Portrait of a Heroine: Shouting the Pain from Japan’s Germ Attacks
Sun, 24 Nov 2002
A chilling reminder from the past resonates in its immediate implications. Wang Xuan vowed to “shake Japan, China and the United States out of the great Pacific amnesia about biological warfare.” She has taken the lead because: “If we wait for governments to settle this matter, we will die and the truth will never come out.”
The NY Times reports that Ms. Wang assembled 180 Chinese victims and sued Japan, “charging that its forces [Unit 731] had spread bubonic plague and other diseases in China during World War II. The group claimed that 300,000 people were killed by germ warfare, though there are no official tallies.”
Japan’s Unit 731 doctors and their staff committed experimental atrocities on Chinese peasants and prisoners of war that vie with those committed on Jewish prisoners by the Nazi doctors at Auschwitz. see:
See the Japanese / Nazi parallel time frame:
Wang Xuan: “We are fighting Japan, China and the United States all at once,” Ms. Wang said while riding through rural China to rally plaintiffs. “We need endless amounts of time to do this, and time is running out.”
THE NEW YORK TIMES
November 23, 2002
Shouting the Pain From Japan’s Germ Attacks
By JOSEPH KAHN
IWU, China – Life’s longest journeys can begin with a sudden epiphany, and for Wang Xuan that discovery came on a bright August morning seven years ago, as she lounged on a tatami mat in her home in Himeji, Japan.
Browsing The Japan Times, she saw a brief item about elderly Chinese peasants planning to sue Japan for using bubonic plague as a weapon during World War II. The story mentioned that they lived in a rural village called Yiwu on China’s east coast. Yiwu happened to be Ms. Wang’s ancestral home, a place she had left behind years before for the promise of a new life in Japan.
“History fell into place when I saw that article,” Ms. Wang said. “I knew why I had really come to Japan, and what I had to do as a Chinese.”
What she vowed to do was to shake Japan, China and the United States out of the great Pacific amnesia about biological warfare. Ms. Wang assembled 180 Chinese victims and sued Japan, charging that its forces had spread bubonic plague and other diseases in China during World War II. The group claimed that 300,000 people were killed by germ warfare, though there are no official tallies.
After five years in court, the plaintiffs scored a partial victory in late August when Judge Kohi Iwata of Tokyo District Court ruled that Japan’s infamous Unit 731 “used bacteriological weapons under the order of the imperial Japanese Army’s headquarters.” The judge rejected compensation, however, saying the plaintiffs had no right to demand money from Japan under international law. That has forced Ms. Wang and her group to embark on a costly appeal against steep odds.
The Japanese government still denies that its army ever used biological agents. China, suspicious of most social movements, has prevented plaintiffs from organizing formally or accepting donations. The United States, wary of alienating its staunchest ally in the region, remains more focused on the potential threat of biological weapons today than on the destruction they wrought 60 years ago.
Even her plaintiffs’ group, mostly elderly peasants in eastern and central China, threatens to collapse as its members despair of ever seeing justice in their lifetimes.
“We are fighting Japan, China and the United States all at once,” Ms. Wang said while riding through rural China to rally plaintiffs. “We need endless amounts of time to do this, and time is running out.”
Yet her cause, painful as it is, has already repaired the jagged ends of her fractured life. Ms. Wang was born in 1952 and grew up in relative comfort. Her father served as a judge on Shanghai’s criminal court. He initially embraced China’s new Communist leaders, but family members were persecuted as “rightists” in the late 1950’s. During the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960’s, Ms. Wang was “sent down,” in the terminology of the day: she was ordered to leave the city and work as a peasant.
She spent her college-age years plucking rice stalks in a tiny village called Chongshan, just outside Yiwu, where she lived with members of her father’s ancestral family. As a city girl working the rice paddies, Ms. Wang said, “I nearly broke my back.” But it crushed her spirit even more. Her education was on hold, and her family and friends seemed hopelessly distant. “There was not a single book in the whole village,” Ms. Wang recalled.
Yet she developed deep local ties. Those came from hearing peasant tales of grisly atrocities committed by “Japanese devils” during the war. An uncle she never knew, Wang Haibao, was one young victim of what the peasants then called rat disease. She learned later that it was the plague, which first infected rats, then people.
She also developed a nagging sense of social justice. As hard as her life had become, she said, she realized that she was infinitely better off than the peasants around her. Her brief internment was their daily drudgery.
“These were my relatives,” Ms. Wang said. “They shared my name. But they had no rights. For the simple reason of being born in the city, I had a totally different life.”
After Mao’s death in 1976, Ms. Wang dreamed of moving far away. The United States was her choice. But she was married by then, to a volleyball star. It was he who got the coveted visa — but to Japan. Ms. Wang, though wary at first, accepted Japan. She became fluent in the language, looking to prosper in what was then the center of the Asian economic miracle.
But she soon found it oppressive. Japanese women stared at her if she did not wear stockings. The man who gave her driver’s test tried luring her to a hotel. She discovered that European instructors at the language school where she taught were paid more. She asked for a raise, but her boss answered, “You are already too expensive for a Chinese.”
Then, in 1995, she stumbled on the article in The Japan Times. It seemed to confirm what she felt instinctively: Japan had changed only superficially since the war. It was a humble country on the surface, but still treated Chinese people as inferiors.
“If Japanese society had been more accepting and open to Chinese women, I might never have gotten involved,” she said. “But this place that had been devoid of meaning for me suddenly made sense.”
Ms. Wang still lives in Tokyo. But she divides her time between courtrooms there and dusty highways in China, raising money, doing research and recruiting witnesses.
She is again the city girl in the country. She wears black leather and silk blouses on trips. It is as if she is reminding herself, and perhaps others, that she belongs elsewhere.
Yet she knows Yiwu well enough to act as a guide. She shows visitors the Tragedy Pavilion, which lists 1,500 plague victims, most of them with the surname Wang. She describes how Unit 731 dropped plague-infected fleas from aircraft and how the disease worked its way through the village for months. It killed 20 villagers a day at one point in 1942, she says.
She leads visitors through the gray-brick Buddhist temple with bare concrete floors where, she says, the Japanese performed autopsies to gauge the impact of their tests.
And she fights, sometimes alone, to keep the case going.
At a community meeting one evening, plaintiffs needled Ms. Wang about the lack of tangible results. Ms. Wang, one person said, carries too much on her own shoulders. Ultimately, some said, the government in Beijing must press Tokyo on their behalf.
Mr. Wang slowly rubbed the bridge of her nose as they spoke. She explained that the court appeal was still their best hope. Beijing, with its trade priorities, is unlikely to start cooperating, she said: there is no quick fix.
“If we wait for governments to settle this matter,” Ms. Wang said afterward, “we will die and the truth will never come out.”
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