Queen Margrethe II revealed the three-meter (10-foot) bronze statue of Bernhard Arp Sindberg at a park in Aarhus, the city where he was born in 1911. Designed by Chinese and Danish artists, the statue was a gift from the city of Nanjing, which was the capital at the time of the massacre in December 1937 and January 1938.
Chinese authorities say Sindberg's actions saved up to 20,000 people - Danish historians give an estimate of 6,000-10,000 - during the six-week rampage by Japanese forces. About 300,000 Chinese civilians and soldiers are estimated to have been killed during the massacre.
"In Nanjing, everyone knows Sindberg. China is a very large country, so of course there are Chinese who do not know Sindberg but most do," Professor Yinquan Wang, part of a 40-strong Chinese delegation that attended Saturday's unveiling, told Danish newspaper Aarhus Stiftstidende.
Sindberg, an adventurer who served with the French Foreign Legion in the early 1930s, ended up in China as a stowaway on a Danish merchant vessel. He got a job in Nanjing working as a security guard for a Danish cement company days before the Japanese invasion.
One of the few foreigners in the city, he turned the factory into a makeshift refugee camp, hospital and shelter for Chinese people during the Second Sino-Japanese War which lasted from July 1937 until Sept. 1945.
To keep the Japanese troops away from the site, Sindberg flew a Danish flag outside to deter soldiers since Japan considered Denmark a friend. Pressured by Japanese authorities, Sindberg returned to Shanghai and left China in early 1938. He later moved to the United States, where he served as a captain with the U.S. Merchant Marine and died in California in 1983.
"It's clear that Bernhard Arp Sindberg has been of great importance to Nanjing and all of China. He is a reminder that a single person can make a difference," Margrethe said at the unveiling ceremony.