Writer’s comment: My English teacher asked my class to write a review on an art exhibit. At first, I did not know what to write about because I rarely went to museums or attended concerts. However, Dr. Palo had on her list of suggestions an exhibit called “The Forgotten Holocaust,” which dealt with the Japanese invasion of Asia. This topic immediately caught my attention because my grandmother used to tell me stories of what life was like in Taiwan during the Japanese occupation. In addition, I was interested in learning more about the history of Asia since all the schools I have attended seemed to emphasize European history. It has always surprised me how often history textbooks discuss the Jewish holocaust but never mention a thing about the slaughter in Asia. Although I felt my essay lacked style, I submitted the paper because I believe it is important that people know what really happened during the early half of this century. I learned a lot about myself in writing this essay. Hopefully, others will learn something about themselves by reading it.
Instructor’s comment: One of the really attractive qualities in Davis students is that, when asked to review an artistic event or exhibit for an audience of college students, they don’t select easy subjects. They head for an exhibit of electronic sculpture, or the Social Sciences and Humanities Building, or—in the case of Sam Hsu—the emotionally and cognitively difficult installation, “The Forgotten Holocaust.” I learned through our conversations that as Sam worked out his responses to the exhibit, he was motivated by a moral purpose and an intense wish to communicate his perceptions. He also had realized from comments in class that, while some students were powerfully affected by the exhibit, others distanced themselves from it, perhaps out of misunderstanding. His clear-minded, graphic descriptions and explanation of the purpose of the exhibit create an excellent review—one which teaches readers and furthers the healing he advocates.
—Susan Palo, English Department
Schindler’s List. The Jewish Holocaust Museum. Almost everyone in America has seen or heard about the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust. However, the average U.S. citizen probably has no knowledge of the atrocities the Japanese committed throughout Asia during the first half of this century. In an effort to raise awareness of the sufferings endured by Asians, the Beijing War Memorial Museum, the Alliance for Preserving the Truth of Sino-Japanese War, and the Society for Studies of Japanese Aggression Against China have joined the Los Angeles Exhibition Committee in bringing to the Davis campus an exhibit titled “The Forgotten Holocaust.” Running from April 11 to May 2, 1996, this exhibition provides the students and faculty of UC Davis with a free opportunity to catch a powerful glimpse of just some of the evils the Japanese Imperialist Army committed upon the people of Asia, particularly the Chinese.
At first glance, the small Memorial Union Art Gallery looks unimpressive, with only a few displays. But do not be fooled. Behind the simplicity lies a powerful message: never forget the war crimes of the Japanese. An introductory piece near the entrance explains that Asians, unlike the Jews, have ignored the pains of the past for too long. Whereas Jews have been outspoken about their plight, Asians have chosen to hide their anguish for over fifty years. The only way to heal the hurt of the past is to confront the harsh realities of the Japanese invasion of Asia.
Starting in the left hand corner of the gallery, we come across two displays, called “Journey to Nanking” and “A Deep Self-Reflection.” These two pieces introduce us to the victims of the war. “Journey to Nanking” is a simple, yet elegant, tribute to the people of Nanking, a city in China where thousands were slaughtered. This work consists of a small altar displaying three burning candles and a mirror with a painting of 14th-century China in the background. Complemented by the dark surroundings, this shrine creates an aura of solemnity and seriousness as we take a look in the mirror to see that we are all human. Meanwhile, “A Deep Self-Reflection,” a poem written in Chinese, expresses the sorrow and bitterness felt by the Chinese people. It says that people must educate others about the Sino-Japanese War so that one day we can find the courage to forgive. Because these two pieces are so plain, they do not prepare us for the severity of the displays to come.
Moving several steps to the right, we see a small black binder full of photographs depicting some of the biological warfare the Japanese inflicted on the Chinese during 1937. This display, titled “Unit 731,” is named after an area in China where Japanese scientists performed a variety of gruesome experiments on Chinese civilians and soldiers. To prepare for biological warfare against their enemies, the Japanese conducted tests of pain and starvation thresholds, injected various types of hazardous chemicals into subjects, and dissected live humans without administering anesthetics. One can easily compare these gruesome experiments (such graphic pictures) to those of the Jewish holocaust.
“Unit 731” also exposes an unknown fact about World War II. Everyone probably thinks that the United States was an ally of the Chinese during its war with Japan. However, “Unit 731” proves otherwise, with photographs of documents describing U.S. involvement in granting asylum to Japanese scientists accused of war crimes. The “experiments” conducted in “Unit 731” so intrigued the U.S. government that they promised asylum to any Japanese scientist who would give them information about their so-called research.
Perhaps even more painful than seeing images of people being tortured and killed, the different accounts of torture contained in this exhibit speak for themselves. Imagine being abducted, locked in a small shack, and raped twenty to forty times a day for years. The Japanese government forced hundreds of thousands of Asian women to live under such horrid conditions during their conquest of Asia. This installation, called “The Story of Comfort Women,” focuses on the lives of these sex slaves or “comfort women.” The exhibit itself consists of a replica of a small shack that served as a “brothel,” a black binder containing snapshots and explicit testimonies of former comfort women, and a videotape from an episode of Dateline.
The aforementioned shack, perhaps no bigger than a sauna, is made entirely of wood. The only furnishings are a tatami mat (a floor mat made of bamboo) and a wash bowl. It is hard to imagine how anyone could live under such inhumane conditions. The binder of photographs and testimonies gives us an idea of the lives of Asian women under Japanese occupation. Former comfort women recount how Japanese men would trick young girls, some as young as 15 years old, into forced prostitution by promising them a well-paying job in another town. Others detail how after being raped, they had less than half an hour to rest before being violated again. Meanwhile, the report by Dateline exposes the unwillingness of the Japanese government to admit guilt and grant reparations to the surviving comfort women. According to a Japanese official, when the countries Japan warred with signed their peace treaties, they ended whatever disagreements they had with Japan. As a result, Japan believes it does not have to pay any compensation.
“The Nanking Massacre” is the name of the next piece in “The Forgotten Holocaust.” On December 8, 1937, Japanese troops began a systematic campaign of violence in the city of Nanking. In less than four months, Japanese soldiers butchered 340,000 citizens in the former capital of China. Two black binders full of photographs tell the story of how Japanese troops raped 80,000 women and children, bayoneted, shot, or beheaded thousands of Chinese civilians, and created mass graves for Chinese corpses. Some of the most troubling pictures include Japanese newspaper clippings praising Japanese officers who killed more than a hundred Chinese and the snapshot of a smiling Japanese soldier holding the head of a Chinese male as a trophy. Although few words appear in this part of the exhibit, the pictures help us to comprehend the severity of the situation in China during the 1930s. In fact, the pictures in “The Forgotten Holocaust” are so powerful that no words could possibly evoke the same emotions.
Near the end of the exhibit, we encounter a large sheet of white paper where patrons of “The Forgotten Holocaust” can write comments they would like to have sent to the Japanese Parliament. Most leave only a few sentences, condemning the Japanese government for their past conduct. On the left-hand side of the big sheet of paper a Japanese person wrote a single word: “Dooshite?” Translated from Japanese, it means “Why?” Healing through education has begun.