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War victims' monument targeted by developer

(Global Times)

13:38, April 12, 2013

Through the pale gate of a machinery factory, past a five-storey office building to the south, in a small garden under a towering tree, a few charred sticks of incense stick out of the earth.

Paying respects at grave sites is common during China's Qingming (Tomb-sweeping) Festival, which this year fell on April 4, but this case was different - those paying their respects at this humble garden in Ji'nan, Shandong Province, were Japanese, and this was the site of a mass grave for Chinese victims of the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-1945).

Across from the office building, on a small hill, lies a monument with a plaque that reads, "Pipa Mount Mass Grave Monument."

The Japanese who recently showed their respect to the unknown number of Chinese victims buried here as part of a regular tour were lauded in Chinese media; however, it's uncertain as to whether they will be able to continue to make such trips in the future, as the local urban planning bureau recently zoned the area for residential use, potentially paving the way for housing developments on the site.

Of further concern is the fact that other mass graves around the country are also facing similar risks.

Built on a burial ground

The mass grave is located at the formerly State-owned Ji'nan Material Testing Machinery Factory, which was launched in 1952 and later acquired by a private company in 2003. The private enterprise bought the rights to use the land, including the mass grave site, without any attention being given to the history of the location.

Xu Yuquan, a manager from the factory, explained that the land was designated for residential use by urban planning authorities a couple of years ago, adding that the company has been on the hunt for potential property developers since then, the Ji'nan Times reported.

Although the monument at Pipa Mount remains, another smaller monument placed under the tree temporarily disappeared when potential developers judged it as inappropriate for a future residential area, the newspaper reported.

Media reports about the removal of the monument sparked a public outcry over the subjugation of tragic history in favor of commercial interests. The monument was restored on Tuesday.

Although the monument has been restored, unease over the future of the site remains.

Zhang Lei, a staff member from the Ji'nan urban planning bureau, denied there would be any property construction projects at the site in the near future, since the bureau hasn't received any development petitions from the company, which would be a necessary first step.

"The decision to zone the land to be mainly used for residential sites was made because the factory is actually surrounded by residential compounds," she told the Global Times. "The bureau has been implementing long-term plans to gradually move all factories away from the downtown area."

Neglected by the nation

An excavation and identification project launched by the local authorities in 1954 to collect evidence of Japanese war crimes indicated that the rough area of the grave was 1,680 square meters.

According to historical materials, those buried in the grave died gruesome deaths. Some were stabbed to death; some were burned by oil poured on to their bodies, while others were savaged by dogs, to name just a few of the atrocities.

Somewhat ironically the grave and monument, which stand as a testament to the importance of remembering history, have not been identified as a cultural relic, prompting an outpouring of rage online.

Essentially, the local cultural relic authorities didn't know about the grave, a staff member from the Ji'nan Cultural Relic Bureau told the Global Times. When asked about whether the bureau would put the issue on agenda, the person said the bureau doesn't have any data or information about the grave and they still need to collect more data before they can make a decision.

Neglect of mass graves is not limited to Ji'nan. Peng Mingsheng, 75, a researcher who has devoted himself to better protecting mass graves, told the Global Times that his struggle to protect history can be frustrating sometimes.

Peng started to research a mass grave in Chengde, Hebei Province, in 1984, which had originally been under the jurisdiction of the puppet Manchu state, which was controlled by the Japanese during the war. Peng has been pushing to set up a cemetery in order to inform the public of this history, but the local authorities didn't even demarcate the grave site and residences have been scattered around the site for more than 20 years.

He also wrote a book about mass graves around the country, but publishers rejected it, saying it was unlikely to be profitable.

"I've accompanied some 70 groups of Japanese visitors to the (Chengde) grave over the years and they then realize the crimes the Japanese army committed during the war," he said. "The graves made them believe this history. But domestically, it's such a pity authorities don't take it seriously. The sacrifices made by so many Chinese should not be forgotten."

Attempts to preserve

Research and protection of mass graves left behind by the war is far from sufficient, Liu Zheng, a member of the Chinese Association for Cultural Relics, told the Global Times.

"Authorities are not fully aware of its importance (of protecting mass graves), when compared to other considerations such as property construction in the Ji'nan case," he said. "Archaeological research and presentations are desperately needed. The bones should be dug up and displayed, for example, to set up a memorial hall to raise awareness of this history."

Liu pointed out that aside from the mass graves from the 1937 Nanjing Massacre, the most high-profile massacre in Chinese history, few mass graves in China are well-known as they haven't been systematically researched and publicized.

When it comes to the protection of the mass grave in Ji'nan, Zhang said the fact that the land is mainly used for residential sites doesn't have to clash with efforts to protect the mass grave, and local authorities just need to incorporate protection of the site into their planning schemes.

Zeng Yizhi, from the International Committee of Monuments and Sites in China, disagreed, saying that residential buildings shouldn't coexist with the site, and added that even if the grave is arranged as a greenbelt with a monument, judging from past experience, future conflicts are likely when the grave site becomes an inconvenience to nearby residents.

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