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JAPAN: ECHOES OF WORLD WAR II : Ethnic Discord : China City Wrestles With View of Japan : Tokyo's troops killed 300,000 in Nanjing during the war. But the former occupier now brings investment.

August 01, 1995|MAGGIE FARLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NANJING, China — To visit his son at the young man's workplace, the Nanjing Grand Hotel, 70-year-old Zhou Liren must walk through a field of ghosts. Nearby is one of the execution grounds where in 1937, Japanese soldiers beheaded, raped and killed nearly 300,000 citizens of Nanjing in the course of six weeks. Now the younger Zhou is employed by the Japanese.

At the hotel--a new joint venture with the Japanese, and local headquarters for many of the Japanese trading companies that backed Tokyo's war effort half a century ago--Zhou confronts a different kind of spirit.

The old man listens politely as one of his son's colleagues, a 22-year-old woman, enthuses about working for China's wartime masters. "I'm not so interested in what happened in the past," she says. "I don't like to dwell on suffering." Her parents are happy she has the chance to learn Japanese-style management, she explains. "It's quite good for my future."

Zhou, whose job during World War II was to chronicle Japanese atrocities, doesn't like to dwell on suffering either, but he cannot forget what he saw. He was 15 when he joined the New 4th Army, made up of rival Communist and Nationalist forces briefly united torepel the Japanese. As one of the few educated soldiers, he was assigned to compose songs and verses to spread news of victorious battles and spur morale.

What he witnessed as a soldier, he says, went beyond his worst expectations of wartime. Zhou says the Japanese policy for civilian villages was "Loot all, kill all, burn all." One of his first wartime experiences was coming across a bridge strewn with corpses, then finding the nearby village burned to the ground.

"I don't know whether the Japanese soldiers were following orders from above or not, but they lost any consciousness of humanity," he said.

The 1937 Rape of Nanking, as the city was then known, was an especially brutal episode in Japan's eight-year occupation of China. Japanese forces took the southern capital in a sweep of terror, methodically executing men, women and children in a campaign to psychologically break China's resistance.

Even today the massacre reverberates in this green metropolis of 4 1/2 million on the Yangtze River. Anyone in town can give directions to a memorial to the victims. Most people over 30 can point out the 13 sites where mass executions took place. Nanjing residents have become tenacious guardians of the memories, especially since some Japanese politicians have insisted that the infamous episode never happened.

Tang Xun Shan, 84, has scars and searing memories to prove it did. On Dec. 13, 1937, the day Nanking fell, Japanese soldiers marched him--at that time a 25-year-old shoemaker, not a soldier--and about 200 other civilians to a large round pit.

"They ordered us to circle the pit, several rows deep. Then the soldiers went row by row, killing people with swords, not guns. They grabbed people by the hair, then cut off their heads and kicked the falling bodies into the pit. They saved the heads to keep count."

While he stood there, he says, he watched a soldier try to rape a pregnant woman--a common terror tactic of that campaign, historians say. Terrified, he fell into the pit before the soldiers reached him, and pulled his clothes up to hide his head. Other corpses quickly covered him.

Tang says he was helped from the pit by Chinese who came to see if anyone was still alive. "I was the only survivor.

"Every time I think about it, it makes me feel sick. People try to persuade me that it is the past, and we must make relations better. . . . What they think about it, I don't care, but I hate the Japanese. I would never let my children or grandchildren work for a Japanese company. How can I not hate those people?"

Zhou, whose songs and stories were designed to incite such anti-Japanese sentiment, says now that not all Japanese people must be condemned. He cites the hybrid battalion of the New 4th Army, which included a few Japanese men who had been living in China and fought for the Chinese.

"I always separate Japanese people from the Japanese government. . . ," says Zhou, sipping orange juice in the Grand Hotel. "My son works with a Japanese company. I think of it as a kind of economic exchange project between people and try not to associate it with the past militarist government."

Zhou Liren passed on his stories, along with his delicately boned face and gentle eyes, to his son, Zhou Xiaojie. The younger Zhou has often visited the war memorial on the outskirts of town since it was built 10 years ago.

Now, as vice director of the Grand Hotel, the son is sensitive to what some survivors call "working with the enemy." Citizens groups protested to the local government and newspapers when they discovered that the giant, noisy construction project near an execution site was to be a hotel run jointly with the Japanese.

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