Uncovering a Hidden Tragedy – A Must See When Visiting China

June 12, 2018 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ China

I was never a history buff. Far from it. But it seems that I am not alone in having never heard of the Nanjing Massacre. 300,000 deaths in just 6 short weeks. Today we explore exactly what lead to such a tragedy and the incredible museum in Nanjing, China that pays tribute to such sad times.

When we arrived in Nanjing China, we began our research into local activities (as you do), to discover that the Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing (otherwise known as the Nanjing Massacre Memorial) was listed as the Number 1 Thing to Do in Nanjing.


Finding this out was quickly followed up with another Google search… What was the Nanjing Massacre? And so our Worldschooling History lesson began.


What was the Nanjing Massacre?

In 1937, then Capital of China, Nanjing (or Nanking), came under attack by Japanese forces. In a period of just 6 short weeks, a massive 300,000 men, women and children were slaughtered. Of these victims, tens of thousands were Chinese women, who were raped, before being brutally murdered, giving the period the alternative name of The Rape of Nanjing. Nanking was left in ruins, and it took decades for the city and its residents to recover from the brutal attacks.


The Invasion

Japanese troops began arriving in Nanking in December 1937. After a bloody victory in Shanghai, troops made their way west, towards Nanking. Fearful of losing more of their army, official troops were ordered out of the city, leaving only untrained auxiliary troops. To make matters worse, a sea of Shanghai refugees had not long arrived, and the evacuation of residents was forbidden , nd while some tried to escape, for the majority, they lay in wait for their fateful demise.


Arrival of the Troops

Word of the Japanese troops spread quickly through China. Stories of their brutal attacks abounded. Killing contests and pillaging of homes and businesses were common, along with mass graves, bodies piled high as Japanese troops killed any Chinese they encountered.

Entire families were slaughtered, buildings were burned and bodies lined the roads for months following the attacks. Japanese troops were determined to destroy the city and the people within.


Establishing a Safety Zone

A small group of western missionaries and businessmen, known as the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone, attempted to set up a Safety Zone to aid victims and refugees. Formal requests were put out to both Chinese and Japanese forces, and while the Chinese adhered to the requests, sending support and food, the Japanese turned a blind eye to the requests.

In early December, the Chinese Government abandoned Nanking, leaving the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone in charge. Following the attack in Nanking, survivors were ordered into the safety zone for their own protection. However, in only a matter of weeks, the Japanese troops declared order had been restored, and immediately set about dismantling the safety zone, and killings continued into February of the following year. Sadly, not even those in the safety zone were safe.


What is the Nanjing Massacre Memorial?

The Nanjing Massacre Memorial is located in Nanjing, China, about an hour and half from Shanghai by very fast train and pays tribute to the hundreds of thousands of victims, who were slain during the days of the Nanking Massacre. It is an impressive structure that tells the story of times gone by… times that should never be forgotten.


The Statues

As you enter the Memorial, a solemn walkway is lined with statues, representing the victims of the massacre.


The young children, the elderly, the women, the husbands and wives, the mothers holding their babies. Each tells a story.


Frigidity and horror have frozen this crying baby. Poor thing. Not knowing mum has been killed. Blood, milk and tears. Have frozen, never melting.


December 13, 1937 – Began the inhuman massacre! Unarmed and defenceless civilians. Flee. Teh only hope to survive.


A thirteen year old carrying his grandmother who has died in the bombing. Flee. Flee. Flee


Run! The Devils are coming.


Never will a sanctified soul bear the humiliation of the devils. Only to die. Only to die. Only death can wipe off the stain.


They rob and rape. They set fire and bury people alive. They even kill my three month old grandson.


The devil’s aircraft bombed again… The poor orphans. Frightened by the vicious laugh of the brutal devils. Terrified by the corpses piling up in the alley. Have lapsed into numbness..


The Memorial Hall.

The Nanjing Massacre Memorial is a large parkland, made up of many sections.



The large indoor Memorial Hall is home to countless artifacts and documents, supporting the findings against Japan and their barbaric actions during their days in Nanjing.

As you enter the Memorial Hall you are welcome to hire an audio guide, ordinarily, a must do for us, however with limited time until closing (they close earlier than most places) we were not allowed to hire one.



Through the main entrance, you walk into a large, empty room. A simple black floor, delicately lit, draws your eye upwards to the ceiling, where you see the number 300,000, projected in big bold white lettering. This number is prominently displayed in many places throughout the monument.



The walls are lined with the names of victims. Row after row after row. A chilling reminder of the impact these events had.



Granades and guns, helmets and boots… cabinets line the walls in the following rooms, full of photographs, documents and artifacts. You simply cannot help but be taken back in time, as you witness the remains all around you.



Scenes recreating the streets of Nanking show bodies strewn under piles of concrete. Babies cling to their mothers, and debris is everywhere.



Stories of victims, like that of a 7-year-old and his 4-year-old sister. Left amidst the bodies of their family members, surviving for two weeks on rice crusts until they were found and moved to the Nanjing Safety Zone.



All of the documents and explanations are in both Chinese and English, which really impressed me. So many attractions in China have featured nothing more than English headings, letting us scramble for our Google translator if we wanted any hope of understanding our surroundings.



As you move through the hall, you find yourself in a small, dark room, known only as 12 seconds. As you stand and look, you hear a loud water droplet. The photo of a victim is lit, and then gently fades away. 12 seconds later it happens again. 1 victim, every 12 seconds, over 6 weeks. Chilling.



I don’t feel like words will ever do the Nanjing Memorial Hall justice. Well, not mine anyway. There were moments where I had to choke back tears, as I read first-hand accounts of the suffering victims endured. On the other side, we also got to read accounts from the Japanese soldiers.



Chilling accounts of what they were instructed to do, the sights they witnessed and the achievements they “celebrated”. These men were heroes in the eyes of their country. A media frenzy and celebrations at home fueled their soldiers on to commit more and more atrocities. For years, Japan denied the massacre occurred, but eye-witness accounts and the diaries of these Japanese soldiers surfaced. Only in their later years could they look back with remorse, agreeing to document their stories so the truth could be told.



The Mass Grave of 10,000 Corpses

In the many years since the Nanjing Massacre, numerous burial sites have been uncovered and preservered. When construction of the Nanjing Massacre Memorial began, an additional burial site was discovered and now forms a part of the Memorial. In an area known as the Mass Grave of 10,000 Corpses, visitors are able to walk through the site and observe the skeletons of men, women and children, discovered layer upon layer on this site.



As morbid as it sounds, wandering through this site makes the sheer number of deaths hit home. The site has been carefully dug away and it is clear that these bodies were simply piled one on top of the other.  On an interesting side note, the discovery of a large number of snail shells in the site attest to the fact that these bodies were not buried, but rather piled in a low-lying pond or lake. No graves had been dug. Bodies were just discarded.




Is the Nanjing Massacre Memorial suitable for kids

We chose not to take 6-year-old Sienna to the memorial, after reading reports about the morbidity of the place. Graphic images line the walls, and human remains are found throughout the venue.

However, having now been, I do wish we’d taken her. Naturally, it is a personal decision, however to her, the bones would be no more than those of a plastic skeleton, and the images lining the walls were quite ambiguous. We could easily have shielded her from the worst of it, but the lessons learned would have been invaluable.


How to get to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial

The Nanjing Massacre Memorial is a very easy walk from the Yunjinlu Station. Take Exit 2 and at the top of the stairs, cross the road and you will find yourself at the entrance to the park.


What are the opening/closing times of the Nanjing Massacre Memorial?

The Nanjing Massacre Memorial opens at 8.30am each day and closes at 4.30pm.

What does the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Cost?

The Nanjing Massacre Memorial is free of charge to enter. There is a small charge for the audio tours and a refundable deposit of 100 yuan, and while we sadly didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy the audio tour, I imagine it would be well worth the small cost.




It is for good reason that the Nanjing Massacre Memorial is rated the top attraction in Nanjing. It is by far one of the very best museums we’ve ever been to. The stories shared, the images seen and the overall feeling of the place, truly do transport you back in time and help you understand the horror that was the Nanjing Massacre.


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