Thousands of other Japanese stayed, many of them children who were given to Chinese families by desperate parents, or abandoned as orphans.
Their story was forgotten until 1963, when Zhou Enlai, China’s No. 2 leader under Mao, ordered the town to excavate the Japanese bones from the hills and forests around the town for cremation and burial. The ashes were interred at what later became the Friendship Garden.
When Japan became prosperous in the 1980s, it began repatriating its war orphans from northeastern China. They, in turn, helped their Chinese relatives and friends to move to Japan for work, study and marriage.
According to the Fangzheng government website, 38,000 people from the town — one fifth of Fangzheng’s population — now live overseas, overwhelmingly in Japan.
In 1995, a repatriated former orphan built a monument in the cemetery to the Chinese parents who adopted Japanese children. Many of the former orphans, some of whom kept their Chinese names while others took Japanese names on returning, are now among the most frequent visitors to the Friendship Garden.
“The Friendship Garden is a meaningful place,” said Gao Fengqin, 74, a former Japanese war orphan now living in Harbin, about 120 miles from Fangzheng, “The visits are not paid to the Japanese soldiers, but the Chinese parents who brought us up.”