As Sino-Japanese relations over the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands continue to flare, China is increasingly turning to history to strengthen its diplomatic position. Monday marked the 77th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, a skirmish between the Japanese army and the Chinese nationalist forces that marked the beginning of large scale hostilities in the war with Japan that would last until 1945.
The commemoration itself was a grand and highly publicized event and made front page news in the Chinese press, according to the New York Times. President Xi Jinping was on hand to officially open a new memorial for the 1937 event. “History is history, and facts are facts…Anyone who wants to deny, distort or beautify the history of the invasion will definitely not find agreement from the people of China or the rest of the world,” said Xi.
War memorials are of course completely justifiable and legitimate, but a few things about this one were seen as unique. One was that the anniversary chosen was the 77th. Usually in China, as in the West, grand remembrance ceremonies are kept to multiples of fives and tens. The Beijing News clarified this, after attention was called to the odd years–77 since the outbreak and 69 since the victory– saying “it really isn’t an ‘every five’ or ‘every 10’ year event” to commemorate the outrages suffered at the hands of the Japanese.
Complementing the fact that this was a very specific numbered anniversary for a head-of-state to honor was the extent to which it ruled the airwaves in China. The Wall Street Journal reported “interviews with soldiers, broadcasts of historical footage, speeches and editorials” as all being part of the media storm publicizing the event.
Seen in a larger context, yesterday’s event was another move in part of a diplomatic spat between Japan and China centering on, among other things, the contested Diaoyu Islands. Last month saw aggression from the Japanese side when it became known that the Prime Minister Abe Shinzo had tweaked the constitution to free up restrictions on Japanese military mobilization that had been in place since 1945. In a move that may have had Mike Godwin nodding in scandalous assent, The People’s Daily in China were quick to compare the Japanese premier to Adolf Hitler, also adding that Japan “once again is becoming a dangerous country that could unleash war.”
Photo courtesy of 65th.tpg.gov.tw