NANJING, China, April 19 -- Despite his mild manners, Liu Weiming displayed raw feelings and anger when it came to the subject of Japan. With no room for doubt in his voice, he insisted China must stand firm in its demand for a clear accounting of atrocities committed by Japanese troops during World War II.
"Like the Chinese government said, the Japanese people should recognize their crimes in a clear way," said Liu, 36, a telecommunications engineer who on Tuesday visited the memorial here to victims of the Nanjing Massacre. Historians say 200,000 to 300,000 Chinese were killed during Japan's occupation of the city, which began in 1937. "Even before I came here, I hated the Japanese," he added. "I know of their crimes."
Chinese protesters were blocked by riot police outside a Japanese department store in Shenzhen on Sunday. Similar protests have erupted elsewhere in China.
(Sing Tao Daily Via Reuters)
The sentiments expressed by Liu and other visitors at Nanjing's striking, gray-granite World War II memorial went a long way toward explaining the vehemence of recent anti-Japanese demonstrations across China. To a large degree, they gave context to the inflexible positions adopted by the Chinese government recently in dealing with Tokyo and the insistent demand from Beijing for a greater show of remorse from the Japanese leadership.
Protests have erupted in a dozen cities over the past two weeks, damaging Japanese diplomatic buildings and private businesses. Such public displays of political sentiment are typically tightly policed in this authoritarian country and require official approval and perhaps organizational help. But judging by comments from a variety of Chinese, the mostly college-age marchers represented widespread resentment against Japan more than half a century after the end of World War II.
"The Japanese people committed such a horrible crime against the Chinese people," said a retired Beijing schoolteacher named Zhang, who traveled to visit the memorial, 575 miles southeast of the capital, as part of a trip organized by her teachers association.
Zhang, 60, who declined to give her full name, said she reacted emotionally after viewing the museum exhibits describing events in Nanjing during the occupation.
"I feel so sorry," she said hesitantly, searching for words to express her feelings. "It's hard to bear. And it makes me a little angry, too."
More than 10 million people have visited the memorial since it opened in 1985, according to museum officials. They have come by busloads, gazing silently at victims' bones, shards of their clothing and walls full of photos depicting killings in Nanjing over a six-week rampage of destruction, rapes and executions. The museum's official name is the Memorial Hall for Compatriots Killed in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Forces of Aggression.
"I hate the Japanese, hate, anger," said Xin Hongwei, 38, who traveled here from rural Henan province with Liu and spent more than an hour passing through the memorial's sober below-ground viewing rooms. "I am very angry over their wrongdoings."
The Chinese government, while repressing political movements with domestic goals, has fostered such anti-Japanese feelings over the years. Through education and the censored news media, Chinese repeatedly have been told of a failure by the Japanese government to confront its crimes. Many of the people who have visited the Nanjing monument come as part of tours sponsored by their local governments or government-run organizations.
Some visitors on Tuesday expressed concern about the protests around the country. Wu Duoqui, a 21-year-old student at Nanjing Forestry University, said that he supported the demonstrations but that "we shouldn't be too raucous."
"I think we should arouse patriotic feelings, but in a proper way," agreed Li Fengming, 21, his classmate. "Of course, the government should take effective measures to control it. But it is good for us to have these feelings."
The Chinese government has frequently focused on Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors Japanese war dead, including officers judged to be war criminals. The government cites such visits as an example of insensitivity. News reports from Tokyo said Japanese lawmakers, including a former defense minister, planned to visit the shrine on Friday, according to the Associated Press.
In addition, the Chinese government has been upset over textbooks approved by Japan's Education Ministry that, according to Chinese officials and academics, play down Japan's conduct during the war. The recent protests were set off by news from Tokyo that on April 4, the Education Ministry had approved eight new junior high history textbooks, five of which refer to what happened here as the "Nanjing incident."
As China's power and influence grows, strategic rivalry has also contributed to the increasing wariness between Beijing and Tokyo. Disputes over energy resources in the East China Sea and sovereignty in a string of islands south of Okinawa have heightened the tension. And China's security analysts have expressed concern over what they read as signs that Japan is leaning toward closer cooperation with the United States in the defense of Taiwan.
But for visitors to the museum, the memory of World War II causes the friction. Liu said that last week, he and his friends in Henan's Ruyang County helped gather nearly 10,000 signatures of people pledging to boycott Japanese products because of the new textbook approved in Tokyo.
"Japan killed more than 300,000 Chinese here," Dang Chaoxian, 75, a visitor to the Nanjing memorial, said Tuesday. "We don't want to kill that many Japanese. We just want them to recognize their faults."
Dang said he fought in the war between Communists and Nationalists that intensified after World War II and ended in 1949 with the victory of Mao Zedong and the establishment of the Communist government. He said the memory is still vivid.
"I was a soldier during the war of liberation," he recalled. "I know what war is. We don't want war. But Japan should offer a sincere apology to the Chinese people."
Sachiko Sakamaki in Tokyo contributed to this report.