Germ warfare site bids for heritage status
HARBIN: Researchers are considering applying to get Unit 731, Japan's notorious germ warfare site from World War II, included on UNESCO's World Heritage List.
Located in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, 20 kilometres south of the provincial capital Harbin, the discovery of the site shocked the whole world when it was first uncovered nearly 60 years ago.
On the site, some of the war's most horrible atrocities were carried out on Chinese by a secretive Japanese detachment called Unit 731.
It was notorious for experimenting on humans who were still alive in order to develop germ weapons, such as bubonic plague, typhoid, anthrax and cholera.
At least 3,000 people, mostly Chinese civilians, died in the experiments between 1939 and 1945.
Outside the camp, thousands of Chinese - estimated at more than 200,000 - were killed by biological weapons produced in the laboratories of Unit 731.
Wang Peng, curator of the 731 Exhibition Hall, told China Daily yesterday that not only Chinese civilians, but also Russians, Mongolians, Koreans and some POWs from the United States and Europe died in the camp.
"Unit 731 would have had the capability to wipe out all human beings on earth if it had kept up full production of its weapons for merely one year," Wang said.
"But due to fast-changing fortunes during the war Japanese forces did not have enough time to carry out all-out germ warfare.
"They destroyed most of their germ warfare facilities to cover their crimes when they pulled out of China in August 1945," he added.
The current exhibition hall occupies just a small portion and the core area of the original complex.
The original complex was completed in 1939, and had more than 150 buildings, including two secret prisons and three crematoriums.
Wang still remembers the expression of a reporter from the British Broadcasting Corporation when he learned of the atrocities, such as testing humans' reactions under extreme cold or sudden loss of air pressure.
"We will apply for world heritage status to let more people in the world know the truth, which may serve to remind us of the barbarity of war," he said.
Jin Chengmin, a researcher from the Harbin Municipal Academy of Social Sciences, said that there are precedents for war ruins to be given world heritage status.
In 1979, the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz in Poland, where thousands upon thousands of Jews were slaughtered, was listed as a world heritage site.
And in 1996, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also included Hiroshima Peace Memorial in Japan as a reminder of the first atomic bomb explosion on August 6, 1945.
Jin said: "The Unit 731 site should also qualify as a world heritage site."
"The remaining ruins can serve as a reminder of the horrible atrocities Japanese troops committed in China," he said.
However, he said the site still has a long way to go before it can officially submit its application to UNESCO.
"We have to expand the current exhibition area to at least 400,000 square metres from the current 104,000 square metres," Wang said.
He added that 500 million yuan (US$60 million) is needed to realize their plans.
Meanwhile, Wang also noted that today the Supreme Court of Japan will give its final verdict on whether to give compensation to the Chinese victims of Japanese germ warfare in China.
(China Daily 04/19/2005 page3)