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China History

Did This TikToker Find Unseen Nanjing Massacre Photos? Regardless, Chinese Netizens Want the World to Know about 1937

Although it is yet unclear if the photos are authentic, Chinese netizens just want the world to know more about the Nanjing Massacre.

Wendy Huang



Did an American pawn shop owner find unseen photos of the Nanjing Massacre? As his Tiktok video is going viral online, Chinese netizens are shocked to find how little Western social media users know about what happened during the Japanese invasion of Nanjing in 1937. They hope the video helps strengthen international awareness on the ‘Rape of Nanjing’.

Over the past week, an American TikTok video has attracted the attention of Chinese netizens. On September 1st, Minnesota pawn shop owner Evan Kail, who runs the Pawn Master Kail ( Tiktok account, turned to his followers and asked for help in a video after coming across an old photo book that he believed contained extremely rare and unseen photos of the Nanjing Massacre.

Kail also posted some of the photos from the book on his Twitter account (viewer discretion advised).

The so-called Nanjing or Nanking Massacre (南京大屠杀, also known as the ‘Rape of Nanjing’) happened during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) – which became part of WWII in 1941 after Pearl Harbor – and refers to the mass murder of Chinese civilians by Japanese invaders during a six-week period from December 13, 1937, to January 1938.

According to China’s official data, at least 300,000 residents, including children and elderly, lost their lives during the massacre that became the most notorious Japanese atrocity of the Second Sino-Japanese War. In October 2015, UNESCO added Nanjing Massacre historical documents to its Memory of the World Register.

In his September 1st video, the pawn shop owner Evan Kails says: “This is the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen in my career and I desperately need your help (..) Had a customer reach out and they told me they had this old book of photos from WWII. It’s been in their family for a while and they wanted me to try and sell it.”

Kail then explains the book is by a soldier who was stationed in South East Asia around 1937-1938 and who allegedly photographed life in China and other countries. The album includes a series of war-related images that Kail claims are too shocking to share with his followers (“worse than anything I have seen on the Internet”) and which he believes were taken during the Japanese invasion of Nanjing in 1937.

The pawn shop owner said he believes that these photos “need to be seen, documented, and preserved” and asked his followers to share his video as widely as possible, hoping that the appropriate channels, such as museums, could contact him.

Shortly after, Kail’s video was also shared on Chinese social media. The U.S.-based Weibo user RuruRin, who has more than one million followers, posted the video on Thursday afternoon with Chinese subtitles, after which it quickly became a top trending topic on Weibo.

Many Chinese social media users mentioned and tagged the official Weibo account of The Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders, which is a Nanjing-based museum to memorialize those who were killed in the Nanjing Massacre. About three hours later, the official Weibo account of the museum responded and stated that they had seen the post, and had attempted to contact Kail to verify the information.

The Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum responds on Weibo, thanking everyone for alerting them and saying they are attempting to get in touch with Kail.

The video shared by RuruRin so far has received nearly 300,000 likes and thousand of comments on Weibo. The hashtag “Foreign netizen May Have Discovered Color Photos of the Nanjing Massacre” (#国外网友或发现南京大屠杀彩照#) appeared on the trending list of Weibo and climbed to the second position by late night of September 1. By Sunday, it had received over 960 million clicks.

While there is still doubt regarding the authenticity of the photos, many Chinese Weibo users suggest that if the photos are authentic, the Chinese government should purchase them regardless of the cost because it will provide additional evidence to counter Japan’s denial of this history.

Some are concerned that this book will be sold to a Japanese buyer, while others are worried about Kail’s personal safety after his discovery, given that Iris Chang, author of renowned The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, received frequent harassment and threats from some Japanese after her book was published in 1997. Chang committed suicide in 2004 at the age of 36.

One of the issues that has become a big part of Chinese online discussions regarding the Pawn Master video is how many Americans and other foreigners are not aware of the history of what happened in Nanjing. Weibo user RuruRin dedicated a post to this issue, sharing many Tiktok comments from people writing they had never even heard about the Nanjing Massacre.

“Regardless of how this story turns out,” Rururin wrote: “It is gratifying to know because of this photo album video, millions of people have now become aware of the existence of the Nanjing Massacre, and many are willing to learn more about it because of this video. Most American schools do not teach this history, so while basically everyone in the U.S. knows about the Holocaust, few people know about the Nanjing Massacre.”

China has done a lot to create more awareness about what happened in Nanjing. Besides the countless books, movies, documentaries, and TV series dedicated to the topic, China also introduced the “National Memorial Day for the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre” in 2014. It is an annual memorial day on December 13, which is the day the imperial Japanese army invaded Nanjing.

An important site where visitors are educated about this painful history is the Memorial Hall of the Nanjing Massacre which was opened on August 15, 1985. This official memorial museum is built near the site of the “pit of ten thousand corpses” where thousands of bodies were buried during the killings. The Memorial Hall covers a total area of 103,000 square meters is home to important historical records, victim testimonies, artifacts, and photographs.

“When it’s about the Nanjing Massacre, we are never short of evidence – we are short of international attention for it.”

Despite all the stories and evidence on record, there are many people across the world who have no knowledge of this Nanjing history. One Weibo user wrote: “When it’s about the [Nanjing Massacre] history, we are never short of evidence – we are short of international attention for it.”

Renowned Chinese director and actor Jiang Wen (姜文) previously commented on this lack of international attention for the Nanjing Massacre. In 2018, he was asked why he chose 1937 as the background setting for his movie Hidden Man. Jiang replied that he wanted to use the film to “let the world know what the Japanese did” and said:

“China in 1937 faced a broken country and millions of ruined families. The entire Chinese population stood up to resist the invaders. The theme of resisting invaders should be expressed all over the world. On this aspect, China doesn’t do it as well as the West. The reason why Chinese people now know that the Nazis were bad, and the Jews were persecuted, is because Western artists and investors work hard every year to make sure that a young person growing up in China, even if they’re from a small town, will know what kind of things the Nazis did. However, the majority of the world is unaware of what the Japanese did.”

Regarding Evan Kail’s discovery and Tiktok video, many Chinese netizens seem to care less about the photos being authentic but more about how the photos and the video increase international historical awareness about the Nanjing Massacre.

In a follow-up video, Kail told that his phone had been ringing non-stop since the video and that his story was featured in, among others, Rolling Stone and Newsweek. Kail also shared that the photo book owner agreed that only a museum would be getting the photo book.

Kail claimed that he had been in touch with Chinese officials regarding the book, but that he felt he was facing a “dilemma” because he did not want the photo album to be used for a certain “political agenda” where only some of the photos would be selected with others disregarded. “There are so many histories in this book,” Kail said: “It has to be properly treasured.”

Meanwhile, on Twitter, there are multiple people involved in helping in the process of authenticating this photo album. The popular ‘Fake History Hunter’ account claims the album is genuine as a souvenir album countless sailors bought when their tour of duty was about to begin, but that some of the photos in the album are not unique and can also be found online.

On Weibo as well, there are some convincing expert bloggers who claim they have come across similar photo albums and that the person who it belonged to had not necessarily been to Nanjing (#国内博主称有相似南京大屠杀彩照相册#).

Chinese blogger shares that he has a similar photo album.

Where will this old photo book eventually end up? That is still unclear. Regardless, Kail is pleased that the video educated more people about this war history, while Weibo netizens are glad that more people outside of China have started to look up information regarding the ‘Nanjing Massacre’ to learn more about what happened there.

Google trends shows, starting from Sep 1, the worldwide search volume of the term “the Nanjing Massacre” went up suddenly.

“Actually I don’t think it really matters whether the color photos are genuine or not, there’s is enough evidence of the Nanjing Massacre,” one Weibo user (@不知江月V) writes: “But a positive effect of this incident is how it went viral and led foreign netizens to take the initiative to learn and understand the history of the Nanjing Massacre. The classroom WWII history in foreign countries is basically limited to the German military and there is not much explanation of the atrocities committed by the Japanese in Asia. So this has achieved the goal of foreign netizens knowing and understanding more about the blood debt owed by the Japanese to the Chinese people.”

By Wendy Huang, with contributions by Manya Koetse

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Wendy Huang is a China-based Beijing Language and Culture University graduate who currently works for a Public Relations & Media software company. She believes that, despite the many obstacles, Chinese social media sites such as Weibo can help Chinese internet users to become more informed and open-minded regarding various social issues in present-day China.

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    charles baer

    September 6, 2022 at 12:42 am

    you could say that this was the begining of W W I I .

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China History

Beijing Publisher Apologizes for “Distorting History” in Children’s Textbook Illustration

As another textbook controversy goes viral on Chinese socials, some feel that there are no excuses for teaching children the wrong things.

Manya Koetse



The Beijing University of Technology Press (北京工业大学出版) got caught up in controversy this week over an illustration in one of its history textbooks.

The textbook attracted online attention after a parent posted about discovering an incorrect illustration in their child’s history book.

The book, titled “Chinese History Written for Children” (“写给孩子看的中国史”), includes a passage about Ding Ruchang (丁汝昌) and the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95).

In the book, it is erroneously suggested that Ding Ruchang surrendered at the end of the Battle of Weihaiwei (20 January-12 February 1895).

Admiral Ding Ruchang was a respected commander of the Qing North China Navy. The textbook illustration, which has become a hot topic on Chinese social media, is titled “Ding Ruchang surrenders” (“丁汝昌投降图”), and seems to show Ding and other commanders bowing to Japanese forces.

The actual story is that on February 12, 1895, when the Japanese forces had already strategically defeated China’s Beiyang fleet, Admiral Ding would “rather die than submit” (宁死不屈) and committed suicide.

In the book China and Japan: Facing History (a recommended read), Vogel (2019) writes:

“The Japanese, who knew of the admiral’s reputation, admired him for taking responsibility in the manner of a proper defeated samurai. The Japanese allowed his body to be carried away on a Chinese ship, and as the ship passed, the Japanese lowered their flags in an expression of respect.”

On Chinese social media platform Weibo, many people expressed anger over the textbook illustration, asking relevant departments to reprimand the book’s editor and author.

The textbook cover as posted by one netizen, pointing out the name of the editor and author.

On May 10, the publisher issued a statement in which they offered apologies and acknowledged that the illustration used in the book, which was published in 2017, was incorrect. They further wrote that the current edition would be completely taken off the shelves and that they would work on revising it as soon as possible.

Furthermore, they also stated that they have set up a special team to investigate the case and will hold those in charge responsible for the errors in the textbook.

As one Weibo user pointed out on May 10, the image in question is actually a woodblock print created by the Japanese ukiyo-e artist Toshihide Migita (右田年英). Toshihide Migita (1863-1925) was known for his many wartime propaganda from the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese war. This particular image from 1895 is titled “After the Fall of Weihaiwei, the Commander of the Chinese Beiyang Fleet, Admiral Ding Ruchang, Surrenders.”

At the time, propaganda war prints were a lucrative business. Upon receiving reports from the battlefield, prints were expeditiously designed, printed, and disseminated. In an effort to speed up he process, prints depicting anticipated events were prepared in advance, and prints featuring events that never happened were also produced (TMJA 2019).

At this time, however, it is not clear how the editors came to use this illustration in their history book.

Some netizens think that there is no excuse for publishers to make such an error and for the book to have been in print since 2017. Children have been reading these books for years now.

One netizen reposted the apology statement by Beijing University of Technology Press with the word “Shit” written above it.

There are also those who raise the issue of the “ugly” math textbook controversy of 2022. Those textbooks became a hot topic for their unpleasing and sometimes bizarre illustrations. The books had been in print for years before they were revised after parents raised concerns about them in 2022 (see our articles about the math textbook controversy here).

The math textbook scandal is comparable to the current controversy in various ways, as netizens at the time also felt that the “tragically ugly” illustrations in those textbooks were not just a mistake but a “deliberate distortion” by people who are “infiltrating.”

Numerous commenters emphasize the significance of history textbooks in schools and argue that the distortion of history is tantamount to “treason”: “Hold them accountable, investigate thoroughly, and see if they are spies or not!”

On the other hand, they also feel that the authorities who said they would strictly supervise textbooks have been sleeping on the job.

“Ding Ruchang died heroically. He refused to surrender and finally committed suicide. He was an important late Qing general and made significant contributions to our country. Yet they distort the historical facts and put his surrender in elementary history schoolbooks, this is poisonous teaching material.”

Some Weibo users write: “We have to defend the rights of Ding Ruchang!”

“They’re slandering the names of our ancestors, and are falsifying history. It’s too much.”

By Manya Koetse


TMJA. 2019. “Winds of War Japanese Propaganda Prints of the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War.” Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art [5.14.23].

Vogel, Ezra F. 2019. China and Japan: Facing History. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

BMW Ice Cream Gate: Three Reasons Why a MINI Story Became a Major Incident

There is more behind the BMW MINI ice cream incident than ice cream alone.

Manya Koetse



The Shanghai Auto Show’s BMW MINI booth and its employees found themselves at the center of a social media storm after a video of their free ice cream promotional campaign made it seem like foreigners got free ice cream while Chinese visitors were told no. The incident has had a major impact, both online and offline. What caused a seemingly minor event to escalate into a significant controversy?

It is the noteworthy incident that made international headlines over the past week: a freebie marketing campaign by German automotive company BMW at the Shanghai Auto Show went horribly wrong.

The incident happened on April 20, 2023, at the Shanghai show’s MINI booth, where two Chinese female workers were giving out free ice cream from a local brand.

A video was posted on Chinese video platforms Bilibili and Douyin that showed staff at the booth refusing ice cream to a local visitor by stating that it had all been given away. However, when a foreign attendee approached, the staff suddenly had ice cream readily available for them.

The person who was filming, a Chinese man named Sun, then stepped up to the booth and ask for ice cream himself. The girls then suggested an app was needed for that, and that they had limited supplies. The video further showed that the only people actually enjoying the Luneurs brand ice cream were all foreigners.

The video footage soon went viral and sparked public outrage over discrimination against Chinese visitors of the show.

Screenshots from the video showed employees ignoring Chinese visitors and giving foreigners icecream (via Weibo).

BMW MINI tried to avert a marketing disaster by issuing an official apology via its social media channels in China on the same day, stating that they regretted that their sweet promotional campaign caused unhappiness “due to the lack of internal management and staff negligence.”

Many people, however, thought the apology was insufficient. “ChatGPT could write [a better apology] than this,” a typical comment said, and some even gave examples of ChatGPT writing a better apology.

“If I can speak English can I have some ice cream?”, another popular comment said. Others said they would never consider buying BMW again.

On April 21, BMW MINI released another statement on its Weibo account, in which they indicated that they had given away 600 ice creams in two days for people coming to the booth with vouchers distributed via the MINI app. At the booth, they had also set aside a few ice creams for their own “very hard-working colleagues” at the show. The statement said that the foreigners in the video were all BMW colleagues, wearing a badge.

They again apologized for the controversy and admitted they had mismanaged the situation, adding that they hope that people can have some tolerance and space for the two female workers who are young and were just newly employed.

The two female employees were reportedly dismissed and the ice cream promotional campaign was stopped (#宝马mini两名发冰淇淋女生已离职#). “You should replace your PR team,” some people suggested.

The controversy further intensified when news came out that, also on Thursday, one female live blogging at the BMW MINI booth was sent away and removed by security.

How could ice creams at an auto show trigger such heated nationwide discussions? There are multiple factors, including historical, societal, marketing, and online media dynamics, that contributed to the incident becoming such a significant issue.


1. Painful History: “No Dogs and Chinese Allowed”


One of the reasons why the BMW MINI story triggered such sharp criticism, accusations of racism, and emotional reactions, is because the incident stirs up collective memories of a sensitive period in history when Chinese faced humiliation and discrimination by the hands of foreign powers.

In discussions on the BMW MINI ice cream incident, the phrase “Chinese and Dogs Not Admitted” (“华人与狗不得入内”) came up again and again in online comments and memes.

The phrase is widely remembered in the context of a sign in front of Shanghai’s Huangpu Park that was closed to Chinese people in the late 19th and early 20th centuries during the International Settlement. The fact that the ice cream incident took place in Shanghai further reinforced the connection to this local history.

The “No Dogs and Chinese Allowed” sentence, by the way, was never actually displayed as an official sign at the park gate. But there was still a regulation at some point that Chinese visitors, except servants, were not allowed in the park. Bicycles and dogs were also not allowed in the park. Eventually, “No Dogs and Chinese Allowed” turned into a symbol of the nation’s “historical humiliation” (Bickers & Wasserstrom 1995: 446-449).

The sign was also featured in the Bruce Lee film Fist of Fury, and one relevant scene in the film was also shared on Weibo in light of the BMW MINI controversy (watch the scene here).

Because the (imagined) Huangpu sign has left such a lasting imprint on the collective memory of the Chinese public, it comes back up in online discussions whenever there are viral incidents in which Chinese people are made to feel unequal to foreigners in any way.

“So many years have passed, yet still fundamentally there is still [the idea] that foreigners are above us,” one commenter wrote. Others spoke of “BMW’s ‘Chinese and dogs not allowed’ attitude,” and one article called the BMW ice cream incident the 21st century version of “Chinese and dogs not allowed” (“宝马mini冰淇淋事件,是21世纪的“华人与狗不得入内“).

Multiple online discussions associate the BMW ice cream incident with the history of Chinese not being allowed to enter public parks during foreign occupation.

In 2018, Chinese bike-sharing service Ofo received massive criticism when it was exposed that they would give foreigners their deposits back while Chinese customers were ignored. One news headline about special tourist trains for Chinese tourists in Switzerland also triggered controversy in 2015.

When various foreign countries imposed Covid-related travel restrictions only for passengers from China in January of 2023, many netizens also responded with resentment and anger, partly fuelled by Chinese media reports describing the rules as a form of foreign revenge, discrimination against the Chinese, and political conspiracy.


2. Consumer Nationalism amd Western Brands


Another reason why the Shanghai Auto Show incident received so much attention relates to the specific dynamics of consumer nationalism in China and the BMW brand reputation.

One type of nationalism that has become especially prevalent on Chinese social media in recent years involves online anger Chinese netizens demonstrate toward Western brands. This goes hand in hand with a shift in consumer sentiments, a growing popularity of made-in-China brands along with a rise in cultural nationalism and changing international dynamics (read more).

In July of 2022, the French luxury fashion house Dior came under fire after netizens discovered one of its skirts resembled a Chinese traditional skirt known as mǎmiànqún (马面裙). The brand did not acknowledge that it had used the Chinese traditional design and online anger grew, with many netizens accusing Dior of cultural appropriation (read here).

Western brands faced heavy criticism in China in 2021 when a social media storm erupted over the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and its brand members for no longer sourcing from China’s Xinjiang region. The ‘Xinjiang cotton ban’ led to a major ‘Xinjiang cotton support’ campaign on Weibo, and a boycott for those brands siding with BCI (read here).

Image “Chinese fashion first: consumer nationalism and ‘China Chic’, by Ami/Goethe, see article here.

Condemnation and boycotting of Western brands also became prevalent during the Hong Kong protests in 2019, when Chinese social media users and state media condemned foreign brands for showing any signs of disregarding the One-China Policy. Asics, Calvin Klein, Coach, Givenchy, Versace, Swarovksi, and others were blamed for not respecting China’s sovereignty by listing Hong Kong and Taiwan as different countries on their websites or other products (read here).

In 2018, Italian fashion house D&G got caught up in a major controversy when its promo video campaign came under fire. In of their videos, a Chinese female model clumsily attempted to eat a large cannoli bread with chopsticks; a voice-over said that the cannoli might be “too big” for her. It was not received very well by many netizens on Chinese social media, where people called it “outdated and stereotypical,” “racist,” and “disrespectful.” The controversy snowballed out of control from there and became much worse after screenshots of racist comments attributed to fashion designer Stefano Gabba went viral (read here).

The recent BMW incident is thus part of a larger pattern of Western brands being accused of insulting and disrespecting Chinese people, while the popularity of Chinese (car) brands is rising. Earlier this month, What’s on Weibo wrote an article about how BMW often makes headlines in China in the context of horrific hit-and-run incidents and how the negative headlines are impacting BMW’s brand image in China.

BMW’s negative brand reputation in China exacerbates the impact of the ice cream incident, rather than alleviating it.

Although the brand has had a positive image for its high-quality and luxurious cars, it has also received a lot of unfavorable publicity, creating more negative associations – BMW drivers are generally seen as materialstic and flaunting their wealth. The nationwide attention for the ice cream incident and BMW MINI’s response to it has further damaged the brand’s reputation. The BMW stocks saw a price dip following the incident.

For some BMW car owners, the incident has also had negative consequences. According to various social media posts and photos, some BMW MINI owners saw their cars being scratched or vandalized over the past few days. At least one BMW MINI owner saw ice cream smeared over the front of their car.


3. The Snowball Effect of Social Media Storms


The incident involving BMW sparked a massive online controversy on Chinese social media, which quickly gained momentum. Initially triggered by one single video, it rapidly spiraled out of control as thousands of netizens joined in, expressing their views and creating their own videos and memes (also see this Twitter thread).

Some social media users also used old cartoons ridiculing preferential treatment for foreigners.

“Classic cartoon never goes out of date” (via Weibo/QCJ大王同学).

One meme suggested that “BMW” stands for: Bīngqílín (冰淇淋, Ice cream), Miǎnfèi (免费, Free), and Wàiguórén (外国人, Foreigners).

Besides general social media users, major brands also played a role in hyping up the incident. Other brands and companies used the firestorm to their advantage. Audi, for example, announced via social media that they would also be handing out ice cream only for Chinese people and other brands also started their own ice cream campaigns.

Chinese media outlets also played a major role in the incident as they kept reporting about the incident and promoted it on social media. By now, there are dozens of Weibo hashtags surrounding the incident and its aftermath, and the majority of them are initiated by Chinese media channels.

Chinese state media accounts also jabbed at BMW. CCTV aired an item showing that there is plenty of ice cream for all staff members on board of the Shandong PLA Navy aircraft carrier. Xinhua News even turned it into a hashtag, accompanied by a laughing emoji (#山东舰今天的冰淇淋是草莓味的#).

Screenshots from CCTV.

“We won’t give it to other countries,” some commenters joked: “Only Chinese can eat it.”

Meanwhile, some big KOL and influencer acounts also helped to attract more attention to the case by discussing it. Chinese political commentator Hu Xijin (@胡锡进), for example, also analyzed the incident. Although Hu called on netizens to be reasonable and have some understanding for the ordinary people who suddenly find themselves at the center of a social media storm, the mere fact that Hu brought the incident up multiple times to his 25 million Weibo followers perhaps did not exactly help in quieting things down.

For now, it seems that the BMW incident might keep fermenting for some time to come. While everyone is still talking about the ice cream incident, a second marketing faux-pas has already come up again as the next promotional freebie given away to visitors at the Shanghai Auto Show BMW booth is a wooden dog-shaped key hanger, giving people the option to engrave their name on it.

Many people also had an issue with this promo campaign: “So first they won’t give us ice cream, now they’re handing out dog tags with our name on it?”

Despite the controversy, many people still lined up at the BMW booth to get their freebies. The online discussions on the issue only seemed to bring more people to the car show. Turns out that bad publicity, after all, is still publicity.

Read more BMW-related articles here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes  

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Bickers, Robert A., and Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom. 1995. “Shanghai’s ‘Dogs and Chinese Not Admitted’ Sign: Legend, History and Contemporary Symbol.” The China Quarterly 142: pp. 444–66. JSTOR, Accessed 24 Apr. 2023.


Part of featured image by Mae Mu on Unsplash

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