China Marks Nanjing Massacre Anniversary, Detains Rights Activists

2017-12-13
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A photo shows a ceremony commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre in Nanjing, Dec. 13, 2017.
A photo shows a ceremony commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre in Nanjing, Dec. 13, 2017.
Photo courtesy of Chinese state media

China on Wednesday marked the 80th anniversary of the 1937 Nanjing Massacre with black-clad soldiers, wailing sirens and doves, while the authorities placed rights activists in the city under surveillance ahead of President Xi Jinping's appearance at the ceremony.

As military mourners presented eight wreaths to mark the eight decades since the atrocities at the hands of the Japanese army, state security police had also cast a security cordon around the city, detaining anyone seen as a potential troublemaker.

"The police called me to have a chat, saying 'you know the score, tomorrow is a day of national remembrance,'" Nanjing-based rights activist Wang Jian told RFA. "[They said] 'the higher-ups have told us that we have to put you under house arrest'."

Wang said he was given the choice between having a round-the-clock security detail follow him everywhere and watch his home, or to leave the city on an enforced 'vacation,' alongside state security police officers.

"I had no choice but to agree to go with them, so they brought me out here to this farm yesterday, and I will stay here until lunchtime [Wednesday]," he said.

Wednesday's memorial is only the third official event marking the anniversary of the massacre, tensions over which still affect ties between Beijing and Tokyo.

Wang said he wasn't the only activist to be treated this way.

"My friends have all had the same treatment," he said. "Personally, I think this government thinks of us as the enemy, but a national day of mourning should be for all citizens, and ordinary people should be allowed to take part, too."

Shanghai petitioner Ye Guixiang said she had been detained after traveling to Nanjing to mark the massacre anniversary.

"I had just gotten off the train when four police officers took my ID card away," she said. "There were so many police and plainclothes officers outside the station; they thought we were petitioning."

"There were a few people from Shanghai there, and they put us all aboard a big bus and drove us back there," Ye said.

She said she is now in unofficial detention at a conference center somewhere in the city.

"They have locked a few of us up in here, and they have given me nothing to eat or drink, nor will they let us sleep," she said. "I shouted for help a few times, but nothing happened."

Anti-Japanese protests

Beijing regularly accuses Tokyo of failing to atone for its imperialist past, and major anti-Japanese protests have erupted across China in recent years, linked to territorial disputes with Japan in the East China Sea.

But the Chinese Communist Party has also been quick to shut down protests, which sometimes result in attacks targeting Japanese goods and businesses, to prevent them spiraling out of control.

The tone of Wednesday's ceremony was far from strident, however, and Xi himself made no speech.

Referring to the massacre as a "great catastrophe" perpetrated by "Japanese militarism," a former top leader told mourners that China and Japan should nevertheless work together to move on from the past.

"Eighty years ago, Japanese invaders perpetrated the tragic Nanjing massacre, and 300,000 compatriots were killed," Yu Zhengsheng said in a speech at the ceremony. "War is a mirror that gives people a better understanding of the preciousness of peace."

Describing China and Japan as "close neighbors who can't move away," Yu called for both countries to build on their "long, rich history" of ties to move forward.

Chinese nationalist Li Yiqiang said this is still difficult for many in China, where nationalistic sentiment is still widespread.

"It will be hard for anything to change, because ... not everyone in China relies on the government [for their opinion], or cooperates with them," Li said. "It doesn't really matter if Japan makes some kind of gesture; ordinary citizens will could still arrive at a different opinion."

An international military tribunal in Tokyo estimated in 1946 that more than 200,000 people were killed when Japanese troops went on an orgy of killing and mass rape that targeted civilians, women and children.

China claims that the death toll is closer to 300,000. Contemporary reports said at least 20,000 women and girls were raped, amid reports of other widespread atrocities including torture and sexual mutilation.

While Japan's government has officially acknowledged the massacre, without citing a death toll, some high-ranking Japanese figures still deny it ever happened, sparking further anti-Japanese sentiment in China.

Xi's administration declared Dec. 13 a National Day of Remembrance in 2014, and spoke in support of Chinese historical accounts of the atrocity.

Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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