Peace Activist, Founder & ED – Women Cross DMZ
2017 Asia Study Tour Participant
The 2017 Peace and Reconciliation Asia Study Tour was a remarkably well-organized trip, and I am both grateful to Don Tow and ALPHA for its generous support of the participants’ unique education. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn about China.
As someone who has been working on peace on the Korean peninsula for nearly two decades, I felt the need to deepen my understanding of countries surrounding Korea, and this trip gave me a unique perspective of China and its experience with war in the last century.
While there was a lot I knew as a peace activist who has been working on peace and reconciliation in the Asia Pacific region, including the plight of Chinese comfort women and the Nanjing Massacre, it was a truly special and unique opportunity to meet and hear from survivors, experts and activists who have devoted their lives to documenting these injustices. It was heartening to visit the Shanghai Normal University and the site in Seoul where the same bronze statues were erected of two young comfort women, one Chinese and one Korean. It showed the success and evolution of an over two-decade effort to build solidarity across national boundaries to educate the world about the sexual slavery of hundreds of thousands of young women and girls.
One of the most memorable trips was to the Nanjing Massacre Museum which was a massive undertaking to document in detail the tragic history. It was heart-wrenching to hear the story of a 89-year old survivor Ai Yi-Ying describing how she witnessed all the men in her family got killed while she and her pregnant mother and baby brother hid in the mountains. While we could have left feeling despondent, instead we heard from Tamaki Matsuoka, the Japanese trailblazer who has done the impossible task of documenting the war crimes committed by the soldiers and trauma of Nanjing survivors. Our heavy spirits were also lifted while we were in Nanjing, when we were able to visit the Nanjing Normal University (called Ginling College at that time headed by Minnie Vautrin, an American) where 10,000 Chinese civilians (mostly women and girls) were sheltered from being raped and massacred, and the home of John Rabe, a German businessman who sheltered in his house over 600 Chinese civilians from being slaughtered. My heart was heavy from seeing the cruelty that humans are capable of inflicting upon each other, yet at the same time the enormous bravery of individuals during terrifying times of war. It made me realize how much education, justice, and reconciliation must be done to avert another horrific war in Northeast Asia.
I was especially charmed by Harbin, a less populated city in China near the border of Russia. While its tree-lined streets and more mellow pace was a welcome break from the intensity of massive, bustling cities like Beijing and Shanghai, it was also eerie to visit the Unit 731 Museum where the Japanese military had a secret site where they developed biological and germ warfare by testing on approximately 3,000 victims, mostly Chinese civilians and prisoners of war. The US gave these Japanese war criminals like Shiro Ishii immunity for their knowledge of biological and chemical warfare, which according to reports suppressed in the west was then used in the Korean War (where Shiro Ishii was also seen during the war). As a longtime Korean peace activist, it was also special for me to be so close to the place where Ahn Jung-geun, the Korean independence fighter who assassinated Japanese Prime Minister Ito-Hirobumi in 1909 at the Harbin train station.
Overall, it was a memorable trip. I remain committed to working towards achieving justice for the comfort women and now towards educating the US about the atrocities committed by the Japanese war criminals against innocent civilians during the Nanjing Massacre and Unit 731. It is especially critical for those of us living in the United States to help educate Americans because it was the US government that gave protection to Japanese war criminals.