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July 22, 2000
The Ming Dynasty, which reigned until 1644, was followed by China's very last emperors, the rulers of the Qing Dynasty. Their fall led to internal strife during which warlords and various political factions raged for control of the nation. The Kuomingtang and the Communists fought bitterly, making it difficult to focus attention on international fronts. The strife made China weak and vulnerable in the face of advancing Western powers who were gaining more and more interest in the "sleeping red giant," as China was called.
Now that we have a little history down why don't you join me for a field trip back into 1937? We'll pick up where we left off, with bits and pieces of China going to the country with the strongest military and Japanese forces on the rise.
She smiled in response to the tall strange-looking foreigner kneeling and smiling at her (that would be me), but as she turned to point at the memorial the sadness in her eyes was apparent.
"The Japanese killed many people here," she explained.
Our field trip, you see, doesn't literally transport us back to 1937. It brings us to a war memorial built in remembrance of the victims and the time. Let's take a look around.
"This memorial depicts the brutality China endured during the Japanese invasion."
Remember, the Japanese had taken Taiwan in 1895 and had since been increasing their attacks on China. It had been over 40 years by 1937 and they'd finally declared all out war on China. Shanghai was the first in a number or cities captured as they headed towards the capital city of Nanjing. When the dust settled, almost a year later, over 300,000 lives had been lost in Nanjing alone.
The very first piece was a huge outdoor scene. A bridge crossed over a sprawling lake of small cobblestones. To the right was a wall riddled with bullet holes and a head lying on the ground. Next to it were an arm and a tall pillar with the number 300,000 carved into it.
I asked Bing what he thought the monument meant and he explained that the cobblestones represented the broken bones of those who died, 300,000 in number, and the arm represented their struggle. "Many died like that," he said, pointing to the huge stone head that lay on the ground before us with a gruesome expression of pain and suffering.
"Why 1937?" you ask.
Well let's ask any of the 40 sixth graders who are also taking a part in our field trip.
I was surprised at how familiar they seemed with the incident. But if you do the math you'll find that this is not such a distant memory. Many hear the story first-hand from grandparents who somehow survived this holocaust. I followed closely behind my new sixth grade friends. At the memorial's entrance when we'd all introduced ourselves the group was a bubbly bunch. But the lively crew had since grown very quiet and made their way through the museum almost in silence.
Most of the deaths occurred during the six weeks after the capture of Nanjing. Japanese soldiers rounded up Chinese captives and civilians, executing many in mass-killings. Others were beheaded. Women were raped and babies were left to starve. The city was looted, burned and destroyed. The ancient city of Nanjing experienced an unprecedented calamity as the Japanese heartlessly tortured their victims.
It's often hard to imagine the catastrophic results of war, especially for our generation, but staring into the watery eyes of young Ming-Ming, whose parents watched her grandparents die at the hands of the Japanese, brought the message home.
She and her cousin, Xiao Zhao, both shared that it pains them greatly to think of the suffering but they would not respond in anger.
"Anger caused this," said Liu Wei, a small boy standing nearby.
"We must have peace," said Wang Mao, "Things are better now."
Speechless and heavyhearted I did what I could to muster a smile in response. As we made our way to the exit I thanked them for inviting me to come along and sharing their stories with us. The words at the memorial exit explain that this museum was built to promote international peace and unity, a reminder of the high costs of war and division. Still we live in a world that is spending more money on defense funds than education. Nuclear technology is widespread and China is stepping up its strategies as well.
As they boarded their bus I waved, my heart burning as I imagined the reality we all face if world peace doesn't become more than a political slogan. I could still hear Wang Mao's small hopeful voice ringing in my ears.
"Things are better now," he'd said.
I hope so, Wang Mao, I hope so.
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...email@example.com
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