Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Ghosts of our Pasts

"Have you ever heard of the Rape of Nanking?" I asked my husband this morning. He had never heard of it before and neither had I. I was reading about it the other week on my gal pal, Curiosity Killer's blog. I wondered why no one had ever told me about it before. I am part Chinese, but no one on my dad's side had ever told me the story of Nanking and the brutal atrocities that the Japanese army committed during their occupation of Nanjing in the late 1930's . (Thanks, CK- for the informative post)

I remember when I announced to my family after graduating from university, that I was going off to teach English in Japan, the reaction from my grandparents on my mother's side was slightly mixed. They were pleased that I had made a decision to flee the nest and spread my wings. They were excited about me teaching and making use of the diplomas and certificates that I worked years on obtaining. They were excited that I followed my grandmother's footsteps and decided to become a teacher. The one thing I remember the most though, was the saddened and worried look on my grandmother's face. She didn't want me to think that the Japanese were awful people, because she said that what happened was part of her history and did not affect me in the present. My grandparents on my mom's side are both from the Philippines and the filipinos were treated brutally by the Japanese back then. The Hidalgos and the Vergaras were very prosperous in their time, but when the war hit, a different story would be told. They would go on to live a prosperous life again after the war ended though.

My grandmother told me of how the people in their village would hide and run for safety. They'd build fires in the daytime so the flames wouldn't be seen at night. My grandmother told of how she wrapped up my uncle (the eldest child of seven children) in blankets and carried him in a sling...and prayed he wouldn't cry and arouse the attention of the Japanese army. I could not imagine such a harrowing experience and cried when my grandmother recounted her story. She said that she hid in a house, pressing herself and my uncle (who was a baby then) against the wall, closing her eyes and waiting for the army to pass them by. She said that the Japanese army took babies and threw them up in the air and bayonnetted them.

My grandmother told me how my grandfather and a few other men in the village were gathered up and lined up against the wall in the plaza in the middle of town...and were to be executed for helping the Americans. My grandfather and the other men were saved when one of the men in the village cleverly (or in desperation) set the roof of his house on fire! The Japanese army's attention was diverted to the burning house, and my grandfather was able to flee.

My grandfather (who passed away in 1999), remained silent about the entire experience. He then said that what happened then was in the past and that things have changed. That's what I love the most about my grandparents. They have experienced so many things in their lives that would make one become bitter and hateful, but they came out with a different understanding and wanted their grandchildren to know that all Japanese people aren't 'bad' and that was an experience they had. My grandfather once told me that any act of violence, degradation or injustice is inexcusable. It's just wrong. He did go on to say that we cannot change what happened in the past and that we can only control of what is happening now and make a difference in the future. One would think that after going through something as horrific as this, they would be hateful. It was quite the opposite. Sure, they had hard feelings towards the Japanese, but my grandparents told us that there is no use in holding onto the hate forever. I love my grandparents for being such good people :)

To this day, the story still makes me cry...especially on days when I miss my grandfather.

The photos are of 1) my cousin's tribute to our late grandfather and 2) our family's coat of arms

**I did end up still going to Japan and lived there for two years. I had an amazing experience and loved learning about the culture, the art and the history.**


Merinz said...

My Father had friends who had been in Japanese POW camps during the war.

Yes we must forgive, it was in the past, BUT on the other hand we must also never forget.

If we can learn from history then all has not been in vain.

Chrissy121875 said...

Oh, Merinz! I agree with you fully :) Sometimes when I hear stories of the atrocities that have taken place during war-time, and it makes me wonder how anyone could ever forgive. However, my grandparents always told us what you said...forgive, but never forget so that we can learn from the past.

japanmanpete said...

Bloody hell, Chrissy! I said that you need to post something new because you have been missing in action for several days. I didn't mean for you to post something depressing! ;-p

caninecologne said...

Unfortunately, Iris Chang, the author of "The Rape of Nanking" committed suicide in November of 2004, after suffering a nervous breakdown. I remember she was in San Diego earlier that year as a guest lecturer at the SD Public Library to promote her book.

She was working on her 4 book at the time of her death about the Death March of Bataan. It's a shame that such a talented and young academic/writer resorted to ending her life.

re: The Japanese Occupation of the Philippines

Although my parents (both born in 1939) were quite young, my mother remembers seeing the Japanese soldiers humiliate and torture the Filipino men in their province. They would be forced to march in the streets and also were strung up by their legs to trees, left to hang overnight. These men were also tortured and beaten. The folks in town would say that the flickering fireflies at night were their ghosts.

Curiosity.Killer said...

Thanks for bringing this on your blog, Chrissy. It's such a tremendous soul-crushing event and we must bring light to this. I'm particularly touched with merinz comment, and canine's input with her family stories. Thank you.

Chrissy121875 said...

Sorry about that. Sometimes that 'serious' part of me wants to blog too :)

OMG...That is brutal. My grandparents told me some pretty horrific stories about their experience with the Japanese. It makes me so sad and disgusted at the things people are capable of doing. Even in recent years, hearing news of troops overseas humiliating prisoners makes me ill. There's no need for that :(
Thanks for commenting on this one, Canine.

Now I think I need to do more research and catch up on Iris Chang's works. Thanks for sharing that info with us. I really wonder why my father's family never talked about Nanking. They're would think they'd talk about it. Well...there is an ancient Chinese book passed down from first born male to first born male in my family. It chronicles the story of each son's generation. We had a translator read it for us because my dad lost his Chinese and couldn't make any of the older stuff out. I think there were a few wars mentioned in there and telling why our ancestors fled China and moved to Trinidad and Tobago. Unfortunately, I don't get the honour of having the book passed down to me...even if I was the first born child of my father's. You see, I'm a female so I don't get to have the book and it goes to my middle brother, the eldest son of my grandfather's first born son.

t said...

I once read somewhere that "Hidalgo" means "royal" or "royalty". It's a very popular Spanish last name, isn't it?

Curiosity.Killer said...

I want to mention that as important as it is for us to forgive, I wanted to note that my circle of contacts are most frustrated by denial by the Japanese government. There are actually Japanese people angry with the chinese people to this day wishing ill-thoughts. I don't where the hatred came from, but we must be aware -- and never forget.

Doggy Mama said...

Christine, I took a course in Japanese War History in college, and I read a few books on the Rape of Nanking. Other than that, I had never heard of it. What a tragic time that was. The evil acts that people are capable of committing is quite scary. Thank you for bringing this important topic to the blog world.

Uncivil said...


I had to come back to this one! Forgot to tell you that Emily had a tattoo!

Karen, my ex had her SSN tattooed on the inside of her right hind leg. But you can barely see it!

Anonymous said...

It seems like the Asian community in the United States has no problem with Japan being portrayed heroically in World War II.

Outstanding Film: Letters from Iwo Jima

Nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima tells the untold story of the Japanese soldiers who defended their homeland against invading American forces during World War II. With little defense other than sheer will and the volcanic rock of Iwo Jima itself, the unprecedented tactics of General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai) and his men transform what was predicted to be a swift defeat into nearly 40 days of heroic and resourceful combat. Their sacrifices, struggles, courage and compassion live on in the taut, gripping film Rolling Stone calls “unique and unforgettable.” It is the powerful companion to Flags of our Fathers.


I am not one to hold a grudge but the Japanese used Chinese citizens for chemical warfare testing. The Chinese still haven’t forgiven them for that.

And somehow American history has lost the stories of how the Japanese treated American Prisoners of War

And how about the Rape of Nanking?

But, no to Clint Eastwood (and I guess the American Asian Community who honored his film) the Japanese soldiers were merely defending their homeland against those mean olde invading American imperialists.

Clint Eastwood is a traitor to America who has denigrated all those who fought in the Pacific as merely racist imperialists going after the yellow men instead of the liberators of Asia which they really were.

I spit on Clint Eastwood! No wonder Hollyweird can’t distinguish the good guys from the bad guys in Iraq when they can’t even do that when it comes to the Japanese in World War II.

By the way, on the Truth Serum video, of course I disagree with the whole part accusing Bush or America covering it up in order to get access to the scientific research that the Japanese inhumanly performed. That is just insane.

But everything else on that Truth Serum video seems historically accurate. If that isn’t the case, I would really appreciate someone educating me to the inaccuracies in the video.

I do wonder why we didn’t after World War II convict Japanese of War Crimes to the extent we did the Germans. They Japanese did terrible things to AMERICAN POWs. From my understanding the Japanese treated American POWs far worst by and large than the Germans did. And then of course there was the way they treated the Asian Civilian communities they invaded. They never seemed to be personally held accountable for it the way the Germans were the Holocaust.

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City girl moves to the country, falls in love, and marries a farmer. She tries to incorporate her city ways with her new country lifestyle and blogs to keep in touch with friends, family & students who live far, far away :) Can this city girl go country? Watch as she learns all sorts of exciting things about life on the farm and in a small rural community. *UPDATE* We are now parents! Our baby girl was born on Nov. 11, 2008 (at 28 weeks gestation- 12 weeks premature, but she's quite the trooper)!!!
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