(AFP) – Dec 13, 2007
NANJING, China (AFP) — Air sirens wailed in Nanjing on Thursday as China marked the 70th anniversary of the massacre here by Japanese troops, but the nation also showed signs of wanting to finally look ahead.
Thousands of sombre and tearful residents crowded the grounds of the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall to commemorate those killed by the Japanese during their occupation of this eastern Chinese city that began on December 13, 1937.
The nation's government-controlled newspapers were also full of articles recalling the agony of the bloodshed that led to what China believes was the deaths of 300,000 people in Nanjing, then the nation's capital.
Attending the ceremony was Shi Xiuqin, 75, who said she was a massacre survivor and could still remember the terrifying times.
"When the Japanese soldiers came, it was horrible. I saw them use knives to slit people open from head to waist," Shi told AFP in a trembling voice.
This year's anniversary has coincided with a warming of Sino-Japanese ties and it appeared that Beijing had tempered its ferocious rhetoric over Japan's wartime record.
"We commemorate the day, to ponder upon the past, which can provide guidance in days to come," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang at a regular press conference.
"The Chinese government advocates developing a lasting neighbourly relationship of friendly cooperation with Japan."
Japan also said it wanted to look to the future while easing tensions with its neighbour over the past.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said Japan wanted to build a relationship with China based on common interests "with our eyes on the future."
As white doves meant to symbolise peace soared skyward, officials here took care in a subdued ceremony that re-opened an expanded memorial hall to avoid the inflammatory rhetoric heard during a diplomatic freeze between the two countries from 2002 to 2006.
"(The memorial hall) is to better preserve history. To never forget the past. To treasure peace and open the way to the future," said Xu Zhonglin, a provincial Communist Party chief who delivered the main speech at the ceremony.
Relations between Asia's two dominant powers, at odds over territorial disputes as well as wartime history, may still be fragile but China is genuine in wanting to improve ties, Chinese history professor Wang Weixing said.
"Today's commemoration is not to continue or deepen hate. It is precisely the opposite... to understand it," said Wang, from the Nanjing-based Jiangsu Academy of Social Science.
Sino-Japanese relations began improving last year under former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who made reaching out to China a top priority of his brief tenure and travelled to Beijing in October 2006.
Abe was replaced in September by Yasuo Fukuda, who is also a longtime advocate of warmer relations with China and is similarly expected to visit China soon, perhaps this month.
Chinese President Hu Jintao is then slated to visit Japan early next year in what would be the first visit by China's top leader there in a decade.
China, which suffered immense loss of life during World War II, has always reserved special anger for Japan's wartime record, infuriated by a sense that the island nation, unlike Germany, has never properly atoned for its past.
Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, stoked these feelings with his refusal to stop visiting a controversial Tokyo shrine where war criminals are among the honoured, prompting China to suspend all high-level diplomatic contacts.
China compares the bloodshed in Nanjing to the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany.
Japan has apologised for wartime atrocities in Nanjing and elsewhere in Asia, but the anger in China still simmers below the surface, and in the past has turned to dangerous anti-Japanese nationalism with frightening ease.
The world got a snapshot of this in early 2005, when protests by tens of thousands of Chinese students over the publication of Japanese school textbooks that glossed over Japan's war past turned violent in several cities.
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