Nanjing Anti-Japanese Aviation Martyrs' Memorial Hall, Nanjing, Jiangsu Province

In 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army attacked China and what soon followed was a long and bloody war between the two nations, now known in China as the Anti-Japanese Aggression War. As the Japanese seized many of the main cities (Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing) and cut off the supply of goods from both land and sea, attacks by air seemed to be one of the most effective ways to fight back.

The Soviet Union was the first to provide assistance in 1937, sending just over 1,000 pilots and technical experts to launch attacks on the Japanese. Later in 1941, a group of 1,000 Americans, supported by the US Government, arrived in China to take part in the aviation battle against the Japanese. The local Chinese military supported both the Soviets and the Americans, providing manpower and assisting with the movement of supplies and weapons via the China National Aviation Corps. At the end of World War II, hundreds of airmen from all three countries had lost their lives.

To commemorate the airmen, a cemetery was built post war at the base of the Purple Mountain in Nanjing. Over time the cemetery was left to deteriorate and was severely damaged during the 1960s. In the 1980s a movement started to repair and rebuild the cemetery and along with it, the erection of a memorial. Completed in 1995, the memorial consists of a set of black marble walls inscribed with the names of the known airmen buried at the site. Written in Chinese, English and Russian, 3,305 martyrs (as they’re known) were listed, including 2,197 Americans, 870 Chinese and 236 from the Soviet Union. Much later in 2015, another 586 Chinese and 404 American names were added to the memorial walls. Chinese aviation authorities continue to work with other organisations in the US, Russia and Taiwan to locate and identify more airmen who died in the surrounding area.

In 2008 the local Nanjing Government contributed 40 million yuan to renovate and expand the memorial hall that had been built on the site some years earlier. Opening in 2009, the hall is now divided into four sections each focused on a different theme; Brave Fight Against the Enemy; International Aid to China; Soaring Aspirations; and Honor to Revolutionary Martyrs. As well as the permanent exhibitions dedicated to each of these themes, temporary exhibitions exploring events and stories linked to the airmen are put on display. One such recent exhibition explained via photographs and artifacts, the role American and Chinese pilots had in the ‘Hump Airlift’ - a strategic operation that imported supplies, fuel, food and clothing to occupied China across one of the highest and most dangerous flight passages in the world (Assam, India to Kunming, China).

Each year almost 100,000 local and international individuals visit the Nanjing Anti-Japanese Aviation Martyrs’ Memorial Hall. Memorial services are also held at the site to mark important occasions, such as Tomb Sweeping Day (April) and Victory Day (September 3rd).

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