Beijing (AFP) - China commemorated victims of a historic massacre by Japanese troops in the city of Nanjing for the second time on Sunday, holding a sober official memorial that contrasted with a much grander ceremony last year.
Beijing says 300,000 people were killed during the "Rape of Nanking", a period of mass murder and rape committed after the city fell to soldiers in 1937 following Japan's invasion of China.
Hundreds of soldiers, schoolchildren and survivors gathered in the eastern city to pay their respects on the massacre's 78th anniversary, according to footage broadcast by state-run news channel CCTV, which also aired victims' testimonies.
In February 2014 the National People's Congress made the anniversary an official day of remembrance as tensions with Japan over a maritime territorial dispute and rows over history intensified.
Ten thousand people attended the December ceremony later that year, where President Xi Jinping told the crowd anyone who tried to deny the massacre would "not be allowed by history".
Xi was absent for Sunday's ceremony, which was officiated by mid-ranking party cadre Li Jianguo, vice chairman of the NPC's standing committee, who struck a more conciliatory tone.
"If we condemn the savagery of the (Japanese) invasion, it is not to perpetuate hate... but to create hand-in-hand a peaceful and brighter future," Li said.
Japan and China should "continuously push forward good-neighbourly and friendly cooperation and make a joint contribution to world peace and human progress," he added, according to the state news agency Xinhua.
As a siren rang out across the city at 10am, drivers stopped and sounded their horns during a minute's silence in a show of respect, local media reported.
Japan and communist China established diplomatic relations in 1972. But ties have been strained by a row over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea and the nationalist views of Japanese politicians, including their visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates Japan's war dead including convicted war criminals.
More recently ties have improved, but there are still regular flare-ups.
Japan has lashed out at UNESCO's decision to inscribe documents related to the Nanjing massacre in its Memory of the World register following a request from Beijing.