The city of Nanjing has long stood as a center for culture and education in China, its prominence sealed in the history books as the capital of several dynasties. Located 300 km inland from the coastal port-city of Shanghai, it nestles neatly within the bending Yangtze.
Countless destinations in China are hounded by those in search of the ‘ancient Orientals’ – clay soldiers, rivers of mercury, jade gardens, the origins of Confucius. But Nanjing is for the ones who want to understand, arguably, one of the most prominent and pivotal moments within the context of Modern Chinese history.
For those who believe that World War II only happened in Europe, Asia’s brutal history promises much yet to be rediscovered. Beginning in December 1937, over the course of six weeks, it is estimated by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East that in the midst of a continental-wide military campaign, named the Second Sino-Japanese War, around 300,000 non-combatants were brutally murdered on the orders of the Imperial Japanese family.
In the early 30’s, a resurgent Japanese economy found that its ability to produce quality goods of steel and technology, matched with global demand, vastly outstretched the resources that their national boundaries could provide. And to the east, China floundered in chaos – civil unrest between nationalists and communists, while still feeling the devastating effects of the Opium Wars of 1839-1860, a period aptly named ‘the Century of Humiliation.’ As such, the Chinese government posed virtually no resistance as the Japanese expanded into more resource-rich lands.
The city of Nanjing has always been on my mind, from early days when my Grandmother, ‘Zaza Hsieh’ (maiden: Suffiad) told me stories of her experiences escaping Shanghai during the occupation. Before she passed, my family gathered an oral account of her experience while fleeing to India, where she would eventually meet my grandfather. Having finally arrived, I found within its modern historical significance, also a renewed city – revitalized and extraordinary in its winding waterways.
Iris Chang is undoubtedly one of the most important contemporary Asian-American authors of this day and age, responsible for authoring The Rape of Nanking. The book revealed to the world a narrative that can paint Chinese foreign, domestic, economic, and social policies in a new light. For those who want to learn more, I point them to her book.