BEIJING – At a time when Beijing remains at loggerheads with Tokyo over territory and history, Chinese lawmakers have approved a national day to commemorate people who died in wars resisting foreign invaders, state media reported.
The country’s top legislature Sunday declared Sept. 30 as Martyrs’ Day, which will be marked “with events across the country” every year, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Beijing defines martyrs as “people who sacrificed their lives for national independence and prosperity.”
“The move is aimed at publicizing martyrs’ achievements and spirits, and cultivating patriotism, collectivism, and socialist moralities so as to consolidate the Chinese nation’s cohesiveness,” Xinhua added, citing the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the country’s rubber-stamp parliament.
China’s ruling Communist Party has long used nationalism as part of its claim to a right to rule.
It stresses that under its leadership, which began in 1949, China finally overcame more than a century of humiliation by outside powers dating back to the Opium Wars of the 19th century.
References to national humiliations are common as part of the narrative of historical victimhood, such as the pillaging of the Old Summer Palace by a joint British and French military expedition during the second Opium War in 1860, and the signing of “unequal treaties” granting several countries concessions and colonies.
The most frequent references are to Japan, which invaded China in the 1930s, with the two countries fighting a full-scale war from 1937 to 1945.
Beijing researchers estimate that 20.6 million people died as a result.
The two countries’ relations are heavily colored by their history, and Beijing and Tokyo are embroiled in a series of rows, including a long-running diplomatic spat over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
Tensions rose further this year after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in January visited the Yasukuni shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead, including convicted war criminals.
Chinese officials often call on Japan to “reflect” on its past, while Tokyo regularly invokes the need to develop a “forward-looking” relationship with Beijing.
Abe has repeatedly said that the door to talks is always open.
There was no suggestion that Martyrs’ Day will be a public holiday, but Xinhua said personnel from more than 4,300 sites dedicated to martyrs will be urged go to schools, communities, factories and barracks to “publicize martyrs’ achievements.”
The announcement came after China in February declared Sept. 3 as a national day to commemorate Japan’s defeat in World War II, and Dec. 13 as one to mark the Nanjing Massacre.