City of Life and Death Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

According to Coble (2010), Chinese reporters found themselves unwilling to demonstrate their countrymen as helpless victims of the Japanese. Therefore, the narrative that pervaded the era in the form of "news" reports and statements of "fact" was often colored by a collective attempt to focus on the potential unity and strength of the Chinese as a nation. This is therefore a trend that persisted in the collective narrative of the massacre at Nanjing, and the national perception of those who suffered because of it. While suffering was part of this narrative, it served to demonstrate the reaction of the Chinese people as a collective as one of heroism and a spur to action rather than being the hapless victims that so many indeed were.

Also, as far as the Nanjing massacre specifically is concerned, the relative silence that surrounded it both during and after the war is also the result of a drive to motivate and unite the Chinese people. Indeed, it was considered to the detriment of this fragile morale to create too accurate a narrative around such a devastating event. This has contributed to the recent collective memory of this event in terms of the heroism it created among the Chinese, but more recently also to the collective memory of victimhood and unfair treatment. Throughout both these narratives, the Japanese as almost demonic perpetrators remain. It is only most recently, through films such as Lu's work, that the Japanese perspective as suffering themselves and paying a terrible price for their actions enjoyed any attention at all. The film therefore demonstrates that collective memory is more often than not skewed as a result of the emotion surrounding it.

The same is true of Nazi Germany. Cooke and Silberman (2011) emphasize that Nazi Germany, during the Second World War and beyond, is seen as the perpetrator of terrible atrocities in the global collective memory. This memory refuses to allow for any suffering by the Germans during this time, and indeed, any claim to such suffering is generally met not only with disbelief, but also a sense of disdain. Interestingly, however, it was during the same decade as the shift of focus from heroism to victimhood for the Chinese -- the 1990s -- that perceptions about this also began to change. Cooke and Silberman (2011) note that the migrant communities of nationals that resided in Germany at the time had their own suffering to narrate, and fell victim to silence within the onslaught of the German perpetration of atrocities. These included nationalities such as Russians, Italians, Turks, and others. Furthermore, although Nazi Germany is generally seen as collectively responsible for a large amount of suffering, especially by the Jews, there were also those Germans who protested fascism, and suffered as a result. It is these stories that the new narrative seeks to relate. In the collective global memory, stories of such heroic resistance to a movement that swept through the war like wildfire have been buried for far too long, according to their narrators.

Hence, the problematic of the collective memory is demonstrated in terms of both its strength and its persistence over decades, as a result of various factors. First, the emotion and the suffering surrounding events can shape and color these memories. Second, these memories are also often shaped by the narrative during and after their occurrence. As such, the collective memory is subject to subjective emotion and its concomitant narrative by those who are directly involved and suffer from inaccurate recollection for the very same reasons. As such, both individual memory and the mists of time create collective memories that are not as much inaccurate as that they focus on only part of the whole story. Today, films such as "City of Life and Death" seek to change that, and do so with both great power and great sensitivity to those who are victims and understanding to those who were perpetrators, but primarily also human.


Coble, P.M. (Feb 10, 2011). Remembering China's War with Japan: The Wartime Generation in Post-War China and East Asia. Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 45, Iss. 2.

Cooke, P. And Silberman, M.…

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