Memories of World War II continue to haunt East Asia, where competing historical narratives undergird the region’s national identities. As China has grown into an economic and military power, historical memory has played a more significant role in its public education and state-building. Its proud people are intent on overcoming the “unequal treaties” forced upon China during the “century of humiliation” between the first Opium War and World War II. As the scholar Zheng Wang has pointed out, the Chinese education system implores that its people “never forget national humiliation” at the hands of Japanese invaders and Western imperialists.
For many, the Nanjing Massacre represents far more than what happened in this one city; it stands for the massive scale of human suffering in a war that claimed between 10 and 20 million Chinese lives.