Dealing with trauma: China and the Jewish people

nanjing massacre

(c) People’s Daily Online.

In 1937, an episode of mass murder and mass rape was perpetrated against the residents of Nanjing in eastern China. The Nanjing Massacre occurred over six weeks from the 13 December 1937 – the day that the Japanese captured Nanjing.

During this period, soldiers of the Imperial Japanese army killed Chinese civilians and disarmed combatants numbering up to an estimated 300,000, as well as committing rape and looting on a wide scale. Several key perpetrators were subsequently tried and found guilty at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal, and were executed.

For a number of years, Chinese teachers, academics and students have become increasingly interested in how the Jewish people have dealt with tragedy, given their own share of tragic events and national traumas.

The connections made between Chinese and Jewish suffering was given additional strength by increasing awareness within China of the role played by Shanghai authorities, who provided a refuge to tens of thousands of Jewish refugees during the Nazi persecutions.

Among the first to make these connections, was Professor Xu Xin, Professor of Jewish Studies at Nanjing University. In 1993, he held the first seminar at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall and had already held seminars on the Nazi Holocaust.

More than 20 years later, the ICJS (and its forerunner the LJCC) has found that interest has spread across universities in China, with hundreds of teachers, academics and students eager to learn- and to understand better their own national suffering by viewing it through the lens of the sufferings of another people, who also lay claim to a long, long history.