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Remember Nanjing for sake of peace
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Thekla Lit does not appear to be a tough woman at first sight, but she has been resolute in making sure Japan's war-time record in China is never forgotten.

When she was younger, this Hong Kong-born Canadian participated in a campaign to protect Diaoyu Island. She said she was angered by the Japanese government's claims of sovereignty.

Later, she uncovered documents revealing the cruelties of Japan's invading troops in China. She was astonished that history books in Hong Kong did not mention these atrocities.

"The Diaoyu Island incident was just the tip of the iceberg as far as the Japanese invasion of China and it is a history that is still denied by the Japanese government," Lit said.

With the initial idea of bringing this history to the attention of Westerners, Lit, who is in her 50s, founded the British Columbia chapter of the Canadian Association for Learning and Preserving WWII History in Asia (ALPHA), after she moved to the city in 1996.

The association, which has been committed to incorporating the history of Japan's invasion of China into the British Columbian curriculum succeeded in 2003.

But the problem did not end there.

After new textbooks were printed with the information about Japan's wartime role in China, many Canadian teachers told the education bureaus they knew nothing about the events, Lit said.

She began to arrange tours for mainly Canadian teachers and students to visit the sites where the atrocities occurred.

"People in Canada always adopt the European point of view, but the point of view of Asian people, who also suffered in World War II, should not be neglected, for the sake of world peace," said Lit.

The visits, which also included teachers from New Jersey, United States, since 2006, are usually to cities including Nanjing, Shanghai and Zhengzhou.

There they learn about the Chinese women raped by Japanese troops and the Chinese laborers they exploited during WW II.

Donations for the visits come from Chinese communities and other charitable groups.

"Feeling the sorrow and pain of the survivors and the presence of the souls of the dead where the Nanjing Massacre occurred, it is an overwhelming experience," said Doug Cervi, of Oakcrest High School from New Jersey.

"The sheer magnitude of the atrocities that were committed by the Japanese Imperial Army rival those committed by the Nazis in Europe in WW II," Doug said.

"It is so horrifying to see the atrocities committed by the Japanese soldiers, as shown by all the pictures and documents in the hall. The routine killing, rapes and burning of innocent Chinese people was so unimaginably inhumane," said Janice Gladish, a 29-year-old history teacher from Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.

Gladish said she had no idea about the massacre until she read about it in April from a special resource reserved for teachers in her local library.

"Those stories prompted me to apply for this visit, even though the selection criteria for applicants was strict. The atmosphere and documents here give me a vivid picture of the massacre," she said.

What pleases Lit most, however, is that many of the teachers who have taken the tours said they would pass on the history to their students.

"As a person with a strong sense of social activism I am, for sure, going to pass on what the survivors said today to people around me, including my students. It's never been acknowledged by Western history," Gladish said.

Educational institutions in eastern Canada have also begun to publish the history of Japan's invasion of China, partly as a result of the tours. This applies to areas in the United States too.

"So little is taught in American schools about this chapter of history and I now see it as my responsibility to advance the knowledge of teachers and students to know more about the atrocities committed in China by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Asia-Pacific War, 1931-45," said Robert Holden, professor of history at Atlantic Cape Community College, Cape May County, New Jersey.

Even so, Lit is not entirely satisfied by her achievements.

"What we are doing is fulfilling our responsibilities as international citizens to remember and learn from past cruelties. And we will try to make more people in the world know about it," Lit said.

(China Daily December 13, 2007)

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