Massacre and Memory: 80 Years Later, the Battle over Nanjing Rages On

This also coincided with the Party’s shift away from Marxist/Maoist revolutionary ideology and toward a new legitimacy based on the Party as saviors of the nation. The Party’s armed resistance against Japan during World War II became the crucible for modern China: China’s rise cannot happen without a fall.

Xi Jinping’s dream of a nation resurgent and powerful has its roots in never forgetting the Century of Humiliation, or the painful memories of what happens when the State is too weak to protect the people. If these memories also undermine Japan’s moral standing as a rival power in East Asia, so much the better.

But ideological battles over history should never be allowed to overshadow what happened — even as the facts are debated, contested, confirmed, or denied. The Nanjing Massacre is one of history’s great tragedies. The number of deaths — and the manner in which so many died — are a harrowing reminder of what we are capable of doing to our fellow humans.