When the Imperial Japanese Army invaded Nanjing in 1937, hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and prisoners of war were slaughtered, and many of the women raped, in what was then the capital of China.
The horror is known as the Nanjing Massacre, or The Rape of Nanking.
While most foreigners fled the city before the Japanese invasion, at least 22 of them remained behind.
Some of the US missionaries who stayed not only witnessed the atrocities of the Japanese soldiers, they also risked their lives to save Chinese civilians from the brutal rampage at the hands of Japanese invaders; and they smuggled out important evidence of the massacre to show the rest of the world.
The missionaries－among whom were educators, doctors and ministers－were all determined to do what they could to help Chinese civilians.
One missionary, Father John Magee, filmed the aftermath of the atrocities, while another, George Fitch, risked his life to smuggle the films out of the city.
Doctor Robert Wilson saved countless lives as the only remaining surgeon in Nanjing, and Minnie Vautrin, a heroic teacher, is credited with single-handedly preventing hundreds of rapes.
Their stories come to life through the letters and diaries they wrote at the time.
A docudrama, Scars of Nanking, which is based on their stories, was to premiere on the History Channel on Wednesday morning in the US and be simulcast in China. The timing coincides with the 80th anniversary of the brutal massacre.
Chris Humphrey, the executive producer, said the Nanjing Massacre is one of the greatest tragedies in world history.
"It is mind-boggling in its cruelty. It's hard to comprehend how human beings can stoop to such low levels of barbarity－with levels of cruelty not even seen in the animal kingdom," he told China Daily.
Humphrey said it's a deeply important subject to keep alive because it's a reminder to all that events like this should never ever be repeated.
"We must learn from these sorrowful milestones in history in order to ensure it doesn't happen again. But more simply than that, we should always remember that love wins over hate," he said.
The docudrama is a joint production of the A+E Networks in the US and Jiangsu Broadcasting Corp, based in Nanjing, where the infamous massacre occurred.
Revealing the truth
Bu Yu, president of Jiangsu Broadcasting Corp, told China Daily that news media bear the responsibility of revealing the truth.
His team has not only done extensive research within China but has traveled to the US National Archives, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, the Divinity School Library of Yale University, Harvard-Yenching Library, the National Archives of Japan and the Japan Newspaper Museum.
The team found many witnesses' diaries, letters, memoirs and films of the massacre, and learned how some Westerners there helped refugees at the time.
The team also interviewed many historians, scholars and descendants of those witnesses to share their stories and knowledge.
Jiangsu Broadcasting also interviewed and filmed many survivors of the atrocity now living in Nanjing and across China.
From these survivors, they heard many more stories about Westerners who helped the local people. Bu said that telling the stories of these heroic Westerners is an important part of showing the truth of the carnage.
The film team found that ordinary people in the West know very little about the tragedy. Many know the Holocaust－the attempted annihilation of Jews by Nazi Germany－but not the Nanjing Massacre, in which more than 300,000 innocent Chinese were slaughtered and many women raped, Bu said.
"It shouldn't be the case that people don't know about such an important historical event," he said. "It's especially true when right-wing Japanese still try to cover up the truth and confuse the public."
Bu said the docudrama also shows that the Chinese are a grateful people.
"People in Nanjing and all Chinese people will never forget Robert Wilson, Minnie Vautrin, John Magee, George Fitch, John Rabe, Miner Bates, Bernhard Sindberg and other international friends," Bu said, citing the names of some of witnesses of massacre.
"We hope such humanitarian spirit and actions in pursuit of peace and justice will be carried forward in the world," he added.
Humphrey, the executive producer, believes that few Americans know much of anything about China's history.
"After watching Scars of Nanking I hope they will realize that this superpower from Asia also endured immense suffering at the hands of the Japanese during World War II," he said.
He said he hopes people in the United States will also realize that US citizens have been living and working in China for centuries.
"I think they will be genuinely surprised by the massive cultural bond that the Nanjing Massacre brings between Americans and Chinese to this day," he said.
"The fact that 80 years later the Chinese still give thanks and pay respect to those Americans who stayed behind in Nanjing is a testament to how important it is to them," Humphrey said.
(Source: China Daily)