A small group of Japanese veterans have trekked overseas to Jinan almost every year for a decade, visiting a war monument as repentance for their crimes during the second world war. But this year, they found it was gone.
The monument in eastern China's Shandong province - which commemorates the Pipa Mountain mass grave site nearby - had been buried as part of a redevelopment plan, according to Jinan Times.
“The land has been sold. And developers removed it because it does not look good,” said Xu Yuquan, former deputy director of a factory close to the site.
Pipa Mountain was the site of brutal killings of Chinese people by the Japanese military during the second world war. Villagers found the grave site and reported it to the authorities in 1954. Based on the accounts of Japanese war criminals, Japanese ideological criminals were also killed at the site, the newspaper said.
Since ties between China and Japan were re-establised in 1972, Jinan factory employees have noticed groups of Japanese elderly arriving every year to burn joss sticks and pay their respects at the monument.
“They were veteran Japanese soldiers conducting penance and asking for forgiveness from those who had died,” a Chinese guide once told factory employees.
Now developers are planning to build residential buildings and stores on the site, Xu said.
The land had been assigned to the factory in 1952, the newspaper said. But a few years ago, the state-owned enterprise was acquired by a developer during a series of privatisations. The grave site was also transferred along with the land, without the government's intervention, Xu told the newspaper.
Workers at the factory, which is slated to be closed and relocated, have expressed discontent about the developer's plan to build on the grave site.
“Every factory employee knows [the land's] history…it doesn’t worry me if the factory is gone. But if we forget about the history, we are all sinners,” one worker told the newspaper.
The news has since drawn public condemnation of the government’s ignorance on the historic site.
One online comment responding to the report said: “We have no right to criticise the Yasukuni Shrine if we do not value our own history,” referring to the controversial shrine in Japan that honours convicted war criminals among the war dead.
A commentary on the Beijing News on Wednesday blamed urban planning administrators for the debacle: “This is perhaps due to the pragmatic interests and GDP-driven economic development mode.”
“If we take out mass grave sites to make room for skyscrapers, it would be not grievous, but rather a shame,” it said.