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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.