"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Travel Report: Nanjing Massacre Memorial China, Part I

Photo exhibition Nanjing Massacre Memorial China

October 2018. In the summer of 1937 China and Japan kicked off a military conflict that would become known as The Second Sino Japanese War. What started out as local disputes soon turned very ugly. By the end of the year Japan had launched a full on invasion of China! Having taken Beijing, Jinan, Shanghai and Tianjin, next up was Nanjing. Japan’s brutal attack began in December 1937. When it was over, six weeks later, an estimated three hundred thousand Chinese people had been killed. Today China remembers this dark chapter at Nanjing Massacre Memorial, a museum and sculpture park built upon a former execution site.

The museum’s main exhibition hall is a dark, underground chamber lit by a starry ceiling. Photo panels of those who died at the hands of the Japanese fill the walls. Set to a soundtrack of soft, haunting music, it’s an undeniably powerful display. It was just a shame about the general behaviour of Chinese tourists. Couples chatted loudly, children ran riot unsupervised and businessmen shouted on their mobile phones. This behaviour is certainly nothing new in China, I just expected it to be different here.

Mass grave Nanjing Massacre Memorial

Nanjing Massacre Memorial.

They did a superb job with the museum’s design. Making my way through the exhibit, I came face to face with archive photos, sculptures, paintings, newspaper clippings and interactive touch screens. Most sobering of all is an original mass grave pit, much like the ones found in Cambodia’s Killing Fields.

Foreign friends wall Nanjing Massacre Memorial China.

Nanjing Massacre Memorial.

I found myself touched by this tribute wall to Nanjing’s foreign friends. Rather than flee the city as so many did, these guys decided to stay and help the Chinese.

John Rabe gravestone Nanjing Massacre Memorial

Nanjing Massacre Memorial.

Nanjing Massacre Memorial.

There’s a special focus on John Rabe, a German businessman who went above and beyond to protect the locals. Moreover, he helped establish The Nanking Safety Zone, which sheltered up to 200.000 people from the atrocities. After Rabe died in 1997, Chinese authorities arranged for the relocation of his tombstone from Berlin to Nanjing. Today it has a place of honour in the Massacre Memorial Hall.

Slaughter Rebirth Buddha painting Nanjing Massacre Memorial China

Nanjing Massacre Memorial.

The brutality that took place was just appalling. In addition to personal accounts of the violence, there are heartbreaking photos of young girls recovering from gang rape in hospital. Furthermore, the museum presents Li Zijan’s arresting oil painting Slaughter, Rebirth, Buddha. His creation shows bodies being dumped into the pits that sat directly beneath where I was standing.

Japanese soldiers photo Nanjing Massacre Memorial China

Nanjing Massacre Memorial.

This newspaper photo of two Japanese soldiers tells the sickening story of Tsuyoshi Noda and Toshiaki Mukai.  These two engaged in a personal contest to see who could be the first to kill one hundred people with a sword. 11 years later both officers got sent to China as part of The Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal.  As a result of the court’s findings, both men were executed.

Visit Nanjing Massacre Memorial Jiangsu Province China.

Nanjing Massacre Memorial.

To read more about my visit here, take a look at my article Nanjing Massacre Memorial Part II.

To find out about my crazy experience trying to enter the museum, take a look at my article How To Get Into Nanjing Massacre Memorial During China’s Golden Week.

You can also check out my many other pieces from around Nanjing.

Wanna delve further afield? Why not tap into my stacks of articles from across China.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

Leighton Travels logo travel reports and short stories.



  • Virginia

    l agree with you, a place with so much emotional history should be a quiet place of observation to reflect upon the lives and suffering endured by the fallen heroes and heroines who lost their lives during such a great massacre in China . Just to try and imagine what the men and women went through during the time is difficult. l do like the fact that the Chinese recognised the work done by John H Rabe and honored him .

    October 17, 2018 - 9:13 am Reply
    • leightonliterature

      Yes, those ‘foreign friends’ tributes was a nice touch. There was also a message board at the end of the museum interior that stressed that the memorial is not intended to prolong hatred with the Japanese and that both countries can learn from the lessons of the past to live together in friendship. I felt that was much needed as I’ve heard a lot of anti Japanese sentiment during my years in China.

      October 17, 2018 - 10:37 am Reply

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: