Chongqing is a huge city on the banks of the Chiangjiang or Yangtze River. Because it is mountainous, it is unusual in having no bicycles.
This year was my first visit to their normal university and they wanted to show me their war memorial museum.
Called “Chungking” by Westerners, this was the fallback capital of China under Chang Kai-Shek during the Japanese invasion. Well before Pearl Harbor and our entry into the War, Japanese planes made regular raids on Chongqing, and for protection, the Chinese built many tunnels into the hillside.
The museum was built in a cave setting and equipped with modern media showing footage of the Japanese bombing. Black-and-white photos showed the atrocities of war. A tunnel had been re-built with bronze statues of crowded men, women and children huddled in fear, while the sounds of bombs echoed loudly from the tunnel roof above.
And then I rounded the corner and saw the entrance to the cave. There was the gate...chained tight. I knew the history but how stupid of me not to realize that with tens of thousands of refugees arriving each week, there would be far too few cave shelters. The statues froze in time the panicked people reaching through the bars in the gate, unable to reach the safety inside. To admit everyone would have been to crush everyone. It was a powerful scene.
At the museum exit was a guest book. My host asked if I wanted to sign it. Many had written on the opened pages. Printed characters I might read but not these scrawled handwritten characters. “Can you tell me what this says?” I ask my host.
“I will hate the Japanese forever,” he reads.
I look around at the groups touring the museum. I am the only foreigner today. But the Chinese in the museum are young adults. The museum has done its job well. This new generation is too young to know the horrors of this war directly, or even hear it from their parents. But just like them, my jaw is clenched, my eyes intense, at what I have seen.
And what I have seen is not inaccurate.
“Lest we forget” is inscribed on every War Memorial back in the States. This is what these museums and memorials are about...not forgetting the horrors of war and the sacrifices made. As the surviving veterans die off, modern media and museums carry on the memory of events that should never be repeated.
I have toured other prison camp memorials in China where Kuomintang executed Communists. Chinese killing Chinese...who will they “hate forever” there?
Back in the States there are young Japanese students in my classes.
They did not perpetrate this.
There is an Old Testament phrase: the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons.
How long do we hate? How long do we blame the children and grandchildren of ancient enemies. When do we forgive?
My host again asks if I want to sign the museum book?
“Not now,” I tell him.
I will return again, soon, to Chongqing, and to this museum, when I have figured out what to write.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.