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Why the City Hesitated to Proclaim the Anniversary of the Nanking Massacre

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam got the 75th anniversary of the infamous atrocity put on the City's official calendar, but she says doing so was unusually hard.

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam found it unexpectedly difficult to win official recognition for the Nanking Massacre's 75th anniversary. Photo from {a href=""}her Facebook page{/a}.

Official proclamations of special commemorative occasions are plentiful at City Hall: the City has publicly declared everything from Foursquare Day to Bullying Awareness Week. But Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) was frustrated by the difficulties she encountered when she tried to win official recognition for the 75th anniversary of the Nanking Massacre. Council finally decided to make that proclamation, at Wong-Tam’s urging, earlier today.

“I don’t believe we’re asking anything extraordinary, although this is a significant anniversary,” she said during an interview before the council decision. “You would never say to the Jewish community that you would not proclaim Holocaust Awareness Week.”

The Nanking Massacre was a six-week-long mass murder that ultimately claimed the lives of 250,000 to 300,000 people, following the Japanese capture of the Chinese city in December 1937. The atrocity contributed to the longstanding tension between Japan and China. Some Japanese nationalists and institutions still deny that the massacre was as horrific as historians agree that it was.

When City Hall’s Protocol Services office received Wong-Tam’s request for the proclamation, they denied it on the basis that it was “politically controversial,” and therefore against the proclamation criteria. In explaining this decision, they sent Wong-Tam a link to the Nanking Massacre Wikipedia page, which has a section that describes its associated “controversy.” The mayor’s office, which has the power to act independently of Protocol Services, relied on the office’s rationale, and chose not to proclaim the anniversary. Even so, despite a ruling from council speaker Frances Nunziata that Wong-Tam’s motion requesting the proclamation (seconded by Ward 41 councillor Chin Lee) was not urgent, council adopted it today.

The difficulty in passing the proclamation—normally a simple matter—highlights the underlying importance of raising awareness about the massacre. In an effort to share understanding of Nanking with the mayor, Wong-Tam offered books and DVDs, but received no response. “It’s important to understand and validate the fact that [the victims'] pain is real,” she told Torontoist. A difficult process like the one she faced, she said, “effectively re-victimizes the victims.”

Wong-Tam said Councillor Norm Kelly (Ward 40, Scarborough-Agincourt), a Governor General’s Award–winning historian, told her before council’s lunch break on Tuesday that “it’s time for you guys to move on.” When asked about the statement, which Wong-Tam called “shocking,” Kelly said he couldn’t recall any specific exchange, but he didn’t deny it. The Scarborough councillor, who taught a Chinese history course at Upper Canada College in the 1970s, added that he would support the proclamation of the 75th anniversary of the Nanking Massacre, but would prefer more awareness of Canadian history, like the treatment of Canadian prisoners of war during World War Two. “[The massacre] is something that happened purely in an Asian context between two Asian societies,” he said during an interview.

“I’m not sure Canadian society is at a point where it has to be instructed about these things,” he added, “because I think we have values that preclude being attracted to behaviour like that.”

City Hall visitors will have an opportunity to reflect on and learn about the massacre, because a photo exhibition is on display in the rotunda. There will also be vigils, student conferences, and community forums throughout the city over the course of next couple of weeks.


  • Charles

    Wtf if you replaced rape of Nanking wit holocaust in cllr Kelly ‘s comments, would he had made those comments. Shame on him and the mayor and the protocol office.

  • Val Dodge

    “[The massacre] is something that happened purely in an Asian context between two Asian societies,” he said during an interview.

    “I’m not sure Canadian society is at a point where it has to be
    instructed about these things,” he added, “because I think we have
    values that preclude being attracted to behaviour like that.”

    This is from a historian? Really? Please tell me this quote has been taken wildly out of context, misattributed, and completely mangled during editing as to utterly corrupt his intended meaning. Otherwise, Kelly should be (whatever historians’ equivalent of disbarment is).

    • David Wencer

      If Norm Kelly believes “we have values that preclude being attracted to behaviour like that,” maybe he’d like to see greater public commemoration of the Canadian internment of Ukrainians in WWI, the Canadian internment of Japanese in WWII, the 1933 riot at Christie Pits…

      • CaligulaJones

        You don’t really have any sense of scale, do you?

        • Joe McBlow

          You don’t really seem to comprehend the english language, do you?

          • CaligulaJones

            Enough comprehension to understand that English is always capitalized, which would put me at least a bit up on you, not that I’m going to brag about that. Any comments on my point, though? You know, comparing a brawl to the rape and murder of hundreds of thousands? Or is just more of that post-modern equivelance crap?

          • David Wencer

            You’re absolutely correct that nobody is known to have died in the Christie Pits riot, and my intention was not to compare the two, but to indicate that there are examples of despicable ethnic hatred close to home.

            Norm Kelly seems to think Canadians don’t need to remind themselves about ethnic-based atrocities, on the grounds that Canadians are somehow above that. My point in mentioning the events that I did was that if Canadians *do* have “values that preclude being attracted to behaviour like that,” it’s a relatively recent phenomenon, and perhaps not as firm a set of values as Kelly would like to believe.

          • CaligulaJones

            Well, that’s a much better point, but it loses a bit in the translation when you add the actions of a riotous mob to that of a perhaps wrong-headed by elected and, in the sense of the times, democratic government. As my link below shows, we have a lot of massacres out there. Why not replace them all with a “Human Day”, were we can all think quiet thoughts about any personal issue we have.

            Or is this just asking for trouble from a politically hopped up Marxist agitator who will interrupt a moment of silence because she doesn’t think it includes her?

          • Joe McBlow

            As a matter of fact I do have a comment on your point. Norm Kelley stated that Canada has values that preclude this type of behaviour. The behaviour he’s describing being mass murder due to dehumanization of the other for being other. The original poster provided several examples of situations where Canadians dehumanized the other for being other and you’re looking at scale. As if the issue is scale and not the fundamental cognitive processes, in a social environment, that lead to this sort of behaviour.

            Ironically, inherent in Kelley’s comments is the deluded and dangerous – in the right circumstances – sense of cultural superiority that can lead to the type of behaviour Kelley says we’re purportedly above. Although, this shouldn’t be all that surprising because in groups favour in groups over out groups. Norm, clearly thinks his in group, “Canadians”, however defined, are superior. Acknowledging that we’re all susceptible to group bias, pretending that we’re inculcated from it is not helpful. If it makes you feel better to believe that Canada and Canadians are exempt from this because of our cultural superiority – oh the irony – then by all means, continue to believe it, I’m sure I’m not going to be able to convince you of the contrary.

            I doubt natives would agree with the superiority of Canadian values and how those values exempt Canadians from dehumanizing and degrading others. Perhaps Germans, Chinese and Americans are culturally inferior to Canadians as well, given that they’ve been guilty of not just dehumanizing and degrading others in mere brawls, disenfranchisement, theft of property, destruction of families and humiliation but also in mass murder? The issue is, after all, apparently scale.

      • Tony 49

        Should city proclaimed anniversary of every massacre .I am able to provide very long list of such massacres . Comment about Holocaust Week sounds very racial and homophobic.

    • Anonymous

      If he thinks the city should only be involved in commemorating events that Canada was involved in, why do we have something like the monument to the Katyń massacre?

  • picard102

    Look forward to Wong-Tam advocating for the recognition of the hundreds of other massacres too.

    • March

      Or you could, instead of posting on the Internet.

      • picard102

        Nah, not really high on my list of priorities.

    • Anonymous

      The next time you feel the urge to make a comment on the internet, before hitting “Post” you need to ask yourself one question: What would Picard do?

      • Anonymous

        Picard would not have thumbed that post down.

  • jeff m

    It’s just political grandstanding. I bet she can’t even point out where nanking is without google. Kelly might have been abrasive, but let’s move on. P.S. When do we have hiroshima day, or isreali invasion of palestine?

    • pee yoo

      Great Sage, “jeff m”:

      “Israeli”. I-s-r-a-e-l-i-. “Israeli.”

      And how about “Invasion of Israel by All Its Arab Neighbours, Using Palestinians as Pawns and Segregating Them in Detention Camps and Fighting Them (as They Still Do), the Day the United Nations Created It, Giving Torontonians, Who Have a Bad History of Anti-Semitism and Every Other Sort of Bigotry, a Chance to Spew Their Bile Day”?

      I don’t like ANY country in the Middle East, but compared to the rest, Israel is Mary Poppins.

      Get stuffed.

      • Anonymous

        Longest title evar!

  • OgtheDim

    There is no guarantee that an historian deals in truth.

  • dm

    Since we’re cherry picking from all the historical atrocities in the world, wonder how all the tibetan exiles in parkdale feel about elevating atrocities perpetrated against china other those perpetrated by china? Do they fit wong-tam’s definition of those being “re-victimized”?

  • Ho Hum

    Why should anyone care about these killings that occurred 75 years ago? I doubt if even Chinese give a second thought to this “holocaust”

    • CaligulaJones

      Considering where it fits in recent Chinese history (i.e., a fraction of the number who died under communism), I think the Chinese (government at least) don’t do a lot of thinkin’ on this stuff at all.

      • Anonymous

        In February of this year, the mayor of Nagoya, Japan, spoke openly in denial that the Nanjing Massacre ever happened, outraging the Chinese and causing the Chinese consulate to lodge a protest. (Nanjing and Nagoya were sister cities until then.)

        Japan’s revisionist version of WWII is a thorn in the side of many Asian countries, not just one Chinese city.

        • CaligulaJones

          Yes, I had heard this, sad story. I was at an open air restro in the Annex back in the early 90s when an argument/near fight broke out, apparently between someone of Japanese extraction and one of the Korean persuasion. All folks were in their 20s, and apparently it was over history. Geeze.

          I guess we’re just going through this list:

    • Will Baker

      The Chinese remain deeply concerned about the Japanese government’s continuing failure to adequately acknowledge Japan’s World War II-era crimes, including, first and foremost, the “Rape of Nanking.” Also, your failure to capitalise “Holocaust” is deeply troubling, as is your apparent lack of knowledge of what occurred in Nanjing during the war. If you knew anything about it, you would never belittle such a modest attempt to acknowledge it.

  • pee yoo

    I happen to agree with my councillor, Wong-Tam, but I think, also, she is very good at finding windows of self-publicity.

  • Anonymous

    How many have to die for the city to officially acknowledge it happened? Why should one massacre be elevated to taboo status and another mocked as irrelevant when it isn’t being ignored?

    Honestly though, I don’t really think it should be the city’s place to address foreign massacres or disasters beyond whatever direct impact – such as immigration – it’s had on the city.

    • Anonymous

      And if a massacre or disaster were to happen here, I sure hope no other city would bestir itself to acknowledge that fact. Some things are best forgotten. When they happen to other people.

    • Eric S. Smith

      Didn’t our federal parliament formally commemorate the Oreo cookie? The bar’s pretty low. If some citizens come forward and ask the city to proclaim such-and-such a day, I don’t see what the problem is, in the general case.

  • Alex Meyers

    I can’t imagine why there would be bureaucratic resistance to this. The city has a vastly larger Chinese population than Japanese.

    • Kaitlin Wainwright

      Controversy is controversy, though. The City of Ottawa proclaimed a Right to Life Day to assuage those who are part of the “pro-life” movement. They got a lot of flack for it. By the same token, the City Protocol Office probably just wanted to make sure this didn’t blow up in their face.

  • Jodie

    seems like a personal vendetta for china people. Ethnic cleansing happens everywhere in the world. Why this one? She is just using it for some publicity stunt.

    • Anonymous

      When you call the systematic slaughter of people “cleansing” it makes it much easier to pass it off as something that “happens”.

    • Eric S. Smith

      I guess we shouldn’t ever pay attention to anything, then. If you’re personally involved, it’s an unseemly vendetta. If you’re not personally involved, you’re just using it as an excuse to get attention.