On July 7, 1937, at the Marco Polo Bridge on the road between Beijing and Zhoukoudian, the Imperial Japanese Army fired on Chinese civilians in an incident that exploded into the Sino-Japanese War. Excavation at Longgushan ceased two days later as the turmoil spread across northern China.1 Head excavator Lanpo Jia directed the workers to disperse and seek safe haven in Beijing or elsewhere. Most did, but 26 workers who lived in the town of Zhoukoudian stayed on at the site to keep an eye on the excavation, the buildings, and the equipment. They were still on the payroll of the project at the end of 1937.2
The Japanese army soon conquered all of the area of northern China around Beijing, including Zhoukoudian. But the small numbers of troops left to control a restive population were insufficient to ensure calm. Communist guerrilla militias sprang up around the country to fight for an independent China. One such group became ensconced at Zhoukoudian, virtually under the noses of the Japanese High Command in Beijing.3 Many locals rallied to surreptitiously support the guerrillas' cause, and three excavation workers at Longgushan—Wanhua Zhao, Zhongyuan Dong, and Yuanchang Xiao—worked in the kitchen for some one hundred soldiers occupying the old temple building and other buildings at the site. A number of skirmishes between the guerrillas and the Japanese army occurred throughout 1937 and early 1938, but by April Japanese plainclothes troops had occupied Longgushan. Soon thereafter, on May 3, 1938, Zhao, Dong, and Xiao were arrested by the Japanese and taken to their headquarters at Fangshan. There they were interrogated and tortured in attempts to extract information about the guerrillas' movements and whereabouts. News of their deaths reached Lanpo Jia in Beijing by a messenger from Zhoukoudian. They had
been bayoneted to death along with some 30 other prisoners. Contemporary Japanese accounts confirm that recruits in the Japanese army serving in China were routinely required to bayonet prisoners in order to harden them for battle.4 Lanpo Jia recorded Teilhard's reaction to hearing the news: "He immediately stopped typing; his face turned pale, his lips trembled, and his eyes stared at me. He sat motionless for a while, then slowly stood up, and with his head bending low, began to pray."5 In 1946 the International War Crimes Tribunal convicted a number of Japanese generals and lower-ranking officers of war crimes and sentenced them to death. It has been estimated that some ten million Chinese civilians were killed by Japanese forces between 1936 and 1945.6 This horrendous loss of human life was the tragic backdrop for what happened to the long-dead fossils of Peking Man.
Was this article helpful?