Fleas triggered bubonic plague: doctor


Infected fleas dumped on a mainland Chinese city by Japan’s military triggered outbreaks of bubonic plague in the early 40s, a mainland Chinese doctor testified Wednesday.

Huang Ketai, a 68-year old bacteriologist, became the first scientist to offer testimony in court linking Japan’s biological warfare to outbreaks of the disease in mainland China.

Huang spoke at a trial in which some 180 Chinese plaintiffs are demanding compensation and an apology from the Japanese government for the deaths of their relatives.

The plaintiffs believe they were killed in biological experiments, vivisections and other acts of brutality carried out by Japan’s notorious Unit 731.

At least 109 people died of bubonic plague in Ningbo, south of Shanghai, from November to December, 1940, in the outbreaks that exploded days after Japanese war planes dumped fleas over the city center, Huang said.

The problem hasn’t ended there. A single outbreak requires 50 years of follow-up, a big burden on the city budget, he said. Infected houses, hospitals and other buildings were burned and had to be left untouched for decades. Fears of another outbreak still haunt the city.

The dropping of the fleas mixed with wheat by air has been confirmed by the mainland Chinese government and was witnessed by many locals.

“Obviously, the outbreak was deliberately created,” Huang said through an interpreter. “It perfectly matches the area and the timing of the Japanese military’s wheat dumping.”

Unlike usual outbreaks of bubonic plague, the Ningbo instance occurred in a small area, lasting just 34 days with no dead rats but one found, he said.

He said the fleas, a kind not native to the region, were infected with “plague with artificially intensified toxicity,” which he added only Unit 731 could do.

The lawsuit, filed in 1997, claimed at least 2,100 people were killed in germ-bombings and other biological experiments by the unit and its affiliates.

After decades of denial, Japan several years ago acknowledged that Unit 731 existed but has refused to confirm its activity.

Huang has led a municipal investigation of the impact of the flee bombings in Ningbo, among several targets of Japan’s germ warfare.

The trial at the Tokyo District Court was expected to continue for several more months. Two more Chinese experts were to testify later Tuesday.

Although some Japanese veterans have come forward in recent years and confessed to war crimes, the Japanese government has shied away from making apologies to mainland China.

Japanese textbooks still often present only brief, perfunctory accounts of Japan’s aggression in East Asia from the mid-1930s to the war’s end in 1945.

“I have devoted almost my entire life to the flea bombing probe,” Huang said. “Japan’s government should at least apologize and compensate for our sufferings.”