Air raid sirens sounded in the eastern city of Nanjing yesterday as nearly 10,000 people attended a ceremony to mourn those who died 75 years ago in the Nanking massacre.
The Chinese government says 300,000 civilians and soldiers died in a six-week massacre after Japanese troops entered what was then the capital on December 13, 1937.
At the Nanking massacre memorial hall, built on a pit where thousands of victims were buried, people sang the Chinese national anthem as soldiers in dress uniforms carried memorial wreaths across a stage.
"We are here to recall history, grieve for compatriots who suffered and died, and educate the people about the lessons of history," said Yang Weize, secretary of the Communist Party in Nanjing, as the city is now known.
The ceremony took place amid rising tensions between China and Japan over a territorial dispute in the East China Sea.
Li Gaoshan, who was a Kuomintang soldier in the battle to protect Nanjing before the city was occupied, said he hoped wars and such tragedies would never happen again.
One student said she and 30 classmates had travelled for an hour from the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics to visit the hall. Their visit was inspired by posters on the campus calling on students to register their opposition to the Japanese government's decision to buy three of the disputed Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan.
Zhang Xiang, a master's degree candidate at Nanjing University, said he was depressed by the hall's displays. "I am particularly stunned by a picture showing several Japanese soldiers smiling in front of many Chinese people's bodies, which were piled like a mountain," he said. "How could they be so cruel?"
At Nanjing University, information about John Rabe, a German who lived in Nanjing and protected hundreds of Chinese during the Japanese occupation, has been on display since last month to commemorate the 130th anniversary of his birth.
On Wednesday night, hundreds of people lit red candles at the memorial in a vigil for the victims, chinanews.com  reported.
In Hong Kong, Japanese activist Tamaki Matsuoka said not many Japanese knew the details of the Nanking massacre.
"The massacre is only briefly mentioned in textbooks," she said at a conference at City University. "Even if it is mentioned, the word 'massacre' is always replaced by 'incident'. That's why I want to educate Japan's next generations about the real picture of history through books, exhibitions and documentaries."
Matsuoka's first documentary, Torn Memories of Nanjing, was screened at the Hong Kong International Film Festival in 2010. She interviewed more than 250 Japanese veterans and 300 Chinese victims for the film.
Her third documentary on the massacre, out next year, would include the never-before-recorded killing of 1,300 people at Taipingmen, Nanjing, she said.
Meanwhile, two members of Hong Kong's Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands who intended to protest at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo yesterday were taken away by police before they could reach the shrine. They were briefly detained at a Tokyo police station.