At museum, brutal testimony to history
History this way passed. The Lugouqiao, adorned with hundreds of lion figurines, near the Wanping Fortress in Beijing’s Fengtai district — often referred to as the Marco Polo Bridge — still stands.
It’s been renovated, but some of the paving stones that reverberated to the clacking hobnail boots of the Japanese Imperial army are still in place.
We are marking the anniversary of Germany’s and Japan’s surrender in 1945, but it is legitimate to suggest that the incident that sparked the conflict that became World War II occurred not in Poland in 1939 but in China, near this 11-arched bridge, in 1937.
Let’s look at the undisputed facts. Japan occupied Manchuria in 1931. A wider invasion began in 1937, and by the time Japan surrendered in 1945, between 13 million and 20 million Chinese people had died. Refugees trying to flee the fighting numbered 100 million.
The incident, in fact a bloody skirmish between Chinese and Japanese troops, was ignited by reports of a missing Japanese soldier who was later found, sparked a wider Japanese invasion of China that took place on the outskirts of Beijing, and became known as the Marco Polo Bridge Incident.
Historians are re-evaluating the significance of what happened here and are beginning to view it as the first shots of what became World War II.
The conflict is referred to in China as the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) and the Anti-Fascist War. Japan’s expansionist policy of the 1930s, driven by the military, was to set up what it called the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”.
A sphere. Such a mundane word. The Great Victory and Historical Contribution exhibition at the Museum of the War of the Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, located inside the Wanping Fortress, was opened on July 7, 1987, on the incident’s 50th anniversary. It shows the consequences of trying to establish the sphere.
Its air-conditioned halls display the relics of war — rusty rifles, machine guns and tattered tunics — and from the walls hang grainy black-andwhite pictures that bear testimony to the brutality inflicted upon Chinese civilians.