Here is our second installment of the Hiker Diary, previously published on DNSY.
When WWII fell into a full-scale worldwide disaster, China had been through it for years. By the end of it, this land was obviously one of the most ferocious battlefields in the world, as can be seen by the biggest population of casualties and the longest period in war suffering. From 1937 to 1945, China lost more than 20 million lives directly, received only a small portion of international aid (merely 1/48 of what Britain received), but consumed over half of Japanese ground forces and 70% of its military spending. And China was not conquered. What if Japan had put all the resources spared from the Chinese front or taken from China to Siberia and the Pacific? Although equipped poorly compared to other nations, China took as much responsibility as possible and played a very important strategic role on the global anti-fascist stage. However, when talking about WWII, people always think about Dunkirk, Normandy, Stalingrad, Tobruk, the Pacific, even Myanmar and Singapore, and few have a clear idea of what happened in China. Only us Chinese know this part of history and take pride in it.
However, some people from other countries not only knew this history, but were part of it, and they developed a deep bond with China from their experience, such as the members of the Flying Tigers (The American Volunteer Groups). In this episode, I am going to introduce such a group of people, quite a special group. They were the prisoners of the Allied Forces who were held between 1942 and 1945 in Mukden Prisoners of War Camp, which is now Shenyang Museum of the Camp for WWII Prisoners of the Allied Forces.
Statues of POWs at the museum entrance
Shenyang’s five old districts have their own features developed in history: industrial Tiexi, commercial Heping, royal Shenhe, academic Huanggu, and military Dadong. The military root of Dadong District lies in the barracks and military factories located there. In 1931, Japan shot its first gun of invasion in Liutiaohu of Dadong District. As the war entered 1942, Japan forced part of the Allied Forces POWs captured in the Philippines to transfer to Shenyang, then called Mukden, and held them in the old barracks of China’s Northeast Army located in Dadong. In July 1943, the Japanese army built a new camp near Shenyang and transferred these POWs there. Until August 1945, more than 2000 POWs from six countries (United States, England, France, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands) were held there.
The POWs’ road to the camp: Manila-Kaohsiung-Bushan-Mukden
In 2005, the Shenyang City Government began to repair the remaining buildings of the camp, which were in poor shape, and converted them into a museum. On a stretch of land of 50,000 square meters, a good number of buildings were preserved and restored to their original look, including POW barracks, Japanese barracks, a bathhouse, a water tower, a smokestack, as well as a guard tower.
In the middle of the yard stood the Displaying Hall, with an attached Memorial Plaza with engraved names of those who died in the camp. Many historical documents and objects are displayed in the hall. The best part I think is the comic drawings by three POWs, all done during their years in camp. They were about the hellish moments in that sad age, but painted in a very funny, even jolly touch. Many wonderful stories can be learned from these artifacts: POWs’ hand-made instruments for the camp orchestra, the legend of the Escaped Three, and the emotional stories between POWs and local Chinese. What a shining character of human beings to seek joy amidst all these sorrows.
As the war ended in 1945, the POWs returned home. In 2003 and 2007, many of them came back to Shenyang with their families to revisit the camp. They left a lot of photos, as they did when they were young.
One of the prisoners, then and upon his return to Shenyang half a century later
On the films displayed in the museum, they were 20 something young lads, while on these color pictures they became grandpas in their eighties. But one thing remains the same – the background of the photos, their dear Mukden, our beloved Shenyang.
For some extra reading:
- Website of Mukden POWs Remembrance Society. http://mukdenpows.org/
How to find the Museum of the Camp for WWII Prisoners of the Allied Forces?
- On Ditan Street of Dadong District
- Right along Metro Line 1, between Pangjiang Street Station and Liming Square Station, closer to Pangjiang Street Station.
- Frankly, there are no landmark buildings close to the Museum. I suggest you take the Metro and walk east after getting off at Pangjiang Street Station, or West fromLiming Square Station. Just walk through some communities full of red low buildings untilyou reach Ditan Street, then you will see the water tower or the guard tower.
- Have a look at those red low buildings, of Soviet design. They were the dormitories of Liming Mechanical Factory, now lived in by worker families of the same state-owned conglomerate. That is why I suggest you take a little walk, for you could see a lot of heritage from the 1960s and 70s that way.
- However, try to avoid Hemu Beiyi Road when it rains. The land around that road is very low. If you do not heed me, you might face the situation I once experienced, as shown below:
There is nothing for it – let’s forge ahead!
- Don’t forget to look at those wonderful comic paintings!
Painting done by one of the POWs
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