Testimonial of Shelby Song

Shelby Song
San Francisco, CA
2017 Asia Study Tour Participant

I discovered the 2017 Asia Study Tour completely by happenstance. A friend’s friend sent out an email about the tour, and it sat in my mailbox for weeks until I finally decided to go through my unread emails and clean up my inbox. Thankfully I read it just in time to apply for and be accepted into the program that turned out to be an eye-opening and even life-changing experience for me.

Having studied extensively the history of WWII and especially the Japanese occupation of East Asia, I well knew most of the issues surrounding the brutality and atrocities committed by the Japanese army. However, it is one thing to learn something from books and lectures, but entirely another to actually have the opportunity to visit the historical sites, view first-hand materials and talk to survivors in person. The sites we visited cover the gamut, from the former “comfort women” station in Shanghai, to the residence of John Rabe, the Schindler of China, to the Nanking Massacre museum, to the infamous Unit 731, the mere mention of which strikes fear into the hearts of many people.

I have to confess I almost could not make it through the museum – the sheer brutality of the crimes committed by the Japanese medical “professionals” on those hapless victims was beyond comprehension, and I found myself questioning my sanity, and the sanity of the human race after viewing the museum exhibits; how on earth could do such unspeakable things to another human being?! I have long known the crimes committed by Unit 731 conceptually, but to view the materials in person was an experience words cannot describe.

Perhaps the most poignant part of the tour was speaking to survivors, whose numbers are dwindling literally by the day. We met with a grandfather who was tortured by the Japanese or another one who lost limbs in Japanese air raids. We met a grandmother whose legs were infested with germs when the Japanese army decided to launch a biological warfare against Chinese civilians, and it was astounding to see that she still suffered from the effect many decades after the illegal act. We also had the honor and privilege of meeting with surviving comfort women in Korea who recounted to us the horrors they suffered at their Japanese tormentors. The day when we arrived to speak with these grandmas, we found out one of them had recently passed away, which brought home the urgency that their stories must be told and remembered before they are lost to history. It was such a touching experience when we joined one of the grandmas and hundreds of people for the weekly demonstration in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul to protest against Japan’s continuing refusal to acknowledge its responsibilities regarding the “comfort women” issue.

One of the highlights of the trip was the opportunity to meet and converse with Matsuoka, the Japanese activist who interviewed numerous Japanese soldiers who freely admitted to committing war crimes during the Nanking Massacre. It was inspiring to see that a Japanese citizen took it upon herself, at great risk to the safety of herself and that of her family, to document a part of the history that the Japanese government, as well as many Japanese, continue to deny or minimize.

Through the trip leader, Don Tow, I also got to learn about an international poetry contest to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Nanking Massacre. I entered the contest and to my utter surprise, I won second prize in the English division. The Poet Laureate of Maryland, Dr. Grace Cavalieri, interviewed me as well as two other winners, and the interview will be broadcast on NPR in late 2019. Here is the link to the interview: https://www.gracecavalieri.com/poetLaureates/nanking_poets.html. The poem is listed here: http://www.nanjingmassacre1937.org/index.php?_m=mod_article&_a=article_content&article_id=92.

I learned so much from the study tour, which will serve me well for the rest of my life in terms of enhancing my understanding of a major part of Asian as well as world history. And thanks to the study tour, I had the opportunity to become a winner of an international poetry contest. I will forever cherish the tremendous opportunities and impact this study tour has brought me.

I would like to give a shout-out to Don Tow, our intrepid trip leader. From organizing the entire trip down to every single detail such as hotel booking and arranging to meet with survivors and speakers, to looking after each and every tour group member, Don did it all with flying colors. Given the diverse nature of the group, the task was really herding cats! Without Don, the study tour would not have been possible. A big, heartfelt thank-you to you, Don! Keep up the great work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *