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Japan faces pressure to recognize massacre

By JIANG XUEQING in Tokyo | China Daily | Updated: 2023-09-01 07:40

The massacres of people of Korean and Chinese origin after the Great Kanto Earthquake in Japan are not to be forgotten 100 years later, and such horror and crimes should not be repeated.

A memorial event was held in Tokyo on Thursday to honor the Korean and Chinese victims murdered because of baseless, discriminatory rumors after the earthquake. Organizers urged the Japanese authorities to recognize these historical events, compensate the victims' families and learn from past mistakes.

The Great Kanto Earthquake of Sept 1, 1923, measuring 7.9 in magnitude, led to more than 100,000 people killed or missing. Amid the chaos of the disaster, rumors of Koreans "poisoning wells" started circulating.

Nearly 800 Chinese residents and more than 6,000 Korean residents in Japan fell victim to massacres orchestrated by Japanese military, law enforcement and nationalist extremists, according to research data.

"Our predecessors were either working or engaged in the sales of miscellaneous items in the Kanto region of Japan," Zhou Songquan, executive deputy head of the preparatory committee for activities honoring the descendants of Chinese workers affected by the Great Kanto Earthquake, said on Thursday.

Following the earthquake, Japanese militarist institutions, mobs and law enforcement groups "premeditatedly massacred innocent civilians of foreign origin, employing despicable methods", he said.

Yang Yu, chief minister of the Chinese embassy in Japan, said the immediate cause of the massacre was the spread of rumors by those with ulterior motives, inciting panic, but the root cause "lies in Japan's path toward militarism at the time, with rampant extreme nationalism and xenophobia prevailing within the country".

"This also laid the groundwork for Japan's later aggression against foreign nations, causing deep and profound disasters for China and other Asian countries," Yang said.

Since the 1970s, the massacre has been commemorated annually on Sept 1, with a message of condolence traditionally sent by the Tokyo governor. However, in 2017, right-wing Governor Yuriko Koike ended this practice.

The governor, through her actions, is "erasing" the memory of the massacre and "instilling doubt" about its authenticity, historian Kenji Hasegawa from Yokohama National University told Agence France-Presse.

Yang said: "We earnestly urge the Japanese side to confront history honestly, deeply learn from the lessons, avoid repeating mistakes and not tread the path of hostility toward neighbors."

In 1924, the Japanese government proposed a compensation plan that has not been implemented to this day.

Zhou Jiajia, a descendant of the Chinese victims, said they have petitioned the Japanese government for acknowledgment of historical facts and apologies to the victims' families.

They demanded compensation in line with the policy set by the Japanese Cabinet in 1924, and asked for the construction of a monument at the site and a memorial on the massacre. They also wanted this event included in Japanese history textbooks.

"We hope the Japanese government can realize that only through genuine reconciliation and friendly cooperation can we establish a relationship based on mutual respect and equality," Zhou Jiajia said.

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