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A real-time way to experience one war of resistance
By Yuan Yuan  ·  2020-08-21  ·   Source: NO.35 AUGUST 27, 2020
A remembrance ceremony at the Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province in east China, on August 15, 2019. More than 300,000 Chinese civilians and unarmed soldiers were killed in over six weeks after Japanese troops occupied Nanjing on December 13, 1937 (XINHUA)
It was a short conversation that Jiang Tao read in 2011 that gave him the idea to record the history of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45) from a different perspective.

The discussion was between a journalist and a military officer about 80 years ago during the most difficult time of the war.

The officer was on his way to Hebei Province in north China to organize resistance forces. At that time, most of the province was occupied by Japanese troops, but the officer expressed his confidence in China's final victory over the invaders.

"What will you do after we win?" the journalist asked. The officer thought for a moment and said, "I'll be dead by then. It's hard for soldiers to survive this kind of war."

These stark lines made Jiang, a graduate from Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU), break down in tears. "The simple stating of facts had a strong impact on me," Jiang said during a speech he gave in Shanghai in 2017. "If we offer more historical details like these, it will be impactful and encourage people to learn more about the war."

People visit a photo exhibition on the 1937 Battle of Shanghai in Shanghai on January 17 (XINHUA)

Packing a punch 

On August 31, 2011, a history graduate from Oxford University brought the history of World War II to life with a Twitter account called Real Time WWII, which reported on the war's events as if they were happening in real time. The account's owner, Alwyn Collinson, posted daily news accounts of the war.

Inspired by Collinson, Jiang thought to do something similar with the war against Japanese aggression. He posted the idea on the bulletin board system of SJTU and attracted two other graduates. "We were all in our 30s and our careers had nothing to do with war studies," Jiang said. "I told them that even though it would be part-time work, we still need to persist for at least eight years to finish the project, which they agreed to." The eight years are the duration of Japan's all-out war against China, beginning with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in Beijing on July 7, 1937 and ending with the unconditional surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945.

Jiang collected all the copies of the Shen Bao newspaper, established in Shanghai in 1872, dating from 1937 to 1945. This provided substantial grist for their daily posts, along with reports from other media sources.

Ultimately, the trinity chose Weibo as their microblogging platform. They uploaded the first 27 posts on July 7, 2012. After a month, Weibo began to promote their account in various ways. And after two years, their number of followers surpassed 300,000.

Lu Kun, a college student at Sichuan University in the southwestern province of Sichuan, has followed the account since 2014. "Normally we learn about the war from movies, novels and documentaries, which pick up bits of facts and string them together," Lu told Beijing Review. "But this account offers us a panoramic picture. It is very unique."

To give a vivid comparison between Chinese and Japanese fighting capabilities at the beginning of the war, the account offered several facts.

The Japanese army trained soldiers to fire five bullets at a range of 300 meters during an ambush and all five needed to hit their targets. Among them, at least three bullets had to be concentrated in an area no larger than a fist.

But on the Chinese side, over 95 percent of the soldiers were illiterate and needed to learn basic things like distinguishing between left and right. Many soldiers were not equipped with guns and most of those who had guns didn't shoot more than 10 real bullets in a year after joining the army.

Such a sharp contrast gave the Japanese invaders great confidence at the beginning of the war. They said they would defeat China in three months. But a battle in Shanghai from August to October 1937 crushed their dreams. Jiang emphasized this particular battle in his speech in 2017.

"Troops from various parts of China marched to Shanghai," Jiang said. "It was the first time in a century that China fought a battle with coordinated forces from all over the country."

A rational result 

The recently released epic movie The Eight Hundred, directed by Guan Hu, depicts Chinese soldiers' defense of a warehouse during this major battle. The Chinese-administered part of Shanghai was mostly occupied by Japanese troops by then, except for a warehouse where a ragtag group of Chinese soldiers were staying and continuing the fight against the invaders.

The warehouse was situated on the northern bank of the Suzhou River, which winds through Shanghai. On the other side of the river was the international settlement.

While the soldiers were battling and sacrificing their lives, many people in the international settlement donated food and medicines to them. But there were also residents continuing with their regular life, going to bars, concerts and even playing mahjong.

"I could never imagine such a scene before," Zhong Xiaoqi, a Beijing local, told Beijing Review. "The river was like a boundary between life and death. It was so striking."

Zhong said she learnt only the name of this battle in the history textbook. "If somebody had described this scene to me as vividly, I would definitely have had a stronger impression of the war," she said. "We were always told how hard the battle was and how brave our soldiers were, but I think many young people like me don't have a clear picture of the war."

The trinity has so far published more than 35,000 posts. On August 15, their account posted a photo of the Ta Kung Pao newspaper's edition on the same day in 1945 that carried reports on Japan's announcement of unconditional surrender to the Allies in World War II. They also said the eight-year initiative will end on September 2, the day when Japanese representatives signed the official Instrument of Surrender 75 years ago.

The trinity is thinking of microblogging the first six years of the war, which started on September 18, 1931 when Japanese troops began invasion of northeast China.

"We don't aim to stir up hatred or any other negative emotions," a post from the team said. "When we bear in mind the suffering, terror and humiliation that the previous generations went through, and how they generously sacrificed their lives for the prestige of our country, we tend to have a more mature and rational outlook about our history."

(Print Edition Title: Impactful Impressions) 

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo 

Comments to yuanyuan@bjreview.com 

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