Monument for Japanese settlers in China sparks debate

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A Chinese county's move to erect a monument for Japanese settlers who died in northeast China during World War II has triggered debate over the local government's intentions.

The news has been forwarded 90,000 times and attracted 21,000 comments on Sina's microblog Weibo. Most of the posts were against the move by Fangzheng County in Heilongjiang Province.

According Hong Zhenguo, vice head of the Fangzheng county, the county, about two hours drive from the provincial capital Harbin, has invested 500,000 yuan (about 76,923 U.S. dollars) to set up two monuments.

"One is for the Japanese settlers and the other is for the Chinese who adopted Japanese children," he confirmed on Sunday, adding that both projects had been approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Weibo user nicknamed "deep blue sea" questioned if the move was aimed to attract Japanese investment to the county.

"What's the difference between inviting investment in this way and begging? Do we need to forget history and compromise dignity so as to get several bucks from the invaders?" the user wrote.

Another identified as "twisted fried dough" said, "we should face up to history, rather than licking the shoes of the Japanese for so-called 'friendship.'"

"Did they erect a monument for the nameless heroes who died in the war?" the user asked.

The term "Japanese settlers" is applied to those Japanese who came to northeast China after 1905.

According to Wang Xiliang, a research fellow with the Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, the Japanese had drafted a plan to migrate 5 million people to China over 20 years.

"Most of the immigrants were poor farmers," he said. "They robbed and acquired land forcefully."

After Japan surrendered in 1945, many of the settlers tried to return to their country. By then, about 1 million Japanese had immigrated to China.

"At that time there were about 15,000 Japanese settlers in Fangzheng County," said Wang Weixin, director of the foreign affairs office of Fangzheng county government.

Due to the long journey (back to Japan) and spread of epidemics, more than 5,000 Japanese settlers died in the county," Wang said.

"Their remains were collected by local people and buried," he said.

In 1963, a cemetery, approved by the late premier Zhou Enlai, was established in the county for the Japanese settlers.

Another 4,500 Japanese children and women were left in Fangzheng County. The local people looked after them, Wang added.

Hong Zhenguo, the vice county head, dismissed the suggestion that the move was economic based.

"Japanese people come to sweep the tombs of their relatives every year," he said.

"By erecting the monument, we want to help the Japanese visitors find their adopted parents' names," he said. "On the other hand, we hope that both Japanese and Chinese youths can understand the history better."

Wang Weixin noted that the Japanese settlers were not Japanese soldiers.

"They were invaders, but they were also victims of Japanese militarism," he said.

Hong said their original intention was to reflect on the past and wish for peace, and the monuments also showed the tolerance of the Chinese people.

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