September 18 History Museum, Shenyang, Liaoning Province

On the 18th of September 1931, a portion of a Japanese owned Railway line was blown up in Shenyang (then known as Mukden) in the region of Manchuria. Historians now agree that the Imperial Japanese Army themselves blew up the railway line and blamed it on Chinese rebels as a way of justifying a large-scale invasion of the area. In quick succession, Manchuria was fully occupied by the Japanese Army and over the next 14 years, a bloody war was waged throughout China between the two countries.

For many years after the war had ended, memorial days marking the atrocities that had occurred in China throughout this period were rarely publicised or promoted. This began to change in the early 1990s when on September 18th, 1991 the day was marked as the ‘Day of National Humiliation’ by a number of large government newspapers. Instead of shame, the people of China were encouraged to remember the events as a way of uniting the country and fostering patriotism.

The same year in Shenyang, the September 18 History Museum opened on the same site as where the bomb had exploded 60 years earlier. Over the next eight years, the museum building was developed and on September 18th 1999 the new building, shaped like a calendar, was officially reopened.

The museum has a series of exhibitions that explore the occupation of China’s northeastern region and the various ways in which the local population resisted the invasion. Displayed in chronological order, the museum showcases a large collection of photographs, documents, paintings, films and objects (weapons, torture devices and parts of the original railway), each revealing the human destruction that took place in the region, but also the nationalist spirit and identity that developed throughout the resistance. The final exhibition space expresses the need for peaceful relationships between China and Japan, as well as supportive political relationships on a global scale. Since it opened, over 9 million people have visited the museum.

In front of the museum, a large bell hangs with the inscription ‘Never forget our national humiliation’. Each year on the evening of September 18th, local leaders and civilians gather to watch the ringing of the bell and to express messages of peace. On the same day in other cities throughout China, air-raid sirens are turned on for several minutes as a sign of remembrance.