Staff writer

Li Qingxiang was 15 when Imperial Japanese troops surrounded his village on May 27, 1942, to wipe out the communist-led resistance forces based there and their supporters.

Li’s voice still trembles when he describes the attack on Beitong in Hebei Province, in which two brothers and two sisters were killed. He is currently visiting Japan with four other villagers to meet government officials and petition for reparations from Tokyo for alleged atrocities, including the poison gassing of underground tunnels where many villagers took refuge. The gas was a kind of sternutator, or sneeze gas, according to Japanese researchers.

Wang Xuan, who represents 108 Chinese survivors or relatives of victims of Japan’s germ warfare in a separate lawsuit, said the villagers’ demands must be met to help put China on the road to becoming a modern nation, said. “The people of China are becoming more aware of what their rights are. It is an important step forward,” Wang said.

If Li and his fellow claimants succeed in finding a lawyer, they will launch a direct legal attack on what the Chinese describe as Japan’s “sanguang” policy. Sanguang refers to the actions the Japanese military began taking toward civilians in 1941 in northeast China, where the resistance was deeply rooted. Sanguang literally means the “three alls” — kill all, rob all and burn all.

“Entire families were wiped out,” Li said. “Those who escaped the poison gas were raped, beheaded or hacked into pieces.

According to Chen Junying, a professor at Hebei University’s Center of Japanese Studies, the attack by the 163rd Regiment of the 110th Division claimed 1,400 lives, including 800 civilians.

Many of the civilians, however, were involved in the resistance movement, Chen said. Children acted as lookouts and adults provided food or helped dig the underground passages.

Civilian resistance activities against the Japanese invaders may have helped convince the Imperial troops that they were justified in adopting ruthless tactics, said professor Michihiko Saito of Chuo University.

The underground passages where Li’s siblings died were part of a network of an estimated 12,500 km of tunnels dug by villagers and resistance forces to connect houses and villages and provide them with refuge and mobility in the area. “Resistance forces could move unseen and strike Japanese troops effectively,” Saito said.

Because the killings occurred in regions where the resistance employed guerrilla tactics, little consideration was given to whether it was illegal or immoral to make a clean sweep of enemy territory, including eradicating women and children, according to professor Mitsuyoshi Himeta of Chuo University.

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