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China Marks 77th Anniversary of Nanjing Massacre

Chinese workers light candles before a vigil to mark China's first National Memorial Day at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall in Nanjing in eastern China's Jiangsu province on Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014.

China has observed the first National Memorial Day to mark the 77th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre, in which occupying Japanese troops - according to Beijing - killed an estimated 300,000 civilians and unarmed soldiers and raped about 20,000 women.

In a speech Saturday in Nanjing, China's former capital, President Xi Jinping told an audience of soldiers, survivors of the December 1937 slaughter and students that the purpose of the event is to "arouse every kind of person's longing for an adherence to peace and not to perpetrate hatred."

Xi called out Japanese ultra-nationalists who deny the massacre ever took place, but he blamed the killings on a small minority of militarists. He added that the people of China and Japan should pass friendship from generation to generation.

Relations between the two countries have been tense in the last few years. The two have been mired in a dispute over a chain of islets in the East China Sea.

Beijing was also angered by Japanese Prime minister Shinzo Abe's and other officials' visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shine, which honors convicted Japanese war criminals among the country's war dead.