NANJING, China (AP) — President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders presided Saturday at a ceremony on the 77th anniversary of the Nanking massacre amid a drive to preserve memories of Japan's brutal invasion and stir patriotism.
Addressing soldiers, students, and survivors of the December 1937 killings carried out by occupying Japanese troops, Xi called out Japanese ultra-nationalists who seek to deny the massacre took place.
"Those who uphold justice and love peace must be highly vigilant and firmly oppose those wrong words and deeds," he said. "History will not permit anyone who would deny the facts of the Nanking atrocity."
Estimates of those killed range from 40,000 to the official Chinese figure of 300,000. About 20,000 women were also believed to have been raped over the six weeks of chaos, mass looting and arson.
China raised the profile of commemorations this year as part of three new holidays to mark major wartime events amid a downturn in China-Japan relations.
Participants at the ceremony and people throughout the city stood for one minute of silence at 10 a.m. against the wail of what was described as the world's largest air raid siren.
In his speech to a reported 10,000 people gathered at the hall, Xi said the purpose of the event was to "arouse every kind person's longing for and adherence to peace, and not to perpetuate hatred."
Ties with Japan in particular have been roiled by a series of events leading to a more than two-year suspension in high-level contacts that have yet to be fully restored. The two have been sparring over a string of uninhabited East China Sea islands that are controlled by Tokyo but also claimed by Beijing.
China also was angered by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's moves to allow the dispatch of Japanese troops for operations abroad and visits by Japanese officials — including Abe — to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine that honors convicted Japanese war criminals among the country's war dead. They include three of the top commanders executed for their role in the Nanking massacre.
Underscoring the bitterness is a long-standing sentiment among Chinese that Japan has never shown true contrition for its invasion and occupation of China, in which an estimated 35 million Chinese soldiers and civilians died.
Abe and Xi briefly met last month after the two sides agreed to gradually resume dialogue. However, a projected landslide victory for Japan's ruling party in national elections Sunday could give Abe political breathing space to push forward with his nationalist agenda.
Bodeen reported from Beijing.