In November 1951, Wen Jiuda, an assistant at the Shenyang-based China Medical University, was informed by the university that he would be transferred to a "special place" to begin a new job.
The special place, it turned out later, was the War Criminals' Management Center in Fushun, northeast China's Liaoning Province. His new job was to provide medical services to the Japanese prisoners of war locked up there.
It was an era when obeying the orders of authorities was regarded as one of the most important virtues, and Wen did so, though unwillingly.
After the end of World War II, many Japanese units captured by Soviet troops were locked up in the prison of war camp in Khabarovsk, located in the far eastern region of the former Soviet Union. In 1950, China and the Soviet Union agreed that some of the Japanese accused war criminals should be extradited to China.
These criminals, irrespective of rank, were all accused of committing serious crimes in violation of international law and humanitarian principles. The highest level Japanese official amongst them was Takebe Robuzo, who served as the general affairs department of the state council of the puppet Manchuria (Northeast China) in 1940-45.
The place chosen to imprison the Japanese, ironically, was built by the Japanese themselves when they ran Manchuria as a puppet state in the 1930s. Omura Shinobu, a former warden of the prison, himself became one of the accused.
It was then that Wen and some of the country's best medical staff six physicians, one surgeon, one dentist, three apothecaries and 11 nurses were summoned to Fushun, about an hour's drive away from Shenyang, the provincial capital.
During the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45), some of Wen's relatives and close friends were affected, which added to his hatred of the "Japanese Devils."
Like Wen, all the other medical workers and the employees of the management centre, were reluctant to begin their new jobs.
Wang Xing, also a warden, had a more sufficient reason to hate the Japanese. All seven other members of his family were slaughtered during the war. But his superior ordered him not to beat or abuse the Japanese. He was even required to speak kindly to them.
"We had to bury such hatred deeply in our minds because the policy of the management centre was treating the Japanese war criminals in a humanitarian way, and restoring their human nature through education," Wen recalled.
At the beginning, most people could not understand the policy. Some acted wilfully, like children, to express their indignation. The chef added sand into their rice, and the barbers intentionally made ugly haircuts. These acts were soon strictly forbidden.
"We were told to hate the crime but not the person," Wen said. "It was militarism that should take the blame. The war criminals should still be respected."
Sticking to that principle, the Chinese treated war criminals in a humanitarian way, or even better. Sometimes they were treated like guests.
The alleged criminals' recipe included eggs and meat, which were scarce in China at that time.
While the Chinese custodians could only eat coarse grains, the Japanese were served finely grained wheat flour and rice. Because of that, according to Zhao Yuying, then a nurse at the management centre, some of the Japanese even suffered from a lack of vitamin B contained in grain husks. To tackle that problem, the chefs baked bread with mixed flour.
The management centre also organized various cultural activities. The criminals were encouraged to sing, to dance, and to act in dramas. They were also allowed to play games including go and mahjong.
They were also encouraged to attend sports activities. A sports meet was held every month.
On holidays, the management centre also organized field trips to machine plants, parks and universities, Wen said.
The prisoners also enjoyed freedom to a large extent. They were allowed to go out for exercise for 30 minutes in the morning and evening.
Wen, later promoted to be head of the management center’s clinic, together with his colleagues, conducted thorough medical examinations of the nearly 1,000 accused war criminals and established medical records on them.
Every time a criminal fell ill, he would get timely treatment. For those serious illnesses that the prison clinic could not treat, the patients would be immediately sent to big hospitals in Shenyang, Wen said.
The attitudes of the accused Japanese war criminals were gradually changing. Tominaga Shozo, a former detainee, recorded the changes in his memoir.
Before their arrival in Fushun, rumors had been spreading that the Chinese, to whom they were alleged to have done so many unpardonable atrocities, would kill them all.
Even after they settled down in the management centre, the fear of death still lingered.
"The treatment we received was so polite that it almost seemed as if they were scared of us," Shozo wrote. "Maybe they were going to treat us gently, then kill us suddenly."
He later found that was not the case.
"They ignored our defiant attitude like willows before the wind. They never shouted at us or kicked us. When someone fell ill, they came to take care of him, even in the middle of the night We began to realize that human beings should be treated this way and began to reflect on our treatment of Chinese during the war," he wrote.
The Chinese custodians also sensed the change clearly.
"At first they were very arrogant," Wen recalled. "In response, I was on high alert against them. Every time I saw a patient, in the event he made a surprise attack on me, I always adopted a pose that could easily deliver a counterpunch.
"Gradually they developed respect for us. Every time we met, they would bow down."
Most importantly, the Japanese began to admit the crimes they had committed and feel remorse over them.
The hardened minds of the Japanese warriors, who at first claimed that they came to China to "maintain public order" and were acting "upon the order of the Mikado," gradually melted. The process, Wen said, was like a miracle.
Tai Hisajiro had been infected with syphilis before he was jailed. The management centre authority decided to treat him "no matter how much money it would cost."
After Hisajiro was cured, he was deeply moved. He wept, Wen said, saying that he was sorry to have committed so many atrocities against the Chinese.
Wen said most of the war prisoners, from generals to soldiers, changed their attitudes after a few years.
In June 1956, the special military tribunal of the Supreme People's Court began trials of the war prisoners.
Forty-five of them were indicted. The others were exempted from being sued and released. For those who were sentenced, the most serious punishment was 20 years' imprisonment.
"There was enough evidence for conviction, but the Japanese prisoners had already shown clear signs of repentance and had admitted their guilt," Wen said.
After they returned to Japan, many of the former war criminals formed an organization called the China Returnees' Association in 1956.
The association's members told the public about the atrocities they had done in China so that their actions would not be forgotten.
They also tried efforts to promote friendship between China and Japan.
Kumagai Kiyoshi, a member of the China Returnees' Association, created many oil paintings featuring his life in Fushun. The paintings were donated to the management centre in 1987 after an exhibition tour across Japan.
The association was disbanded in 2002 because most of its members had passed away and those who were still alive were at a senile age.
On the same day the China Returnees' Association was disbanded, a new organization called the Fushun's Miracles Inheritance Association was established in Tokyo, whose major goal is to keep the memories of the war alive so that the history would never be repeated. The organization now has more than 400 members, most of whom are young people.
Wen Jiuda said he came to understand that the policies the management centre adopted had great foresight.
"They had far-reaching influence even today," he said. "We aroused the humanity in those Japanese veterans, and now they are on our side."
(China Daily August 25, 2005)