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Japanese Wartime Aggressors 'Savage and Cruel' – Why and How

By Jin Xide

It was reported that at the Sino-Japanese foreign ministerial conference held on May 7, the Japanese foreign minister Yoriko Kawaguchi criticized Chinese textbooks for describing Japanese army in China as "savage and cruel".

By saying so, Kawaguchi was turning a blind eye to Japan's official adoption of a new edition of history textbooks that denies history and glorifies Japan's wartime aggression.

As far as the Chinese textbooks are concerned, they actually record far fewer atrocities than were in reality committed by the Japanese army. China included points on Japan's wartime aggression for three reasons. First, the aggression amounts to one of the most important events in Chinese history. Second, China aims to prevent a repeat of those events. Third, it is an attempt to counteract a distortion of history by Japanese rightist forces.

Unlike Germany, which attaches stigma to its Nazi past, rightist political forces in Japan sympathize with Japan's defeat at the end of the Second World War.

From the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, Japan was responsible for heinous wartime crimes against China. After the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), Japan seized China's territory Taiwan. The Treaty of Shimonoseki of 1895, seen as a treaty containing unfair terms, forced China to pay Japan a war indemnity valued at 230 million Kuping taels – an amount 4.5 times that of Japan's revenue at the time.

After the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, Japan occupied China's territory Lüshunkou and Dalian. In 1931, Japan invaded and occupied northeast China, or Manchuria as it was then known. From 1937 onwards, their military campaign took them to North, East and South China. About 35 million Chinese lives were lost, and the country suffered economic losses totaling some US$600 billion as a result of Japan's war campaign.

The following are only a few examples of Japan's wartime crimes committed during that time.

I. Massacres

The Lüshunkou (Port Arthur) Massacre
On November 21, 1894, the Japanese army seized Lüshunkou. Under First Division Commander Motoharu Yamaji, the Japanese went on a four-day killing spree, annihilating more than 20,000 Chinese civilians.

The Jinan Incident
From May 3 to 11, 1928, the Japanese army carried out the unbridled slaughter of Chinese diplomatic officials and civilians. Statistics from the Jinan branch of the World Red Cross showed that 6,123 people were killed and 1,700 injured. Economic losses amounted to 29.57 million yuan.

The Pingdingshan Massacre
On September 16, 1932, Japanese troops avenged their comrades' deaths at the hands of anti-Japanese militia and killed over 3,000 villagers in the village of Pingdingshan near the Fushun coalmine.

The Nanjing Massacre
On December 13, 1937, the Japanese army seized Nanjing. Under its theater commander Iwane Matsui and commander of the 6th division Tani Hisao, the Japanese army saw to the mass slaughter of Chinese civilians and disarmed soldiers over a six week period, killing over 300,000.

II. The Policy of Extermination

The Japanese army abided by their infamous extermination policy of "burn all, kill all, loot all" throughout their military campaign. Under this policy, they conducted the most unspeakable atrocities in human history. In May 1942 in Hebei Province, the Japanese gassed to death villagers and militia hiding in tunnels, killing over 1,000.

III. Germ Warfare

After the attack on Manchuria on September 18, 1931, Japanese army medical officer Shiro Ishii took the leading role in building up a germ warfare unit. In 1932, Ishii and his men built the Zhongma fortress – a prison fortress for biological warfare experimentation on the outskirts of Harbin. In 1935, the team was moved to Pingfang town and renamed Unit 731.

Unit 731 was the largest germ warfare unit in China. In 12 short years, Unit 731 conducted research on diseases including the bubonic plague, dysentery, cholera, typhoid, and tuberculosis. Experiments were carried out on more than 5,000 prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians. 

The Japanese set up large-scale germ warfare bases and facilities in China's Harbin, Changchun, Beijing, Nanjing and Guangzhou, as well as in Singapore and Malaysia. In all, branches were set up in 63 of China's larger cities.

In April 1939, Japan formed the germ warfare unit, Unit 1644, in Nanjing with Ishii as its head.

In October 1939, Unit 1855 was organized under the leadership of Colonel Nishimura.

From 1931 to 1945, the Japanese invaders launched at least 36 germ warfare attacks on over 20 Chinese provinces. Statistics show that 270,000 people were exterminated in this manner.

IV. Chemical Weapons

As early as 1927, Japan set up a chemical weapons factory in Okunojima to research and develop gas bombs and chemical-based ammunition. In 1933, Japan set up the chemical warfare military office and organized the chemical warfare unit, Unit 516, as well as a school to train soldiers in the art of chemical warfare.

The use of chemical warfare against China lasted eight years from 1937 to 1945 and covered 18 provinces. Chinese records show that there were 2,000 battles in which chemical weapons were employed killing over 80,000 Chinese army personnel. However, Japanese records seem to reveal a much higher number of such battles.

In July 1938, when attacking Quwo, Shanxi, the Japanese army used nearly 1,000 gas cylinders to suffuse the Chinese army with poisonous smog. During the Battle of Wuhan, the Japanese army used chemical weapons 375 times and detonated 48,000 gas bombs. In March 1939, Japan attacked the Kuomintang army stationed in Nanchang with chemical toxicants, poisoning officers and soldiers in two barracks. From August to December 1940, Japan launched 11 chemical weapons attacks along the North China Railway, poisoning over 10,000 Chinese officers and soldiers. In August 1941, when besieging the Shanxi, Chahaer and Hebei anti-Japanese bases, Japan killed over 5,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians with their chemical weapons. On October 8, 1941, Japan poisoned over 1,600 Chinese army personnel (killing over 600) with mustard gas in Yichang, Hubei. In May 1942, Japan engineered the "Beitan Village Massacre", killing over 800 cadres and commoners who hid in tunnels.

V. Comfort Women

During its campaign of aggression against its Asian neighbors, Japanese invaders set up the so-called "Comfort Women Office". They forced or deceived tens of thousands of women from Asia and other countries into serving as "comfort women" in the Japanese army. Scores of women were raped as a result.

VI. Bombing of Chongqing

From February 18, 1938 to August 23, 1943, the Japanese air force conducted a bomb blitz over Chongqing. Incomplete statistics show that Japan dropped some 21,593 bombs during this time, killing 11,889 Chongqing citizens and injuring 14,100, and destroying 17,608 homes. The bomb blitz gave rise to events that will be remembered as "the May 3 and 4 Bombing" of 1939, the "August 9 Bombing" of 1940, and the "June 5 Tunnel Massacre" of 1941.

(The author is a professor with the Institute of Japanese Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)

(China.org.cn translated by Yuan Fang and Wind Gu July 28, 2005)

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