It was to be an educational morning, we decided, setting out to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, the museum which memorialises the bloody occupation of the city by Japanese troops in 1937. Nanjing, the capital of Republican China, was captured by Japanese troops (or forces of Japanese aggression, as the captions in the museum had it) in December 1937. Mass slaughter ensued in the city and the surrounding area, accompanied by systematic rape. The accepted figure is 200,000 deaths, and 20,000 rapes. Any more detail is probably too explicit for this blog, but you can read about it here, and if you don’t
know anything about it then I recommend that you do: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanking_Massacre. It makes for sobering reading. And it also reminds you that World War Two, that we in the West comfortably think of as starting in Poland in 1939, arguably began two years earlier in China.
The Memorial Hall was a stark granite streak, somehow still striking against a grey sky in a grey city.
It houses the remains of some of the victims, and the testimonies of countless more. The weight of memory there, detailed in hundreds of individual lives, was overwhelming. Does anybody ever take in everything in one of these museums? I doubt that I read more than 10 percent of what was on display, or looked at more than 20 percent of the pictures, and that was already more than I could bear. Some of the photographs in particular I expect never to forget.
So that was a sobering few hours. Appropriately, perhaps, it had started to rain, and we emerged into a puddle filled courtyard, on the other side of which was a sign for an Auschwitz exhibition. We couldn’t face any more, and went back into town for a restorative lunch.
We intended to spend the day looking round another museum, but when we arrived at our hostel, we realised it was the wrong one (cunning cyclists of the night before had led us astray!), knowing neither the name or location of the one we were actually residing in. The afternoon was therefore spent wandering around Nanjing looking for our hostel, sheltered under a pink umbrella we had bought at the Memorial Hall. At least we’re incompetent with style.