NANJING, China — Seven decades after Japanese soldiers poured through the old city walls of Nanjing, launching a six-week killing spree known as the Nanjing Massacre, the memories are still raw for Zhang Xiuhong.
"I really hate the Japanese," Zhang said, dissolving into tears. "I have repeated this thousands of times. I really, really hate them."
Now 81, Zhang was only 11 during the infamous Japanese rampage, a seizure so violent that it's also known as the Rape of Nanking, the city's former name.
For Zhang, that's an accurate description, for she, too, was raped.
China this week marks the 70th anniversary of the massacre, reopening the Memorial Hall to the Victims after a two-year $33 million face-lift. But China treads a fine line as it promotes condemnation of the massacre while trying to protect trade and diplomatic relations with Japan, which are on the mend after years of severe stress.
When the renovated memorial is unveiled Thursday, no senior leader of the central government is likely to attend. News coverage in China will be muted.
Chinese officials say they've rebuilt the memorial not to evoke bitterness and anti-Japanese sentiment but to honor history and help forge a path to lasting peace.
"The theme used to be only history," Zhu Chengshan, the curator of the Memorial Hall said at a news conference Tuesday. "Now, the new memorial's theme is history and peace."
This year's anniversary coincides with renewed global interest in the Nanjing Massacre. About 10 movies and documentaries — produced in Germany, the United States, Japan and China — are being filmed, in post-production or already in cinemas.
How the new focus on Japan's wartime atrocities will play out is of keen interest in Tokyo and Beijing. Anti-Japanese riots erupted in several Chinese cities in 2005, chilling relations. Many in Japan saw the hand of China's ruling Communist leaders behind the riots, seeking to promote their own legitimacy with nationalism.
But ties have improved markedly in the 15 months since the departure of former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who enraged China with annual visits to the Yasukuni war shrine in Tokyo, where 14 war criminals are honored.
Last month, a Chinese warship visited Tokyo for the first time since 1949, and President Hu Jintao pledges to exchange state visits next year with Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.
Still, many of the facts on the Nanjing Massacre remain disputed by Japan and its East Asian neighbors, which accuse Japan of whitewashing parts of its wartime history.
Japanese forces laid siege to the then-Chinese capital on Dec. 10, 1937, and Nanking fell three days later, opening the door to a six-week campaign of pillaging and executions of unarmed civilians. China says at least 300,000 people were killed. Japan, which describes the events as the "Nanjing Incident," says the deaths were a fraction of that. Some Japanese deny the massacre altogether.
Japan's biggest daily newspaper, the Yomiuri Shimbun, said in an editorial Tuesday that "there are theories that the number of victims was about 40,000 and that only a fraction of those deaths were murders that violated international law."
Zhu, asked by a Japanese journalist to respond to those who doubt the higher toll, said: "The figure is a historical verdict. ... It's not made for certain political purposes."
Earlier this month, China released a list of names of 13,000 victims of the massacre that it said researchers had compiled after arduous research through limited records. The list includes the names, sex, ages, occupations and addresses of the victims.
Despite the scale of atrocities in Nanjing, the Memorial Hall still pales beside similar memorials in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, to mark the massive deaths from the U.S. atomic bombs, and at Nazi death camps in Europe, Zhu said.
"If the Japanese can commemorate victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, then of course we can commemorate our compatriots in the Nanjing massacre," Zhu said.
Zhang, the elderly survivor from Nanjing, said she's never gotten respite from the terrible images that the rampage of the Japanese soldiers left etched in her mind.
"They would grab young babies from their mothers and bayonet them in the bottom," Zhang said, adding that her rape by a soldier was brutal. "I pretended to be dead so he would go away."
Another survivor, 83-year-old Li Gaoshan, a Chinese soldier at the time of the siege, said a civilian helped him exchange his uniform for plain clothing.
"There were dead people everywhere on the streets," he said.
Asked if he wished China's leaders would do more to acknowledge the massacre, Li demurred while his wife nodded her head vigorously.
"Yes, yes," said Wang Shuhua, the wife.