70 years on, activists seek an open discussion of Japanese war
Kristine Kwok and Ng Tze-wei
As the mainland marks the 70th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident today, activists are calling on Beijing to allow more open discussion on the impact that the war against Japan had on the country so more people will understand its grievances.
To mark the battle that is commonly regarded as the trigger of the war, about 30 people will stage a memorial service at the Marco Polo Bridge this morning, according to Li Nan on the website of the Patriotic Alliance, a group opposed to Japan's wartime aggression.
At the official Anti-Japanese War Museum, 1,000 people are expected to attend the opening of an exhibition on the incident, museum official Hu Bo said yesterday.
But the most dramatic events of the anniversary were probably those in Hong Kong yesterday, when various groups protested outside the Japanese consulate demanding compensation.
Though decades have passed since the incident, most people are still confused about what exactly happened.
Japanese tourist Hiro Mori, 27, visited the museum this week to try to understand the mainland's perspective.
'The biggest problem is that Japanese people do not understand the history in the region during the second world war,' he said.
'I'm here to understand China's perspective. We need to know what happened in order to have a good relationship with people in other countries.'
Meanwhile, two sisters walking on the bridge had different perspectives on the anniversary. Younger sister Li Yuanyuan, 15, who has just studied the bridge's history at school, said it was important to emphasise what happened there so the mainland could be stronger and not be bullied again.
Sister Li Jingjing, 18, said that while it was good to have memorial services for the incident's 70th anniversary, the services should not be too elaborate.
'It's all in the past,' she said. 'As Chinese people, we must remember this. But too much emphasis would arouse discontent about Japan.'
Observers have noted a rising tide of anti-Japanese sentiment on the mainland, which peaked in protests in 2005. The demonstrations broke out in many mainland cities and attracted tens of thousands of young people protesting against Tokyo's approval of a new textbook that critics said whitewashed Japan's wartime atrocities.
The unprecedented scale of the protests prompted speculation that the government was directing the anti-Japanese campaign from behind the scenes.
But many activists said the government had been reining in their activities over the years in order to maintain social stability.
Feng Jinhua , a veteran anti-Japan activist, said suppression of the activities had only slightly eased in recent years because the government was trying to create a more favourable environment for the development of Sino-Japanese relations.
'What we do is not opposed to everything about Japan. We just want to make a noise so that people will pay attention to this part of history,' he said. 'The government wants to control everyone's thoughts, but how can it be possible to have only one voice in a society?'
Mr Feng said there should be more channels for the public to discuss and express their feelings on the war with Japan.
Ties between the two Asian giants have been delicate over the past few years as former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi repeatedly visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where those who died in the war are honoured, including Class A war criminals.
Relations between the longtime rivals have seemed to warm since Mr Koizumi's successor, Shinzo Abe, visited Beijing right after taking over last year. In April, Premier Wen Jiabao made the first visit by a mainland leader to Japan in seven years.