By Tomer Zaidman, ALPHA Summer Intern, 2018
In May 2018, Tomer spent two weeks in Nanjing as an overseas intern of ALPHA Education. Apart from conducting research about the Safety Zone for his IB History assignment, Tomer also collated a list of books that he would highly recommend for first time readers on the topic of the Nanjing massacre. We asked Tomer to share his thoughts and impressions of the Museum and Memorial. In this reflection Tomer is conscious about the geopolitical aspects of memory making, while still recognising the importance of historical remembrance not just for victims of the tragedy, for also for a broader audience of future scholars and researchers (CSR).
The best way to summarise the Memorial Hall is to say that it is a beautifully designed tribute to the victims of an often overlooked tragedy in world history. It informs its visitors about the massacre while simultaneously maintaining an atmosphere of respect and remembrance. For an individual who is not an expert in the field, the Hall is an inspiring place to begin one's research and critical thinking.
This isn't to say that the Hall is without its flaws. It portrays a very clear anti-Japanese tone throughout, choosing just the right vocabulary to condemn those who have done the people of Nanjing wrong. With the scale of the tragedy, one can see their point, but it is nevertheless important to consider the intention behind that tone when analyzing the Hall as a source.
What I found most effective about the Hall is its integration of primary documents (or replication of those documents) into the viewing experience. While perhaps not the place to sit and conduct research, it provides a valuable starting point and in finding relevant sources for further investigation. I was particularly struck by the many foreign newspaper reports showcased on the walls, which can be quite difficult for a researcher to find. These are excellent in terms of featuring the perspectives of different foreign nations regarding the event.
Following the Hall's primary exhibition building are a string of artistic or memorial exhibitions, which if nothing else are emotionally engaging and elegantly designed. There is a certain propaganda atmosphere but this doesn't detract from the experience.
Perhaps it is best to say that if the individual understands the influences behind the design choices of the Hall, then it can be used as an emotional as well as informative look into the massacre to supplement further research.