By Mark Etheridge
in Nanjing, China
International travel for work is a lot less glamorous than it may sound – having said that, it’s always a privilege to be able to report on our national sporting journey around the world.
Every city has its own particular tale to tell. Last year, Colombia hosted the World Games and off the sporting field, the story of the Cali Cartel in the host city of Cali was a fascinating one to learn more about.
Earlier this year Gaborone, Botswana hosted the African Youth Games and it was another fascinating experience of a laid-back, yet proud and dignified way of life.
Glasgow, Scotland hosted the Commonwealth Games and it was a riotous experience of cultural fervour and this writer had an eerie early-morning adventure while jogging alongside the River Clyde and emerging into thick fog surrounded by thousands upon thousands of graves in St Peter’s Cemetery in Dalbeth. A sobering experience indeed, walking among the dearly departed, with many gravestones remembering those killed in the two World Wars, and epitaphs dating back to as far as 1860.
We’re currently in Nanjing, China for the Youth Olympic Games, and this city has one of the most sobering tales of all to tell.
This week, SASCOC President Gideon Sam, veteran photographer Wessel Oosthuizen and myself found time for a must-visit excursion to the Massacre Museum.
In a nutshell, the city once known as Nanking, used to be the capital before Beijing assumed that role. In 1937 the city fell to invading Japanese forces and on 13 December, what is also known as the Rape of Nanjing took place.
In the space of two months 300,000 men, women and children were tortured, raped and butchered, some in the most barbaric, heinous and senseless of ways.
The impressively laid-out museum pays terrible tribute to those departed and leaves nothing to the imagination. Haunting music greets visitors and statues depicting the city’s residents fleeing for their lives make one feel as though they are there.
Skeletons in shallow graves are on show for the many visitors, and there are many, most of them Chinese citizens, on a working day, eager to learn their own history. One particularly moving sight was that of a tiny 60-year-old woman, bayoneted through the pelvis and then shot in the forehead.
Harrowing, harrowing stuff but by all accounts the Chinese have forgiven but NOT forgotten that awful period in their history.
A moved President Sam said on entering the museum: This is going to be a moving, emotional experience’. He was not wrong, and as he reflected afterwards: ‘It’s amazing how inhumane humans can be to each other.’
There was a moment at the amazing opening ceremony that showed the wounds of Nanjing are still there, if not openly visible, as the crowd booed the entrance of the Japanese team.
The world we live in today is full of conflict – Iraq, Gaza and the city of Ferguson in the United States spring to mind immediately. It’s up to the youth of today to help make the world a better place!
And right now the cream of the globe’s sporting youth are in China for the Youth Olympics. The Games may be about sport, but not entirely about sport and there is a large emphasis on the exchanging of cultural experience and knowledge. Never has the saying: ‘Knowledge is Power’ had so much significance than in the troubled times we live in. May the youth, including Team South Africa, leave Nanjing next week having a better understanding of life beyond sport and strive to make the world a better place.