It seems that, here in Beijing at least, the news is filled almost every day with the ongoing dispute between China and Japan over the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands. China has sent six surveillance ships to the group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, which could contain valuable gas reserves, and the state-run media have issued a torrent of condemnation against Tokyo. Last weekend saw big anti-Japanese protests in Xian, Changsha, Nanjing and Qingdao and Japanese media have reported attacks on Japanese restaurants and other businesses.
Dislike of the Japanese is strongly engrained in the Chinese psyche. Despite their deepening economic ties, China still holds bitter memories of Japan's military aggression in the 1930s and 1940s, and relations between Asia's two biggest economies took a further dive in 2010 after Japan arrested a Chinese trawler captain whose boat collided with Japanese coastguard vessels near the islands.
We’ve also recently had the 75th anniversary of the “July 7th Incident”, when Japanese troops crossed the Marco Polo Bridge on 07/07/1937, and which marked the beginning of the eight-year “War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression”. Time, therefore, for your favourite blogger to make a trip to the west of the capital to find out all about it.
The Lugou Qiao (卢沟桥) is located 15 km southwest of Beijing’s city centre in Fengtai. It bridges the Yongding River—a major tributary of the Hai River. The Marco Polo Bridge – to use its other name - is well-known because it was highly praised by the Venetian traveller during his visit to China in the 13th century … “Over this river there is a very fine stone bridge, so fine indeed, that it has very few equals in the world." (from The Travels of Marco Polo)
Construction of the original bridge started in 1189, and was completed in 1192. But following damage from floods, it was reconstructed under the Qing Dynasty Emperor Kangxi in 1698.
Following the communist takeover in 1949, the bridge was covered in asphalt and carried motor traffic... but only till 1971 when a new bridge was completed and traffic was eventually moved to it.
Lugou Qiao is 266.5 metres long and 9.3m wide, and built of solid granite, with a large central arch flanked by ten smaller ones. Each of the ten piers is protected by triangular iron pillars that have been installed to prevent damage by flood and ice. Hundreds of stone lions from different eras line both sides of the bridge.
The most intriguing feature of some of these beasts is that there are more lions hiding on the head, back or under the belly or on the paws of each of the big lions.
Each one is unique - the posture of each lion varies, as do their ages. Most date from the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties, but some are from the earlier Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368) and there are one or two dating from as long ago as the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234). They will make a splendid addition to my web site on stone lions!
You actually have to pay 25 yuan to get onto the bridge these days; but I don’t begrudge that. Keeping 900-year-old bridges in good condition doesn’t come cheap.
To make sure that the (mainly Chinese) tourists feel they are getting their money’s worth, there are plenty of interesting relics and other stuff positioned at either end of the bridge – such as friezes, statues and military guns…
that have people climbing all over them (this shot takes over 10 minutes of waiting for people to get off!) – so they’re obviously much appreciated.
I have to say, I rather like this splendid camel, even if he does have two humps!
But apart from appealing to the kid in each of us, there are also a whole load of ornamental columns and marble steles. One stele, installed on top of a stone tortoise, records the reconstruction of the bridge by Emperor Kangxi in 1698. Another stele bears calligraphy by Emperor Qianlong, the grandson of Kangxi. It reads "Morning moon over Lugou" (盧溝曉月Lugou Xiaoyue).
There’s also a stone tablet with an inscription of a poem: Inspection of Yongding River by Emperor Kangxi, which he wrote in November 1701.
But enough of just the pretty stuff. I am also here to learn more about what those beastly Japanese got up to all those decades ago. And the first thing I come across is the Sculpture Garden of China’s Anti-Japanese War, which was built from 1995 to 2000, to mark the 55th anniversary of the end of the War.
It’s located right by Wanping City – of which more in a moment.
The sculpture group consists of an area in which 38 cylindrical bronze sculptures stand – each weighing some six tons. There are four themes: the Japanese Invasion, Rising to save the country, Anti Japanese storms and fires; Justice is bound to triumph. These sculptures are made of huge pieces of granite and bronze castings from wrecked tanks, machine guns and cannons of the Jap troops.
The blurb says that traditional artistic methods were used to make the sculptures, “which embody the unyielding spirit and dauntless heroism of the Chinese nation,” while the moving sculpture group will ensure “the situation thoughts will throng your mind and all sorts of feelings well up in your mind.”
Placed at discreet intervals around the garden are slogans telling all that justice is bound to triumph and invaders are doomed to failure.
It’s all stirring stuff…
although some tend to lose a little in their translation.
As well as the sculpture garden, there is also a drum shaped stone blocks memorial park – basically a park within park, which was officially opened in 2003. Here, we are told, you can “appreciate the art of lithoglyph calligraphy, experience and remember the history in pursuit of peace in this park. Exactly stones record humiliation rather than harbor bitter resentment; hundred drums strike a warning chord.”
These drum stone blocks extend as far as the 640 metre-long Wanping City wall, where you can still see the shot marks made by gun fire and cannon.
Wanping City, also known as Wanping Castle (宛平城) is a Ming Dynasty fortress, or "walled city" which was erected in 1638–1640, with the purpose of defending Beijing against Li Zicheng and the peasant uprising. It lies adjacent to the Lugou Qiao, and has two gates, the Ever Prosperous Gate (永昌门, Yongchangmen), to the east, and the western Favourably Govern Gate (顺治门, Shunzhimen). From west to east, it measures 640 metres, and from south to north 320 metres, making it half-square shaped.
Slap bang in the middle of the fort is Wanping Square with a bronze sculpture of an Awakening Lion symbolizing “the prosperity and mightiness of the country and dauntlessness of the people”. The locals love it so much that they even hang up their washing to dry around it!
Although the fort is to all intents and purposes a normal residential district of outer Beijing, a large portion of the space inside the fortress' walls is given over to The Museum of the War of the Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (中国人民抗日战争纪念馆) (is this the museum with the longest name … in the world???). It was opened on the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War on 7th July 1987.
On each side of the central axis of the square lie seven pieces of lawn, representing the incident of July 7th while a 14-metre high flag pole on the white marble base stands in the north of the square just in front of the museum representing the 14-year war of the Chinese nation against Japanese aggression.
It’s free to get into this museum – but you still have to queue up and show your ID to the girl at the ticket office to be given an entrance ticket. Unless, like me you – yet again – forget your ID, in which case a sweet smile and a little-boy-lost-look does wonders!
Inside the grounds are two T34 soviet made tanks that were the main battle tanks of the former soviet army in World War II and which saw service in Korea. They weigh 32 tons, carry 5 people, and have a top speed of 55km/hr. Their 85mm guns had a maximum shooting range of nearly 14km.
No doubt impressive, though the female security guard is obviously more taken with her fan magazine than the hardware of war.
And so into the museum proper. As you enter, you are met with a large-scale facade which “reflects the Chinese army and people to build up an indestructible steel great wall with their flesh and blood”.
Inside there are more than 20,000 cultural relics, and the entire display is divided into several thematic areas: "the Prelude of the War", "Strategic Defence", "Confrontation”, "the Chinese War Zone After the Breakout of the Pacific War", and "Final Victory in the Anti-Japanese War".
Weapons, there are aplenty…
and you won’t go very far before you discover the role that the Communist Party’s top leaders – including, of course, Mao himself – played in this war…
The majority of the displays have copious explanations in English and there are plenty of maps and sketches explaining how everything worked and who was where, when.
To be honest, you could start off feeling you are in any war museum in the world – it all seems a little distant from reality. But then you turn a corner and you suddenly find yourself faced with the stark reality of what really happened in those distant days. Pictures of people killed by chemical weapons; bacteriological warfare experiments; piles of murdered children’s bodies; “comfort women” used by the Japanese soldiers. Suddenly you no longer question the very deep animosity the Chinese have against their Japanese neighbours.
The museum curators are obviously proud of what they describe as “a huge oil painting with objects and models. With the computer-controlled audio, light and electricity technologies, the oil painting can show the effect of rolling dark cloud, smoke of gunpowder and flames of war, giving the audience the real experience of the war in Lugou Bridge. It adopts a large curtain with the visual field in the width of 1800, in the forms of the lamp light, sound, film and slide show to reappear the actual situation of the Chinese army and people tough beat back of the Japanese aggressors in Lu Gou Bridge.”
Pride of place also goes to a large depiction of the final Japanese surrender…
But there’s more!
One mustn’t forget that Korea was similarly invaded by the Japs; and just to underline the perfidy of those naughty Nips, there’s a temporary exhibition of the War of the Korean People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression.
In February, 2005 - the 60th anniversary of the victory of the Sino-Japanese War - the central government of China arranged a series of memorial activities, for which President Hu Jintao proposed for its guiding doctrine, that "Chinese people should cherish peace, work to create a bright future, while keeping history in mind."
With slogans urging that the Chinese and Japanese people should be friends forever, with an abrogation of former enmities and a dedication to amity, many might have hoped that the two former enemies could now peacefully resolve their dispute over a few tiny islands in the East China Sea.
But after this past week, I seriously have to ask myself if people ever learn anything from the history books.