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For a film meant to be about “human benevolence, salvation and also love, “The Flowers of War 金陵十三钗 is getting a lot of hate from Western press. Not satisfied with brushing it off as an “anti-Japanese propaganda” that fails to add nuances to the Japanese soldiers,  some presses go so far as to questioning and whitewashing the event itself, whose 74th anniversary is today.

In a Sina interview, director Zhang Yimou said that just like Americans do not film WWII films to stir up anti-German sentiments, he films not to cause hate but to promote peace. “Be it WWI or WWII, there are so many war stories that everyone’s filming… These films are filmed for today’s viewers, and their ultimate goals are not to tell history…  but to appreciate the peace of today.” And anyone who’s seen Zhang’s films will believe him, because his films have almost always been about the human experience over politics.

The English-speaking press, most of whom have never seen the film, thinks otherwise.  Jonathan Landreth at the AFP skillfully uses the title “Christian Bale denies his Chinese film is propaganda” followed by the statement that the film is one of “a string of films and TV series from China promoting national unity against an evil Japan.” Landreth must have be well-versed in how propaganda works because he’s excellent at making falsehoods true  – first make an arbitrary accusation, then make the accusation’s denial the headline, and finally affirm the accusation as fact without any evidence whatsoever.

Laurie Burkitt and Tom Orlik at the WSJ, who seems to have actually seen the film, complain that “nuanced treatment of the Chinese characters is in stark contrast with portrayal of the Japanese as monochrome monsters.” Do these people not realize the immorality that comes from humanizing (aka: finding excuses) for rapists and mass murderers? Maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason why we don’t expect films with good Japanese soldiers during the Nanking massacres, just like how we don’t expect there to be good Nazis in a Holocaust movie.

AFP obvious did expect some savior rapist to show up, because it blames the lack of such a role to propaganda of the event in the Chinese education system, because of course, if they had instead followed the Japanese education system, the very perpetrators of rape and murder would’ve simply be brave soldiers worthy of worship. Japanese researchers calls the event the “Nanking Incident,” and Japanese prime ministers continues to pay tribute to WWII war criminials who have been covicted of crimes against humanity.

AFP reduces the number killed from hundreds of thousands  to “tens of thousands.” BBC chose to make fact the lowest estimate within the reasonable range, saying it’s “150,000 by international observers,” by which they probably meant “Japanese researchers”  because the Allied tribunal had estimated had estimated 200,000, the in-residence Australian journalist Harold Timperley estimated 300,000,  and the Japanese ambassador to Germany had estimated 500,000.

To give all sides equal view, though, Ben Blanchard at Reuters doesn’t forget to add that “some Japanese historians say the massacre has been exaggerated and some conservatives deny there was even a massacre” without pointing out that no one rational, Chinese or Japanese, actually believes those right wing nut-heads who deny the event.

Furthermoreboth the AFP and the LA Times fail to mention the rape and torture involved in addition to the massacre. There’s a reason why the event is also called “The Rape of Nanking,” and to disregard these horrors is to either assume them as normal activities of war or denying their existence.

It’s tragic that such an important movie that hope to bring light one of the many tragedies of human society is brushed off as propaganda.  Like with individuals, we often blame the victims rather than the rapists.  Instead of asking “how could you have done this?” to the criminal, the reporters instead ask the questions “what did you do to deserve this?” to the victim, as if the actions of the victims justified the wrongs done to them. No human beings nor any group of people deserves something like this to happen to them, no matter what he or she or they may have done in the past.  Just because China doesn’t have a clean slate (does anyone?) doesn’t mean innocent children deserves to be raped and killed.

In the film tribute to Iris Chang, the theme song spoke of the duty of a real journalist –  to “give voice to the voiceless.” These journalists are doing exactly the opposite –  silencing the voiceless, those whose stories have not been told and whose woes are not acknowledged – and that’s an act as despicable as the war crimes themselves.

sources:  AFP via YahooLATimesWSJReutersGlobal Times

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