Born in 1952 in Shanghai, China, Wang Xuan graduated from a university in China and worked as an English teacher for over ten years. In 1993 she received a Master's Degree in Education with distinction from the University of Tsukuba in Japan. In 1995, she discovered by chance what would turn out to be the cause to which she would dedicate her life's work. From a news article in an English newspaper about the First International Symposium on Unit 731 held in Harbin, China, she learned that Japanese peace activists had been reported going to Chongshan Village, Yiwu, Zhejiang Province, China, to investigate the plague epidemic caused by Unit 731's bacterial warfare in World War II (WWll). This cause had been special in Wang Xuan's heart as her family was from Zhejiang. During WWII, Zhejiang was of strategic importance, as several airfields in the area were used as Allied bases. The Zhejiang-Jiangxi Railway also was viewed as an important supply line. The Imperial Japanese Army then launched strategic attacks on the railway from May to September of 1942. This was also directed at the allies in retaliation for the "Doolittle" air raids on Tokyo by the U.S. bombers. Due to the number of ground troops in the area, the Japanese Imperial Army considered it considerably more cost-effective to use biological weapons than any other method.
by Merja Pyykkönen
A short time after the outbreak of World War II, the United States started to reconsider the usage of biological warfare as somewhat of a threat. Before Camp Detrick (later Fort Detrick) was established in the early months of 1943, an increasing amount of attention was remarked towards it. Previous perceptions of the ‘poor effects’ that BW weapons would cause begin to shift quite soon once the war started. At least, the focus turned a bit more into trying to re-evaluate any possible future threats of BW.
The Fox Doctrine of 1933 maintained its strong position in the idea of BW’s lack of ability to reach devastation in the U.S. civilians and military troops almost for ten years since its making. Similar to Major Fox, director of the Medical Corps, G.C. Dunham reported in his September 1939 memorandum about the unsatisfactory, possible enemy use of BW. Despite acknowledging that an enemy could harm the food production animals and a few civilians, he applied that such measures would have to be intensively tied to environmental factors. If such “perfect” conditions were found, the diseases would take a long time to start to prosper. Unlike most of the previous judgments of the use of BW, Dunham nonetheless suggested that preparation against offensive use of biological warfare should be established — and such methodology could be expected from enemies during the war that had just started.
by Emily Winters
During World War II, the Japanese used human experimentation to examine the consequences of biological and bacteriological warfare. An interrogation conducted by the General Headquarters of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (GHQ SCAP) with a Japanese veterinarian conducted in the year 1946 sheds light on what was going on behind the scenes within the Japanese Army during World War II. During this time period, many infamous Nazi doctors conducted medical experiments on prisoners, and this interview helps to expose what was occurring in other Axis Power countries. Japanese military doctors performed an immeasurable amount of medical experimentation on human beings, and the interviewee’s position with the military provided him a unique perspective on this situation.
by Ellie Wong
Under the leadership of Commanding Officer Ishii Shiro, Unit 731 in Harbin, Manchuria functioned as the Imperial Japanese Army’s covert weapons research facility. Here, from 1937-1945, Japanese scientists and researchers experimented with lethal bacteriological agents, using animals, prisoners, and innocent Chinese villagers as guinea pigs. The personnel, funded by and at the consent of Emperor Hirohito, ruthlessly created epidemics and slaughtered humans alive, resulting in hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths and unimaginable suffering. Read more about the background of Unit 731 here & view all blog posts relating to Unit 731 here.
by Isabel Shiao
Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army was established in the context of rapid modernization, the aftermath of WWI, and the global rise of fascism. The Meiji Restoration transformed Japan into a highly industrialized nation, eager to become as powerful as Western states. This process raised concerns about the lack of resources and habitable land, prompting Japan to expand throughout Asia and form colonies. Thus, in 1931, Japanese forces invaded Manchuria and created the puppet state of Manchukuo to obtain the land’s valuable resources and extra living space to solve Japan’s overpopulation problem. However, as Sheldon Harris notes in his book, Factories of Death, Manchuria was turned into “one gigantic biological and chemical warfare laboratory” (Harris 5) to fulfill the nation’s quest for hegemony.
by Quin Cho
Japan’s “Meiji Restoration”—which spelled the end of the country’s isolation from the West during the reign of the Tokugawa Shoguns--allowed it to embark upon a campaign of modernization and westernization. Within the scope of a few decades, Japan modernized and became the most powerful country in East Asia, with that result cemented in blood by the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War. Thereafter, Japan decided to emulate the Western Powers that colonized or subdued most of the non-Western world in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; in other words, Japan became an imperial power in East Asia. It annexed Formosa (Taiwan) in 1895, Korea in 1910, and the Caroline and Mariana Islands after World War I.
by Sarah Oide
The World Health Organization officially categorizes biological agents as weapons of mass destruction. These deadly agents have had a dark history - particularly in World War II. Pioneered in Unit 731, Japan notoriously produced various biological weapons in the 1940s with the intent to release them on a large scale. Struck by the dangerous potential of these agents, the United States produced a secret report detailing the history of these biological weapons in January of 1944. In this five-page document, the author draws from research in Britain and Germany to evaluate the probable risks associated with anthrax and botulinus toxin.
by Haddie Beckham
Unit 731 was created in 1938 by the authorization of Emperor Hirohito in Japanese-occupied Manchuria not far from Pinfang with the aim of developing biological weapons. Unit 731 was supported by Japanese universities and medical schools which supplied doctors and research staff. Organized under the alias of The Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army, Unit 731 operated as a covert chemical and bacteriological warfare research and development, conducting and responsible for some of the most atrocious war crimes of imperial Japan. Unit 731 was led by General Shiro Ishii.
by Adam Jue
This primary source is situated inside a folder that is labeled, “TOP SECRET.” Inside the folder is a duo of letters dating back to 1944 from Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, and a follow-up from President Franklin Roosevelt. There is also a summary of the new responsibilities given to the War Department after Roosevelt’s authorization. So what do these top-secret responsibilities entail? Biological warfare.