Some would disagree with me, but I’ve always believed contrast in any form is what gives meaning to life.  Nothing exists in a vacuum.  These blog posts tend to be upbeat and happy I feel, or at least about good things most of the time, but what do you say we mix it up a little?  A pet goal of mine this time in Harbin is to try more new things, and to not fall into the same pattern I had the last time I was here of always staying in my room, and only leaving to eat the same thing at the cafeteria or at one of the four off-campus restaurants I know.  Similarly, in Beijing this last week I made a point of *not* going to my favorite dumpling restaurant in favor of trying a new one.  Good decision, that.  Writing about depressing stuff, too, is a bit of a new thing.

Friday marked the first heavy smog day of Harbin, with visibility heavily reduced and pm2.5 particles (the most harmful type of pollutant particle) reached 500 parts per million (ppm) and by the night had gone of 1,000 off the charts!  Probably took hours if not days off my life, but what are you gonna do?    Check out the scenes outside, and my thrown together filter that is surprisingly effective. (Hint, that black circle wasn’t there when I started using it.  All stuff that would be in my lungs otherwise!)  Friday night though I was pretty down, between the smog I couldn’t do anything about and the shit going on with the election, nihilism was looking pretty attractive as a guiding philosophy.  Check out some pics and what it’s already done to my strung together (but surprisingly effective) filter.

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(12hrs later) But then snow comes and drives the pollution down to a still “very unhealthy”, but more manageable 254 ppm.


In keeping with the bummer vibes, the weekend trip on Saturday was to the former site of unit 731’s base.  Unit 731 was the Japanese army’s biological and chemical research base, and was in Harbin for most of the 30’s until the Japanese pulled out in 1945.  I had previously been to the exhibit three years ago when the whole thing was housed in the former headquarters building.  Last year though they opened a completely new exhibit building what is pretty gorgeous.  Black walls, big open spaces, and soft lighting make for a very contemplative mood.  I’m fairly sure it was modeled after the Nanjing massacre memorial, which has all the same qualities, complete with a big open “meditation room” at the end of the exhibit.

The main research at the base was on biological warfare, headed up by Shiro Ishii, who viewed biological and chemical warfare as not only the only option for a resource-strapped Japan to conquer the globe, but also the best logical means of warfare.  He further thought that other countries were already developing it, which gave Japan even more motivation.   The main effforts were put towards developing plague, typhoid, cholera, anthrax, and dysentery, with plague proving the winner. It was cultivated on horses, small mammals, and fleas, all of which were carefully monitored.


He was of the opinion what all the western countries were already researching germ warfare, and so Japan had to as well lest they be left behind.  Moreover, Japan was outnumbered and short on resources, so germ warfare was the only logical choice in Ishii’s mind if Japan were to conquer the globe.

This brings me to the next subject.  The squeamish amongst you will want to skip to the next paragraph.  Anyway, many documents from the base refer to “experiment materials” or “maruta” which is wood in Japanese.  What it actually referred to were people, people (mostly POW’s) hailing from Russia, China, Korea, and even America who were stripped of their names, viewed as objects, and used in countless inhumane experiments.  Subjects of differing ages were infected with the viruses via different means and then carefully monitored.  The Japanese were extremely meticulous in recording the disease’s progress, and at various stages of infection, subjects were vivisected.  Fucking vivisected.  Each of their organs was removed, weighed, analyzed, and then stored.  Everything recorded in great detail as seen below.  Thank goodness the subjects were put under first.  It’s a small nod towards humanity in an one of the most monstrous projects ever taken on by the human race.  Subjects were also used to study the effects of frostbite in the brutal Harbin winter, the efficacy of the poison gas weapons, and sometimes tied to stakes and used to test bombs.

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Take a look at this, it actually closely resembles classical Chinese ceramics.  But it’s a bomb.  Apparently the amount of explosives required to get an iron casing to fragment properly would also kill the majority of the germs, so they switched to a more fragile ceramic shell.  The beauty of weapons of death is always interesting. They fortunately did away with the movie recreations of the experiments which were essentially snuff films as well.


Less beautiful are the effects of those weapons, which as you can see on this map were used all over China.  People still bear scars to this day.


Unfortunately, there’s no happy ending.  When the Japanese pulled out of China, they got rid of evidence by burning, exploding, tearing up, and burying everything slightly incriminating.  As a result, shells are still being dug up today.  Also as a result, there allegedly wasn’t enough evidence to convict a lot of the staff (most of the stuff in the museum showed up later).  As a result, the Americans offered Ishii and his subordinates protection from the Tokyo war crimes trial in exchange for intelligence and access to the research.  This unfortunately doesn’t strike me as surprising at all given some of the things our government does.

I had the odd realization too, that while War conventions are all well and good, when you’re out to conquer the world, you don’t really care about obeying them.  Funny, that.

When people say China has a victim mentality, this is why.  The European theater and the greater American narrative of it has become a massive part of Western (read: dominant) popular culture.  Over the last 70+ years it’s been immortalized in movies, books, video games, just about any form of media you can imagine. ( The Medal of Honor series has been going on for twice as long as the war on it’s own).  About China’s experience though, we Americans know next to nothing.  If I hadn’t taken my high school’s wonderful World War II class, I wouldn’t even know about the Nanjing massacre.

Furthermore, while Germany has done an admirable job of acknowledging its mistakes and is leading Europe during the current humanitarian crisis, Japan refuses to officially admit that it did anything wrong, and outright denies the Nanjing massacre.  As a result, China feels forgotten and still horribly wronged, and has taken upon itself to make the rest of the world understand.  They don’t even have to be slanted about it I feel.  The facts are just so overwhelming.  It wants sympathy and recompense for the atrocities that were committed on it and seem forgotten or neglected by the west.

Here’s a nice moment for an anecdote.  The final two weeks of the WWII class consisted of a mock trial for President Truman on the charges 1. that using two nuclear bombs on Japan was an unnecessary war crime and 2. that doing so violated the Hague conventions on chemical weapons.  Both sides get some witnesses who are decided on by the teacher, and I was selected as head defense lawyer, and we succeeded in getting Truman off the first charge, but not the second.  It was a super fun experience, but further reinforced my desire to never be a lawyer.  Too cutthroat.  I personally thought at the time that the bombs were justified given the circumstances.  Given that I’m now looking to go into nuclear nonproliferation as a field though you can guess that that’s changed.  Funnily enough in my application for Claremont McKenna college, I argued that the bombs still should have been used, but dropped instead on Manchuria, as I was under the impression at the time that Manchuria had no residents besides the Japanese army.  I now know how wrong I was given that I’m now living amongst their descendants.  Glad I wasn’t the one making that decision.

I now believe that the bombs were not necessary at all.  Japan was willing to surrender before their use, they just needed a guarantee of Emperor Hirohito’s safety, which meant a conditional surrender which America in its pride was not willing to accept.  It always comes back to pride.  More thoughts on that later.

On a lighter note though, I am now the proud owner of a Turkish coffee pot and a tin of Turkish coffee!  Long story short my friend Hannah’s coworker is moving to Beijing and trying to dump a lot of his stuff.  He has apparently developed a vast multitude of habits over the past five years in Harbin, one of which is roasting his own coffee beans and so for starters I bought a new backpack, a boatload of tea, and a toaster oven for my new apartment.  Will certainly be returning there.


Turkish coffee has a special place in my heart as my college roommate used to make it for several of us every Sunday morning throughout the years.  On a sadder note though, the burner is broken, so I have to figure out some other way to make it. 😦

I think that’s enough for now, hope it was educational and not too much of a bummer. Here’s some cookies I made and some funny pictures.




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