Today is a day that will forever be etched in the memory of people all over the world. Seventy years ago today, the Chinese people, having fought tenaciously for 14 years, won the great victory of their War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, marking the full victory of the World Anti-Fascist War. On that day, the world was once again blessed by the sunshine of peace.
In 2004, American-born Chinese author Iris Chang committed suicide on the basis that the subjects of her writings infuriated her to the point of extreme depression. As an author, Chang was renowned for her work on China and Chinese Americans, but her writing rose to fame in 1997 with the publication of The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. The New York Times Bestseller described the atrocities experienced by Chinese villagers after the invasion of Nanjing by Japanese troops. Resulting in the tragic deaths of between 30,000 and 400,000 Chinese civilians, the Nanjing Massacre was just one of the tragic horrors experienced by the Chinese that has been forgotten by the world.
However, seventy years later, the world is forced to remember the horrific actions of the Japanese, for China introduced its newest public holiday: “Victory Day.” On Sept, 3, 2015, China and its people commemorated the victories of the Chinese military and the end of the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression.
In the capital of Beijing (北京), one of the largest military parades ever was held between Tiananmen Square (天安门) and the Forbidden City (故宫). Troops from the People’s Liberation Army (which stands as the world’s largest army at 2.3 million members) marched under blue skies and Mao’s watchful eye. With all factories and businesses shut down, Chinese residents stayed inside to watch the military parade, which was aired on every national television station. Any other entertainment was banned from the air.
China’s new “V-Day” was advertised as a projection of peace, with President Xi Jinping using the word ‘peace’ (和平) 17 times during his ten-minute introductory speech. China’s president stood on the balcony of the Forbidden City with over 30 world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon.
However, one global leader not in attendance was Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe.
Following the Allies’ victory of World War II in 1945, Japanese leaders were put on trial for war crimes at the 1946 Tokyo Trials. Following this, Japan’s crimes were only brought to light again in 1971, when a Japanese journalist published a series of reports in Japan on war atrocities. The report on the Nanjing Massacre, entitled Journey to China, was the first writing that attempted to expose wartime Japanese atrocities. This attempt ultimately sparked a period of historical revisionism, as Japan’s involvement in World War II began to be left out of textbooks and historical work throughout the nation. For example, the Japanese historian Takashi Yoshida argued that the “brutal atrocities” of the Nanjing Massacre were a “more recent construction [and] did not exist in either national or international awareness until decades after the event.”
This historical denial was ultimately compared to the Holocaust denial but with one major difference: the evidence surrounding the Nanjing Massacre is virtually non-existent and has always come from Chinese sources (apart from one Japanese journalist in 1971). The number of deaths has ranged anywhere from zero to just under half a million, but no number has been confirmed.
This hasn’t stopped China from fighting for recognition of their victims — but only after seventy years. Prior to last week, “Victory Day” was not embedded into people’s minds, and neither were the atrocities committed by the Japanese.
As a result, media across the world began to question China’s military parade and whether or not “peace” was ultimately the main goal of the event. The parade showcased brand new military weaponry, including 200 pieces of aircraft. In the midst of the parade, a 70-gun salute succeeded the People’s Liberation Army chanting “We are all sharpshooters, each bullet takes out an enemy.” Along with Abe’s missing invitation, the parade seemed like a message of warning to Japan and an exertion of military prowess.
In the years between 1937 and 1945, China was at one of its weakest points in history: Nanjing was one of many cities that had fallen to Japanese power, and the Chinese government was incredibly unstable as a result of the fall of the Qing Dynasty and the death of Sun Yat-sen.
What about now? We all know China is the place to be — with a rapidly growing economy and population, the growth has been unbelievable. China is in power, is able to control trade (simply look at the way in which it caused the international stock market to plummet), and has the largest military in the world. Finally, they are able and eager to showcase their power, and the parade proved it.
After attending the ceremony, Ban-ki Moon recognized the importance of acknowledging China’s “contribution and sacrifice” during the period of war. “It is important to look to the past, what kinds of lessons we have been learning, and how we can move ahead to a brighter future based on the lessons learned,” Moon said.
If we are looking towards the past as Moon wants, Chang’s desire for recognition has finally been met, and the world is being pushed to see China’s role in World War II. From the military standpoint, perhaps China was exerting a sense of power, but one cannot read too far past Xi Jinping’s words of peace. From the eyes of the United Nations, China’s “Victory Day” is not a celebration of victory against Japan, but rather a victory of peace. If only Chang were here to celebrate that too.
This article was written by Isabella Farr. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Creative Commons