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Collector Displays Wartime Evidence
"These are the sabers and bayonets used by the Japanese soldiers to kill Chinese people. These are the cotton-padded clothes they wore," a man explained to students at the Nanjing University students' center, where a free exhibition is displaying evidence of the Japanese invasion of China.

Ren Dianjue, a 53-year-old farmer, has been collecting such items for almost 10 years.

Hundreds of black and white pictures are displayed in the exhibition hall. Sabers, grenades and other military objects are lined up in front of the pictures with handwritten captions.

Students have swarmed to the exhibition since it opened early last week. Some signed their names on a big white banner spread on the ground, on which several red characters were written -- "Do not forget the past national humiliation and rejuvenate China."

Ren said: "Young people should have a clear understanding of history and learn from past experience, so that they will build a stronger and more prosperous country in the future."

The farmer's longstanding wish was to display evidence of Japanese wartime atrocities in Nanjing, the capital city of Jiangsu Province and site of the Nanjing Massacre.

The massacre was committed by the Japanese invaders on December 13, 1937, and they killed more than 300,000 Chinese civilians.

On display at the exhibition are more than 50 objects left by the Japanese invaders and over 200 pictures of their brutality during the War of Resistance against Japan (1937-45).

These objects and pictures are only half of what Ren has collected during his years of searching.

As well as Nanjing University, Ren plans to take his exhibition to about 20 universities or colleges in the city before next year's Spring Festival, which falls on February 1.

The exhibition forms part of the activities marking the 65th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre, which is this Friday.

"It does not ask us to hate Japanese people," Ren said. "It is aimed at urging people to oppose the right-wing forces in Japan who deny that the Nanjing Massacre ever took place."

Born in 1949 in Xiazhuang, a village in Yingyang County in Dengfeng City, Central China's Henan Province, Ren first learned about the Japanese invasion when he was told about his grandfather, who never returned after being arrested by Japanese troops. Ren's father almost lost his life when he was forced to work for the Japanese.

One day in 1993, Ren found a strange piece of a horse's halter in his uncle's house. He was told that it was used by Japanese soldiers. At that moment, an idea flashed through his mind -- why not collect such items? They were evidence of the painful history.

Since then, Ren has searched for objects left by the Japanese in nearby villages.

He spent a lot of money to amass his collection. He has saved money for it by doing carpentry.

He once heard that a man in a nearby village had a Japanese sabre and Ren rushed there at once. The owner asked for 5,000 yuan (US$604), which was much more than Ren could afford.

But Ren did not give up. He frequented the man's home until this year's Spring Festival, when he finally bought the saber for 800 yuan (US$97).

The money he spent had originally been set aside for Spring Festival shopping for his family. When his wife saw him carrying back only a saber for the new year, she could not help crying.

Ren tried hard to make his family understand him. They finally did.

Wherever Ren goes, he searches for objects and pictures related to the Japanese wartime atrocities.

People who knew what he was doing have given him a helping hand or information.

In 1995, when Ren heard that some Japanese right-wing groups had distorted history and attempted to cover up the truth of the Nanjing Massacre, he decided to show the evidence from his collection in his village. To enrich his exhibit, he went to different memorial halls and museums in China to take photos.

The village exhibition formally opened to the public on August 15 that year, the 50th anniversary of victory in the War of Resistance against Japan. Hundreds of villagers went to see.

Ren spent more than 10,000 yuan (US$1,208) of his savings on the village exhibition, which lasted for four months.

Last year, Ren and his wife sold their cattle. With the money, they went to Beijing with three other farmers on September 16. Ren hired a minibus to carry his collection and put banners on the vehicle to publicize his exhibition along the way.

On September 17 last year, they held their first exhibition at Peking University. The four-day exhibition attracted thousands of students, who signed their names to support what Ren was doing and organized discussions.

In the meantime, many other universities and colleges in Beijing invited Ren to their campus. His collection has visited different places. He was also asked to give lectures.

"I want to bring the exhibition to as many cities as possible, especially Nanjing," said Ren, when he and his wife were interviewed on China Central Television.

Ren has used up almost all his savings to collect evidence and hold exhibitions. His wife had to sell plastic bottles found in the street to help out with the family expenses. But Ren said: "This is my work. I will never stop."

(China Daily December 11, 2002)

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