Most people think of World War II (WWII) as being fought in Europe and across the Pacific Ocean, but a decisive theatre of the war was actually fought on Chinese lands.
Visiting important memorials, battle sites, and museums can give you an immersive look into the impact WWII had on China. Today’s monuments to the conflict all serve as sobering reminders of war, and are especially important in understanding how Chinese people see themselves today.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most important war sites in China.
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China’s war with Japan began in 1937, years before the invasion of Poland or the bombing of Pearl Harbor. A staggering 35 million Chinese civilians and soldiers were killed or injured in the eight years that followed and it was during this period that some of the darkest chapters of China’s modern history took place.
World War II History in China – Yunnan’s Flying Tigers
By 1941, the Japanese military had pushed back beleaguered Chinese forces to Yunnan – a rugged province at that time, located in southwest China. Protecting the Burma Road, a Chinese-built supply route linking Yunnan with Burma (present-day Myanmar), became crucial to stopping the country falling into Japanese hands.
Following America’s entry into WWII, a group of retired American fighter pilots banded together with the Chinese to help protect Yunnan. They stunned the world with their spectacular success, despite being hopelessly outnumbered, and were named ‘The Flying Tigers’ after the noses of their planes.
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On our Yunnan’s Flying Tigers journey, you’ll retrace the old Burma Road, as it torturously twists through the towering Gaoligong Mountains, and then hike up to nearby villages to hear elders’ stories of the battles fought here. Near Lijiang, you’ll then visit the airstrip used by the Flying Tigers, all the while exploring Yunnan’s diverse feast of culture, cuisine and scenery.
World War II History in China – Shanghai’s Jewish Refugees
You might be surprised to learn that the bustling metropolis of Shanghai played a role in saving the lives of around 20,000 Jews during World War II. The port was one of the last open to people fleeing from Hitler’s Europe and nowadays, there is a treasure trove of sights related to this history.
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On your next trip to Shanghai, why not let WildChina Jewish expert Dvir Bargal guide you through Ohel Moshe Synagogue, which was once the center of Shanghai’s Jewish community. He’ll then accompany you through the old Jewish ghetto, where immigrants were forced to reside during the Japanese Occupation, and talk about his efforts to preserve Jewish history in the city.
World War II History in China – Auschwitz of the East
While Harbin in northeast China is known around the globe for its magical ice festival, just on the edges of the city lies a monument to the atrocities of war.
Unit 731 was a top-secret germ warfare experimental base used by the Japanese army between 1937 and 1945. Dubbed the “Auschwitz of the East”, thousands of men, women and children were subjected to experimentation – often lacking anaesthesia – or put to death in unspeakable ways, all in the name of military research.
Source: I Heart China
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Today, visitors can see what’s left of the base, as well as its sullen, black museum, featuring a well-designed interior that seemingly entraps its visitors like inmates. A selection of testimonies, experimental tools and documents bring to life this chilling account of WWII. Visiting here offers an illuminating insight into a grim historical chapter that’s unfortunately absent from many history classes in the West.
Our Jewish History tour makes a stop in Harbin, and you can customize your itinerary to include this war museum.
Uncover China’s tragic and eye-opening wartime history with WildChina. All our itineraries are completely customizable and can be guided by your desire to learn more. Speak to us to see China differently.