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Japanese War Orphans in China

Before 1988, Ran Fanjun's life was just like that of every other ordinary Chinese. In the town of Fushun in northeast China's Liaoning Province, where he was born and brought up, he was the head of a local waterworks.


Besides a successful career, he had a loving wife and son. And they lived harmoniously in a typical Chinese "three-generations-under-one-roof" family, with Ran's parents, brothers and sisters.


But everything changed suddenly one day, when he was told by the local police that he was actually a Japanese orphan adopted by his Chinese foster parents.


He learned that his own father, a Japanese soldier, died during World War II when Japan invaded China and turned northeast China into a puppet Manchuria state. In 1945, the year Ran was born, China won the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45). Ran's own mother entrusted him to the care of his foster mother before she fled back to Japan.


Japanese orphans


Ran's experience was not unique. Thousands of Japanese orphans were left behind in China at the end of World War II. While some of them were offspring of Japanese soldiers, most of them came from families that were organized by the Japanese imperialist government to migrate to northeast China.


According to incomplete statistics, more than 4,000 of the Japanese orphans were adopted by Chinese families.


According to Zhang Zhikun, deputy director of the Institute of History of the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, the foster families were scattered in almost every Chinese province while 90 percent of them gathered in the northeast provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang, and the northeastern parts of North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Many of the Japanese orphans had been adopted by the comparatively well-off families in China.


Zhang now leads a research group focusing on the issue of Japanese orphans. As part of the research results, a book titled Investigation and Research on Japanese Orphans was published by the Social Sciences Academic Press earlier in August.


"I did hesitate a little after we learned that it was a Japanese child," said Zhang Zhilan, Ran's foster mother. "I hated the Japanese army very much. They were so atrocious, killing Chinese civilians as if they were chopping a tree. But looking at the newly born infant, I made up my mind. If I was not going to raise him, he would soon die. After all, the child was innocent."


Zhang Zhilan decided that adopting a child would not cause too much extra economic burden. The 26-year-old had got married a few years earlier but had not given birth.


But for many other foster families, which already had four, five or even more children, it did aggravate the burden.


With no exception, however, the Japanese orphans were taken good care of by their foster parents. In many circumstances they received extra attention from their foster parents.


After Zhang Zhilan adopted Ran Fanjun, she gave birth to several boys and girls. Ran Fanjun's sister, Ran Fanchun, recalled: "In my memory, my mother never treated us impartially. She was very lenient to my eldest brother and, at the same time, very strict with me, my brothers and sisters. The contrast was so dramatic that sometimes I could not help wondering whether we were adopted."


And the Japanese orphans were never discriminated against because of their Japanese origin. Many Chinese parents kept the secret deeply in mind.


For Zhang Zhilan, patching up the secret was not very difficult, since she adopted Ran Fanjun right after his birth. She even kept his umbilical cord, which helped silence suspicion that he was Japanese several times.


Even when Ran Fanjun's foster father passed away in the early 1980s, the secret was not unsealed. Zhang had thought that she would keep the secret till the day that it was completely forgotten, as if it had never existed.


Difficult decision


In 1981, the Japanese and Chinese governments reached an agreement that they would work together to solve the problem of Japanese orphans in China.


All Japanese orphans who could be identified were organized to look for their original families and relatives in Japan and were allowed to return to their homeland.


But for the orphans, most of whom had never been informed of their genuine identities, it was extraordinary. They needed to get back from the shock they had just experienced quickly and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of both choices.


On the one hand, the chance of settling down in Japan was alluring. As one of the most developed countries in the world, it appeared, or at least they expected, that they would have better lives there. Plus, it would certainly provide better educations for their children.


On the other hand, returning to Japan meant a long departure from their foster parents, brothers and sisters, with whom they had lived together for nearly half a century, and from whom they probably had never thought to depart.


Between 1981 and 2000, according to Guan Yaxin, Zhang Zhikun's colleague at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, 2,121 Japanese orphans went back to Japan to look for their parents and relatives. A total of 666 of them finally found their original families. Those who failed to find their families were also allowed to settle in Japan.


Though the decision was difficult, most Japanese orphans chose to return to Japan.


According to the Japanese Ministry of Labor, 2,476 orphans 90 percent of the total had returned to Japan by August 2004.


Ran Fanjun also made the choice that most people did after meditating for two tormenting days.


The following days the family was surrounded by an atmosphere of oppression and sadness. Everything went on the track silently. Ran Fanjun went through the required procedures of returning to Japan, with his foster mother's acquiescence. But no one had the courage to talk about the matter. It was difficult to say anything.


Even today, after Ran Fanjun has been resettled in Japan for 16 years, he has still kept contact with his foster family by making phone calls. But the pain persists in his heart and the hearts of his foster families.


"My mother fell ill at least once a year after my eldest brother left. My eldest brother told me that he would feel heartache every time he thought of us," Ran Fanchun told China Daily.


She said during the past 16 years her family had never talked about the matter officially. The interview with China Daily was the first chance that she and her mother could tell the story that they had repressed deeply in their hearts.


During the interview both the mother and daughter wept several times.


Impoverished life


Sadly, in his homeland Ran Fanjun did not live the life that he once fancied. He was already 46 when he first arrived in Japan in 1989, and he could not speak Japanese at all, so it was very difficult for him to find a decent job. He ended up doing physical labor, his salary barely making both ends meet.


He is only gratified that his son, 30, now studies at a university in the United States.


According to Zhang Zhikun, most of returned Japanese orphans shared similar experiences with Ran Fanjun. Most of them lived an impoverished life, at the bottom of Japanese society with stipends from the Japanese government.


Worse, after staying in China for so many years, it was almost impossible for them to get used to Japanese society. Most of them were only several years old when they were abandoned in China, so they retained hardly any memory of Japan.


Although some psychiatrists reported that they still bore some traits unique to the Japanese people, that was only valuable to psychological study. Those traits were displayed distinctively in their daily habits but did little to help them enter the mainstream of their country of origin.


According to Zhang, many Japanese regarded the orphans as Chinese and would look down upon them.


Some Japanese orphans intended to return to China, but their hukou, or registered permanent residence, had already been cancelled.


The condition was especially bad for those who received little education in China.


Zhang Fenghuan, who was born in 1942 and was adopted at the age of 3 by a Chinese family in Fushun, is a typical example of those people.


In 1988, she got permission by the Japanese government to go to Japan to look for her relatives. But her brothers and sisters refused to admit that she was their sister. She had to stay in special camps the Japanese government set up for homeless returned orphans.


Her experience there was uneasy. Having no friends, she felt lonely. Penniless, she would steal daily necessities such as bicycles in the nearby Japanese neighborhood. Because of that, some of the returned orphans like Zhang were discriminated against by their compatriots.


"The Japanese always threw eggs at us, yelling at us: 'Go back to China,'" she said.


She decided that she could not bear such a life any more. In the winter of 1989, she returned to Fu-shun. To buy the air ticket, she said, she saved money for six months.


Now she still lives in a shabby neighborhood with her Chinese husband, who is paralyzed from the waist down because of cerebral hemorrhage, and her eldest son, who was laid off several years ago and is still unemployed.


Strictly speaking, she is an illegal Japanese settler in China, though she has been living in the city for 50 years. She joked that she is a "blind flower," a word referring to those migrant workers in cities coming from the rural regions.


Every month she receives a stipend of 30 yuan (US$3.7) from the Japanese government.


"The sum," she complained, "is negligible."


Worse, that is not the sum she would get. To qualify to receive the stipend, she paid more than 100 yuan (US$12.3) every year to go through the procedure.


"The Japanese government should think more of us," Zhang Fenghuan said.


Foster parents


Zhang Zhilan is fortunate in that, although her eldest son has left, she still has two daughters and two sons who support her both mentally and economically. But many others, whose adopted child is their only child, are not so fortunate.


The Chinese tradition is that when the parents turn old and cannot support themselves, their children should shoulder the responsibility.


However, with their only child away in Japan, many Chinese parents, most of whom are in their 70s or 80s, no longer have any close relative living near them.


Li Shuxian, 81 and suffering from uremia, lives on her own since her adopted daughter, Xu Guilan, returned to Japan in 1990. Li has gone to Japan twice to visit her daughter. Most of the time, the sea separates her from her beloved daughter and granddaughter.


She feels so lonely that sometimes she wakes up at midnight and could not fall asleep again.


Few Japanese orphans took their foster parents together with them to Japan, though the Japanese government allows them to do so in cases when Japanese orphans are the only children of their foster families.


In some extreme cases, the Japanese orphans just cut off contacts with their Chinese parents after they went back to Japan.


Last month many Chinese media reported that a Japanese orphan, Noita Shouzou, treated his foster mother, Li Xiurong, who now lives in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, like a stranger after he returned to Japan in 1994.


In the past 11 years, he never made a phone call. In 2001 Li fell ill as a result of serious cerebral hemorrhage, but the Japanese orphan and his 14-member family, whom he brought to Japan from China, never visited her.


"There are also objective reasons that discourage returned Japanese orphans from visiting their Chinese foster parents," Zhang Zhikun said.


First, since many Japanese orphans and their families do not live good lives in Japan, they would feel ashamed to come back to China.


More important, many of them, living at the lowest living standard, could not afford the travel. What's more, Japanese policies stipulate that during the period that they are not in Japan, their living stipends would be cut off.


Staying in China


More than 100 others chose to stay in China with their foster parents because they felt they love China so much that they could not be separated from it.


An example of that is Wu Yun, who was abandoned in China by her Japanese parents at the age of 7 in 1945 and was adopted by an Inner Mongolian family.


In 1981, she was reunited with her brother in Japan. But she declined his invitation to settle down there and returned to China.


Now she is the deputy head of the local People's Congress of Tongliao, a city of Inner Mongolia.


Her story was adapted into a TV drama titled The Days of Departing from Hiroshima, which was a hit on China Central Television (CCTV) in the early 1990s.


According to Zhang Zhikun, currently there are still several hundred people whose Japanese orphan identities have been admitted by the Chinese government but have not been officially certified by the Japanese government.


Since 2001, nearly 2,000 returned Japanese orphans have filed suits in many Japanese cities, charging the Japanese government with failing to repatriate them early enough and asking for compensation.


Zhang urged the Japanese government to try harder to solve the orphan problem.


He also noted that historians should carry out further study of the special group of Japanese orphans and their foster families.


During the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, the Japanese army killed 35 million Chinese.


The Chinese parents, Zhang said, showed their generosity by opening their arms to the enemy's children.


"It is historians' responsibility to record that episode of history, to let the world know the great charitable acts of the Chinese parents, to let the world know that love could go beyond hatred," he said.


Looking back on history, he said, we could see that all the cruelties were caused by war.


"There should never be war again," Ran Fanchun said.


(China Daily Sept ember 6, 2005)


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