The Rape of Nanking, Remembered

Massacre Musuem, Nanjing

Massacre Museum, Nanjing

China has its Yad Vashem. Nanjing’s Memorial Hall of the Nanjing Massacre is experiential architecture. You are funneled through tight spaces, traped in black granite chutes. (Architect Qi Kang is one of the leading figures in Chinese architecture).

Exterior, memorial hall to the victims of the Nanking Massacre

Exterior, memorial hall to the victims of the Nanking Massacre

It’s an immersion in nationalism and grief. And most noticeably, in insistence — there hasn’t been widespread acceptance that the massacre here in 1937 occurred — particularly by the right-wing in Japan, which denies the massacre vehemently, including in court, and has attacked (even murdered) those who’d tell their stories. Such as remorseful Japanese veterans, whose testimony is moving here. And Chinese memoirists, sued for libel.

nanking rape 300000

This is the “wall of witnesses” — as if they need to be documented as much as the victims.

Wall of witnesses

Wall of witnesses

You ponder the monstrousness that overtook invading soldiers, who gang raped and then mutilated — the bestial madness, and the uniquely vicious victimization of women (estimated 20,000 rapes, from children to the elderly). And then one thinks of Japan. I’ve spent a few weeks there, and love so much about it. Not to dwell on cliches but there’s no denying the often exquisite aesthetic and manners and cleanliness and love for beauty and so many cultural heights. And then you struggle to comprehend what occurred in this dark time.

Kenny in Peace Park, outside Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, Nanjing

Kenny in Peace Park, outside Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, Nanjing

And one thinks: The day will come when China honors the victims of its own (domestically perpetrated) atrocities.

And the day will come when the U.S. does.

Nanjing massacre hall Japanese solidarity

Nanjing massacre hall Japanese solidarity

Many Japanese figures — authors, industrialists, and trade unions (and presumably the Communist Party, on the plaque pictured above) have expressed solidarity, memorialized and honored the victims. A manufacturing family gathers flower seeds from Nanjing and has planted them all over Japan in an act of honoring the victims.

One last haunting aspect: I read Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking, a breakthrough book that for perhaps the first time really told the story, as late as 1997 (compare that to Holocaust commemoration.). Her book recapitulates (and enlarges) the museum’s messages, reproducing many of its photos and testimonies. Chang, a Chinese-American journalist from the midwest, committed suicide a few years ago at the age of 36. And another heroine of this place– known as the Living Buddha of Nanking, American missionary Minnie Vautrin, a girls’ school director in wartime Naning who protected and hid tens of thousands of innocent civilians, also (after returning home to Illinois after the war) took her own life.

Some things are too great to bear.

(The Vautrin link above is to the extensive Yale Univ archives on the massacre, the most important repository of its kind.

Peace.

Sweet and Bitter

Outside Beijing, it’s suddenly rural Hebei province. Where my generous, beautiful student hosted us in her village. We walked through the sweet potato fields (also some peanuts and corn). Ethan loved pumping water and bringing it inside. Fun, she said–the first time. Small farming terraces, impossible for machines to navigate, greatly increase farming’s hardship. An amazing cook, her mom has farmed for more than 30 years.

From the sweet potato, mom made fantastic silky cellophane noodles (lunch, with greenbeans; dinner, cold with cucumbers and vinegar). With dishes of fish, pork in black bean sauce, roast duck, other vegetables, and the holiday special rice dumplings filled with date, sweet potato was also served in sugared cubes that harden like candyapple when dipped into cold water at the table. What a feast at this farm on Dragon Boat Festival.

Later, since a mom is never allowed to rest, and since she hadn’t already cooked a feast, the children demanded a lesson in making dumplings. It begins with fresh greens.

We talked about how poorly equipped and staffed rural schools are, and the far higher college-entrance exam scores rural kids need to get into college. Suddenly I understood: this discriminatory policy is to reproduce more farmers. By capping their opportunities, food will be grown. China won’t starve.

The poster says, “Men! The One-Child Policy is your responsibility.”

The noodles, made by a neighbor in the village from sweet potato flour.

More Great Student Journalism

Writers Workshop, my apt

If you’re unmarried at 27, you’re a “leftover lady” – Reese explores this ridiculous problem in the third and last batch of student final pieces, (the first batch here) presented aloud at my apt, over lunch. For a look at some parents’ alarmed, creative reaction to their kids potentially being leftover, we travel with Jolie (and in a related piece, Natalie) to Matchmaker’s Park, a well-done tale (she’s even recruited as good bride material). THose poor, anxious parents stand for hours with placards advertising their children to other anxious parents.

Jolie

Natalie

Lucia told the story of an NGO founded by China’s  leading, pioneering investigative journalist Wang Keqing, who sometimes teaches in this department, to help miners and other impoverished Chinese industrial workers with black lung disease. Some on staff were initially persecuted, for embarrassing the government. The NGO is one of few–it’s a new and uncertain area of China’s nascent, still-beleaguered civil society. Happily, it recently got on the government’s good side, and a few celebrities have lined up for a big fundraiser this month.

Aileen takes us on a journey through her feelings of patriotism and yet demand for information about her home that she loves,  China, on a trip into the troubled Tibetan area, Qinghai. She seeks to explore the unrest (while translating for a journalist from India), and must grapple with being accused by security forces, at every step, of being a traitor.

Aileen journeyed to Tibetan Qinghai

Susan looks at Confucius Institutes (from her days earlier this year interning in NYC), particularly the one at Pace University, and realizes the U.S. students there are learning more about Peking Opera, silk, calligraphy and classical poetry than she knows, as a devoted English student. She determines, then, to rediscover her own culture.

Susan

Laura shows us why Christianity, despite the hype and worry, won’t catch on in China. We see her quit, after too much uncomfortable touchie-feelie hugging and what feels like too much fake saying “I love you.”

Cynthia shows us a migrant laborer who founded a hotline to help others, a well-drawn bio piece about a modern-day hero.

Susan Yu takes us inside student union election politics – a microcosm for Party politics, and urges change towards a more truly democratic process.

In a

Susan Yu

nother great piece, we see how Chinese senior citizens, displaced from the center and their old communities by Beijing’s rampant, outward, horizontal growth pattern, are now being accused of clogging up mass transit when they travel back to their favorite old spots at rush hour.

Cynthia

And Guanlin tells the story of life as a Beijing public toilet cleaner who actually lives inside a stall, with his wife and grandchild.

Liya wrote about Beijing’s oldest foreign-owned small business, run by China’s original British hipster.

Wedding Photo Shoots

As we passed these shoots in a Beijing park, one after another, kids seemed surprised they weren’t traditional Chinese weddings.


They’re surprised mainstream Western things (McDonald’s, poufy white dresses) are fashionable, though they seem mundane or trite to us.

Cultural imperialism — & China’s century of cataclysmic breaks from its past — aside (if that aside makes any sense), Chinese things seem much more interesting & precious than they’re treated.  We’d have expected more overt appreciation.

Girl Talk

Mao banned long hair.

We only discuss important things at class lunches–food, flowers, whether moving overseas solves a mid-20s life crisis (yes).

But here are 3 bits I’ve observed lately:

1) Underarm lightening deodorant.
All the big Western brands — like bullshit artist Dove — market these. Advertise them constantly, and skin lighteners generally, including some banned in the West (or, about which warnings have been issued regarding known dangers). Disgusting. But just for the underarms. Really?

2) Hair and more hair.
I did the math: 98% of my women students have long hair, really long. I looked into it. Women were required to cut their hair short during the Cultural Revolution (and wear men’s clothes, preferably fatigues, a ‘glorious’ look being in fashion, while girly-ness was bourgeois). Make up was also banned. For little girls, no ribbons or bows. That construction of femininity was politically repressed. So the long hair, the teensy high voices, the high heels you see absurdly walking up mountainsides? Political statement right back at ya.

3) Undies
People who decry China’s lack of innovation have clearly not seen northern-Chinese women’s longjohns stores (whole stores), remarked on earlier. The elaborate variety is hard to describe – shapes, colors, fabrics, amounts of padding, levels of dressiness, with body-molding to make you bigger or smaller in six different ways…while keeping you warm. But it’s spring now and guess what, non-longjohn undies are even more amazing. Not (at least around campus) so much black lace, goth-vampire. I mean kaleidoscopic gumball craziness. So bright, so fun, so wacky-cartoony, so anime. I have no interpretation yet. Just throwing it out there!

Dumpling girl!

Love Without A Name: Growing Up in China

One of my students writes about his grandmother, “an illiterate Chinese farmer [who] nurtured three generations of intellectuals.” At 15, she had an arranged marriage with a boy who was then a toddler. It has emotional power, to me, but I was also struck by other students’ response while workshopping: ‘We all have grandmothers who helped raise us, and we don’t know their names.’ I realize this is common (I remember an Amy Tan essay about this very subject.) Still, I believe them when they said: This story of generational change is all of our story, of growing up in China today.

Excerpts from a memoir.
The writer uses the English name David.

…She silently cooked the dishes, did the laundry and fed the pigs. … My grandpa, who turned out to be a village teacher, treated her nicely, but it all didn’t matter. He died at the age of 39, leaving her a shattered family with two teenage boys to feed.

None of my relatives from the old countryside could recall a single complaint from her. Year after year, my grandmother labored with sweat in the field, bending down to reap the wheat and corn…. When my father hesitated whether or not he should stop trying after failing twice in the College Entrance Examination, my grandmother simply gave him a powerful slap in the face. Illiterate as she was, she understood that those tiny yet enchanted characters printed on the paper would shape his destiny. When my father finally got admitted to a college, granny sold a pig and treated everyone in the village for a feast.

… After my parents’ marriage she took care of me when my father was determined to make a decent living for our poor family. I remember two scenes: my grandmother in the kitchen opening the pot lid from time to time for fear that the cheap ribs might burn, and warmly comforting my mother, who came from a local urban family, as she complained in tears about why she chose to follow this man. Toward me, she showed kindness. She taught me patiently with a strong rural accent the country ballads about fairies and heroes, and clumsily made toys like wood pistols to give me joy.

…I moved out to an expensive boarding school, a rebellious adolescent. When I returned home, I tended to keep away from this old, shabby, short, humpbacked lady. The exciting flame in her eyes vanished after I apathetically answered her greetings several times. She became more and more silent and spent all days watching TV and gazing at the sky. But she never complained to anyone.

One day I returned home and learned she was in the ICU. All my arrogance and stupidity went away in an instant, and I bit hard on my lips to hold back my tears of remorse. Peering at a piece of paper gripped in my anxious father’s hand, tears flooded my face.

It read: ‘Patient’s name: Feng Qishi.’

Feng was my family name, Qi was her family name, shi refers to the status of being married. Like millions of women of her age, for 60 years of hardships she didn’t have a name.