Honoring those lost during one of the darkest moments in modern Chinese history, the Memorial Hall of the Nanjing Massacre (Nánjīng Dàtúshā Jìniànguǎn, 南京大屠杀纪念馆) is a sobering reminder of the horrors of war. Also known as the Memorial Hall of the Victims in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders, the museum is part memorial and part documentation of the invasion of Nanjing (as well as the rest of China) by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War (after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, this would become part of World War II).
Following a series of "incidents," beginning with one in Japanese-controlled Manchuria, the Japanese made a number of territorial consolidations into China. In 1937, skirmishes between Chinese and Japanese troops broke out into full-scale war. After a number of victories, including a hard-fought battle in Shanghai, the Japanese took Nanjing, then the capital of the Republic of China.
During the occupation, specifically between December 13, 1937 and the following January, it's estimated that some 300,000 Chinese were brutally killed by the Japanese occupiers. The "Rape of Nanking" (spelling the name of Nanjing with Wade-Giles Romanization rather than the now more common pinyin Romanization) was documented by Japanese soldiers, the Chinese who survived and several Europeans and Americans who tried to protect the Chinese civilians of Nanjing from the violence in an international "Nanking Safety Zone." Photographic exhibits in the museum detail accounts of brutal executions, rape and pillaging by occupying troops. Documents, wartime apparel and even propaganda items from Japan, like board games glorifying the occupation, are on display as well. Many items, including Japanese wartime medals, were donated by Japanese members of a Japanese-Chinese friendship group, which also donated a garden with doves located on the museum grounds.
The museum sits atop a mass grave that has been partially excavated. Signs around the open burial pit detail archeologists' findings about several of the exposed skeletons, including a young woman who apparently had iron nails driven into her skull.
Besides the exhibits on the massacre, which feature graphic photography of rape victims, torture and murder; the museum has areas documenting the invasion of Nanjing, the invasion of China as a whole, the militarization of Japan leading up to the war and conflict surrounding Japanese denial of the massacre by right wing politicians and apologists.
Signage is in Chinese, English and Japanese, with a few places offering other languages. Statuary and an abstract hall with self-playing piano dedicated to the memory of those lost surround the museum and burial pits.
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