10,000 Cries for Justice and Speaking for the Voiceless

This year marks the 91st anniversary of the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War: 1931-1945, a war that resulted in approximately 25-30 million Chinese killed, millions of women and girls raped, and millions of innocent civilians slaughtered. Yet, many people in the world have no knowledge of what happened.  Furthermore, many people and their governments who were involved have been trying to deny what happened and trying to rewrite history.  We have almost passed the time when all the survivors of those atrocities are all gone from this world. Fortunately, there are people of different nationalities around the world who have not forgotten and are working hard to make sure that we learn the lessons from that part of history so that similar mistakes will not be repeated anywhere else in this world.

Two persons, one a Chinese citizen and one a Japanese citizen, have done the most to lead this movement so that justice can be restored and history will not be forgotten. These two remarkable people are Tong Zeng (童增) of China and Tamaki Matsuoka (松岡環) of Japan.  This article “10,000 Cries for Justice and Speaking for the Voiceless” is about Tong Zeng. [1] The other article “A Conversation with Tamaki Matsuoka: ‘The Conscience of Japan’” is about Tamaki Matsuoka, and was posted in the June 2022 issue of this website. [2]

Most people in the world have heard about the murder of six million Jews at the hands of Hitler’s Nazis in Germany.  It was a most horrific atrocity that should be taught and remembered in our history books.  While the Jewish Holocaust was taking place in Europe during WWII, an atrocity of equal magnitude was also occurring in Asia at around the same time period. This was the atrocity inflicted by the Japanese military in China, Korea, and other parts of Asia during the period of 1931-1945 when Japan invaded and tried to conquer China and other parts of Asia.   The atrocities were massive and inhumane and consisted of four types:  the Nanking Massacre, sex slaves (euphemistically called comfort women), biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction, and slave laborers.

Unfortunately, many people in the world are not aware of this atrocity.  In addition, there are people who deny this part of history and together with certain governments are trying to rewrite history and claiming that such atrocity never happened.  The victims feel that they are voiceless.

In 1990, Mr. Tong Zeng (童增), a young and concerned Chinese, raised the issue that the victims of Japanese atrocities have the right to seek compensation from Japan (from the Japanese government or in the case of slave laborers, also from the Japanese corporations who used the slave laborers). He pointed out that there is a distinction between the case of a government seeking compensation from another government who committed the atrocity and the case of a person seeking compensation from the government who committed that atrocity.  This means that in spite of the gesture of good will of the Chinese government waiving her right to seek compensation from Japan when the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1972, the Chinese government waived only the right of the Chinese government seeking compensation from Japan, it did not waive the right of Chinese citizens seeking compensation from Japan.

Seeking apology and compensation for the atrocities committed by the Japanese military was a long-overdue item for seeking justice and closure that has been buried in the hearts and souls of thousands and thousands of Chinese atrocity victims and their relatives.  Thousands of people wrote to Tong Zeng endorsing and thanking him for his work and wrote to him providing details of the atrocities that they or their family members had experienced.  Within a few years, he had received about 10,000 such letters, and that is why his campaign is called “10000 Cries for Justice.” [3]

The number of letters that Tong Zeng kept on receiving grew and grew.  When they occupied a large part of his office as shown in the photo

Large collection of atrocity victims’ letters in Tong Zeng’s office was a concern that these valuable historical archives could be lost due to fire or theft.

He became concerned that those priceless records of history could disappear as the result of a fire or theft.  So he thought about keeping a digital record of these historical archives. 

As the years passed by, not only that there was no progress from Japan to face up to this part of history, many Japanese government leaders have continued to make comments denying the existence of these atrocities.  Mr. Tong thought that publishing these personal accounts would provide powerful evidence to refute all the false claims made by the Japanese government.  Righting this injustice could be a catalyst to establish genuine friendship between the Japanese people and the Chinese people and true peace between Japan and China, as well as for other countries.  Therefore, having a website of these letters and making them easily available to the whole world became even more urgent.  In January 2014, he found two Chinese American friends in the U.S. to collaborate with him and his team.  They then formed the “10,000 Cries for Justice” team to develop a website that can store these letters digitally and make them searchable and easily available to the whole world.  After working nights and days for over a year and a half, the initial website was announced by this team on July 22, 2015 in a press conference in Beijing.  After working for another two more years, the website was able to contain the 4,000 Chinese letters. Furthermore, about 500 of these letters have been translated into English to make the “Cries for Justice” a bilingual website. [3]

Below we show a sample of such letters:

Nanking Massacre: “I was born here in 1936. When I was a little over one year old, the Japanese Imperialism savagely invaded China, and carried out barbarian Nanjing Massacre in Nanjing. My father Zhang Jilu was killed in this Massacre when he was only 27, and later my two uncles were also killed in bombing by Japanese aircrafts, leaving only my grandparents, my aunt, my mother and myself in the family. In the aftermath of this tragic incident, my grandfather Zhang Chuhai lost three sons, my young mother lost her husband, and I lost my father when I was only a little over one year old, which forced my family to lose livelihood.  Since I was young, my mother tasted untold hardship in begging while holding me on her back. Since I was still young, and my mother was a woman, we were humiliated everywhere. Even if we received one meal, we did not know where the next one would come.” 

Written by Zhang Mingde, Yinchuan City, Ningxia Autonomous Region, 6/2/1992.

Sex Slaves: “In March 1942, the Japanese soldiers came to Jiazhang Village, Xiyan Town and captured my father Hou Yinshai, deputy head of the village, and me. Then, they took off our upper clothes and beat us with sticks. We were bruised all over the body. Afterwards, they took us to Jingui Village and separated me from my father. I was dragged into a room which was then locked and I didn’t know where my father was. At over 11 p.m. that night, someone opened the door and took me to another room. After I entered the room, I saw a black-face officer and realized something bad was going to happen, so I cried out loud, which made the officer angry. He kicked me with leather shoes and dragged me on the bed. Then, he gagged me, stripped off all my clothes and raped me. I just turned 14 and was ruined by them. At dawn, I was taken back to the room where I was first kept. After that, every day from dawn to night, I would be raped by the Japanese for over 20 times.

For over 70 days, I was locked in that painful prison-like room, wasn’t given enough food or water and had to relieve myself in the room, living like an animal. I couldn’t see daylight until I was needed. After over 70 days, I got all swollen up. At last, my family ransomed my father and me with a flock of silver dollars (over 20), a donkey and over 250kg of wheat from my family and over 200 silver coins from my husband’s family. My uncle took a donkey with him to carry me home. We stayed one night at my uncle’s in Gaozhuang and he sent us home the next day. After I returned home, I was so ill that I couldn’t eat or drink. I was seriously ill for over a month. Since then, I have become afraid of dreaming, demented and would have a brain disorder and talk nonsense when I want to talk about important matters or talk too much. My whole life is ruined by the Japanese. Now, I couldn’t even support myself.”

An open letter written by Hou Qiaolian of Yangquan City, Shanxi Province written in Nov. 1992 on behalf of 35 former sex slaves.

Biological/Chemical Warfare: “In 1941 when the Japanese Army invaded Western Yunnan, after Baoshan was conquered, large crowds of residents living in Baoshan and other places in Western Yunnan swarmed to Kunming to avoid slaughter by the Japanese Army. Immediately afterwards cholera broke out in Kunming. At first people thought it was epidemic plague, but soon it spread to the whole city. Those contracted cholera first would have symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea, and soon they died in less than one day. On the streets one could see dead people each day. Back then at the biggest and most famous coffin shop (the boss was surnamed Zhao) on Wenmiao Street in Kunming, all the coffins were sold out.”

To keep the Japanese army from advancing from the Baoshan area of Western Yunnan to Kunming and other parts of China, the Chinese army destroyed the Gongguo Bridge, the only bridge on the Lancang River connecting the Baoshan area and the Kunming area, thus stopping the Japanese invasion of Kunming.

“Since the Japanese Army was unable to cross the Lancang River natural barrier, they burned, killed and looted in Baoshan and other places, persecuted common people.  Afterwards, they spread cholera bacteria in Western Yunnan, therefore the fleeing people of all social circles brought the cholera bacteria to Kunming and spread it around.  …  As mentioned above, the number of civilians suffering direct or indirect damage from the Japanese Army runs to thousands and millions. Newspapers published at that time all carried the story.”

Written by Tang Qingyu, 53 Jingzing Street, Kunming, Yunnan Province, 11/20/1992.

Slave Laborers: “In January 1942, many people including my uncle were captured by the invading Japanese army during a raid in northern Daqinghe, Hebei and sent to Tanggu Camp. Later they were sent to the railway station of Tsukino, Tone, Gunma, Japan. They were forced to labor for 4 years in a ravine 3 km southern of the railway station. They dug a cave every day, which was over 15 km long from east to west and used for hydraulic power generation. They did heavy work every day but ate pig feed and they were always starved. Instead of being provided with warm clothes in winter and thin clothes in summer, they were only given a crotch cloth in a year to work naked. The Japanese foremen often beat the Chinese laborers with sticks and whips and called them morons. My uncle saw with his eyes that many Chinese laborers were beaten to death by the Japanese foremen. The life was inhuman and intolerable. Some laborers committed suicide and some escaped and were caught back, bitten to death by foreign dogs. My uncle was strong before he was captured, but he got weak due to the heavy work. To avoid being beaten by the foremen, he worked hard day and night. There was one time he was too hungry and exhausted in the cave that he blacked out. When he came to himself, he felt great pain in his chest and spit blood. He struggled to get up, thinking about talking to the foremen to take a rest. But unexpectedly, when the wolf-like foremen saw my uncle not working, they started beating my uncle in his head with sticks despite his begging. They didn’t stop until my uncle bled in the head. My uncle was injured, but the foremen didn’t give him treatment or medicine, or food if he didn’t work. So my uncle didn’t have a choice but keep working. The Japanese foremen said, ‘You Chinese people cannot run away. You are just food of Japanese dogs.’  Many Chinese laborers died there of torturing. Also, many laborers were disabled due to the beating and the torturous work and some got blinded. They suffered in Japan until the end of 1945 after Japan surrendered. My uncle Wang Jinsheng and other survivors returned to the Red Cross of Qingdao, China in March 1946 with the help of the American army. Finally, my uncle reunited with the family.”

Written by Wang Genyou, nephew of Wang Jinsheng (deceased), Langfang City, Hebei Province, 7/6/1994.

Settlement Agreement Between Mitsubishi and Chinese Slave Laborers:  As part of the campaign to seek justice for the Chinese victims of Japanese atrocity during the Second Sino-Japanese War, Tong Zeng and others also worked with the atrocity victims to pursue legal actions.  A milestone was reached when Mitsubishi (one of the major Japanese corporations who was involved in the slave labor business) and many Chinese who were former slave laborers for Mitsubishi reached an agreement on June 1, 2016 on the issue of compensation for former slave laborers or their descendants. [5]

The settlement agreement states:

  • Mitsubishi admits the historical truth that the human rights of the thousands of Chinese forced laborers were violated and that over 700 such Chinese forced laborers had died during that period
  • Mitsubishi offers its sincere apology to all these forced laborers and its deep mourning to those forced laborers who had perished
  • Mitsubishi accepts its responsibility of the above historical truth, and as an expression of apology, offers compensation of 100,000 RMB to each Chinese forced laborer or his beneficiary
  • In order to keep this kind of mistake from recurring in the future and to help educate future generations, Mitsubishi will contribute 100 million Japanese yen for the erection of a memorial
  • Mitsubishi will also contribute 200 million Japanese yen to investigate and to locate other Chinese forced laborers and their beneficiaries who are currently unaccounted for
  • Mitsubishi will pay 250,000 Japanese yen for each Chinese forced laborer or his beneficiary for travel and living expenses to attend a memorial service in Japan

As of June 2022, 1,154 former slave laborers of Mitsubishi or their beneficiaries have accepted this settlement agreement, including a handful who witnessed this milestone while they were still alive.  Currently, the oldest survivor is 103 years old.  It was especially gratifying for them to hear that Mitsubishi has accepted its responsibility and has offered their sincere apology.  The Mitsubishi-Chinese slave laborers settlement agreement helps to close the wounds inflicted on many of the slave laborers. [6]

Summary:  Tong Zeng’s more than 30 years of effort and the resulting “10,000 Cries for Justice” website have allowed the voiceless to speak.  In the future, when more resources can be allocated, Tong Zeng and his team plan to translate all the other Chinese letters into English. [7]


[1] More information on Tong Zeng and “10,000 Cries for Justice” can be found in an earlier article “10,000 Cries for Justice”: https://www.dontow.com/2015/06/10000-cries-for-justice/.

[2] “A Conversation with Tamaki Matsuoka: ‘The Conscience of Japan'”: https://www.dontow.com/2022/06/a-conversation-with-tamaki-matsuoka-the-conscience-of-japan/.

[3] “10,000 Cries for Justice” website: https://2018.10000cfj.org/?lang=en.

[4] In the early 1990s when the majority of these letters were sent to Tong Zeng, many relatives and Chinese media personnel borrowed many of these letters.  Because at the time copying machines were not readily available to Tong Zeng and other people in China, many of these letters were borrowed and unfortunately, most of them were never returned.  That is why a lot of the letters were lost and Tong Zeng now has only about 4,000 such letters.

[5] “Mitsubishi Materials Apologizes to Chinese World War II Laborers,” by Austin Ramzy, New York times, June 1, 2016.

[6] More information on the Mitsubishi-slave laborers court settlement can also be found at https://2018.10000cfj.org/related-news-en/?lang=en. Note: Covid-19 has also slowed the implementation of this settlement.

[7] The Liaoning Education Press from Liaoning Province has selected 100 such letters and published them in a 3-volume bilingual book Letters to Tong Zeng, Chief Editor-Tong Zeng, Liaoning Education Press, 2020.

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