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  • Writer's pictureAdam Dayan, Esq.

Facing History And Ourselves: The Nanjing Atrocities

Last week I had the pleasure of reconnecting with Facing History And Ourselves, an organization I have become fond of over the last few years. Facing History is an international educational and professional development organization whose mission is to engage students of diverse backgrounds by providing ideas, methods, and tools for classroom instruction to promote cultural understanding and tolerance. I was excited to attend their workshop about The Nanjing Atrocities.

The Nanjing Atrocities are not commonly taught in schools and a brief background may be useful. In 1937, Japan invaded China with the goal of conquering the city of Nanjing, China's capital city at the time and a symbol of Chinese nationalism. Japan's hostile actions were part of Japan's quest to build a Pan-Asian empire and some historians believe that World War II began with Japan's 1937 invasion of Nanjing. Once Japan forced its way into China, Japan disregarded the rules of war and committed many atrocities, including mass murder, rape, and extreme violence against civilians.

Facing History examines events that occurred and the context in which they happened in order to facilitate a deeper understanding of the historical significance. At the workshop I attended, Facing History brought this subject to life through the presentation of rich, primary resources; an examination of the identities of the parties involved in the conflict; and a wonderful presenter who had an excellent command of the material and a warm and engaging style. Of the primary sources we examined, I was most struck by a 1924 speech made in Japan by Chinese Nationalist leader Sun Yat-Sen about Pan-Asianism. The speech was a plea to Japan to continue peaceful relations at a time when it was obvious to China that Japan was on the rise and becoming more aggressive. The workshop also provided opportunities for group exercises to promote an interactive approach for grappling with the material and fostered a fair amount of self-reflection.

As noted above, an important part of the Facing History approach is to examine the identities of those in conflict. Our group was guided in examining the circumstances that led to Japan and China's viewing each other as enemies. I was fascinated to learn about China's self-perception as a victim, Japan's motivations toward aggression, and how their perceptions were shaped by past experiences with the West, which fueled introspection and nationalism in both countries.

I would like to thank Facing History for the opportunity to participate in this workshop. I look forward to seeing the organization grow and continue to reach more students. If you would like to learn more about Facing History, you can visit their website at


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