Posts Tagged With: History

Exploring Harbin: 731 Museum and Understanding Japan and China’s Relationship

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?

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Weekend Excursion: Yagou Ravine

This weekend, CET organized a trip to Yagou Ravine, a park an hour away from the city. We took a bus from Harbin and made a stop at what looked like a quarry. We walked along a sandy path that passed people cutting into the rocky hills with large machinery, jumped over a ditch by a deserted house, and hiked up a path to a hidden pavilion. In this isolated spot was a etching in a side of a rock wall dating back to the Jin Era (1115-1234 A.D). This era was constructed by the Nuzhen people, who are now referred as the Machurian minority. The stone had two etchings: 1) one of a women sitting, and 2) a man striking downward with a sword..

Rock Etching of a Man Striking the Ground with a Short Sword

After observing the ancient artwork, we walked back to the bus to begin our 3-4 hour hike. We were dropped off at the beginning of the trail, that was lined with a large lake. The scenery was covered with mist–or pollution, I couldn’t tell.

Island of Bare Trees

The trail curved into a forested area. We crossed over an icy part of the lake by bridge and entered a historical site. We were in a section of the pine forest that was dotted with old Japanese bunkers from one of the 20th century wars. I inspected one of them and found its floor covered with trash.

Looking into one of the Bunkers

We continued on our hike. The smell of pine was refreshing. We climbed up one of the hills and looked out to scenery of rolling tree-covered hills and plains of yellow grass. In the distance was a tower which was our last rest stop. We hiked for another hour…talking, singing, whistling, enjoying nature, telling stories and then finally arrived at the fire watch tower.

Final Rest Stop

The tower was frail and old. It drifted back and forth with the wind. Because of its lack of integrity, only three people were allowed to go up at a time. I joined two guys and climbed up to the top. While I was climbing up the stairs, the Chinese roommate among the two, kept on worrying about my safety–telling me to slow down, to be careful, make sure that I’m not scared. It got on my nerves, since he wasn’t worrying about my male classmate and assumed, since I’m a girl, I must be easily frightened. I understood that his concerns were well-intentioned, but the feminist in me began to swell.

I let his concerns slide and reassured him that I was perfectly fine, and that I was not afraid of heights. He was surprised. At the top, the scenery was spectacular.

Red, Greens, and Yellows

The two guys were getting ready to head back down, while I was still taking pictures. The Chinese roommate told me, “Colleen, how about you get in the middle so that I can protect you.” That was the last straw. With all of my strength, I tried to sound as polite as possible: “I don’t want your protection, I can take care of myself, you go down first, I’ll follow behind.” He understood and from then on, he was surprised at how courageous I and the rest of my American females classmates were. For instance, I joined my male classmates as they hiked along the rocks that lined the top of the hill (the picture above shows the line of rocks). The Chinese roommate was impressed. His way of thinking is arguably influenced by the Chinese traditional way of treating the opposite sex: girls are weak and need a man to protect them, etc. I’m not insinuating that I can do ANYTHING myself, but climbing stairs is not situation in which I need someone to protect me.

That small moment really opened my eyes to male-female relations in China. In America, the word “protection” is not used often in that context. If a man in America told me, “I want to protect you.” I would feel awkward and perplexed. Protect me from what? Dragons? In China, that’s not the case. I apologize for the rant…now back to my day!

At the Edge of the Rock Ledge with Tower Behind me

I sat at the edge of the rocky trail until I heard my resident teacher call out to everybody that we were leaving. I teeter-tottered and climbed along the rocks to get back to the group. We then descended back to ground-level and walked along harvested farmland till we reached the bus. Somehow a classmate and I squeezed in a medley of Bohemian Rhapsody before getting on the bus and setting off back to Harbin.

Blown over Corn

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Fall Break: Traveling Around Northern Inner Mongolia

After midterms finished on Friday afternoon, I packed up my things and that night met with five other classmates–Dare, James, Lucas, Ryan, and Xuezi–to go to the Harbin train station. We were taking the overnight train to Haila’er, a city in northwestern Inner Mongolia to begin our 5-day backpacking trip to the wintery tundra of Manchuria! We took a “hard sleeper” and shared a “room” of six beds together. We stayed up late talking with Chinese passengers and ourselves. The next morning, I groggily woke up and pushed the curtains aside to see plains of white snow and yellow grass. Was I in Kansas?

I was told by many, many people that late October was not a good time to visit Inner Mongolia. We should go to the south (Guangdong Province, Fujian Province, Hainan Island), they said. But, I decided to go to Inner Mongolia because 1) it was the cheaper option, 2) a group of my classmates were going, and 3) I’ve always wanted to go. So, seeing the listless plains of snow and finally getting off the train to feel the icy-cold wind…I was a bit worried that I had chosen the wrong vacation spot.

Map of Inner Mongolia–Our Travel Destination: Hulun Buir 

We haggled with drivers outside of the train station until we found a 65 year-old Chinese man with a small “bread” car who said he would drive us wherever we wanted to go–¥100 ($16 a day)–for the duration of our trip. He was the only person that didn’t swindle us (a group of foreigners) out of our money. He was a good man. We crammed into the tiny van with our bags and set off to explore the area around Haila’er. We first visited a field of tanks (real and fake), where Japanese soldiers left remnants of World War II (Wikipedia says):

“Haila’er was occupied and fortified by the Japanese during their expansion into Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, and China proper during the 1930s until the end of the Second World War in August 1945, and perhaps the oldest building in Hailar that stands today was left by the occupying forces. When the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, Hailar was the scene of a bitter struggle in the wider campaign to push Japanese forces out of Manchuria and northeast China and Korea.” This prompted the Soviet Invasion of Manchuria in 1945.

Left Over Japanese Tanks from WWII

We then drove to a Tibetan Buddhist Temple, but did not enter because of the expensive door price (¥40). It was so cold, like middle of January in Minnesota cold. The icy wind cut through winter clothes and made your hands numb and nose run–that cold. At least it didn’t make my boogers freeze! That’s when you know you shouldn’t be outside. I was still uncertain about my vacation choice.

Tibetan Buddhist Monastery and Haila’er in the Distance

We made one more stop around Haila’er at a Mongolian Yurt tourist area. There were yurts (but no people were living in them since it was too cold), Tibetan Buddhist flags and red sashes waving in the winter cold. The people in the camp consisted of only us, five foreigners, and one Mongolian Chinese walking about. We then got back into the car and drove. For most of the trip, I had no idea where we were going, which was actually pretty nice. I would sit in the car and talk with my classmates.

For our last stop of the day, Zhang Qicai (our driver)–we called him Master Zhang (Zhang Shifu) out of politeness–dropped us off at a wetland. We scaled the hill by climbing well-crafted stairs and watched the sun set over the green, red, yellow marsh land. A thin river curved through the brush and long grass, making the scenery exceptionally beautiful. When seeing this marsh, I realized that this was where I wanted to be for vacation…and it was only the first day!

Ryan, Dare, and I with the Wetland Behind Us

Sunset over the Marsh

After sunset (around 5:30pm), we drove down to the neighboring small city and spent the night in a small family inn. We ate dumplings and sang Karaoke. Before heading to bed, I looked up at the stars, and saw many more than there were in Harbin. If the stars are like this in this small city, what will they be like when we live in villages? I couldn’t wait.

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Weekend Excursion–Dalian: Port Arthur and Last Night

We woke up early the next morning and set off on a 2-hour car ride to the southwest of Dalian to see Port Arthur, a strategic port that the Russians and Japanese once fought for in the early 20th century. The drive down was scenic with rocky formations, fields of grain, and glimpses of the sea. Before driving into the port, we first visited 203 Hill, the highest hill around the port that was used by the Russian army to watch for invading armies entering through the bay. It was a main battlefield during the Russo-Japanese War. The view was pretty, which looked onto the small bay and surrounding green mountains.

At 203 Hill, we visited a memorial that was erected by the successful Japanese soldiers to commemorate the 10,000 Japanese that died during the battle for Port Arthur. The Chinese description of the memorial was interesting (Caution! Special English below):

“Nogi Maresuke, Commander of the Japanese third army corps built this 10.3 meter high, bullet shaped tower, using shell relics, and wrote, in person, the three Chinese characters ‘Er Ling Shan,’ which is the Han aphony of 203 pronounced in Chinese. Now this has become the misdeed evidence of Japanese militarized invasion and equals a pillar of shame.”

The current relationship between China and Japan is tumultuous, to say the least. This entire port’s descriptions of the Japanese not only demonizes the Japanese soldiers who invaded China in 1904, but also Japan’s modern day population. The descriptions of the Japanese were ambiguous enough that is seemed like the demonized language was aimed at both past and present Japanese. The common Chinese still openly despises Japan. When I enter restaurants, it’s common to hear “We accept foreigners, just not Japanese.”

203 Hill Memorial and a group Japanese Tourists

I was surprised to see a group of Japanese tourists at 203 Hill, especially during this contentious period between China and Japan and the small fishing islands north of Taiwan. I wonder how they viewed that memorial–was it really “pillar of shame?”

Baiyushan Tower or another Japanese Phallus?

From 203 Hill, we drove to Baiyu Mountain to see another memorial erected by the Japanese to commemorate the many soldiers that died for the strategic land mass. Behind the memorial, was a scenic view of the port:

The Rock reads: Lushun Port (Port Arthur) and the Bay Behind us

Dalian has an interesting part of Chinese history and I am glad I was introduced to it during this weekend. After visiting the port, Mengnan and her family took me to a fish market where we would choose the fish we wanted to eat that night. We choose shrimp (it was soooo fresh!), clams, and a large white fish. Afterwards, we went to a restaurant where they cooked our fish for us.

Salting Fish at the Fish Market Alongside the Sea

Before taking the overnight train back to Harbin, we wrapped dumplings with Mengnan’s mom–Pork with garlic chives filling. It was a good night. Mengnan’s family is really inviting and kind.

Wrapping Dumplings with Mengnan’s Mom

Afterwards, we raced for the train and got on at the nick of time. We were taking “hard-seats” (the cheapest, most uncomfortable tickets before “standing” tickets) back to Harbin. The seats include a hard-as-plastic seat with a thin layer of cotton for sanitary purposes. No armrests, just squished between two passengers, at least for me. This was my first time that I had taken an overnight “hard-seat.” It was interesting seeing the type of crowd that takes this cheaper option: 1) tanned-skin, calloused handed Chinese country dwellers with their larger-than-life bags filled with who-knows-what, 2) families sitting on seats and laying on the crummy floor, 3) students saving money, and 4) one foreigner who bought tickets too late for the long weekend break–me. I slept surprisingly well on the dividing table and made it to class on time the next morning.

I had a great weekend in Dalian. I hope I can go back again.

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