China Memorial Days to Mark Massacre, War With Japan

china-nanjing-2013.gif People look at photos of victims at the Memorial Hall of Victims in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders in Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu province, Sept. 17, 2013.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party has officially set up two national holidays to mark Japanese atrocities in Nanjing and the end of the war between the two rivals and neighbors, amid growing tensions between Beijing and Tokyo.

China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), ratified Dec. 13 as a national memorial day for the victims of the 1937 Nanjing massacre, while Sept. 3 has been named "Victory Day," a day after the internationally recognized "VJ Day" marking Japan's formal surrender to Allied forces.

The announcement follows a mounting war of words between Beijing and Tokyo following Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which houses Japan's war dead, including some internationally recognized war criminals, late last year.

China's defense ministry said the new memorial days were directly linked to Japan's "history of aggression."

"We are urging the Japanese leaders to face up to and reflect on Japan's history of aggression," defense spokesman Yang Yujun said in a statement.

Japan should try to "win the trust of its Asian neighbors and the whole world, instead of making irresponsible remarks regarding memorial activities held by the countries that suffered in the war," the statement said.

Japanese troops in China were found by an Allied war crimes tribunal to have killed at least 140,000 civilians in the Nanjing massacre (1937-1938).

Many thousands killed

The Chinese government says more than 300,000 people died during the mass rape and killing spree in the eastern port city that lasted around 40 days.

Nanjing had been the capital of the Nationalist Chinese government under Gen. Chiang Kai-shek from 1928 to 1937.

Japanese commanding general Matsui Iwane ordered the attack, during which Japanese soldiers carried out numerous mass executions and tens of thousands of rapes, looting, burning, and destroying around a third of the city's buildings, historical reports say.

A U.S. congressional think-tank said on Thursday that Abe's Dec. 26 visit to the Yasukuni Shrine could have undermined trust between Japan and the United States.

"The fact that Abe chose to ignore U.S. advice with the surprise visit may have breached a degree of trust between the capitals," the Congressional Research Service said in a recent report.

"There is also the danger that Abe's views on history could clash with Americans' conception of the U.S. role in World War II and the subsequent occupation of Japan," it added.

The report said Abe's qualities as a leader had complicated bilateral relations, adding that the visit had also harmed ties between Japan, China, and South Korea.

A 'counterweight'

Zheng Zhuyuan, a U.S.-based veteran of the Sino-Japanese War and honorary professor at Indiana's Ball State University, said Chinese will see the memorial day as a counterweight to ongoing attempts by the right wing in Japan to deny the Nanjing Massacre.

"Shinzo Abe visits the Yasukuni Shrine, and then some people in Japan are still saying that the Nanjing Massacre was a lie cooked up by Chiang Kai-shek," Zheng said.

"Japan is also in the process of changing its history textbooks, hoping that no one will mention these matters again."

Li Xiaobing, director of the Western Pacific Institute at the University of Central Oklahoma, agreed that the move was highly significant for most Chinese.

"China should have done this a long time ago," he said, adding that the massacre should serve as a warning about the barbarity of the Japanese military government during World War II.

"The Americans have always believed that [the Nanjing massacre] took place," he said.

Zheng said he had witnessed the Japanese invasion of China at first-hand.

"I saw the Japanese airplanes blow up with my own eyes," he said of the "kamikaze" suicide attacks. "A lot of people were blown up with them, and bodies hung all over the trees."

Out of touch?

Li said Japanese militarism is generally regarded by many Chinese as having been out of touch with reality.

"In 1941, the military regime was in power, and they wanted to teach the Americans a lesson [by attacking Pearl Harbor]," he said. "From our point of view, there was no likelihood of victory resulting from this suicidal attack."

"We thought it was simply presumptuous of them to make war on the United States, but the Japanese military didn't think so."

Beijing-Tokyo tensions have also been heightened in recent months by a series of low-level clashes over a disputed island chain, known in Japan, which controls them, as the Senkaku and as the Diaoyu in Chinese.

On Thursday, a microblog channel linked to the Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily launched an online video game called "Shoot the Devils," where players can target Japanese war criminals honored at Yasukuni.

"The game itself is quite simple: select a so-called devil from 14 major Japanese WWII criminals like Hideki Tojo and Kenji Doihara, then aim and shoot," the state-run China Radio International reported on its website.

It added: "Though many players like the idea of the game, some also question whether this is the correct way to reflect upon the region's history."

Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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