BEIJING: Almost eight decades since Yan Guiru was gripped by terror as shells rained on her Beijing neighborhood in the opening salvos of war between China and Japan, she recalls with horror a conflict Communist leaders still use to legitimize their rule.
It was the night of July 7, 1937 when a barrage of unrelenting gun and cannon-fire erupted.
Then a recently married 17-year-old, Yan lived about 100 meters (yards) from the Marco Polo bridge, an ancient 11-span arch in Beijing’s western suburbs mentioned in the Venetian traveler’s stories.
“The guns started suddenly. Somebody shouted ‘The Japanese are coming!’, and then we rushed into the house, shut the door and hid under the beds,” said Yan, now 95.
“I was so scared. Everyone was. I don’t know how long the shelling lasted,” she added.
The skirmish—whose exact cause remains murky¬—served as pretext for Tokyo’s forces to seize Beijing, triggering eight years of full-scale war, which China says saw more than 20 million of its citizens die.
China’s Communist leaders use historical victimhood as a key element of their claim to a right to power and commemorations near the bridge on Tuesday highlighted the anniversary.
In front of giant red banners, Liu Yunshan—a member of the ruling party’s politburo standing committee, its most powerful body—addressed hundreds of military personnel, veterans and schoolchildren.
Beijing regularly accuses Tokyo of failing to fully acknowledge wartime atrocities, and relations between the Asian powers have plunged in recent years as it aggressively asserts its claims to disputed islands in the East China Sea.
When the gunfire stopped Yan’s petrified family—she lived with her husband, his parents and sisters—emerged from under their beds but were too scared to go outside for days.
Japanese troops – who had been allowed in China under terms set after foreign forces put down the 1900 Boxer Rebellion – appeared to be patrolling the area as occupiers, she said.
Eventually soldiers broke down the door, and Yan and her sisters-in-law hid behind their husbands, fearing they could be dragged away and raped.
“Thankfully, they did not take us,” Yan said. “But they stole our pig, a chicken and everything they could find to eat.
‘History of humiliation’
Tuesday’s ceremonies fit into months of commemorations for the 70th anniversary of the end of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War, as Beijing calls the global conflict.
They will culminate in September with a huge military parade in Beijing.
China’s official news agency Xinhua said on Monday that in the run-up to the march the country’s “silver screens and theater stages will be dominated by a wave of war stories about Japan’s invasion of China.”