China marked the 82nd anniversary of the beginning of its brutal Japanese occupation on Wednesday as official media warned that current territorial disputes with Japan were linked in public opinion to that period in history.
Air raid sirens sounded across the country at 9:18 a.m. to mark the anniversary of the 1931 Mukden Incident and "remind people of national humiliation," the official Xinhua news agency reported.
It said in a commentary article that current disputes between China and Japan over the disputed island group—known in Japan, which controls them, as Senkaku and in China as Diaoyu—have their roots in bitter historical relations.
"A walk down memory lane should serve as a reminder that China and Japan cannot discuss the current strained bilateral relations without mentioning history," the article said.
It presented the Mukden Incident, in which Japanese army officers faked a sabotage attack on a railway line in the northeastern region of Manchuria on Sept. 18, 1931 as a pretext to annex the whole territory, as the first in a series of events which has continued with Japan's nationalization of the disputed islands last year.
Li Fule, a prominent Hong Kong-based Diaoyu activist and a member of Beijing's advisory body the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said that to mark the anniversary he had helped start a signature campaign backed by the Global Chinese Alliance to Protect the Diaoyu.
"We organized some signature campaigns in Henan, in Xuchang, Zhengzhou, and in Baoding, Hebei," Li said. "There were some in a number of cities on Hainan Island as well."
"The purpose was to call on the government to write the Diaoyu Islands into educational textbooks."
Beijing-based Diaoyu activist Li Nan said he had commemorated the Mukden anniversary online.
"We were sending out tweets today pledging that we would have a memorial event for 9/18, regardless of how many of us there were," Li Nan said.
"Some events were online, but there were some of our friends in Sichuan who rode their bicycles wearing T-shirts with slogans on them...around and about," he said. "They were in Mianyang."
"Everyone is marking 9/18."
Meanwhile, Xiamen-based Diaoyu activist Li Yiqiang said the Mukden anniversary would "strengthen the resolve" of the Diaoyu movement nationwide.
However, Tianjin-based Diaoyu activist Zhang Likun said not everyone remembered the significance of the Mukden Incident, and that the authorities were quick to clamp down on any activities with an anti-Japan flavor following a wave of violent protests last year.
"They have pretty much forgotten it," Zhang said. "They have forgotten it even faster than the Japanese did. It's ridiculous."
He said public commemoration of such anniversaries was strongly discouraged by police.
"They suppress anyone who is patriotic or anti-Japan, or who calls for realism about the war of resistance against Japan," Zhang added. "And they have succeeded.... I guess they must be having a celebratory drink today."
Grappling with the past
Tokyo's purchase of the uninhabited islands from a private owner in September 2012 sparked days of violent anti-Japanese protests in major Chinese cities and slashed the turnover of Japanese auto-makers.
Beijing regularly accuses Tokyo—a major trading partner—of failing to atone for its imperialist past, while Japan says its neighbors use history as a diplomatic stick to beat it with.
The Museum of the War of Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression on Wednesday displayed more than 400 documents it said detailed how 40,000 Chinese were forced to work in Japan during the war.
"We are going to file lawsuits to the Japanese government to make them admit what they did, apologize and give compensation to the relatives of victims," deputy museum director Li Zongyuan told Agence France-Presse.
Previous attempts to file lawsuits over forced labor have been unsuccessful.
The museum also screened a film showing Japanese politicians visiting the Yasukuni war shrine, which commemorates more than two million Japanese war dead, including 14 Class A war criminals.
Beijing regularly accuses Tokyo of failing to atone for its imperialist past, while Japan says its neighbors use history as a diplomatic stick to beat it with.
According to Japanese courts, the 1972 China-Japan joint agreement normalized relations between the two countries, putting an end to wartime compensation claims.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.