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China & South Korea unveil memorial hall reflecting on Japan's aggression
2014/01/21

By unveiling a memorial hall on Sunday to a Korean national hero who shot to death a key Japanese figure during Japanese occupation in the early 1900s, China and South Korea are urging Japan to face up to its militarist history, observers said.

China's Foreign Ministry on Monday rejected Tokyo's protest against the opening of the hall.

Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Japanese leaders' recent statements and actions about the country's imperialist past have angered Japan's neighbors. Tokyo must correct its misguided historical attitude and gain the trust of its neighbors and the international community, he said.

The memorial hall, which opened to the public on Sunday in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province, is dedicated to the life of Ahn Jung-geun, who fought for the independence of the Korean Peninsula and shot dead Japan's first prime minister, Hirobumi Ito, at the Harbin train station in 1909.

Ito became the de facto ruler of Korea after Japan forced the Korean Empire to become a Japanese "protectorate" in 1905. Japan formally annexed Korea five years later.

"Ahn is a famous anti-Japanese fighter and is respected by the Chinese people. China built the memorial hall according to its domestic law and cannot accept the 'protest' from Japan," Hong said at a daily news briefing.

The memorial hall was sponsored by the Harbin government and railway authorities. Through the French window, visitors can see the exact spot where the shooting took place.

"People have cherished the memory of Ahn for the past century. Today we erect a memorial to him and call on peace-loving people around the world to unite, resist invasions and oppose war," said Sun Yao, deputy governor of Heilongjiang.

After visiting the memorial hall, Lee Seung-hee, a 24-year-old South Korean architecture student in China, said peaceful life in East Asia today was made possible through the efforts of Ahn and other freedom fighters who sacrificed themselves to combat Japan's brutal rule.

Another visitor, Wang Guangfu, a 79-year-old Chinese who experienced Japanese aggression when he was young, said "the world should be vigilant to Japan's wrong attitude toward its history of aggression and its attempt to change the postwar status quo".

Seoul hails memorial

On Monday, the South Korean Foreign Ministry welcomed the memorial hall, Yonhap News Agency reported.

The ministry also expressed the hope that the memorial hall will provide an "opportunity for Northeast Asian nations to set the path for genuine peace and cooperation based on correct historical awareness", said the agency.

However, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed Japan's displeasure on Monday with the opening of the memorial hall, saying Tokyo will lodge protests to Beijing and Seoul through diplomatic channels, the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported.

The opening of the memorial hall came as Japan's neighbors and other countries around the world are concerned about Tokyo's attempts to change the postwar status quo and return to militarism. The worry comes in the wake of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Dec 26 visit to the Tokyo-based Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan's war dead, including 14 Class-A war criminals.

Japan's wrong attitude toward history, reflected in its recent behavior, angers Asian people and further isolates the country, observers said.

"Japan's wrong attitude toward its history of aggression will make it politically more isolated in the international community," said Wang Xinsheng, a professor of the history department at Peking University.

On the website Yahoo Japan, however, netizens vented their anger toward South Korea, calling Ahn "an assassin nothing different from terrorists in modern times".

However, Feng Wei, a professor in the history department of Fudan University in Shanghai, said Ahn's action was essentially the same as that of Bosnian Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip, who in 1914 shot to death Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in an effort to liberate his country from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

"While Japan holds a totally adverse opinion on Ahn with other Asian countries, no disputes have been heard about Princip. This is because European countries earnestly reflected on their pasts and reached a consensus, while Japan remains unrepentant about its militaristic past," Feng said.

Japan should reflect on its aggressive history rather than blaming others, Wang from Peking University said.

Harbin put an exhibition of Ahn's life on regular display at a local museum in 2006. The exhibition has now moved into the memorial hall. Some of the items on display were collected from overseas. Most of the things left behind by Ahn are in the hands of the Japanese, according to staff at the hall.

 

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