BEIJING (AP) — China opened an exhibition of guns and photos of massacres to commemorate the World War II victory over Japan, part of a propaganda push to stir up nationalism by observing the 70th anniversary of the war's end in Asia with great fanfare.
Soldiers and children stood in silence outside the museum in suburban Beijing at Tuesday's opening ceremony for the "Great Victory and Historical Contribution" exhibition on the 78th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, and President Xi Jinping visited later in the day. A clash at the Marco Polo Bridge in 1937 is regarded as the first battle of the second Sino-Japanese war, which lasted until Japan's defeat by the Allies in 1945.
Relations between the two Asian giants have long been affected by what Chinese see as Japan's failure to sufficiently atone for the suffering it caused during the war. They have also worsened in recent years over competing claims to islands in the East China Sea. China has sought to underline what it maintains is Japan's renewed militarism, while at the same time becoming more aggressive in pressing its own territorial claims.
China's ruling Communist Party leadership also wants to highlight the Communists' role in fighting the Japanese, though technically Japan surrendered to the U.S.-led Allies in the Pacific and then days later on the Chinese mainland to Chiang Kai-shek. He was the Allied military leader in China and head of the Nationalists, who later fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war with the Communists.
With the Chinese flag flying Tuesday outside the entrance to the Museum of the War of the Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, Liu Yunshan, the Communist Party's propaganda chief, said the exhibition was to remember the "martyrs, to cherish the peace and look ahead to the future."
Xi and all other members of China's top leadership panel, the seven-man Politburo Standing Committee, visited the exhibition later Tuesday and laid flowers inside, state media reported.
The exhibition includes handguns, machine guns, a cannon as well as toxic shells and gas masks said to have been used by Japanese troops. Photos show troops fighting and the aftermath of massacres by Japanese soldiers, including heads on wooden stakes.
Liu said the exhibition "demonstrates the bravery of all Chinese people in this anti-Japanese war and the critical role played by the Chinese Communist Party." It also serves as "an excellent platform for patriotic education," he added.
As part of Xi's drive to stir patriotism, China is promoting its participation in World War II as never before. Last year, it created three new annual national holidays linked to the war.
In September, China will hold a military parade to mark the anniversary of the end of the war in Asia. So far, only Russia has confirmed it will send officials and soldiers to take part in the Sept. 3 parade.
On Monday, culture officials announced that "to increase patriotism," 183 war-themed concerts, operas and other performances would be staged over the next two months, along with the screening of new movies, TV series, documentaries and cartoons.
Following the end of World War II, China's Communists and Nationalists continued their battle for supremacy. The Nationalists' eventual flight to Taiwan resulted in the split between the island and the mainland.
Taiwan's Nationalists maintain the Communists played only a minor role in the fight against the Japanese. On Saturday, Taiwan held its own major military parade to commemorate the victory over Japan, and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou said the fight was led by Chiang and that "no one is allowed to distort that."
AP video journalist Zhang Weiqun contributed to this report.