FANGZHENG, China-Local authorities have come under fire for requiring stores to put up signs in Japanese and Chinese after being forced to remove a monument to commemorate Japanese civilians who died at the end of World War II.
Fangzheng county in Heliongjiang province has promoted a pro-Japanese policy based on its close historical ties with Japan.
About 15,000 Japanese immigrants tasked with developing Manchuria fled to the area after the former Soviet Union invaded northeastern China at the end of World War II.
While about 5,000 died of hunger and disease, more than 4,000 children and women were adopted by Chinese, according to the county government.
The county government erected the monument on July 25 for some of the Japanese who died, but removed it between Aug. 5 and Aug. 6 after facing criticism that it commemorated Japanese aggression.
Adopted Japanese residents, as well as their families and relatives, moved to Japan since the 1980s, deepening ties between the county and Japan.
Half of about 220,000 people registered in the county either live in Japan or temporarily stayed in Japan, according to county statistics.
Five years ago, the county government began requiring stores to display their names in Japanese as well as Chinese to promote friendship with Japan.
The unusual pro-Japanese policy has come under attack over the Internet after it became widely known along with the monument. Critics asked why the Japanese language is necessary in a Chinese community.
Many residents said it would be difficult to continue the policy.
"Our economy profits thanks to people who went to Japan from our county, and I support promoting friendship between China and Japan," said the owner of an appliance store, who put up a Japanese sign last year. "But some people criticize residents of our county as if they were traitors."
The owner of a store selling building materials said, "I will remove the Japanese sign if criticism heightens."
The county has one of the largest amounts of foreign currency being exchanged among the same level of local governments, largely because people who have moved from the county send large amounts of money back home in yen.
A cluster of dozens of detached houses is available in downtown at low prices for people who returned from Japan. The county government has provided subsidies to utilize their funds and know-how for regional development.
In 1963, before Japan and China normalized diplomatic relations, a grave site for Japanese was built in the county by the Chinese government at the initiative of Premier Zhou Enlai.
This reporter on Aug. 6 asked taxi drivers to take him to a park dedicated to Japan-China friendship where the monument was built, but they all refused. One driver said authorities have told taxis not to take customers to the park.
When the reporter finally arrived, men who appeared to be government officials were walking around the gate and only said the park had been closed.
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