War crimes in Manchukuo

War crimes in Manchukuo

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War crimes in Manchukuo were committed during the rule of the Empire of Japan
Empire of Japan
The Empire of Japan is the name of the state of Japan that existed from the Meiji Restoration on 3 January 1868 to the enactment of the post-World War II Constitution of...

 in northeast China
Northeast China
Northeast China, historically known in English as Manchuria, is a geographical region of China, consisting of the three provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang. The region is sometimes called the Three Northeast Provinces...

, either directly, or through its puppet state
Puppet state
A puppet state is a nominal sovereign of a state who is de facto controlled by a foreign power. The term refers to a government controlled by the government of another country like a puppeteer controls the strings of a marionette...

 of Manchukuo
Manchukuo or Manshū-koku was a puppet state in Manchuria and eastern Inner Mongolia, governed under a form of constitutional monarchy. The region was the historical homeland of the Manchus, who founded the Qing Empire in China...

, from 1931 to 1945. Various war crimes have been alleged, but have received comparatively little historical attention.

Legal basis

Although the Empire of Japan did not sign the Geneva Conventions, which have provided the standard definition of war crimes since 1864, the crimes committed fall under other aspects of international and Japanese law. For example, many of the alleged crimes committed by Japanese personnel broke Japanese military law
Military law
Military justice is the body of laws and procedures governing members of the armed forces. Many states have separate and distinct bodies of law that govern the conduct of members of their armed forces. Some states use special judicial and other arrangements to enforce those laws, while others use...

, and were not subject to court martial, as required by that law. Japan also violated signed international agreements, including provisions of the Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of...

 such as a ban on the use of chemical weapons, and the Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907)
Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907)
The Hague Conventions were two international treaties negotiated at international peace conferences at The Hague in the Netherlands: The First Hague Conference in 1899 and the Second Hague Conference in 1907...

, which protect prisoners of war (POWs). The Japanese government also signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact
Kellogg-Briand Pact
The Kellogg–Briand Pact was an agreement signed on August 27, 1928, by the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, Weimar Germany and a number of other countries.The pact renounced war , prohibiting the use of war...

 (1929), thereby rendering its actions in 1937-45 liable to charges of crimes against peace, a charge that was introduced at the Tokyo Trials to prosecute "Class A" war criminals. "Class B" war criminals were those found guilty of war crimes per se, and "Class C" war criminals were those guilty of crimes against humanity. The Japanese government also accepted the terms set by the Potsdam Declaration
Potsdam Declaration
The Potsdam Declaration or the Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender is a statement calling for the Surrender of Japan in World War II. On July 26, 1945, United States President Harry S...

 (1945) after the end of the war. The declaration alluded, in Article 10, to two kinds of war crime: one was the violation of international laws, such as the abuse of prisoners of war; the other was obstructing "democratic
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

 tendencies among the Japanese people" and civil liberties
Civil liberties
Civil liberties are rights and freedoms that provide an individual specific rights such as the freedom from slavery and forced labour, freedom from torture and death, the right to liberty and security, right to a fair trial, the right to defend one's self, the right to own and bear arms, the right...

 within Japan.

In Japan, the term "Japanese war crimes" generally only refers to cases tried by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East
International Military Tribunal for the Far East
The International Military Tribunal for the Far East , also known as the Tokyo Trials, the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, or simply the Tribunal, was convened on April 29, 1946, to try the leaders of the Empire of Japan for three types of crimes: "Class A" crimes were reserved for those who...

, also known as the Tokyo Trials, following the end of the Pacific War
Pacific War
The Pacific War, also sometimes called the Asia-Pacific War refers broadly to the parts of World War II that took place in the Pacific Ocean, its islands, and in East Asia, then called the Far East...

. However, the tribunal did not prosecute war crimes allegations involving mid-ranking officers or more junior personnel. Those were dealt with separately in trials held in China and in the Soviet Union after the surrender of Japan
Surrender of Japan
The surrender of Japan in 1945 brought hostilities of World War II to a close. By the end of July 1945, the Imperial Japanese Navy was incapable of conducting operations and an Allied invasion of Japan was imminent...


Revisionist historians have contested that such crimes occurred. Right-wing nationalist groups in Japan dismiss some of the alleged war crimes as lies, or anti-Japanese propaganda
Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group....

, made or being made by the People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

 to justify its occupation of Manchuria
Manchuria is a historical name given to a large geographic region in northeast Asia. Depending on the definition of its extent, Manchuria usually falls entirely within the People's Republic of China, or is sometimes divided between China and Russia. The region is commonly referred to as Northeast...

, and to place modern Japan in a negative light for modern political and foreign policy purposes.

Human experimentation

Special Japanese military units conducted experiments on civilians and POWs in Manchukuo. One of the most infamous was Unit 731
Unit 731
was a covert biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army that undertook lethal human experimentation during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II. It was responsible for some of the most notorious war crimes carried out by Japanese...

. Victims were subjected to vivisection
Vivisection is defined as surgery conducted for experimental purposes on a living organism, typically animals with a central nervous system, to view living internal structure...

 without anesthesia, and were used to test biological weapons, among other experiments.

According to GlobalSecurity.org, the experiments carried out by Unit 731 alone caused 3,000 deaths.

Chemical and biological weapons

According to historians Yoshiaki Yoshimi and Seiya Matsuno, Emperor Hirohito
, posthumously in Japan officially called Emperor Shōwa or , was the 124th Emperor of Japan according to the traditional order, reigning from December 25, 1926, until his death in 1989. Although better known outside of Japan by his personal name Hirohito, in Japan he is now referred to...

 authorized the use of chemical weapons in China. Furthermore, "tens of thousands, and perhaps as many 200,000, Chinese died of bubonic plague
Bubonic plague
Plague is a deadly infectious disease that is caused by the enterobacteria Yersinia pestis, named after the French-Swiss bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin. Primarily carried by rodents and spread to humans via fleas, the disease is notorious throughout history, due to the unrivaled scale of death...

, cholera
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The main symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting. Transmission occurs primarily by drinking or eating water or food that has been contaminated by the diarrhea of an infected person or the feces...

, anthrax
Anthrax is an acute disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Most forms of the disease are lethal, and it affects both humans and other animals...

 and other diseases...", resulting from the use of biological warfare
Biological warfare
Biological warfare is the use of biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi with intent to kill or incapacitate humans, animals or plants as an act of war...

. Although there is no record of chemical or biological weapons in Manchukuo itself, these weapons of mass destruction
Weapons of mass destruction
A weapon of mass destruction is a weapon that can kill and bring significant harm to a large number of humans and/or cause great damage to man-made structures , natural structures , or the biosphere in general...

 were partly researched, produced, and stockpiled in Manchukuo by the Kwangtung Army.

Forced labor

The Japanese military's use of forced labor also caused many deaths. According to a joint study of historians Zhifen Ju, Mitsuyochi Himeta, Toru Kubo and Mark Peattie
Mark Peattie
Mark R. Peattie is an American academic and Japanologist. Peattie is a specialist in modern Japanese military, naval, and imperial history.-Career:...

, more than 10 million Chinese civilians were mobilized for forced labor in Manchukuo under the supervision of the Kōa-in
East Asia Development Board
The was a cabinet level agency in the Empire of Japan, created on 1938-11-18 under the first Konoe administration to coordinate the government's China policy....


Forced laborers were often assigned work in dangerous conditions without adequate safety precautions. The world's deadliest mine disaster, at Benxihu Colliery
Benxihu Colliery
Benxihu Colliery , located in Benxi, Liaoning, China, was first mined in 1905. It started as a iron and coal mining project under joint Japanese and Chinese control. As time passed, the project came more and more under Japanese control...

, occurred in Manchukuo.

Human rights violations

  • Arrest of civilians without due cause by the local Manchukuo police or Japanese authorities.
  • Torture
    Torture is the act of inflicting severe pain as a means of punishment, revenge, forcing information or a confession, or simply as an act of cruelty. Throughout history, torture has often been used as a method of political re-education, interrogation, punishment, and coercion...

     of prisoners in regular penal or military jails.
  • Disappearances and Extrajudicial execution of political opponents
  • Preferential civil rights
    Civil rights
    Civil and political rights are a class of rights that protect individuals' freedom from unwarranted infringement by governments and private organizations, and ensure one's ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression.Civil rights include...

     for Japanese subjects over other nationalities.
  • Forced land appropriations either with or without legal orders in favour of Japanese citizens or private and government companies.
  • Use of criminal gangs for robbery and intimidation of political opposition

Drug trafficking

In 2007, an article by Reiji Yoshida in the Japan Times argued that the Japanese investments in Manchukuo were partly financed by selling drugs. According to the article, a document claimed to have been found by Yoshida directly implicated the Kōa-in in providing funds to drug dealers in China for the benefit of the puppet governments of Manchukuo, Nanjing and Mongolia. This document corroborates evidence analyzed earlier by the Tokyo tribunal which stated that

Khabarovsk War Crime Trial

In late 1949, numerous members of the former Kwantung Army who had been captured in the Soviet invasion of Manchuria were convicted in connection with the activities of Unit 731, and related units for their connections with crimes against humanity and the use of chemical and biological weapons.

Tokyo Trials

The International Military Tribunal for the Far East
International Military Tribunal for the Far East
The International Military Tribunal for the Far East , also known as the Tokyo Trials, the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, or simply the Tribunal, was convened on April 29, 1946, to try the leaders of the Empire of Japan for three types of crimes: "Class A" crimes were reserved for those who...

 convicted a number of high Japanese officials in connection with the invasion of Manchuria, establishment of Manchukuo
Pacification of Manchukuo
The Pacification of Manchukuo, was a campaign to pacify the resistance to the newly established puppet state of Manchukuo between the Anti-Japanese Volunteer Armies of Manchuria and later the Communist Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army and the Imperial Japanese Army and the forces of the...

 and with conspiracy to wage aggressive war
War of aggression
A war of aggression, sometimes also war of conquest, is a military conflict waged without the justification of self-defense usually for territorial gain and subjugation. The phrase is distinctly modern and diametrically opposed to the prior legal international standard of "might makes right", under...

 against China. Those sentenced to death with strong connections to Manchukuo included senior officers in the Kwantung Army Hideki Tōjō
Hideki Tōjō
Hideki Tōjō was a general of the Imperial Japanese Army , the leader of the Taisei Yokusankai, and the 40th Prime Minister of Japan during most of World War II, from 17 October 1941 to 22 July 1944...

, Akira Mutō
Akira Muto
- Notes :...

, Seishirō Itagaki and Kenji Doihara
Kenji Doihara
was a general in the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II. He was instrumental in the Japanese invasion of Manchuria for which he earned fame taking the nickname 'Lawrence of Manchuria', a reference to the Lawrence of Arabia....


See also

  • Japanese war crimes
    Japanese war crimes
    Japanese war crimes occurred during the period of Japanese imperialism, primarily during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II. Some of the incidents have also been described as an Asian Holocaust and Japanese war atrocities...

  • Definitions of Japanese war crimes
    Definitions of Japanese war crimes
    There are differences from one country to another regarding the definition of Japanese war crimes. War crimes may be broadly defined as unconscionable behavior by a government or military personnel against either enemy civilians or enemy combatants...

  • Responses of Germany and Japan to World War II crimes
  • Amleto Vespa
    Amleto Vespa
    Amleto Vespa was a mercenary and secret agent of Italian origin, working in Manchuria between 1922 and 1940, first for a local warlord, and then for the Empire of Japan...