“September 18th, 1931 is a day which remains forever in the memory of the Chinese people. On that day, the Japanese aggressors outrageously provoked the September 18th Incident. During the fourteen years afterwards, the Japanese aggressors committed all kinds of crime in the aggressive war, plunging millions upon millions of people into misery and suffering, frenziedly plundering enormous material wealth and tramping on the dignity of the Chinese nation. From that day on, for fourteen years…countless Chinese people shed their blood [to resist the Japanese]. They fought the Japanese aggressors so heroically that the resistance shocked the world. Never forget September 18, 1931, the day of humiliation for the Chinese people.”
A plaque bearing the words above was our welcome to the September 18th (“九.一八”) Museum in Shenyang. My first response was to scoff at the overdramatic depiction of it all (“frenziedly plundering??”) but then I decided that instead of simply reading the plaques and laughing, I should do some critical thinking and try to figure out the other side of the story. Below is a picture of the museum’s beautiful entrance hall.
So I remembered learning about the September 18th Incident, which is also referred to as the Mukden Incident (Mukden is modern day Shenyang). But my memory of lots of Chinese history is hazy at best. To recap, a section of railway near Mukden/Shenyang owned by a Japanese company was blown up. The Japanese claimed that the Chinese were responsible for the event. The Chinese blamed the Japanese, saying that they they did it as an excuse to invade. (Scholars today still disagree on who was responsible.) Whatever the case, the Japanese invaded and held power in the area (Manchuria) for the next 14 years. Or, as the museum tells us, “From that day on, the Japanese invaders went on to commit numerous massacres of unparalleled savagery and committed innumerable criminal acts, which still curl one’s hair. From that day on, the Chinese people suffered more than 5,000 days and nights of hatred and terror. Fierce resistance against the occupation– unprecedented in the 5,000-year history of Chinese civilization- spread all over the country.” Each plaque had a Chinese, English and Japanese translation. I really wonder what the Japanese translation said…
The most interesting part of the museum, however, wasn’t any of the extremely vivid wax figurines depicting scenes of torture, the (real?) skeletons, or the graphic photographs… it was a Chinese college student who we met there. He approached me while I was reading one of the exhibits, and translated some of the Chinese captions. His English was great, and as we walked along a little more, he said, “I know this might be rude, but I didn’t think that Westerners cared about this.” I’m not completely sure what he meant, but I assured him that I was very interested. Throughout the rest of the museum, he helped to fill us in on the “other” side of the story that was not being conveyed. He would tell us things in a hushed voice, always in English, and look over his shoulders at times to make sure that nobody else would understand. The whole museum seemed to make him very angry; he let out huge sighs and shook his head while reading the information presented. One of the most interesting things that he mentioned was how Mao Zedong actually supported the Japanese puppet government in Manchuria, because it rid his enemies (the Nationalists, aka GMD or KMT) of power. (He was then quick to add that lots of Chinese people don’t know this because it’s not cool to badmouth Mao.) We asked him where he learned about the thing that he knew and he just said he read a lot of books, and also read articles on the internet. He said he used to have a Myspace, but now the government has blocked Myspace so he doesn’t… oh, China.
Kimfucius says…if you are in Shenyang, you should definitely check out the September 18th Museum. Enjoy the text that the museum provides, but do your own research when you get home to try and figure out the other side of the story!