Accessibility links

Race Against Time to Interview China's Nanjing Massacre Survivors

In 1937, Japanese forces swept through Nanjing, China, and systematically killed civilians and soldiers. There is now a joint effort to collect video testimonies from the survivors of the Nanjing Massacre. And it is being carried out with a sense of urgency, because only about 200 survivors are still alive.

Xia Shuqin remembers a day seared in her memory. She said a Japanese soldier climbed up and dragged her mother out from under a table. He then snatched her one-year-old sister and bludgeoned her to death with his gun. In her video testimony , she said she is one of the few remaining survivors who can still recall the horrors of that day, when the Japanese entered Nanjing on December 13, 1937.

Karen Jungblut, director of research and documentation at the University of Southern California's Shoah Foundation, said, “For the next six weeks, Japanese forces engaged in a wide-range massacre, murdering over 300,000 mostly civilians and armed soldiers within the capital in an almost systematic way.” She said survivors participating in the video history project want the world to know what they experienced.

Yang Cuiying, 88, agreed to share her memories of the massacre. She said her father was holding her two-year-old little brother when she kneeled and begged the Japanese not to kill her father. She said the Japanese killed her father, her brother and two other relatives.

Lu Yanming, a researcher for the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, conducted the interview and 11 others.

“It was also very traumatic experience for me to learn from the history of the Nanjing Massacre,” he said.

Lu said the aim of the project is to collect at least 50 testimonies, to not only find the truth about what happened, but also to pay tribute to the victims and survivors.

“We are now losing our survivors day by day. They are in the very old age. That is also our biggest challenge,” said Lu.

The Shoah Foundation has experience collecting such accounts. The organization says it has collected nearly 52,000 testimonies from survivors of atrocities and genocides from around the world.

The foundation is working with the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall on the project.

Jungblut said the video testimonies will add broader historical perspective.

“What the museum has done in the past was focusing on the actual events and the interviews pertain to the actual events," she said. "Our methodology that we brought to the table is also to think about the life before the events started.”

And to find out what it’s like to live with the experience afterwards.

“The older they get the more traumatic for them to recall the experience," said Lu.

Lu said what moved him most is that all the survivors he interviewed held no hatred toward the Japanese as a whole.

“They want to cherish the peace. They want to cherish the peace between the two peoples and hope the tragedy will never happen again,” he said.

Researchers say they hope these testimonies will help them understand what can be done to prevent future crimes of mass violence like the Nanjing Massacre.