It was a frigid afternoon with a gray haze of car exhaust clouding the distance when we arrived at 731, a museum that unearths an old Japanese germ weapon research base. I walked through the old military gate, and observed the yellow building contrast against the thin layer of snow. The wind blew right through me and my thin jacket then. I realized the weather and the museum were both frigid….I regretted not wearing enough layers.
Visiting 731 with CET program
I believe visiting a national museum is a good method in understanding a government’s values and how they simultaneously promote patriotism at the same time. This is especially visible in Chinese museums. A museum utilizes many mediums to display their content’s history and meaning: I find reading signs as the most effective way to understand the motive of the museum–what is the museum trying to make me feel? What am I supposed to think about this country (and other’s) after attending the exhibition? Specific language is chosen to describe the past events in Unit 731, and its chosen for a reason. Let’s see if I figure it out at the end of this post.
First off, this was the introduction sign before entering the museum:
“Manchu Unit 731” was a special troop set up in China under the [Japanese] imperial edict. In 1935, the unit set up the biological weapon research and test base in Pingfang and a biologicial warfare command of the Japanese Army in the Southeast Asia…In the base, which was referred to as ‘the den of cannibals’, Uniy 731 engaged in germ weapon research by conducting cruel vivisection. According to historical documentation, just between 1939 and August to 1945 alone at least 3,000 anti-Japanese and anti-Manchukuo fighters from home and abroad and innocent civilians were maimed and killed as vivisection subjects. In August 1945, Japan lost the war and surrendered. In order to cover up its heinous atrocities, Unit 731 carried out large-scale destruction and sabotage to the facilities in this area. Today 23 sites are listed as the key sites for protection to testify to the crimes.“
I highlighted the words that constructed the frame the writer of these signs wanted us to view this place and, most importantly, the Japanese. This kind of language could be found throughout the museum.
Entrance Sign–“Crime Evidence”
One motive for the creation of this museum was to emphasize the fact that the Japanese conducted research that went against international anti-biochemical warfare and research laws–what they did was wrong and it was a crime against China and humanity. This museum is evidence for this fact. This motive’s goal is to evoke anger into the museum visitors toward Japan. From what I observed, it was successful. My classmate shared with me what he overheard from a father and his son:
After leaving the museum, a father asked his son, “Do you now dislike Japan (你讨厌日本吗)?” The young boy, maybe 9 years old or so, replied, “Yes, I do. （讨厌).”
Before entering the main exhibit, one last sign sparked my interested. It read: “Forgetting about the history means betrayal.” It gave me a heebie-jeebies. That phrase was found throughout the entire museum.
A wall of Unity 731 history and its atrocities– no idea where they got this information.
Japanese Soldiers with their “Comfort Women” in front of Togo Shrine
A memorial for those who died in the base
From the memorial hall, I stepped outside to find a silent lawn in the midst of a light snowfall. I walked to the now destroyed germ weapon research building. There only stands one row of concrete with two smoke stacks. In front are the remains of what looks like was a basement.
Old Germ Warfare Research Lab Building
Beneath the remains
I walked around the remains, sinking everything that I read and watched. It’s a lot to take in. War brings out the worst in a country. However, through diplomacy we can rekindle relationships and make the world a (little) more stable once again. When I visited this museum, I felt like its display stoked the contentious fire between China and Japan, instead of treating the issue with a clear-minded judgement.
This museum reminded me of my visit to the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. and the Holocaust memorial in Miami, Florida. Both places made me aware of the atrocities that happened during WWII. I felt the same way leaving them–sad and contemplative. But, I didn’t leave either of those places disliking Germany or any other country. I didn’t grow up being told over and over again to hate a country and their government (and even their people). To me, this is unhealthy and doesn’t help the problem. The Chinese government is using this tactic to build up nationalism among its people–and they are doing it really well–but its also gradually deteriorating the potential for reestablishing a healthy relationship between the two countries. There are faults on both sides, of course, but I only see one side of this relationship.
I have met too many children and teenagers that blindly hate Japan. This just doesn’t seem right to me. Everyone has their own right to have opinions, but if these opinions were being propagated by the media and government…are those really your own opinions or is it something else entirely?