Wartime crimes through Western eyes

On Sunday, 17 survivors attended a solemn ceremony marking the country's second National Memorial Day for Nanjing Massacre Victims in Jiangsu's provincial capital to commemorate the loss of more than 300,000 lives.

The massacre by invading Japanese troops is among the three most notorious war crimes that Japan committed during World War II.

However, the other two crimes listed by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East-the building of the Burma-Thailand Death Railway and Bataan Death March-are not very familiar to the Chinese public, due to a lack of published material in the country, according to history professor Zhang Lianhong from Nanjing Normal University.

To build the railway in 1942, Japan deployed 61,000 Allied prisoners of war. The POWs included Americans, Britons and Australians, and one out of every five of them died.

The construction also cost the lives of more than 100,000 of the more than 200,000 slave laborers from Southeast Asian countries.

Every kilometer of the railway is soaked with the blood of 250 innocent people, American scholar Kelly E Crager says in his book Hell Under the Rising Sun: Texan POWs and The Building of The Burma-Thailand Death Railway.

Published in 2008, the book is based on oral accounts from surviving American POWs originally from Texas.

Crager says that the brutality that Japanese captors inflicted on the Texan POWs is little-known even in the United States, their home country.

"The book is a powerful counterpunch to Japan's denial of war crimes," says Zhang.

"It also inspired Chinese scholars to look outside and expand their range of sources when studying China's role in fighting the Japanese invasion in WWII."

The Chinese version of Crager's title is one of a four-book series called Death on the Hellships: Japanese War Crimes in the Far East (1942-1945), launched by Alpha Books under the Chongqing Publishing Group, "in an attempt to look beyond the boundaries and fill the gaps in academic studies", says Chen Xingwu, the group's head.

Fan Guoping, head of the translators' team, tells China Daily that this is the first time that such a set of books on the topic has been published on such scale.

Zhang Xianwen, professor at Nanjing University and the collection's academic counselor, believes that previous research at home is too confined to the Chinese angle and little has been done in academic fields on Japanese war crimes outside China, especially in the Far East.

"The four books offer a solid link of evidence and give a whole new global perspective to our studies," he says.

Zhang Xianwen also says that the collection echoes President Xi Jinping's remarks during the 25th collective study of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee on July 30. Xi said that we should "collect historic evidence for the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression from a global perspective".

In Death on the Hellships: Prisoner at Sea in the Pacific War by US naval history expert Gregory F Michno, the author chronicles the desperation of American and British POWs when they were transported as ship cargo to different Japanese camps.

In 1942 alone, 140,000 POWs were transported by the Japanese, packed in enclosed spaces full of depression and human excrement.

Michno cites American Bob Haney, who survived the nightmare from the Nagato Maru journey. Haney says he has tried to blank out memories of the journey in the past 40 years, but they haunt his dreams; the experience changed his impression of Japanese culture once and for all.

In her book, Unjust Enrichment: How Japan's Companies Built Postwar Fortunes Using American POWs, American journalist Linda Goetz Holmes looks at how Japanese companies used 25,000 American POWs as slave labor.

Holmes says that while about 1 percent of American POWs died in Nazi camps, 90 percent died in Japanese ones, and the survivors from the Japanese camps got no compensation from Japanese tycoons.

In his book, Reassessing the Japanese Prisoner of War Experience: The Changi POW Camp Singapore, British military expert R.P.W. Havers focuses on how POWs were treated there.

Fan says that he and the translators' team called Jiwonu (remembering that we should strive to avoid being beaten again) have been working on focusing on the big picture when it comes to looking at Japanese war crimes.

"There was a gap because the area was formerly a cross-over of different researching fields," he says, adding more than 6 million words have been translated and that the team plans to add seven titles to the collection.

Author Sa Su, who lived in Japan for many years, calls the publication of the collection a denouncement of Japanese crimes, and "an effort by Chinese scholars to better integrate and interact with world historians".

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