Local quest for Asian history
North Delta secondary school teacher-librarian Andy Lum has become a one-man learning resource on Asian history. He has created Internet-based educational guides, known as Web quests, on Chinese immigration and the Chinese head tax, the Komagata Maru incident, and the Canadian government's internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II.
Lum has also created on-line learning guides concerning Japan's war of aggression in Asia, which began with the occupation of Manchuria in 1931 and ended with its surrender in 1945. There are Web quests that deal with the creation of Manchukuo (as the Japanese client state was known), the Nanking massacre, Unit 731 (Japan's covert WWII biological-weapons unit), the fall of Hong Kong, and Asian "comfort women", who were taken as sexual slaves by the Japanese invaders in World War II.
Lum told the Straight that the current Japanese government has "minimized" attention to its atrocities. "We have a responsibility as educators to present the facts," Lum said.
All of Lum's Web quests, including those on such topics as the Avro Arrow and the October Crisis, are available at www.deltasd.bc.ca/nd2/library/NDSSOnlineCourses/OnlineCourses/Socials.htm.
This July, Lum and the principal of North Delta secondary school, Ted Johnson, will lead a delegation of 37 students, teachers, and Lum's two daughters on a study tour of China. They will attend a seminar on comfort women and will hear testimony by one of the survivors. The following week, they will travel to Nanjing to meet survivors of a Japanese massacre in 1937 and 1938, which was highlighted in Iris Chang's 1997 book, The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II.
"With a strong Chinese population here, I think it's important that people know our history, especially Asian history," Lum said.
The Komagata Maru was a ship that arrived in Vancouver's harbour in 1914, carrying more than 350 South Asian passengers who wanted to immigrate to Canada. The vessel remained offshore because Canada banned immigrants who hadn't made a direct voyage from their country of origin, which effectively barred Indian immigration. Eventually, the ship was forced to return to India, where some of the passengers ended up being killed by the British.
Lum explained that the Web quest on the Komagata Maru enables students to take on the roles of fictitious passengers. The guiding questions explore what life was like in India and aboard the ship, and students can answer in the form of a diary.
Lum is one of more than 60 educators who have travelled to Asia since 2004 with Thekla Lit, president of the B.C. Association for Learning and Preserving the History of WWII in Asia. In 2001, her group persuaded the B.C. Ministry of Education to adopt a learning guide on the history of World War II in Asia, which highlighted many Japanese atrocities. In 2004, B.C. ALPHA started annual study tours.
Lit, who was born in Hong Kong, told the Straight that she became interested in the suffering of comfort women after reading a bilingual (Chinese and English) book on the subject in 1996. On April 27 this year, the Supreme Court of Japan absolved the Japanese government of any legal liability for the treatment of comfort women and ruled that a Japanese company was not liable for the use of forced labour during World War II.
"It's very significant because it impacts basically all Chinese victims' lawsuits in Japan," Lit said.
She said she isn't happy with Canada's response. She noted that Canadian politicians will speak out if someone, such as the president of Iran, denies the existence of the European Holocaust. However, she claimed that Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a critic of China's human-rights record, remained silent after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied that comfort women were victims of "coercion".
Lit said there were two possible explanations for silence on this issue: either Canadian politicians are ignorant about Asian history or they have a double standard.
"I prefer to believe they are ignorant," Lit said. "That's why I keep educating them."