Germ Warfare and Panda Diplomacy in Tokyo: Unit 731 Excavations

This is a cross-post from my Japanese War Crimes blog. — AC

Unit 731, the bacteriological warfare research wing of the Kanto Army in Manchuria, has been discussed in Japan with varying degrees of postwar intensity, but this discovery in Tokyo last week (via the Guardian) seems poised to bring the activities — and the difficult subject of history in Sino-Japanese relations — back out into the open.

Some good reads on the topic include this article by Mainichi Shimbun, this analysis from a Taiwan website I plan to revisit more frequently, and, most interestingly, a first-hand account from the hard-hitting culture blog, Tokyo Damage Report, about a walking tour in Tokyo that includes Unit 731 commemoration (with photographs).

Xinhua is currently downplaying this potentially usefully inflamatory story, probably in order to focus on the happy happy China China trope of two Pandas making their way from Chengdu to Tokyo.  As one Japanese commenter pointed out to me, the CCP is not just downplaying the Unit 731 story while trying to temporarily mend fences with Tokyo, it is because there is no need to create yet another reason for people to be out waving banners in the street.

Meanwhile, Chinese microbloggers seem to be more focused on the fact that Japanese adult film star Sara Aoi recently opened a Weibo account, quickly garnering one million slavering Chinese fans.  Such is the state of the communications environment in which the Unit 731 revelations find their way into public.

But if you’re looking for more serious fare, Frederick Dickenson in Japan Focus describes the evolution of Unit 731 investigations and awareness in Japan.

In the print world of peer-reviewed journals, see:

Adam Cathcart, “’Against Invisible Enemies’: Japanese Bacteriological Weapons in China’s Cold War, 1949-1952,” Chinese Historical Review Vol. 16, No. 1 (Spring 2009): 101-129.

Adam Cathcart and Patricia Nash, “’To Serve Revenge for the Dead’: Chinese Communist Reflections of the War of Resistance in the PRC Foreign Ministry Archive, 1949-1956,”  China Quarterly No. 200 (December 2009).

Stories to Follow

I recommend you watch how these stories develop, since most of them have yet to be really reported in the Anglophone press:

1. Legacies of Japanese imperialism in Manchuria

Memorial to Japanese Bacteriological Weapons research atrocities in Anda/安达; courtesy Huanqiu Shibao

Chinese government organizations and affiliated NGOs are engaged in a struggle to get the old Unit 731 facility (the commemorative site for Japanese biological weapons research and atrocities outside of northeastern city of Harbin) listed as a World Heritage Site.   This story seems to be making waves on the Chinese internet, but few Western journalists have been covering it (perhaps none recently).

2. A regime-sponsored uptick in Kim Il Song nostalgia in North Korea

I would have reported this in Seoul, but the source — KCNA, the official North Korean news agency — is illegal to read in South Korea.  In any case, the Workers’ Party pulled out all the stops for the 16th death anniversary of Kim Il Song, reminding everyone not just of his works but his promises to deliver material prosperity for his people.  It would seem that the government is setting rather high expectations for itself in the presumptive leadup to the crowning of an official successor in 2012, if Kim Jong Il makes it that long.  (For links, check out my Twitter feed for today.)

3. Sino-North Korean cooperation in Yunnan?

Reporting (originating from Daily NK) that North Korean agents are active in the Chinese province of Yunnan, with tacit Chinese assistance, to hunt down would-be refugees who have made it that far from the northeast.  [The same story is here in Chinese, here in the original Korean, with a hat tip to Chris Green, the man in Seoul who makes the English versions possible in the first place.]  One indication if this story is true or not might come in the form of Chinese media refutations, which I have yet to see.  This is a significant question, as at least some American rollback/regime change bloggers in the US tend to assume that Chinese security organizations and North Korean counterparts are like peas in a pod.  Which may be the case, or, as I think is more likely, China is temporarily allowing North Korea to do this as a back-door means of giving them something privately while bashing them over the head publicly, as per the next item.

4. Revising the record on Korean War origins

The June issue of History Reference in Beijing contained at least two long articles which contained the promise of a continually transforming Chinese narrative of the origins of the Korean War. The key sentence in what appears to be the lead article is “北朝鲜的数千门炮火轰鸣, 朝鲜战争爆发 // thousands of North Korean cannons roared, and the Korean War broke out”, but it goes on to describe Stalin’s desire to occupy Japan, the U.S. letdown of South Korean security/hardware needs in 1949, and Mao’s discussions with Kim Il in 1950.  The appearance of the dissenting general Lin Biao in the Korean War debate adds an additional note of intrigue. (Lin has been slowly crawling back into a host of new publications in Beijing, indicating “the center” deems it possible to reevaluate him at least in part.)

5. Back to the Future: North Korean misbehavior on the high seas

These 1174 pages of newly declassified testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations committee in 1968 are wicked interesting: Dean rusk shows up to talk about US options toward North Korea in the wake of the Pueblo disaster in 1968, and without a doubt the documents are being scoured as we speak by clever North Korean translators looking for more propaganda grist, which of course they’ll probably find.

6. Deteriorating army-civilian relations in North Korea

This is an important trope to keep an eye on.  Why else would KCNA engage in otherwise ridiculous attempts to ameliorate bad perceptions, well, like this:

Story of Kim Il Sung

Pyongyang, July 12 (KCNA) — One day in October Juche 39 (1950) [ed.: while he was just taking some spare time off from weaving through burned-out cities, moving from bunker to bunker, and being targeted with napalm raids and super-bombs named "Tarzan,"], President Kim Il Sung had his car stopped near a cabbage field on his way to Changsong County, North Phyongan Province, seeing soldiers engaged in cabbage harvest. He summoned their officer and asked why they were harvesting cabbages cultivated by peasants.

The officer explained the following reason to him:

The officer went to the ri people’s committee to buy some vegetables but the committee officials refused to take money and offered all of a cabbage field to the soldiers free of charge, saying they had nothing to spare for them fighting a war. The officer persisted in paying for the cabbages but to no effect.

Listening to the reason, the President told the officer to correctly count the cabbages and fairly pay to the owner.In the evening, the officer visited the owner of the cabbage field and paid more than the price of the cabbages.

If you’re using the horrible year of Juche 39 [1950, the coming of the holocaust from the sky] to drive home the groundwork for regime legitimacy, I think you’re in a bit of trouble.  But they’re just doing what they can at KCNA; certainly some poor bureaucrat has received a directive to put out more items about how to resolve contradictions between peasants and hungry soldiers.  It reminds me most of Guomindang/Chinese Nationalist Party propaganda from 1948-49…

7. Yours truly

The week I spent in Seoul and Kwangju left me staggering under the joyful burden of new data/experiences/perceptions and am consequently working up, among other things, a short essay for this blog on the legacies of the Kwangju Uprising of 1980 and their meaning in China.  However, I recently arrived in Taipei and will be working here for the next week on a project on Sino-Japanese relations and the rhetorical function of anti-Japanese sentiment during the Chinese Civil War and the early Korean War in China.

Further, I managed to at least update my biography/the “about” page of this blog with some photos and new publication information and anticipate having some news in the near future involving some exciting changes going on behind the scenes here at Sinologistical Violoncellist and, if I may coin a phrase, other Cathcartian areas of the internet.

BW Use in the Korean War: Questioning the Record

Although Russian documents have allegedly put this controversy to rest, scholars and governments continue to probe at the question of communist allegations of American bacteriological weapons use in the Korean War.  Both North Korea and the PRC continue to maintain in their textbooks and war museums that the U.S. used bacteriological weapons (themselves originally developed by Japanese Unit 731 in Harbin in the 1930s) over Manchuria and North Korea in January and February 1952.  According to Jeff Rud, a student of mine who has done a fair amount of research on the question, the papers of the investigating organization, the International League of Democratic Lawyers, have yet to be examined on this topic in Brussels.

And thus it is very interesting to open up the website of the French-North Korean Friendship Association to find this extensive article on the BW issue and a new Al Jeezeera documentary on the same topic.  Two of the sources which I have yet to interrogate, but which look quite promising, are Patrick Berche’s L’Histoire secrète des guerres biologiques : mensonges et crimes d’Etat (Paris: Robert Laffont, 2009) and the work by the leonine Japanese scholar, Mori Matasaka, who figures prominently in the film.  As with so many things which cross one’s path on the internet, we can evaluate this one together; in other words, the content of the film below isn’t necessarily wholly endorsed by the blog author.

Unit 731: Korean Victims and World Heritage

As anyone who has read Sheldon Harris’ essential book Factories of Death can tell you, the actions of the Japanese Kwantung Army’s “Water Purification Unit” 731 based outside of Harbin were ghastly and inhumane in the extreme.  And although Unit 731′s mastermind, that European traveller and student of WWI, Ishii Shiro, tried to have the whole immense facility razed before the Soviet Red Army arrived in August 1945, parts of the site remain intact.

As I reported earlier on this site, the Chinese government is trying to have the old Japanese bacteriological warfare research facility outside of Harbin listed as an UNESCO world heritage site.  The Choson Ilbo reports on the progress here.  Thus, I find it interesting that these local efforts to have anti-Japanese sites enshrined and validated by international organizations — much like films about the Nanking massacre screened in the West serve a similar purpose — work so slightly at cross-purposes with the CCP’s ongoing efforts to dampen resentment toward Japan and move tentatively toward a kind of reconciliation.  Unless, of course, this last move is geared toward securing a visit by P.M. Hatoyama to Harbin, which I think is not in the cards.  (Recall what happened to Ito Hirobumi at the Harbin train station in 1909…)  In other words, the local memories overtake the grand national narrative.

Anti-Japanese sentiment is very different in Harbin (where plague outbreaks are still possible) than it is in Shenyang (which was better developed by Japan) than it is in North Hamgyong than it is Nanjing.

In some ways, the following story from Chosun Ilbo, describing how 318 names of Unit 731 victims were recently found in the Jilin archives, points to the transnational nature of remembering Japanese atrocities in the 1930s and 40s:

Jin Chengmin, an expert on Unit 731 from the Harbin Academy of Social Sciences, discovered…details in Japanese military documents kept at Central Archives and the archives of Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces, Chinese media reported Tuesday, [including the names of 318 victims of whom four were Koreans].

The four Koreans were Lee Gi-su, 28, from Shinheung, North Hamgyeong Province, Han Seong-jin, 30, from Gyeongseong, North Hamgyeong Province, Kim Seong-seo from Gilju, North Hamgyeong Province and Ko Chang-nyul, 42, from Hoeyang, Gangwon Province. When and where they were arrested was also noted. Chinese media published a photo of Lee Gi-su alongside the original instructions by a Japanese military policeman.

The Heilongjiang Province news site Northeast.cn said the documents Jin obtained, dispatched with the signature of the commander of military police with Japan’s Kwantung Army, were marked “special transfer” and “top secret.” Jin said “special transfer” was code for the use of human subjects in germ warfare experiments.

In total 1,463 individuals were sent to Unit 731 by Kwantung Army military police, mostly Chinese, Korean, Soviet and Mongolian underground agents, soldiers with the Chinese Communist Eighth Route Army or anti-Japanese fighters. Northeast.cn said after Kwantung Army MPs arrested them, they were categorized as “highly anti-Japanese individuals,” “likely repeat offenders” and “useless individuals” and deported to Unit 731 as subjects for experiments. Jin said Unit 731′s human experiments were based on Special Transfer Order No. 58 of Jan. 26, 1938 by Kwantung Army Command and was the Japanese military’s most closely guarded secret.

From a scholarly standpoint, it is going to be interesting to watch how war memories of Unit 731 are parsed out hereafter.  Do we see emerging a kind of common victimhood, or a discrete form of remembering which rests exclusively upon the old bones of the nation-state?  Or, to put it more bluntly, do Chinese netizens call this some kind of a plot by South Korea to co-opt China’s unique victim status in Manchuria?  As ever, the Koreans in Manchuria, ubiquitous flotsam of empire, remain a steady variable in the of contested memories of the wartime era.

Lee Gi-su, victim of Unit 731 experiements -- photo courtesy Jin Chengmin, via Chosun Ilbo

Stories

Everybody loves stories, facts mixed in with dangerous interpretive tinctures.  But today is a day of no comment, of comet-less commas, of post-somatic traumas which embalm us with twisted tatoos of Sarah Palin’s soft-from-unemployment-yet-ready-for-stigmata palms.

What a wicked few days its been among the commentariat — probably the only thing really worth reading stems from Alabama, and the mind of one Qiang Zhai.  Nothing has been more central to me of late than this idea == that of continuity of U.S.-China relations stemming primarily from the 1950s.  The notion of “peaceful evolution” into a dissolved revolution seems contemporary, and I’ll be damned if the idea of “sugar coated bullets” has  not found its way back into the Chinese press with regard to the Western-style internet.

If Hillary Clinton had spent five years in graduate school understanding Chairman Mao instead of trying to figure out the Arkansas education system or how to practice law, we might be only slightly better off for it.  But our Secretary of State has of late become irate with Persian lock-step, and now her denizens seek to storm over metaphorical Embassy walls and clamber up Iranian flagpoles, teeth bristling with matchsticks to be struck against brick.  Blood rolls in the mouths of rollback berzerkers, sensing that the “three red flags” behind party walls in Beijing are next, necessitating wild alliances between Washingon and Epoch Times.  And although no shout-outs have been issued, you’ve got to be certain that China noticed an uptick in SecState budgetary discretion, that American manifest destiny to transform the world was only in abeyance in the ’08 campaign, that “strategic communications” to encourage democracy (in other hemispheres, that is) have seen growth…

Thus to blast-off with stories would ruin the emporiums of wisdom accepted which I’ve taken by default, the John Galt of whosits and whatsthats deafened by chants of “Who Dat?” as if somehow vocal cords could rebuild a seawall and make China democratic.

Wo ist Tan Zuoren?” indeed.

Therefore suggest a White House trifecta of Golden Robes: Obama, and Merkel, and the Dalai Lama all sniffing for the cloven feet of the wrongful chosen one, smashing down a coup de poing on the dark maple desk and toppling decorative plates to suggest that false Lamas in Lhasa will tumble out once Tibet’s borders are decided upon.  Raking up oil spills named after ex-secretaries, something gets recorded, reordered, a not-so-nimble resurgence of orderliness amid the scrum for a ticket to the future.

Thus endeth the prelude, and with no comment I offer these works rendered by scribes lesser than Hemingway’s war reportage, but more nimble than Xinhua’s sticks swizzling lugubrious in RMB and tar sands:

1. Tiger populations are falling in Northeast China.

2. China opposes the decision of the Swiss government to accept two Uighur detainees from the American military prison on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

3. Having been badly burned by Chinese anger over visits by the Dalai Lama to Paris, the French press is watching Sino-US relations intently in the light of the upcoming visit of the Dalai Lama to the White House.

4. The city government in Harbin appears to be leading a push to get Unit 731′s research facility at Pingfang listed on the UN World Heritage site list.  Strangely, the Chinese headline for this story sources it to the Chosun Ilbo in Seoul rather than Xinhua, perhaps because an explicit parallel is drawn between Pingfang and Hiroshima’s dome (the latter was listed as a UN World Heritage site in 1996, apparently.)  What is going on here?

Unit 731 Museum in Pingfang, suburban Harbin -- this facility represents just a fraction of the immense former compound for Japanese biological weapons research -- via Huanqiu

5. Yanbian News has put out a truly excellent article on beggars of all varieties in Yanji city.  Some refuse help from social agencies, making up to 5000 yuan per month.  But others, as the paper reports, are 11-year old boys trafficked to Yanji.  I haven’t the time to do a detailed translation of this piece, but it is one of the best articles I have seen on a segment of Chinese society that, absent recollections of its prevalence during the Guomindang period, has been reported upon less that it deserves:

Another day in Yanji city; photo by Xu Dongxu/徐东旭

6. For no apparent reason, Huanqiu is posting photo galleries of Soviet-era fashion models and a ton of scans from Life magazine relating to American combat losses in the winter campaign through Belgium, 1944.

7.  Regarding the Chinese internet, 27 websites are now allowed in Xinjiang, and a court in the south just sentenced one pornographic website-creator to 13 years in prison.

8. Finally, if you’re looking for a metaphor to capture Sino-American relations at the moment, look no further than the Washington, D.C. zoo, where Tai Shan, a giant panda, is being returned to Sichuan:

Tai Shan has a 14 hour flight ahead, and, according to the article, 75 kg of bamboo as airplane food -- courtesty Aujourd'hui en Chine