Japan, China face war's atrocities During leader's visit, Chinese expect Japan to apologize for acts

November 23, 1998|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

HARBIN, China -- On a cold morning in the fall of 1939, Japanese soldiers prepared to tie Huang Heyuan to a wooden cross and cut his heart out.

Huang, then a 26-year-old Chinese construction worker, had been brought to a biological warfare testing center in Manchuria by Japanese soldiers who promised to help him. Instead, they injected Huang and other prisoners with bubonic plague and dissected them alive without anesthesia to study the bacteria's effects.

Huang had seen the results: iron containers filled with human hearts.

"I was terrified," Huang, now 85, recalled recently as he sat with family members in his tiny home in the northeastern industrial city of Shenyang. "It was so cold, I couldn't scream."

When the surgeon arrived, though, he recognized Huang from a nearby Japanese clinic which the Chinese laborer had helped build three years earlier. "He is my friend," the surgeon declared and told assistants to take Huang away.

"Without a word from him, I would have died," said Huang, as tears formed in eyes buried beneath folds of skin.

Huang's deliverance was a rare act of mercy during an extraordinarily savage military occupation in which Japanese soldiers slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians.

On Wednesday, President Jiang Zemin will become the first postwar Chinese leader to visit Japan. During the six-day stay, Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi is expected to issue a full apology for the atrocities committed during World War II.

The apology comes on the heels of one Obuchi made last month to Korean Prime Minister Kim Dae Jung in which the Japanese leader admitted that "colonial rule inflicted unbearable damage and pain on Korean people." Obuchi is expected to use similar wording with China.

If the Chinese people accept the apology -- the nation has viewed past expressions of remorse as half-hearted -- it could help improve relations between Asia's two most powerful nations and heal wounds that have festered for more than half a century.

The Japanese have much to account for.

During some six weeks in 1937, Japanese soldiers murdered 260,000 to 350,000 Chinese in an explosion of violence in Nanking, then the capital. The mass murder, known as the "Rape of Nanking," included decapitation contests, castration, live burial and the rape of tens of thousands of women.

In Manchuria, China's northeastern region, biological warfare units killed an estimated 3,000 Chinese, Koreans, Mongolians and Russians. Some were subjected to bombs filled with germ-laden shrapnel. Others underwent horrific medical experiments that included filling prisoners' veins with horse blood to see if it could be used as a substitute.

As the war's final days approached and Japan faced defeat, soldiers at the infamous Japanese army medical Unit 731 outside the city of Harbin unleashed countless plague-infected rats on local villages.

Jing Fuhe was a 12-year-old boy at the time and lived nearby. In one month, more than half of his extended family of 19 succumbed to the "Black Death."

Before his uncle died, his glands swelled so much that his neck disappeared. Jing's father, sister and little brother died in one day.

"I wanted to kill any Japanese I could see," said Jing, now 64 and retired from his job in an aircraft-parts factory. "And I wanted my children to remember this."

If the Japanese want forgiveness, Jing says, it will take more than words.

"They should take the initiative to apologize and compensate the people," Jing says. "Otherwise, the image of the Japanese ghost can never be erased among the Chinese."

Details of Japanese biological weapons experiments remained shrouded in mystery after the war, due in large part to the United States.

In what amounted to a cover-up, U.S. officials gave immunity from war crimes prosecution to the men who ran Unit 731 in exchange for their experimental data, which was later stored at Fort Detrick in Frederick.

"Such information could not be obtained in our own laboratories because of scruples attached to human experimentation," wrote Edwin V. Hill, chief of basic sciences at then-Camp Detrick in 1947.

Japan's planned apology comes at a time of changing fortunes for the two nations. The world's second-largest economy and Asia's dominant regional power, Japan is mired in recession and political uncertainty. After weathering foreign occupation, civil war and the tumultuous leadership of Mao Tse-tung, China has ridden spectacular economic growth in the 1990s to a role as a regional leader and rival to Japan.

By issuing a formal apology, Japan continues to acknowledge China's status as a rising world power. It also hopes to blunt Chinese criticism of its militarist past designed to keep Japan from taking on a stronger role in international affairs.

"The Japanese would like to conduct foreign policy without being second-guessed," said Akihiko Tanaka, a professor of international politics at Tokyo University.

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