LA exhibition brings to light Nanjing Massacre through American eyes

Chinese Culture

The inauguration of the L.A. Memorial Hall of American Heroes. The memorial hall is the first museum in the United States dedicated to the Nanjing Massacre. [Photo: Xinhua]

A Nanjing Massacre-themed museum, the L.A. Memorial Hall of American Heroes during Nanjing Massacre, opened in the city of Los Angeles on the last day of 2015.

The opening exhibition at the museum honors 22 Americans who risked their lives to stay in Nanjing and help the locals during the 40 days of carnage – from December 1937 to January 1938 – that saw over 300,000 Chinese civilians and soldiers being slaughtered by Imperial Japanese soldiers.

Among the 22 individuals, 14 experienced the entire massacre after the city fell into the hands of the Japanese army; four witnessed the brutality of the Japanese invaders during the first few days of the massacre; and four entered Nanjing city at the end of massacre and witnessed some of the crimes committed by Japanese troops.

The museum’s exhibit currently features 335 photos, 94 historical objects and 115 books and videos, with the aim of sharing the truth about the Nanjing Massacre.

One of the photos on display shows Dr. Robert O. Wilson treating a 14-year-old boy, who had been stabbed by a Japanese bayonet, in Gulou Hospital. Wilson was the only foreign surgeon in the city at the time and had saved thousands of Chinese people, according to his daughter Marge Garrett.

Garrett, who along with her family was invited to attend the museum’s inauguration, said that her father had sent her mother and sister back to the US before the Japanese reached the city, while he chose to stay back and take care of the patients.

Another important exhibit is a letter written by Lewis SC Smythe, who was professor at Nanjing University during the war, to his wife on December 23, 1937. He also served as the secretary of the International Committee for the Nanjing Safety Zone and worked as a member of International Red Cross Committee of Nanjing.

“The Japanese soldiers took 200 people from the refugee camp…and shot them to death, some of them may be soldiers, but it was said that more than half of them were ordinary people. We hope the wrath of Japanese was done and there will be no more shooting…Today another man came back, his face was severely burnt, which may result in blindness. He said 140 of them were binded together, poured with gasoline and fired! It was horrible!”


-A letter written by Lewis SC Smythe

According to Zhu Chengshan, the co-curator of the memorial hall, some 30 cities across the world have held Nanjing Massacre-themed exhibitions, with 10 of them being in the US. The previous exhibitions were temporary, lasting at the most for a period of 20 days, but the one in Los Angles will be permanent.

“There are many people in the world who do not know about the historical fact of the Nanjing Massacre, especially people overseas. So we need not only to inform people in China; more importantly, we have to let people outside China know about the truth,” said Zhu.