After a photo of memorial tablets for Japanese war criminals in Nanjing’s Xuanzang Temple went viral, China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs ordered religious groups across the country to conduct self-inspections and undergo patriotic education. The photograph touched off a wave of online anti-Japanese sentiment as well as reflection on the process of healing from atrocities like the Nanjing massacre. An official investigation conducted by Nanjing municipal authorities discovered that the tablets were placed there by former nurse Wu Aping in 2017 in an effort to rid herself of recurring nightmares about the massacre. Authorities say that Wu was under the “incorrect impression” that she could “resolve grievances” and “get rid of suffering” in accordance with her Buddhist faith by erecting memorial tablets for the five Japanese war criminals and American missionary Minnie Vautrin, who saved untold Chinese lives during the massacre before dying of suicide upon her return to the United States.
The tablets were discovered in February of this year and had already been removed by the time the photo went viral earlier this month. Wu has been charged with “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” and faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. The temple was temporarily forced to stop operations, its abbot was dismissed, and municipal officials overseeing religious affairs were also punished. At Sixth Tone, Ye Zhanhang reports that the effort to ensure temples’ adherence to “core socialist values” has gone national:
“Regional authorities should urge religious organizations to conduct a comprehensive self-inspection and correct irregularities at once if any are found,” the National Religious Affair Administration said Tuesday, ordering the whole sector to conduct patriotic education and “practice core socialist values” to stamp out questionable incidents in the future.
“I am very ashamed of myself and apologize to all for this unforgivable mistake and the tremendous trauma it has caused,” the abbot told local media.
Together with the supervision of the National Religious Affairs Administration, the Buddhist Association of China on Monday ordered all Buddhist temples across the nation to conduct a self-review, claiming it has “zero tolerance of any behavior jeopardizing national interests and hurting national feelings.” [Source]
A hashtag about the city’s investigation received over 600 million views on Weibo and attracted over 100,000 comments. Former Global Times Editor Hu Xijin said Wu had “brought too much harm” to be forgiven and urged she be punished according to the law. A People’s Liberation Army-affiliated Weibo account warned that: “the incident has once again sounded the alarm for the nation: the struggle against militarism and historical nihilism is still long and complicated, and we must be vigilant and resolutely defend the spiritual highland of the Chinese nation.” Yet a number of other commentators took more nuanced views. Were Wu Aping’s actions really so egregious, they asked? One WeChat essayist argued that Wu’s actions were entirely in accordance with Buddhist practice and asked: “Does loving one’s country not require loving actual people? How does this madness [nationalist fervor] differ from superstition [belief in Buddhism]?” Another lamented that remembrance of the Nanjing Massacre is no longer tied to calls for peace. They wrote that during the 65th anniversary memorial activities in 2002, the word “peace” could be seen everywhere: “we were not simply massaging historical wounds but also calling out for eternal peace.” By 2012, they wrote, that atmosphere was gone, and remains missing today.
The public outcry and national-level response to a seemingly minor incident are in line with increasing anti-Japanese sentiment online. In the wake of former Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe’s assassination, ghoulish posts celebrating his violent demise proliferated across China’s heavily regulated internet. In December of last year, a Shanghai professor was fired for pointing out that the exact death toll of the Nanjing Massacre remains unclear, while acknowledging that the incident was a “crime against humanity.” A Hunan elementary school teacher who spoke up for Song’s right to question was subsequently “mentally-illed” by local police. At Global Times, Chen Qingqing and Liu Caiyu report that a number of Chinese cities have canceled long-running Japanese-style summer festivals in response to fears over digital nationalist mobs:
In recent days, a number of exhibition halls and hotels have denied holding Summer Matsuri, especially after one scheduled for Nanjing, capital of East China’s Jiangsu Province, was canceled as a growing number of netizens called for the boycott. The activity A-3×ComicDawn18, which was originally scheduled for July 17, was canceled due to the special location and the special meaning that the festival could convey, which aroused strong dissatisfaction among netizens.
[…] Following the cancellation in Nanjing, a number of exhibitors and hotels in cities such as Dali of Southwest China’s Yunnan Province, and Zaozhuang in East China’s Shandong Province announced one after another plans to cancel the Summer Matsuri.
[…] Though the Summer Matsuri is a carnival-type event in Japanese culture, which usually sees people dressing up, eating and gathering together with friends and families, the possibilities of some religious people using it as a platform to advertise religions or stretching it beyond the culture to other historical elements cannot be ruled out, [Liu Jiangyong, vice dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University, told Global Times]
[…] “Also the name Summer Matsuri could cause some controversies. The activity could become sensational under the overall environment,”[Zhang Yiwu, a professor at Peking University,] said. However, the Chinese public generally accepts Japanese culture as long as it’s not involving any element about World War II. [Source]
Online, many ridiculed the cancellations as nationalism run amok, drawing comparisons to the Cultural Revolution and sarcastically wishing those responsible for the cancellations a “lifetime of happiness”:
DC-非凡大陆 ：Some people ask, “Why give the summer festival such a Japanese name?” BECAUSE IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE AN IMMERSIVE JAPANESE EXPERIENCE, DUH. Like, imagine if Americans loved hanfu so much that every year they held a big ceremony in D.C.’s Chinatown, but then some people started saying that it must be a front for mainland spies because it’s called “Chinatown” so they burned it down.
蕴藉0817：Got it, going forward we’ll call them “temple fairs.”
糨糊最后一个大佬：This is what you’d call “the elevation of minor faults to the level of principle.”
永恒时空的归来者：You’re even freakin’ able to associate this [with Japanese war crimes]? Impressive, you glorious nationalists. I wish you a lifetime of happiness. The people will remember you. [Chinese]