So yesterday a Chinese friend decided it would be a nice idea to visit the site where thousands of Chinese people were subjected to live vivisection at the hands of the Japanese during WWII. The place was Unit 731, and a museum has been set up in the one remaining building on the site.
We took a bus out of the main city and got off at the end of the line, through the eerie gateway and into the still and silent compound. Entrance was free because some officials were coming to film a documentary and I guess they wanted to attract visitors to make it look busier. Suited staff members and people in sashes were buzzing around talking into walkie talkies, but their voices and footsteps echoed along the dark empty corridors.
The first exhibition room started with a gentle warm-up, with wall-mounted maps and plaques talking about the geography of the Japanese invasion. Room 2 told of biological warfare, how germ bombs containing deathly doses of bacteria and diseases were dropped in order to wipe out entire towns. Room 3 showed how, at Unit 731, POWs and civilians from the Manchurian area (Heilongjiang, Mongolia and Russia) were captured, incarcerated and used as subjects for experimentation. A dead body would not accurately show the effects of such experiments, so subjects, known as Marutas, were always alive when they were tested on. Similarly, it was believed that anaesthetic would interfere with test results, so this was never used. On the rare occasions that subjects didn’t die from their injuries – be it through infection of diseases or being ripped open – they were killed afterwards anyway. It’s not known how many people were tested on at this plant during WWII, estimates say that between 3,000 – 12,000 people were exterminated.
In the darkened rooms, videos recreating the horrors were played on loop. People were infected with diseases, then sliced open and organs removed to discover what the effects were.Shrieking and wailing echoed around the room as people were blinded, skinned alive, frozen, and the videos spared nothing. There seemed to be a strong focus on freezing and boiling hands and arms, then doing thing like ripping off the skin and snapping off digits. It was starting to feel a bit Clockwork Orange, and my own arms actually felt numb, like those people who lose limbs but whose minds play tricks on them to think they can feel things. I tore my eyes away from the screen and focussed on some shrapnel slowly revolving on a disc inside a glass case whilst my friend continued to stare unblinkingly at the screen.
Later, I asked him what he thought of the museum. Normally a very laid back and non-angry person, he said “I hate the Japanese! Don’t try to convince me otherwise!” After two hours in there, I think he’d undergone some sort of hypnotism. It was pretty horrific. When it was over, we were ushered out through the back door and into the setting winter sunshine.
So that was my Wednesday. I learned a lot. I’ve come to expect a cheery sprinkling of pro-Sino propaganda at these sorts of places, but wikipedia backs up everything I saw in the museum. Now I’m off to the pub for the weekly pub quiz. Our team has never won, and only once came last, and I’ve listened to quite a bit of BBC World Service this week, so I’m feeling hopeful!