President Xi Jinping and top leaders attended a large-scale event in Beijing yesterday to mark 69 years since the end of the second Sino-Japanese war, commemorations that coincide with China's ramped up efforts to publicly call out Japan over its wartime abuses.
Xi and members of the Communist Party's powerful Politburo Standing Committee observed a moment of silence during the ceremony presided by Premier Li Keqiang at the Marco Polo Bridge, the site that symbolises the start of the war in 1937.
At a party gathering in the afternoon, Xi called on Tokyo to reflect on its wartime abuses, saying China would never allow any denial or distortion of Japan's history of aggression or any return to militarism.
But he also said China would "continue to endeavour" to develop Sino-Japanese ties.
"Japan should be responsible to history, the people of Asia and the region, and consider Sino-Japan friendship and the stability of Asia. Japan should handle historical issues properly and cautiously, and seriously learn a lesson from history," Xi said.
WATCH: Archive newsreel about the Marco Polo Bridge incident
The Sino-Japanese conflict lasted until 1945, when Japan surrendered to the Allied forces aboard the USS Missouri battleship on September 2.
This ushered a three-day celebration in China, which was then ruled by the Kuomintang. The leaders at the time later decided to designate September 3, 1946 as the first anniversary of the end of the Sino-Japanese war.
Earlier this year, as China stepped up its propaganda efforts centring on wartime grievances against Japan, the National People's Congress designated September 3 as Victory Day over Japanese forces.
Yesterday's activities were the first commemoration of the event since the NPC's decision.
The ceremony was broadcast live by state media and marked the start of a busy month of commemorations.
Two other events will be marked this month: the 83rd anniversary of the Mukden Incident, which was the pretext for Japan's 1931 invasion of China on September 18, and the newly declared Martyrs' Day on September 30.
Later this year, China will hold the memorial day for Nanking massacre victims on December 13. The Nanjing killings, committed over six weeks after Japanese troops invaded the former Chinese capital, have also been a matter of dispute for both countries.
Beijing strongly rebuked Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit last December to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine that houses war criminals, which observers saw as comparable to visiting a Nazi shrine in Germany.
China and Japan have also been sparring over sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands, known as Senkakus in Japan, in the East China Sea.
Xi criticised Tokyo's attempt to nationalise the islands as a "farce" when he was still vice-president in 2002.
Both nations have regularly sent patrols and aircraft to the area to assert their claims to the islands.