China is considering a proposal to set September 30 as Martyrs’ Day to commemorate those who gave their lives for the nation in an attempt to promote patriotism at a time when people’s belief in communism seems to be fading.
Martyrs’ Day will honour those who gave their lives for national independence and prosperity since the first Opium War with the British in 1840, when China was made a semi-colony, Civil Affairs Minister Li Liguo said. He spoke in support of a motion made to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), which is holding its bimonthly session this week until Sunday.
The purpose “is to foster patriotism and bolster core socialist values among citizens, and to inspire them to work to realise the dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” Li said. The date of September 30 was chosen because it was on that day in 1949 when China’s communist leaders laid the foundation for the Monument to the People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square. Chairman Mao Zedong announced the founding of the People’s Republic next day; central government leaders usually go to lay flowers at the monument on National Day, October 1.
Xigen Li, an associate professor with City University’s department of media and communications, said it is politically correct to set a day in memory of those who died as martyrs, but cautioned against too many superficial formalities and spending too many resources on them.
Although the Chinese calendar is already dotted with days of commemoration for historic events and causes, the supporters of the motion believe that having a national public holiday will promote patriotism.
In Chinese traditional calendar, people use Ching Ming as the tomb-sweeping festival in the spring to pay tribute to their deceased relatives and commemorate those who died defending the country. Family visit their ancestors’ graves during Cheung Yeung Festival in the autumn, as well.
Then earlier this year, the NPC Standing Committee designated two new national days aimed at highlighting Japan’s aggression during the second world war. September 3 was named “War Against Japanese Aggression Victory Day” and December 13 was named a day of remembrance for victims of the Nanking massacre. The moves come at a time when Tokyo has been trying to gloss over its offences during that period, and to move towards remilitarisation.
Last month, President Xi Jinping attended an official ceremony to mark the 77th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which symbolised the start of the Sino-Japanese war, as Beijing adds augments its efforts to denounce Japan’s wartime atrocities. The commemoration received an unusually high profile, as Xi’s participation – the first by a Chinese president – was also shown on national television for the first time. Normally such emphasis comes every five or 10 years.