-- A total of 36 defendants stood trials in Shenyang in June and July 1956 in two groups, 25 years after Japanese troops blew up a section of railway under their control near Shenyang, then accused Chinese troops of sabotage as a pretext for their attack on Sept. 18, 1931.
-- Many witnesses recount the law-based trials, during which many Japanese defendants even knelt at the feet of victims coming to give their testimonies.
-- The humanistic treatment by the Chinese government and people and the re-education experience in China have awakened the conscience of the defendants.
by Xinhua writers Lyu Qiuping, Xu Yang and Zhao Hongnan
SHENYANG, June 10 (Xinhua) -- In a two-story building in downtown Shenyang, capital of northeast China's Liaoning Province, a documentary tells about the trials of Japanese war criminals in the building 65 years ago.
It shows Tadayuki Furumi, a former official with the "state council" of the puppet "Manchukuo" regime established by the Japanese invaders, lowered his head and asked for severe punishment on himself.
"I have committed monstrous crimes against the Chinese people. I should be held responsible. Please sentence me to death immediately," he could be heard saying in the documentary.
File photo shows an open trial of the special military tribunal in June 1956 in Shenyang, capital of northeast China's Liaoning Province. (Xinhua)
On Sept. 18, 1931, Japanese troops blew up a section of railway under their control near Shenyang, then accused Chinese troops of sabotage as a pretext for their attack. They bombarded barracks near Shenyang the same evening, starting the bloody invasion.
Twenty-five years later, the city witnessed ultimate justice. A total of 36 defendants stood trials in Shenyang in June and July 1956 in two groups, with the trial of the first group of eight starting on June 9, 1956.
"The trials took place just seven years after the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC). The whole world was waiting to see how the New China led by the Communist Party of China (CPC) would deal with the war criminals," said Wang Jianxue, a professor at the Party School of Liaoning Provincial Party Committee.
Quan Deyuan, 89, was then a court clerk who witnessed the trials.
"The court personnel wore judge costumes, the prosecutors were in uniforms of the Supreme People's Procuratorate and the lawyers were in black ties, all rare outfits back then in China," Quan recalled.
Quan was assigned to a law school in Shenyang as an instructor after graduating from Peking University in 1954. "I majored in law and spoke a little Japanese. That's why I was appointed the court clerk, I think," he said.
In court, facts of the offense must be substantiated by five kinds of evidence: interrogation records, accounts of the defendants, witness accounts, files information and accomplice testimonies.
In the trials against the second group of 28 criminals alone, the tribunal reviewed 642 indictments of victims or their families, 407 pieces of written evidence from witnesses, 315 documents or books as evidence and 48 people giving testimonies.
Photo taken on July 20, 2014 shows the memorial hall of the former site of the Shenyang tribunal against the Japanese war criminals in Huanggu District of Shenyang, capital of northeast China's Liaoning Province. (Xinhua/Yao Jianfeng)
According to a decision by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the national legislature, the defendants could defend themselves, hire lawyers recognized by China, or have lawyers designated for them.
Lian Xisheng, now 89, was a defense lawyer for three Japanese defendants.
"We were all designated for them, as they did not defend themselves much and had no eligible lawyers to hire," said Lian, a professor who has retired from the China University of Political Science and Law.
Lian said defense lawyers like him faced a lot of pressure, being criticized as "traitors" by many Chinese for defending the Japanese invaders.
"If there had been no defense lawyers, the trial procedures would have been incomplete," he said.
He recalled many Japanese defendants even knelt at the feet of victims coming to give their testimonies. Aisin-Gioro Puyi, the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and the puppet emperor of "Manchukuo," also showed up to testify as a witness.
Han Fenglu, 90, was a defense lawyer for Hideo Sakakibara, a detachment commander of the notorious Unit 731, a biological and chemical warfare research base, which was the nerve center of Japanese biological warfare in China and Southeast Asia during WWII.
The defendant confessed in court that he injected cholera or plague germs into four Chinese nationals, which led to their deaths. His detachment produced 870 doses of germs in 1945 and captured a large number of mice and fleas in preparation for a large-scale germ war.
"My crimes have ravaged the sacred international conventions and were totally against humanity. I'd like to express my deep apology in front of the Chinese, Japanese and the peace-loving people in the world," Han recalled Sakakibara saying in court.
REQUITING INJURY WITH KINDNESS
A total of 45 defendants, including the 36 standing trials in Shenyang and nine in Taiyuan, capital of north China's Shanxi Province, received jail terms of eight to 20 years. Some 1,000 other Japanese war criminals with minor offenses were exempted from prosecution and released.
"They could have been sentenced to death for their crimes, but China showed mercy," said defense lawyer Lian.
Former court clerk Quan Deyuan gives a lecture at the memorial hall of the former site of the Shenyang tribunal against the Japanese war criminals in Shenyang, capital of northeast China's Liaoning Province, June 8, 2016. (Xinhua/Yao Jianfeng)
Song Miao, deputy curator of the memorial hall of the former site of the Shenyang tribunal against the Japanese war criminals, said the trials solved the remaining issues following WWII.
According to Song, the criminals, who were handed over by the then Soviet Union to China for trials in 1950, were among the most stubborn militarists who refused to admit their crimes at first before they were re-educated in a war criminal management center in Fushun, Liaoning Province.
However, the humanistic treatment by the Chinese government and people and the re-education experience in China have awakened their conscience. Every defendant confessed in the courts and even knelt for harsh punishment, Song said.
Despite the food shortage back then, the war criminals were offered decent meals in the management center, while their Chinese custodians only had coarse grains.
Zhao Yuying, former head nurse of the center, had an argument with a co-worker as she tried to explain why the criminals should be given decent treatment, even though they had slaughtered many Chinese people. Zhao died in 2020 at the age of 90.
Zhao's daughter, 63-year-old Gao Luwei, said she still has the letters the Japanese wrote to her mother after returning home.
Back in Japan, most of the criminals became advocates of Japan-China friendship and turned against the resurgence of Japanese militarism.
REMEMBERING PAST FOR PEACE
Even after a span of 65 years, the original architecture of the memorial hall has been maintained, forming a sharp contrast to the modern buildings in its busy vicinity, where a shopping mall, a supermarket and a karaoke house are located.
Students from nearby primary school regularly visit the memorial hall to learn about the history.
Photo taken on Sept. 18, 2015 shows a wax figure re-enactment at the memorial hall of the former site of the Shenyang tribunal against the Japanese war criminals in Shenyang, capital of northeast China's Liaoning Province. (Xinhua/Li Gang)
This year marks the 100th founding anniversary of the CPC. As China is promoting the learning of the CPC history, the history of the PRC and socialist development, the memorial hall has received more than 20,000 visitors so far this year.
Yao Chenghai, who has lived in Shenyang for nearly 30 years, stepped into the memorial hall for the first time.
"I didn't know its existence until recently when I read about it in a newspaper," said Yao, 65. "More people should learn the history."
At the memorial hall hangs a photo of morning glory flowers taken by Susumu Soejima, one of the criminals exempted from prosecution.
When Soejima left for home in 1956, a custodian from the Fushun war criminal management center gave him some flower seeds as a gift, telling him to "carry flowers when you are back to China, instead of weapons."
He then planted the seeds at home and took the photo, which was brought back to China as a gift to the former head nurse Zhao. The photo was named "flower of peace."
"It is expected that the 'flower of peace' can forever be in full bloom in the hearts of Chinese and Japanese people," said Song. (Xinhua correspondent Cui Shihao contributed to the story) ■