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Japan's World War II atrocities live on in Nanjing, haunting China-Japan ties

Japan's World War II atrocities live on in Nanjing, haunting China-Japan ties

In his furniture shop across the road from a war memorial, in a city where the bad memories are kept alive and raw, Shen Tao doesn't mince words.
"We hate Japan," the furniture dealer said, jabbing the air with a cigarette for emphasis. "It doesn't really much matter what the Japanese government does. This isn't going to change."
Such hardened sentiments highlight the difficulties facing Japan's newly installed prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who is coming to China on Sunday saying he wants to improve ties that have been inflamed in recent years by contemporary rivalries and by unresolved issues from World War II and the Japanese invasion that preceded it.
Nowhere do the latter find harsher expression than in this fast-growing city along the Yangtze River.
Nanjing suffered a rampage of murder, rape and looting by Japanese troops in 1937 that came to be known as "The Rape of Nanking," referring to the name by which the city was then known in the West.
Historians generally agree the Japanese army slaughtered at least 150,000 civilians and raped tens of thousands of women. China says that as many as 300,000 people were killed.
Memorials to the killings are scattered throughout the city. Stone tablets mark the site of a mass grave near the Yangtze. An execution ground is marked by a wall inscribed with the words "Never Forget." The main memorial _ itself built on the site of a mass grave _ is visited by tens of thousands of schoolchildren each year.
Its gory photographs, Japanese army bayonets and exhumed bones are displayed for maximum emotional impact, with captions telling visitors to be outraged and to hold Japan to account.
Such reminders go hand in hand with a sense among Chinese, shared by South Koreans and among some other Asians, that Japan has never shown sufficient remorse for its past and could again become an aggressor. Visits by Japanese politicians to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which honors the spirits of war dead and some convicted war criminals, strengthen those fears.
For China, the test of the new Japanese leader will be whether he follows in the footsteps of his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, and makes a pilgrimage to the contentious shrine.
"If he goes to the Yasukuni Shrine, then there is no hope," said Xu Bin, a shipping clerk who was shopping in Shen's hangar-sized furniture mart.
Koizumi's annual visits to the shrine strained ties with China and South Korea, which both suffered atrocities by Japan's wartime army.
"I'm not against ordinary Japanese people," said Zhou Qiwei, a waiter in a nearby restaurant. "But the Japanese government's policies are wrong and Koizumi is lying when he says he can't understand why Chinese are upset."
The mutual resentment spills over into newer disagreements between the two economic powers _ over competing claims to offshore oil and gas rights, and over Tokyo's push for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. Formal summits that used to be routine haven't happened since China stopped them five years ago to protest Koizumi's shrine pilgrimages.
Constraining China's communist leaders is the robust nationalism they have promoted to fill the vacuum left by communism's weakening grip. Japan's war crimes are kept alive in government-vetted textbooks and media.
At the same time, Japan's mighty economy is an engine of China's own economic renaissance, as is evident in the big cities from the abundance of Japanese cars and electronics, and the big Japanese share in the beer, cosmetics and other consumer markets.
So even if they would like to improve relations, China's leaders are constrained by the anger they have nurtured.
Young, Internet-connected Chinese have organized protests and boycotts of Japanese products. Japanese soccer teams playing in China are routinely and loudly booed.
While the leadership has successfully curtailed new anti-Japanese activities, Beijing has put the burden on Abe to improve relations, demanding he forswear Yasukuni visits.
Abe, the son and grandson of illustrious Japanese politicians, has previously prayed at the shrine and defended the visits in principle, but has not said whether he will continue to do so as prime minister.
For now, the exhibition halls that make up Nanjing's main memorial are closed, but only to undergo a US$3.8 million (euro3 million) expansion and reopen for the 70th anniversary of the massacre in December 2007.


Updated : 2020-12-02 00:13 GMT+08:00