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Sketching faces of survival

By Yang Yijun (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-05-04 07:59
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Sketching faces of survival
Zhu Chengshan, curator of the memorial hall for the victims of the Nanjing Massacre in Nanjing, visits a survivor from the slaughter before putting her sketch up for exhibition along with those of 29 others in early April. [Photo/China Daily]

SHANGHAI - In the memorial hall for the victims of the Nanjing Massacre, one can look into the eyes of survivors.

In a new exhibit, 30 sketches of living survivors line the walls, with a 20-line poem telling each one's story.

"The sketches not only resemble the survivors, but show how much hurt the war has left on them," said Zhu Chengshan, the curator of the Nanjing-based memorial hall, which commemorates the slaughter of civilians by Japanese troops in 1937.

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"They are witnesses of history, so their stories will have a more powerful influence on visitors."

Zhu said the idea came from another exhibition held in 2006 which displayed 600 portraits of victims.

"We chose the form of a sketch and poem because we were trying to make the exhibition more artistic, making it easier for the public to accept, especially young people," he said.

In 2010, Zhu invited Zhang Yubiao, a painter at Nanjing University of the Arts, to draw the sketches. When the drafts were completed, they asked the survivors and their families for feedback and made revisions.

"It's a huge project. We spent more than a year on the 30 portraits," Zhu said.

Zhu, who is a university professor and writer, then started to compose the poems.

"I summarized their experiences during the massacre in very simple language so that ordinary people would be able to understand," he said.

Having worked in the memorial hall for 19 years, Zhu, 57, knows survivors like Ni Cuiping very well.

Zhu used to travel with Ni to the US for talks.

"I not only know of her suffering during the massacre that cost her left arm, but also her life after the disaster," he said.

"All the survivors have their own memories about the massacre. Although it has been 70 years, the memory is still clear in their minds."

It took him 10 days to complete the poems.

"I was thinking about the poems all the time during those 10 days. During that time my mother-in-law passed away, but I didn't stop thinking about the poems when preparing for her funeral," he said. "The images just kept appearing in my mind even when I closed my eyes."

The exhibition, which will last until July, has received positive feedback over the past month.

"I saw some visitors weeping when looking at the sketches and reading the poems. Many of them are young people," he said.

After the exhibition, Zhu plans to complete 100 portraits for the survivors and publish an album. "We have to do it as soon as possible, as more and more of them are leaving us," he said.

According to Zhu, there were 400 survivors still living in Nanjing in 2009, while the number has declined to 300 this year.

"Thanks to the media coverage, each year we discover tens of survivors who were not on our record. However, there are still more survivors who pass away each year, as they are all very old now," he said.

"But it's not just about numbers. They are individuals with their own unique stories," he continued.

In 2004, Zhu initiated an association to aid the survivors.

"We mainly reimburse medical expenses, between 50 and 80 percent," he said, adding that the fund comes from donations and the city's civil affairs authority.

Survivors can also receive subsidies from the association before the Spring Festival. Zhu said that by the end of March, the association had provided more than 1.6 million yuan ($246,000) in subsidies to them.

"We are making all these efforts because we hope people can bear history in mind and we can have a peaceful world," Zhu said.


 

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