​The Nanjing Peace Memorial in Nanjing, China. Photo by Mike Sherrill.

By Mike Sherrill
Wednesday, December 11, 2019

NANJING, China (Mennonite Mission Network) — By 9 a.m., the August sun hanging over Nanjing, China, had long baked away any morning chill. As part of the group of almost 30 participants from the Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute (NARPI), a Mennonite Mission Network partner based in South Korea, we were invited to participate in the annual televised ceremony commemorating the Japanese surrender in 1945.

We joined about 70 other guests in laying white carnations on a memorial stone to express lament and respect for the victims of the Nanjing Massacre. The ceremony included brief addresses from other countries, including a contingent from Japan who expressed their remorse and longing for peace each year. We filed out along a 30-foot length of newsprint on which we could leave signed messages of peace and solidarity.

This was the beginning of a full-day experience at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall (in Mandarin: Memorial Hall of the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders). Beijing (north capital) serves as the current capital of China. It is the country’s largest city and a hub of global exchange. Nanjing (south capital), less than four hours south by high-speed rail, was the former center of rule for many dynasties, and holds insights into the heart of China. Indeed, contemporary Chinese-Japanese relations cannot be properly understood without a visit to the historical museums of this city.

Nanjing fell to Japanese forces on Dec. 13, 1937. Although often referenced as an event of World War II, the massacre actually occurred during the Second Sino-Japanese War. From that date, for a six-week span, Japanese soldiers killed 300,000 Chinese civilians and disarmed soldiers.

The horror included looting, burning, torture, and the rape of more than 20,000 women. The atrocities committed against women extend much further than the Nanjing Massacre period. In 2015, a museum telling the horrifying story of the “comfort women” opened on the site of the Li Ji Alley Military Brothel. It was one of 40 such brothels in Nanjing. Estimates show that between 1937 and 1945, more than 200,000 women from China and surrounding countries were “enlisted” by the Japanese military.

As painful as it is to recount these stories, these museums stand as a remembrance to the victims and serve as a lament with details often not shared in textbooks outside of China.

The Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum, however, intentionally points beyond lament toward a future hope of healing and peace. In the courtyard a memorial symbolizes the longing for peace in the world, and in particular, with Japan. Well-known Japanese leaders, including former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, have visited the museum, and pictures are displayed of these visits. A broader survey of Nanjing reveals that this museum is only one part of an inspired vision to reshape Nanjing into an International City of Peace.

In 2017, Nanjing University established an Institute for Peace Studies, the first of its kind in China, directed by Dr. Liu Cheng, UNESCO chair for Peace Studies and NARPI partner. In addition to offering courses in peace studies, the institute promotes peace education in primary and secondary schools, holds international seminars, and hosts many training courses.

Those courses include the 2019 NARPI Summer Peacebuilding Training led by Mission Network husband-wife team, Jae Young Lee and Karen Spicher. More than 100 youth from across East Asia attended the two-week training. I was deeply encouraged to witness the blossoming of mutual understanding and appreciation among these future leaders in pursuit of peace.

Part of our debriefing after the day at the Memorial Hall was a panel discussion with four survivors of the Nanjing Massacre. Three of them were toddlers at the time, but one was a 10-year-old. Now 92, he recalled his experience in vivid detail.

The entire room was riveted by his passionate testimony. In closing, he declared that although he hates what happened, he does not hate the Japanese. He urged the assembled youth to leave hate behind and to pursue peace in the world in order to build a shared future for all humanity.

Out of the ashes of despair, suffering and sorrow, Nanjing is taking strides to be named among the International Cities of Peace® reaching out to the world with a powerful message of solidarity and hope.





Mike Sherrill is director for Asia and the Middle East for Mennonite Mission Network.



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