Almost eight decades since Yan Guiru was gripped by terror as shells rained on her Beijing neighbourhood in the opening salvos of war between China and Japan, she recalls with horror a conflict Communist leaders still use to legitimise their rule. It was the night of July 7, 1937 when a barrage of unrelenting gun and cannon-fire erupted. Then a recently married 17-year-old, Yan lived about 100 metres (328 feet) from the Marco Polo bridge, an ancient 11-span arch in Beijing’s western suburbs mentioned in the Venetian traveller’s stories. ‘The guns started suddenly. Somebody shouted ‘The Japanese are coming!’, and then we rushed into the house, shut the door and hid under the beds,’ said Yan, now 95. ‘I was so scared. Everyone was. I don’t know how long the shelling lasted,’ she added. The skirmish — whose exact cause remains murky — served as pretext for Tokyo’s forces to seize

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