Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
A documentary entitled The Truth of Harbin Unit 731 aired by the Japanese public broadcaster NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai) on August 13 has exposed the fact that many Japanese medical elites publicly supported and participated in human trials of chemical and biological weapons on prisoners of war during World War II.
On social media, Chinese netizens praised NHK's candid attitude and courage toward history, while many Japanese right-wing netizens accused NHK of making up false history using "incomplete" information.
Most of NHK's documentaries are famous for their excellent production, including this one. Unlike China's TV broadcasting system, Japan's TV stations are divided into two categories: public and private. The Broadcast Act enacted after WWII stipulated NHK as a public broadcaster, which gets its funding from state subsidies and audio-visual fees, not advertising. With guaranteed financial support and a mission of serving the public, NHK has the resources to produce programs of high quality. Some earlier NHK documentaries on China's Maritime Silk Road, Imperial Palace and Mogao Caves at Dunhuang were popular with Chinese audiences.
Therefore, Chinese audiences were interested in the Unit 731 documentary right away.
The documentary featured detailed historical research. By airing it, NHK intended to not only reveal the real history of Unit 731 to Japanese people, but counter Japan's right-wing forces' distorted view of history.
Every year on August 15, the day Japan calls Armistice Day, Japanese right-wingers and some politicians will visit the Yasukuni Shrine. Kyodo News Agency reported that on August 15 this year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe presented a ritual offering again at the Yasukuni Shrine as the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Though Japanese people have the tradition of visiting shrines, visiting the Yasukuni Shrine which honors class-A war criminals is not only a sign of revitalizing militarism, but also a wrong signal that what Japan did in WWII is just and worthy of worship.
This has built a modern stage that enables right-wing forces to distort history, and warped the view of history of Japanese people, especially the younger generation. For this reason, NHK chose to play Unit 731 documentary on August 13 to not only mark the "end of the war," but convey a message that real history should not be forgotten.
In addition, another documentary about 22 Chinese "comfort women" survivors, entitled Twenty Two, also received wide attention recently. When Unit 731 tells of the crimes committed by the instigator of the war, Twenty Two documents the misery of victims after the war. Unlike Unit 731's style of blending thorough research of historical data and interviews, the crew of Twenty Two deeply communicated with "comfort women" survivors from across China, portraying their daily life in a natural and objective style.
However, it's sad that only eight of the 22 "comfort women" survivors in the documentary were still alive when Twenty Two was finally released. They hadn't received a sincere apology before they died, and left the world with sorrow. Both documentaries reveal the brutality of the war and remind the world that the cruel history should not be forgotten. From this point of view, I believe that the two documentaries will produce the same effect, though they vary in their point of departure.
We should respect NHK's courage of producing and playing Unit 731, which highlights its active performance of the functions that other media cannot fully implement. The media's function of spreading information and public watchdog has long been closely watched by the academia, but its function of passing down public memories and guiding people's values is often neglected. Hence media often forgets to perform this function. Therefore, NHK's production of Unit 731 is a challenge to other Japanese media, asking whether they have transmitted real history in an independent and objective way.
The author is a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Sociology at Toyo University. firstname.lastname@example.org Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion