Museum of the War of Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression
On the 7th of July 1937, Japanese forces attacked the Lu Gou Bridge in central Beijing. Although the Japanese had occupied Manchuria in 1931, historians now mark this event as start of the official Japanese invasion of China and the beginning of the eight-year war between the two countries. 50 years later in the same location, the Museum of the War of Chinese People’s Resistance against Japanese Aggression was opened to the public.
Following the takeover by the Communist Party in 1949, the war against the Japanese was rarely spoken about or promoted publicly. Instead, the overall success of the communist party, both before and after the revolution, was to be the only thing celebrated. During the 1980s, it was realised that public memorialisation of the war would help to encourage nationalism and foster symbolic unification throughout the country. Thus, in 1984 the Chinese Communist Party leaders agreed to the formation of a war-focused museum and three years when it opened, had President Deng Xiaoping officially name and open the space.
Since then the museum has been renovated four times, each time expanding and incorporating more technologically advanced exhibitions. The latest transformation occurred in 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the victory of the War against Japanese Aggression. The external façade of the museum is made of marble and bronze, inlaid with representations of victorious battle scenes and free civilians. In front of the museum is a large square, and on either side are seven lawns – each signifying the site where the bridge incident occurred on July 7th, 1937. In the centre of the square stands a statue of the awakening lion, a symbol of the nation rising to fight, and beyond that, a marble flagpole. It is within the square that official ceremonies and public commemorations take place.
Upon entering the museum, visitors are met with a large panoramic painting, depicting the various types of people in China who assisted in the fight against the Japanese. Army officers, workers, politicians and everyday people stand alongside each other as a symbol of a unified China against a common enemy. Showcasing eight permanent exhibition spaces, the museum has a collection of almost 20,000 artifacts and 2,000 photographs. Items such as military uniforms, weapons, torture devices and everyday objects used during the 1940s tell the stories of those who fought against the Japanese, lived through the war and contributed to the communist victory soon after.
Following a chronological order from the time Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 through to the final defeat in 1945, the exhibitions educate visitors in both Chinese and English on the crimes that were inflicted on the local populations, the ways in which the Chinese communist forces fought back against the Japanese aggressors and the sacrifices the country made to defeat fascism. Together with interpretive panels, photographs, artworks, multimedia displays, dioramas and sculptures, the content works to arouse an emotive response from visitors and simultaneously pay tribute to the 35 million Chinese who were killed or injured during the Japanese invasion.
Along with the eight permanent exhibition spaces, the museum has hosted 60 temporary exhibitions, each focusing on a specific theme linked to the Anti-Japanese War. Some of these include: Crime of Japanese Aggressors of Launching Chemical Warfare; Photo Exhibition of the Taiwan Compatriots’ Resistance Against Japanese Aggression; and Shouting for the Anti-Aggression War – Anti-Aggression Literatures and Arts of the Communist Party of China. The most recent temporary exhibition, titled ‘Great Victory, Historic Contribution’ was developed to help celebrate the 70th anniversary of the victory of China against the Japanese. Highlighting the ‘brave resistance in the face of invasion’ and the Communist Party’s central role in the defeat of Japan, the exhibition opening was attended by 1,500 officials and veterans, as well as President Xi Jinping.
An estimated 14 million people have visited the museum since its opening in 1987. With plans to produce further exhibitions, both within China and abroad, the museum will continue its educational role and further help to commemorate the enduring sacrifices China made throughout the Anti-Japanese War.