The Exhibition Hall of the Evidences of Crime committed by the 731st Unit of the Japanese Imperial Army

Between the Japanese Empire’s conquest of Manchuria in 1931 and its capitulation in September 1945, the Imperial Army had committed a large number of war crimes. In popular history, these crimes are mostly associated with the mass shootings and beheadings in Nanjing (Chang 1997), but it is important to recognize that this is not the only sort of murder the Japanese Army has committed. The killing of civilians and prisoners of war through conducting experiments on humans counts as one of the most appalling crimes, besides sexual slavery and mass rape  (Vogelsang 2020: 384). 

Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army 侵华日军第七三一部队 was founded in 1933 and moved three years later to the Pingfang District 平房区 of Harbin 哈尔滨, Heilongjiang Province 黑龙江省. According to the 1994 Records of Heilongjiang Province 黑龙江省志, the main purposes of this unit were the research and creation of biological weapons for germ warfare by means of human experimentations.

Picture 1: Unit 731 Complex

Up to August 1945, at least 3,000 Chinese, Soviet, and Tibetan people had died in the course of the creation of more than fifty biological weapons. According to Kai Vogelsang, Harbin was not the only place, where such cruel research methods were practiced. In Changchun 长春 and several other Manchurian cities, biological weapons were tested on Chinese civilians and prisoners of war as well (Vogelsang 2020: 384). 

Picture 2: Human Dissection Experiment Room
Picture 3: The ruins of a boiler building on the site of the bioweapon facility of Unit 731

In 2001, the former headquarter of Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army was renovated and opened to the public. Here, an exhibition with 13 showrooms was located, which portrayed the history of Unit 731 during its stay in Harbin (Yi qi zhui ji). Fourteen years later, in 2015, the newly built Exhibition Hall of Evidences of Crime Committed by Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army 侵华日军第七三一部队罪证陈列馆 was officially inaugurated. As stated in an article published in the newspaper Guangming ribao 光明日报, this exhibition hall is divided into six thematic sections: “Japanese Germ Warfare”, “The Headquarter of Unit 731 Germ Warfare”, “Human Experimentations”, “Manufacturing Biological Weapons”, “Developing Biological Weapons”, “Destruction of Evidence and the Trial” (Guangming ribao 2015). 

According to its official website, the exhibition hall is part of a larger preserved historical site of Unit 731, which consists of 27 parts, including the laboratories and special prisons that held human “experiment materials”, underground passages, and the military headquarter. In the headquarter the commander’s office and the guards’ office are displayed, which show the Japanese administration of the unit. 

By emphasizing the role of human experimentations in the process of Unit 731’s creation of biological weapons, the exhibition hall and historical site are presenting one horrendous dimension of war crimes committed by the Japanese Army. Insofar, it is understandable, why this site in Harbin was added to the first list of Bases for Patriotic Education 爱国主义教育基地 in 1997.

Bibliography: 

Beasley, William G. (1987): Japanese Imperialism 1894-1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Chang, Iris (1997): The Rape of Nanking. New York: Basic Books.  

Gan Zhigeng 干志耿 (Ed.) (1994): Heilongjiang Sheng zhi di 53 juan wenwu zhi 黑龙江省志 第53卷 文物志 (The Records of Heilongjiang Province – Volume 53 Cultural Relics. Harbin 哈尔滨: Heilongjiang renmin chubanshe. 

Vogelsang, Kai (2020): China und Japan – Zwei Reiche unter einem Himmel. Stuttgart: Körner Verlag.

Zhang Jinzhong 张进中and Zhu Weihua 朱伟华 (16.08.2015): “Qi hua riben jun di Qi San Yi Budui zui zheng chenlie guan quanmian kaifang 侵华日军第七三一部队罪证陈列馆全面开放 (The Exhibition Hall of the Evidences of Crime committed by the 731st Unit of the Japanese Imperial Army is opened to the public)”. In: Guangming ribao 光明日报. 

Website “ Yi qi zhui ji ”: https://www.iwenbo.fun/museum/890.html

Official Website: http://www.731museum.org.cn/

List of Pictures: 

Featured Image/Picture 1: „Unit 731 Complex“ (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unit_731#/media/File:Unit_731_-_Complex.jpg, author: Unknown author). 

Picture 2: “Human Dissection Experiment Room” (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unit_731#/media/File:Human_Dissection_Experiment_Room_at_Harbin’s_731_Museum.jpg author: X20106301). 


Picture 3: “The ruins of a boiler building on the site of the bioweapon facility of Unit 731” (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unit_731#/media/File:Building_on_the_site_of_the_Harbin_bioweapon_facility_of_Unit_731_%E9%96%A2%E6%9D%B1%E8%BB%8D%E9%98%B2%E7%96%AB%E7%B5%A6%E6%B0%B4%E9%83%A8%E6%9C%AC%E9%83%A8731%E9%83%A8%E9%9A%8A%EF%BC%88%E7%9F%B3%E4%BA%95%E9%83%A8%E9%9A%8A%EF%BC%89%E6%97%A5%E8%BB%8D%E7%AC%AC731%E9%83%A8%E9%9A%8A%E6%97%A7%E5%9D%80_PB121178a_%E3%83%9C%E3%82%A4%E3%83%A9%E3%83%BC%E6%A5%9D%E8%B7%A1.JPG , author: 松岡明芳).


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