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'Soft' nationalism is good for China

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Chinese-style soft nationalism takes pride in Confucian values – a humanitarian outlook and self-improvement by learning from others – and both values are highlighted in Nanjing.

Nanjing is the site of the darkest moment in China’s “century of humiliation” – the massacre of 300,000 civilians at the hands of Japanese troops in 1937. The newly redone Nanjing Massacre Museum portrays the massacre not just as a national tragedy, but as a human tragedy. Emotional anti-foreign propaganda has been replaced with well-documented accounts of individual victims. Symbolic exhibits pay tribute to the people murdered, similar to the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. Tribute is also paid to the foreigners who rescued Chinese civilians, as well as to foreigners beaten by Japanese troops.

Another museum is dedicated to the memory of John Rabe, who saved hundreds of Chinese lives during the Nanjing Massacre by opening his home to civilians. Rabe’s humanitarian spirit somehow transcended his Nazi affiliations. The nearby museum is dedicated to Pearl Buck. Once depicted as a reactionary American capitalist, Buck is now depicted as a brilliant writer who sympathized with China’s poor and campaigned for human rights in the US.

The Memorial Hall of Anti-Japanese Aviation Martyrs includes a tribute to the 2,500 American pilots who died fighting with the KMT in the struggle against Japanese invaders. The name of each dead pilot is etched in a memorial, similar to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. Our Chinese guide proudly told us that it’s the only memorial site in China that pays tribute to foreign soldiers.

These exhibits are meant to show that Chinese take pride in an outlook that values humanity and compassion – ren, to use Confucian language – regardless of ethnicity or national affiliation.

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