BEIJING (Kyodo) A germ warfare exhibition in Harbin in northern China that showcases deadly medical experiments carried out by Japanese forces on live prisoners during the war will expand its area by three times and reopen as a peace park, the curator said Friday.
The Unit 731 Exhibition Hall, a 1,500-sq.-meter museum compound in the Harbin suburbs where the infamous unit did its germ warfare tests, will spend 50 million yuan ($6.23 million) to convert the site into a multiuse park, curator Wang Peng told Kyodo News by telephone. The park should open within a year, he added.
Work scheduled for the coming year includes preserving 23 historic buildings, some of which are deteriorating, China’s official Xinhua News Service reported Friday. Workers will also move an exhibit of 300 pictures out of the site’s office building into its own facility, leaving the office to administrative work, Wang said.
Work crews will turn the site into a park setting by planting trees, Wang added.
China’s National Development and Reform Commission will pay 30 million yuan, and Harbin will put up 20 million yuan for rehabilitation and expansion, Xinhua reported.
The new site will cover about 5,000 sq. meters and display 400 exhibits, plus the photos, according to “international convention,” Wang said, noting the park could better handle anti-Japan war commemorative activities in addition to common tours.
“It will be suitable for any function that people want,” Wang said. “Because a lot of people come, and some people come for memorials, we want to offer all functions.
“It’s going to be a peace park.”
About 250,000 people visit the Unit 731 museum every year, Wang said.
If another year passed without restoration work, wind erosion would add another 5 million yuan to the repair bill, according to Xinhua.
Japanese army officer and physician Shiro Ishii built Unit 731, named after the forces who ran it, in 1936. The unit’s 150 buildings, covering 6 sq. km, were listed as a water purification plant and its real work was kept secret. About 200,000 people, mostly Chinese, died of bacteriologic experiments, burning, freezing and other procedures. The Japanese blew up the plant shortly before surrendering in 1945.
Unit 731 is one of China’s best known landmarks from Japan’s 1931-1945 occupation. War memories still stir anger Chinese and complicate Sino-Japanese relations.