The Narrow Road to the Deep Sea 通向深海的狹道 (Ongoing | 2019-)

Research, photography, moving images, publication, sculptures, installation

​Open call
for participation


Call for oral history of Hong Kong refugees in WWII



The entitled project aims to examine the notion of human displacement owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted in World War II in Hong Kong, China and Japan.


This project centers in a notorious historical event, namely Nanshitou Massacre (南石頭大屠殺), a series of human experiment and bacteriological tests were conducted to approximately 100,000 refugees from Hong Kong and south China. The Hong Kong refugees were being expatriated and repatriated by the Imperial Japanese Army from 1941 to 1945 due to various reasons. This project aims at suspending established historical judgment, re-discovering and unfolding details on humanity lurks deep within us all.


Inspired by the prominent Japanese poet Matsuo Basho’s travel diary The Narrow Road to the Deep North (奧之細道, Oku no Hosomichi), unlike Matsuo’s recreational adventure, the entitled project The Narrow Road to the Deep Sea highlights the escaping routes of Hong Kong refugees to Canton, where was 129km in the north of the colony. In order to facilitate the diminishing population scheme, the first Imperial Japanese Governor introduced three routes to Canton:​​

  1. The Eastern Route (by foot) - from Hong Kong via the Kowloon Peninsula, traveled across the Shenzhen River, from the Mainland to Canton;

  2. The Western Route (by boat and foot) - from Hong Kong to Macao by boat, then headed North via Zhuhai to Canton;

  3. The Central Route (by boat) - from Hong Kong bypassing Lantau Island by boat and then headed north to Canton from the Pearl River Estuary.

Since refugees who took the first and second route could possibly bypass the camp, only if they had Mainland Chinese family or friends to provide a roof. On the other hand, the refugee camp provided minimal peasant food and accommodation, so to attract a large number of refugees that desperately wanted to find a shelter. Furthermore, in order to avoid robbers and escaped soldiers on the way, it was rather less time-consuming and safe to travel by boat. Nanshitou Refugee Camp was located at the end of the third route, therefore, there were at least tens of thousands of refugees fleeing north via the third route.

The image of Deep Sea alludes the mentality of refugees on the voyage, who had an unforeseen future awaiting them. Secondly, it is related to the bacteriological experiments conducted on refugees, which will be further elaborated in Part III (The Enka Singer) and Part IV (The Digger) description.

Hong Kong refuge route to Canton



After Japanese captured Canton [1] (Guangdong [2], 廣東) in 1938, the Imperial Japanese governor established South China Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department (華南防疫及給水部) as a medical unit, and also being held as a headquarter of Unit 8604 that was operated by the Japanese Southern China Area Army (南支那方面軍). Many of the officers were originally in service at Unit 731 in Manchuria, including the head of Unit 8604, Colonel Sato Shunji (佐藤 俊二).


Japanese Imperial Army occupied Hong Kong in 1941; Hong Kong originally had a population of about 1.4 million, after the downfall of Canton, Hong Kong accepted influx refugees from Canton and other southern China cities, the population expanded to 2 million in a few months. The new Japanese Imperial Governor planned to reduce the population of Hong Kong to half in order to minimize the cost of governance, food and water, as a result, thousands of Hong Kong people were forced or tricked into a refuge to Nanshitou Refugee Camp (南石頭難民收容所), also as a detained terrain, in the Pearl River Estuary. Later, Unit 8604 conducted live bacteriological experiment on the Hong Kong refugees.

[1] ‘Canton’ is a Cantonese (original southern Chinese language) romanised term for ‘Guangdong’.

[2] In current geographic and political divisions, Canton / Guangdong (廣東/広東) refers to a province, and Guangzhou (廣州/広州) is one of the cities in the province. While during the Japanese Occupation period, Canton mainly referred to Guangzhou city, hereafter ‘Canton’ means ‘Guangzhou city’ in this article.

Skull of George
Skull of George

Part I (George and Swimming Pool)

Part I (George and Swimming Pool)

Part I (George and Swimming Pool)

Skull of George
Skull of George

Part I (George and Swimming Pool)


Part I (George and the Swimming Pool)

Single-channel video | 10’26” | color | 16:9 | stereo

Through an autographic manner, the film starts with my memory of having art education in my middle school in the 90s. In the first lesson of figure drawing, my art teacher brought out a skull from the storage. I and other classmates thought it was a casting, but my teacher told us that he picked it up while the school dug out a new swimming pool and long jump field in the 80s; two Imperial Japanese gunto (軍刀, military swords, likely to be type 95) were also excavated. It unveils the piece of history that my school was cleared out by the Imperial Japanese army and Kenpentai (憲兵隊) during the Occupation period. The school consequently turned into the 4th Military Hospital (第4陸軍醫院) (together with two other secondary schools, i.e. La Salle College and Maryknoll Convent School), the acting headmaster was imprisoned in Stanley Prison (赤柱監獄), boarding boys were sent home and the school was suspended until the Liberation Day (香港重光) in 1945.


After the outbreak of Pacific War, Japanese considered South China as the rear front; many of the injured soldier and inactive machinery and equipment were transported to Hong Kong, Canton and Hainan, due to their geographical locations and they were far from the war zone frontline.


Unit Nami (波) 8604 was a smaller biological and bacteriological unit compared with Unit 731 (Manchuria), Unit 1855 (Peking [3], 北京), Unit Ei 1644 (Nanking [4], 南京) or Unit Oko 9420 (Syonan-to [5], 昭南島). A sub-branch was opened in Hong Kong as ‘Hong Kong Bacteriology Laboratory’ (香港細菌研究所 [6]), both institutes exchanged experiment test results [7]. Records showing that the laboratory was part of the military facility in Kowloon, I speculate that the lab was either opened in Kowloon Hospital or one of the occupied schools.


But shortly after this order was exerted, the unit exhausted pathogen in ‘unsuccessful’ tests. Consequently, the unit requested pathogen from Imperial Military Medical School (陸軍軍医学校) [8] and Tokyo Imperial University (東京帝國大學) [9] respectively.

The film continues by cross-cutting with a trial defence at Guangzhou War Criminal Tribunal (廣州軍事法庭) on 15th February 1946. The conversation between the prosecutor and defendant reveals the mentality of an officer who witnessed the brutality but had to remain innocent in order to prevent being convicted to imprisonment or death sentence.


[3] The Romanised spelling of the capital was in ‘Peking’ instead of ‘Beijing’ during the Second World War. ‘Beijing’ was widely adopted after the establishment of new China and phonetics of Chinese was unified.

[4] Same as above. ‘Nanking’ was later renamed as ‘Nanjing’.

[5] Singapore (シンガポール, 新加坡) was renamed as Syonan-to after the occupation in 1942. ‘Syonan-to’ means ‘Light of southern island’.

[6] Some document put it in Infectious Disease Research Laboratory (伝染病研究所).

[7] Compared to the testing environment in Manchuria and Beijing, Canton and Hong Kong were similar to French Indochina and Southeast Asia countries, that explains why Japanese invested time and resources on opening a new branch of the bacteriological research unit in Southern China, which could facilitate germ warfare in southern topical weather.

[8] Most of the complex and medical facilities were destroyed in the Tokyo Air Raid. The complex was later rebuilt into National Institute of Infectious Diseases (国立感染症研究所).

[9] Resumed the name ‘The University of Tokyo’ (東京大學) in 1947.

Part II (The Smoking Lady)

Part II (The Smoking Lady)

Part II (The Smoking Lady)

Part II (The Smoking Lady)


Part II (The Smoking Lady)

Single-channel video | 9’43” | color | 16:9 | stereo

In the history of war, it was prevalent (though not acceptable) that the commander of the victorious army will allow the soldiers to drink, loot, rob, rape and kill local citizens right after the conquering of a city. As the soldiers were away from home for a long time, and even possibly injured and died during the invasion, the army took atrocities as a valid reward to raise morale and provide incentives for the next battle. Yet, it is banned under International Law and considered as war crime nowadays.


After Hong Kong fell into the hand of the Imperial Japanese Army on 25th December 1941, the army allowed soldiers to celebrate the victory for three days; after then, the military changed their mind and asked for resuming army discipline and social order (i.e. Japanese Martial Law), to earn public recognition. Still, it didn’t succeed until the Liberation Day. Young women were highly endangered; they hid at home, in the mountains and rural areas, fled to mainland China and even uninhabited islands. The protagonist was one of them, and she was forced to Canton and faced her unfortunate fate of being a refugee.


Before she fled to the mainland, she cut her hair and disguised as a boy. In the early spring in 1942, she had the last cigarette before taking a boat to Canton.




The lady: Adachi Momoyo (安達 桃代)

Artist assistant: Isaji Yugo (伊佐治 雄悟)

Hair Barber: Kusakabe Yoshio (日下部 善夫)

Part III (The Enka Singer)

Part III (The Enka Singer)

Part III (The Enka Singer)

Part III (The Enka Singer)


Part III (The Enka Singer)

Single-channel video | 1’45” | color | 16:9 | stereo

According to Unit 8604 veteran Toyokichi Eguchi, he recalled how he handled the refugee corpses in the camp, clearly referring to two newly constructed architectures that used for naturally corrupting the dead bodies, it matches what 1st Bacteriological Research Unit leader Maruyama Shigeru’s colleague Matoba Morika mentioned, “Pond of Bone Corrosion” (Sha Dongxun, 2005). Besides, a refugee named Feng Qingzhang (also known as Feng Qi) mentioned a popular doggerel in the camp:





(食了味粥) 肚痛必痾無藥止














Caged birds cannot fly high


You eat the seasoned congee otherwise you will starve


Once you finish it


You will suffer from stomach ache and diarrhea without cure


Your body will be thrown to the pond after you die

Regarding to the Bone dissolving pond (bath) (化骨池), testimony by Xiao Zheng (肖錚), descendant of a coroner at the camp, recalled that the pond contained a mixture of calcium oxide (Ca(OH)2, lime) and unknown chemical. It could quickly dissolve bones at the same time served as an antibiosis agent and got rid of the unpleasant odour. When the pond was full, the remaining corpses were buried in a mass grave outside the camp [10].


Calcium oxide is a strong base for chemical reaction, I speculate that the unit officers may add hydrochloric acid (HCI) in order to create a highly exothermic heat, then to completely decompose human tissue and bones within a short period of time.




In such chemical reaction, salt and water will be produced as by-products as a result.


The sea, was sorrowfully created by human bodies.
















[10] Nan Ji Lu (南箕路), Guangzhou, China


Composer: Ikeda Ryo (池田 諒)

Artist assistant: Isaji Yugo (伊佐治 雄悟)

Singer: Ogawa Yohei (小川 洋平)

The bodies of deceased refugees were thrown into the bone-dissolving pond (bath). There were two concrete ponds in 20 meters wide, 5 meters long and 5 meters deep at the camp. The corpses were transported to pond and dissolved by chemical agent. In the peak period, over 50 corpses were processed daily. The pond was an invention by Unit 8604 (among all biological units) to efficiently process the corpses, but at this time there were still some remaining that could not be processed and buried. There were more than 1200 human bones exhumed from the site, where becomes a paper mill now.


(Testimony by Maruyama Shigeru, 1994)



(丸山茂証言, 1994)

Part IV (The Digger)

Part IV (The Digger)

Part IV (The Digger)

Part IV (The Digger)


Part IV (The Digger)

Single-channel video | 10’30” | color | 16:9 | stereo

A video performance of digging a hole in Toyama Park (戶山公園) (箱根山).


Hakone-yama near Shinjuku had been Toyama Military Medical School (戶山陸軍軍醫學校) since 1920s until the end of WWII, part of the facilities was allocated as major research laboratory [11] of Kwantung Army Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department (Tokyo Division) (関東軍防疫給水部の東京拠点), where was headquarter of Shiro Ishii’s (石井 四郎) infamous Unit 731 [12].


In the 90s, over 100 remains of the human body [13] were discovered near Toyama site, more are occasionally exhumed by construction projects. Those people were the "teaching materials" of the Military Medical School, their bodies were disposed in the dumping ground and mass grave after experiments.


A 2001 report by Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry (厚生労働省) tells some of the bodies and remains are kept as specimens at local medical education institutes for teaching and research purposes. According to Sapporo Gakuin University (札幌学院大学) anthropologist Hajime Sakura (佐久 良肇), at least 62 bodies were found as Mongoloid. It is believed that vivisection and brain surgery were conducted on those experiment subjects. The remaining bodies were processed by the government, unfortunately, their ethnical identity is still unknown or disclosed.


The site synchronically provokes my memory about my secondary school, where mass grave was also discovered after the war (Part I). I spent time in Toyama Park, observe the people with my own eyes, study its layout and geography. My instinct tells me to dig a hole, not in an intention to excavate anything but to create a depression that can fit in my body, then cover with a piece of ‘sea’. Through hours of physical labour, I feel the buried consciousness of those who dug their own grave, the living, the dead and the evil.


The leaves and rain fall on that artificial sea over time, the weight of nature pressures it down and reveals the evacuation again.


I observe, people seem not to care about it.



[11] The other facilities included Epidemic Laboratory (防疫研究室), Specimen Library (標本圖書室), Bacteriological and Chemical weapons research laboratory (細菌和化學武器研究室) and Military Array sanitation classroom (軍陣衛生學教室).

[12] In Tokyo Air Raid on 25th May 1945, the laboratory facilities were destroyed except some classrooms and Specimen library. After the Japanese surrender, Toyama Military Medical School was completely abolished on 26th November 1945 (Army Order no. 56). Part of the complex is rebuilt into Center Hospital of the National Center for Global Health and Medicine (国立国際医療研究センター病院) and National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Toyama Research Office Building (国立感染症研究所・戸山研究庁舎) now.

[13] NAKAMURA, Akemi,  “Alleged Unit 731 victims' bones still a mystery”, The Japan Times (4 August 2004).

Installation at ACO, Hong Kong (2020)

Installation at ACO, Hong Kong (2020)

Installation at Long March Project, Beijing, China (2019)

Installation at ACO, Hong Kong (2020)