Thomas Plesser: Touring ancient Nanjing for a lesson in modern humanitarianism, Shanghai Daily


Project Description

Touring ancient Nanjing for a lesson in modern humanitarianism
AS one walks around Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, on a warm spring day, appreciating the elegant architectural remnants of its proud past as a capital for six dynasties, it’s hard to imagine this was the scene of the worst atrocities of China’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) during World War II. But a 914-centimeter-high statue of a prostrate mother clutching a dead baby, the sculpture bearing the above inscription, is one stark reminder that about 300,000 innocent civilians were massacred when the Japanese invaded the city in 1937. On April 2, a new Nanjing Massacre film, “John Rabe,” will be released in Germany, with a Chinese release expected by June. Rabe (1882-1950), a German, is considered by many to be the “Schindler of China,” who helped save the lives of 250,000 people. Oskar Schindler, another German, saved Jews from the Nazis. Those working to preserve the history of the “Rape of Nanking” (Nanjing Massacre) hope it will inspire more people to visit, tracing the places where events took place. The film by Florian Gallenberger debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival in February and has won two Bavarian film awards. After the Japanese invasion of Shanghai in November 1937, it looked inevitable that Nanjing would fall next. Hang Liwu, chairman of the board of trustees of the University of Nanking (merged into Nanjing University in 1952), called together 20 foreign nationals to establish an international committee for Nanjing Safety Zone. A similar refugee zone had been set up in Nanshi (now Huangpu) District of Shanghai. This committee would shelter those who could not be evacuated, to escape bombings by the Japanese army. Rabe was named chairman of the committee. The Nanjing Safety Zone covered almost 4 square kilometers, one-eighth of the city. It centered on the American Embassy and educational institutions, primarily the University of Nanking. Food and shelter were provided within the zone. Twenty-five civic buildings were used as shelters. What ensued when the Japanese invaded was horrific: the mass execution of soldiers and slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians in violation of the laws of war. Chinese accounts say about 300,000 people were killed in the massacre. Outside the safety zone, Japanese soldiers unleashed cruelty that included bayonet practice on living people, decapitation contests and the burning alive of civilians. An estimated 20,000 to 80,000 women were raped. Rabe has been called “China’s Schindler” since his operation of the safety zone has gained recognition in recent years. Nanjing, it can be argued, is China’s Auschwitz, a place that people will feel compelled to visit. “People visit Auschwitz because everyone knows about the Holocaust in Europe and everything that happened there,” says Austrian Thomas Plesser, assistant to the director of the Safety Zone Memorial Hall, “but many don’t know about the massacre in Nanjing or how it unfolded – the murder, rape and looting. That hopefully will change when the movie comes out.” Some of the 25 buildings used as shelters are standing today and are an important part of a visit. John Rabe’s house more than 600 people were once sheltered in this house, which is now a memorial hall and museum. Next door stood a German school that also sheltered refugees. It is now a student dormitory for Nanjing University. Opening hours: Tuesdays-Sundays, 8:30am-4:30pm Address: No. 1 Xiaofenqiao, Zhongshan Road, near Guangzhou Road (turn right outside Exit 1 of Zhujiang Road Metro Station) Admission: 10 yuan (free for children, students, senior citizens) Nanjing University campus Called University of Nanking at the time of the massacre, the entire campus lay within the safety zone. Visitors can see the picturesque former College of Science, now the ivy-covered Eastern Big Building. It housed refugees and survived Japanese attempts to burn it in December 1937. Address: 22 Hankou Road The Nanjing Massacre Memorial It was built on the site of a mass grave. It houses a museum containing many shocking photographs and a display of victims’ skulls. It is central in the history of the massacre. Today, as international attention is set to increase, visitors can read the mission statement of the Safety Zone Memorial Hall: “To inspire people of the world with the spirit of benevolence and sacrifice, in demanding human peace and in preventing the committing of war crimes.” Opening hours: Tuesdays-Sundays, 8:30am-4:30pm Address: 418 Shuiximen Dajie Street Admission: free Former headquarters of the international committee for the Nanjing Safety Zone Here the committee provided free porridge twice a day. When refugees began to return to their homes, it was here that relief cash was handed out. Also worth visiting is the former American Embassy buildings on southern Xikang Road. Several housed refugees. Address: 5 Ninghai Road

Project Details

  • Date 14. June 2016
  • Tags Pressearchiv 2009

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