Yesterday we met with Yang ShanYou, the director of the John Rabe Memorial Hall and Nanjing University Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. Links to more pics here: John Rabe Memorial Hall
I first described the centre in October 2006 when we were in Nanjing showing friends the city. A Centre for Peace and Reconciliation in Nanjing!! I don't think I can better what I wrote then:
Remember Oscar Schindler? He rather defied the popular image of the Nazi by the way he saved so many Jews during the second world war. Well China has its own story of a "good Nazi". In this case its John Rabe, an employee of the German Siemens electrical goods company, who served his company here in China. He was in Nanjing during 1937-38 during the 6 week period when the Japanese slaughtered some 300,000 Chinese men, and raped at least 80,000 Chinese women, the event known as the Nanking Massacre often and often popularly known as the "The Rape of Nanking" after the title of the book by Iris Chang.
[More on the extension page below]
Rabe headed the International Committee that supervised the International Safety Zone and was responsible for saving the lives of some 250,000 Chinese in that time. The safety zone was based on properties owned by the large international community in Naking of the time, nations that were not at war with Japan at the time, and centered on the two large foreign-run university campuses in the city. Rabe's own house at the corner of one campus stood within the zone and was itself a place of sanctuary for some 650 refugees.
Well, I have walked past tall scaffold and boards many times over these past few years. This weekend the hoardings came down, and the building above was revealed as a research center for peace and reconciliation, as well as memorial in honour of John Rabe.
A centre for peace and reconciliation that honours a Nazi (yes, a proud member of the Nazi party in Germany, not just a German) who saved Chinese. Someone who breaks the stereotypes of what a good person should look like. That forces us to consider the boxes into which we put people.
We are encouraged and will be seeking to make contacts at the centre in the next days.
Well, as we reported here we didn't actually get to the opening ceremony in October 2006, but did visit that afternoon, and even left our mark in the official guest book which was still sitting around! (I confessed to the Director today!) The report of the event is here: Residence of John Rabe, author of "Rabe's Diary" opened. We have continued correspondence with the history professor who has started an MA course in Peace and Reconciliation (the first in the nation) but have not until now been able to meet people at the centre. So it was great to finally visit and have some discussion today.
I will write more on the Nanking Massacre (Nanking was the old rendering of the standard Chinese) another time, but for now there is more here: Nanking Massacre . You can read more on John Rabe and the Nanking Safety Zone here. And there are several first hand accounts in Eyewitnesses to Massacre, fully available on Google Books.
We are writing with some thoughts and will see what comes from the meeting but for now I am struck by the wonderful example that John Rabe and the Commitee of the International safety zone are to us:
- The committee brought together the most unlikely combination of individuals to resist evil: German ( and Danish & British) business men and US missionaries (whether labelled missionaries, or serving as ministers/priests, doctors, lecturers at Nanjing University or Jinling College); the numbers vary but 14 or so men, and one woman. Different people of different nations and different professions working together.
- They break stereotypes. For us and for China Rabe is an ideologically commited Nazi (at least until he returned to Germany and was arrested for giving testimony to the Massacre, yet he was a good man. Yet his is not the only charcter wrapped in stereotype. For the Chinese in recent decades missionary represents "westerner dedicated to rise of western culture and destruction of Chinese culture"(true of some, and many in part or by association, much as a Christian I woud prefer to ignor that); yet here are missionaries doing great good at greta personal cost and danger. How we need to learn that lesson today; people are rarely what their sterotypes say they are.
- They represent the nations, people fo all persuasions, coming together to oppose injustice and great evil.
The story of their example gives us great hope. More on all this another day if I am not mistaken.