Time is said to be the great healer, but the pain of what 84-year-old Liu Shili endured as a prisoner of war of the Japanese more than half a century ago still brings tears to his eyes.
'Aren't Chinese also human beings? Why do we face so much abuse? I hope all the Chinese people can stand up and show our dignity,' Liu said, sobbing as he recalled his ordeal as a forced labourer during the war in the Pacific.
The tears continued as Liu, a Hebei native who fought in the Communists' Eighth Route Army during the war, recalled his life of toil in a coal mine in Hokkaido run by Japanese firm Mitsubishi following his capture in China in 1944.
Today is the 65th anniversary of the surrender of Japan which brought the war to a close. Liu, two fellow Chinese former prisoners who were forced to work in Japanese mines and the son of a fourth forced labourer arrived in Hong Kong yesterday accompanied by Beijing lawyer Kang Jian for a series of memorial activities and to push Mitsubishi for compensation.
Liu was captured on August 1, 1944 with other soldiers and was sent with them to a prison camp. He was shipped to Japan with 300 others and toiled in a coal mine for a year. 'We were forced to work for 12 to 13 hours a day. We did not have enough food and clothes,' he said. 'Japanese people beat us almost every day. We tried to run away but were caught and received even heavier torture.'
Liu said life in winter was even harder, as they only had thin clothes to wear and cold water to drink. They were forced to work almost naked.
According to records, 38,935 Chinese forced labourers worked for 35 Japanese corporations at 135 locations during the war. Some 6,830 died because of the work or from physical abuse.
Mitsui and Mitsubishi were among the Japanese corporations that ran businesses involved in Japan's war effort. Mitsui used more than 5,000 Chinese forced labourers and Mitsubishi 3,000.
'The Japanese government has never apologised or compensated us for their wrongdoing. Do they still have flesh and blood? Do they want to repeat what their emperors had done to us before?' Liu said.
Kang, who is representing the group in their pursuit of compensation, said they came to Hong Kong because they hoped, through its freer media, to raise more awareness of such historical injustices than they could at home.
The lawyer has handled 13 compensation cases against the Japanese government since 1995, and has represented hundreds of Chinese forced labourers, women forced into prostitution in military brothels and survivors of chemical attacks.
She won some of the cases in Japanese district courts because they recognised that the plaintiffs in those cases had been victimised during the war. But in 2007, Japan's top court overturned the lower courts' rulings, saying that China as a nation had signed away its rights to compensation in the San Francisco Treaty of 1951.
The group will lay wreaths at the Cenotaph in Central today and go to Mitsubishi Electric's head office in North Point tomorrow to urge the corporation to apologise and pay compensation.