those who were never present to see through the eyes of the lived experience of the victims and witnesses.

On the perspective of numbers and the raging disputes of numbers killed in the massacre is well articulated in a number of sites dedicated to documenting the history and memory of the events of the 1937 massacre. For instance, the Modern History Sourcebook of the Fordham University provides a documentation of the Nanking Massacre where it reiterates that civilians were killed in a widespread manner and dead bodies of civilians were scattered all over the city as could be reported by foreigners and reporters[3]. The site reports that some of the slain victims were children while others were aged men and women. Moreover, the attacks were also so severe that even the internal security machinery personnel like policemen and firemen special objects of attack. The site does not only document the killing of civilians and security personnel but also notes that these victims were bayoneted and inflicted with barbarously cruel wounds.

What is so touching about the story and narration documented by the Fordham University Memorial site is that it is a corroboration of eyewitness account. Many sites and scholarly literature have employed the eyewitness perspective and way of creating remembrance and reliving the events. For instance, the Fordham University memory site reports that there was fear and excitement yet any person who attempted to flea due to these human reactions was killed on the spot as was any person found in the streets after dark[4]. And most of the slayings were done in full view of foreigners who were present in the scenes. The Nanjing Memorial has also utilized the eyewitness method to relive the remembrance of the Nanjing Massacre.

In the Nanjing Memorial, Gao Wenbin born in 1921 recounted to his interviewer how he did translations for the Far East International Military Tribunal when he was working as a translator for the Chinese procurator. Wenbin recounts that the case was so severe in terms of the legal struggles involved as well as the severity of the reality and cruelty of the scenes that the entire case left him with deep impressions that were still fresh in his memory in 2003 when Liang Qiang took oral interview from him[5].

In the same model of utilizing eyewitness accounts, the case of Dai Baoyu must leave anyone in sorrow. Bayou narrates that in the course of the Nanjing massacre, his father and other two immediate paternal elder uncles were slain by the Japanese troops. In addition to this revelation, Baoyu recounts that his own father alongside his father’s second elder brother were bayoneted at the gates of their home before they were able to flee. His own brother, who attempted to escape to Xiangyanghutian, was brutally murdered at the hands of the Japanese soldiers. Baoyu only escaped by hiding in a tunnel all that time as the massacre lasted[6]. Dai Baoyu was born in 1923 and at the time of recording the written testimony in August 2003.

The above two eyewitness accounts related to people who had just witnessed the effects of the massacre but they did not suffer any personal bodily affliction. Zha Fukui leaves a testimony that deviates from the two highlighted in that he suffered injury afflicted directly by the soldiers. According to his testimony, which Heng Zongqin, Liu Zhenxi, and Gu Shunqin investigated and recorded, when the Japanese troops invaded Nanking massacre in December 1937; toward the end of December, they stormed into Fukui’s family’s home and killed five people in the family. He was stabbed five times in different places with three of the stabs being fatal that led to terrible bleeding and ultimate fainting. He however escaped death when some members of the family helped him. He narrates that the stabs could still be seen on his body at the time of recording the testimony in 2003 at the age of 87[7]. The site includes handprints and footprints of the witnesses alongside their pictures and taken at the time of recording the testimony.

The memory sites do not just contribute and influence the memory and remembrance of the massacre through recordings of eyewitness accounts alone. The use of photography has been applied vividly. The following are a few examples. In the photograph below, taken from Nanjing Memorial Site, it shows excavated remains of the victims of the 1937 massacre. The officers carrying out the examination include Shi Menyu, who was the chief of China Military Tribunal at the time of the investigations and Chen Guangyu, who was the chief inspector at that time.[8]

Figure 1: Excavated Remains of victims[9]

More closely and precisely, the photograph below indicates an injury inflicted on the skull of a victim of the massacre. The skull was among the others excavated during the investigations on A-class war crimes against Japanese troops.

Figure 2: Skull of victim showing injury[10]

However, photographic presentation for purposes of arousing memory and remembrance has been questioned by a number of authors on the basis of authenticity. Shudo, Koboyashi and Fukunaga carried out an analysis of the photographic evidences presented and dispute them arguing that they could not be possibly true or authentic since the alleged source of the photographs (particularly those relating to recording of actual events such as beheadings) were Chinese sources yet at that time it could not be possible for the Chinese photographers to get access to such photographing positions[11]. One thing is evident, putting the authenticity of the photographs aside, is that by critically analyzing the authenticity of the photographs of the massacre still helps in reliving the memories and it also shapes and influences remembrances attached to the massacre.

Figure 3: Disputing Photographic Evidence[12]

While there are sites specially dedicated to these memories, Chang[13] argues that not enough has been done to bring out the true picture of what happened at Nanking or even draw a clear picture of the events and educate the public about it as a reminder the way the Holocaust is remembered through the gruesome pictures of the gas chambers at Auschwitz or a lot of haunting literature written about the young Anne Frank. Chang further contends that while most school children would elaborately recount the events and effects related to the dropping of the atomic bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan, not many would be able to say anything about the Nanking Massacre. It is simply a forgotten historical speckle.

Apart from photography, eyewitness accounts, narrations, debates or raging disputes and criticisms, other scholarly materials and memorial sites trigger remembrance through chronological depiction of events. This is done with the hopes that those who were not eye witnesses can read and understand what happened before, during and after the Nanking massacre that started in December 1937. Taking an example of the New Jersey Hong Kong Network as reported in the China News Digest, we can see what events preceded the massacre, what events took place during the massacre and which ones transpired after the massacre. By starting from the Japanese invasion of China that predated the actual massacre to 1930, the site attempts to trace the chronological order of events prior to, during and after the massacre. These concert efforts put in putting the massacre along a line of many events helps reader in the USA to only put the massacre in memory but to also critically analyze and evaluate all related factors.

Thus from the evaluation of the network, it is apparent that Nanking was the capital city of China after the country moved the capital from Peking to Nanking in 1928. The city had a normal capacity of about 1 million people by mid 1930s though the normal capacity in the late 1920s was approximately 250,000. This made it prime target. After Japanese troops had taken over Shanghai, they proceeded to Nanking taking its control on 13th December 1937. According to the chronicles of the New Jersey Hong Kong Network, there are about eight major events that constituted the Nanking Massacre starting .............


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