Little is known about this little piece of history so it’s a must to visit Unit 731 museum when you are in Harbin.
In WW2, the Japanese created military units for disease prevention/ proliferation, water supply monitoring, creation of biological/chemical weapons and live human experimentation all over China including coordination units in Singapore and Thailand. The core office was the infamous Unit 731 of the Kwantung Army in Harbin (northeast of China) near the borders of Russia and North Korea. It was the perfect site for covert biological warfare research.
Initially, the purpose was to help the Japanese soldiers in researching body’s resistance to diseases and climate/weather changes; and water filtration at different topographies. However, when the war started, the army actively pursued biological weapons to counter weapon/technological advancement of the West. Japan lacks the raw materials that other industrialized countries have that time.
Diseases were studied using Chinese, Russians, Koreans and Mongols as live subjects. In Singapore, flies with bubonic plague from rats were reared and were taken later to Harbin (Unit 731). It was later spread by low-flying airplanes upon Chinese cities. Other expeditions included spreading typhoid germs into wells, houses and even injected into fruits/vegetables for public consumption. Japanese researchers performed tests with anthrax, cholera, typhoid, and other diseases on people inside clear cages. Some of these were put into bombs and dropped by airplanes.
Some of the prisoners were tied and hanged outside at freezing temperatures. Once frozen they will be thawed using water at different temperatures to find the most effective method to help their soldiers. The extent of these horrific experiments is documented in Unit 731 museum.
It’s overwhelmingly troubling to learn all of these and realize that people can do atrocious crimes to almost 400,000 people. There was one account wherein a Chinese family fed a group of Japanese soldiers one night but before leaving, they sprayed diseases around the house. Later in the morning, they were all found dead. All for studying the different levels of toxicities.
In 2015, they opened a new modern museum 100m away from the old Red Museum (used to be the command center and was later rebuilt). The new black building is conceptualized like a black box opening from the grave to finally tell the victims’ stories.
Only 12 members of the Kwantung army were tried and sentenced as war criminals. This part of history was covered by the US after winning the war in exchange of all the report findings. It was only in 2010 that US declassified 100,000 pages of WW2 history including 1,400 pages about Unit 731.
It’s free admission open from Tue-Sun 9 am to 6pm.
How to go
Take Bus 338 or 343 near the South Terminal of the Main Railway station. Look for the bus stations 200 m away from Kunlun Hotel (you may ask the hotel guard where is the bus station but note they don’t speak English so write down bus station 338 or 343 in Chinese). Cost is 2 CNY (drop 1 CNY when you board and another 1CNY when you get off).
Ask your hotel receptionist to write down the name of the museum. Show this piece of paper to the taxi driver. Cost is 50 CNY one way. You may negotiate 2 way but ensure 80-120CNY only.
Other tips (Be smart!):
1. Download maps.me offline map if you don’t have a local sim. It has GPS to track your location offline.
2. If you are from Central St, walk 700m- 1 km to the Railway Station. This is the north terminal and go down 2 levels down into the train gates. Walk to the South Terminal side. Walk on your right passing by Hanting Express and Kunlun Hotels into bus stations of 338 and 343. Show to the bus driver the name of Unit 731 in Chinese. Travel time is 1 hour (22kms).
3. Taxi to the railway station costs 10CNY.
4. Locals do not speak English so always write the places in Chinese on a piece of paper even the bus stations.
5. Download the photos of the red and black buildings because the museum is 300m away from the bus stop in Pinfang district (where Unit 731 is). You have to locate it by yourself.
6. Going back to the City Center is easier. Just walk to the other side of the bus stop where you got off earlier. Board bus 343 or 338 bound to the City Center. It’s last stop is bus station on Kunlun hotel.
P.S. I hope this post will help you commute to the museum. It took us 1.5 hours looking for Kunlun hotel. From the north terminal, we didn’t know that the passage to the South terminal was 2 floors down. We kept on going round and round on basement 1. We even tried all the exits hahaha until a worker showed us hidden stairs on the left of the taxi stand (basement 1) going to basement 2. Once we got into the South Terminal, we went inside Hanting Express hotel and asked the guard for the bus station (he can speak English but doesn’t know where it is). We requested to write the bus station 338 in Chinese so that we can ask around. Afterwards, we went inside Kunlun hotel (guard doesn’t speak English) and showed him the piece of paper from Hanting hotel’s guard. Luckily, he told us to walk ahead and pointed us to the bus station. At -18C that morning, it was not fun walking around. Still, it’s amazing how you find ways to find your way 🙂