NANJING, China: – President Xi Jinping said Saturday that no one can deny the Nanjing Massacre, as China for the first time held a national day of remembrance for the Japanese military rampage that Beijing says killed 300,000 people.
A crowd of what state media put at 10,000 people attended a ceremony in Nanjing to mark the 77th anniversary of the massacre, including ageing survivors — some in their 90s — of the Japanese invasion of the eastern city on December 13, 1937.
The crowds sang a boisterous rendition of China’s national anthem at the ceremony broadcast live on national television, followed by a moment of silence, as a siren symbolising grief blared and the Chinese flag flew at half-mast under clear skies.
“Anyone who tries to deny the massacre will not be allowed by history, the souls of the 300,000 deceased victims, 1.3 billion Chinese people and all people loving peace and justice in the world,” Xi said in a speech at the ceremony, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
Later 3,000 doves symbolising peace were released into the skies in memory of the victims, according to Xinhua.
In February, China’s National People’s Congress, the country’s Communist Party-controlled legislature, made the anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre an official day of remembrance — along with September 3 to mark the country’s victory against Japan in 1945 — as tensions with Japan over a maritime territorial dispute and rows over history intensified.
The “Rape of Nanking” is an exceptionally sensitive issue in the often-tense relations between Japan and China, with Beijing charging that Tokyo has failed to atone for the atrocity.
The Japanese military invaded China in the 1930s and the two countries fought a full-scale war from 1937 to 1945 that ended with Japan’s defeat in World War II.
China says 300,000 people died in a six-week spree of killing, rape and destruction after the Japanese military entered Nanjing, although some respected foreign academics put the number lower.
China historian Jonathan Spence, for example, estimates that 42,000 soldiers and citizens were killed and 20,000 women raped, many of whom later died. But no respected historians dispute that a massacre took place.
In Japan, however, some question that view. In February, a senior executive at Japan’s publicly-funded TV broadcaster NHK denied a massacre in Nanjing, reportedly dismissing accounts of it as “propaganda”.
Japan’s position on Nanjing is that “the killing of a large number of noncombatants, looting and other acts occurred”, though adds “it is difficult to determine” the correct number of victims.
Japan and the People’s Republic of China established diplomatic relations in 1972. But ties have been strained by a territorial dispute over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea and nationalist views and actions by Japanese politicians, including visits to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates Japan’s war dead including convicted war criminals from World War II.
Last month, however, Xi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who leads his ruling Liberal Democratic Party in national elections on Sunday, held a strained first formal summit in Beijing on the sidelines of the annual APEC meeting hosted by China in a bid to improve bilateral relations.