‘The history that is not covered’: Markham-raised student works to raise awareness of Second World War atrocities in Asia

On the 30th anniversary gala of Chinese Professionals Association of Canada (CPAC) held on Nov. 27, Markham’s Chen Chen received the 2022 CPAC Young Achiever’s Award for her efforts in raising awareness of the Second World War atrocities in Asia.

Chen graduated from McMaster University and is currently a master’s student at the University of Toronto department of molecular genetics. While engaging in academic studies, she has been advocating on issues such as war crimes and justice, individual and state responsibilities, human experimentation and biochemical warfare.

Growing up in Markham with her grandparents, Chen learnt a lot little-known history from casual conversations with the elders.

“My grandparents came from Nanjing and Shanghai, and what they told me about their experiences of the Second World War was very different than what I learnt in the history class here. Some of the tragedies that happened on the Asian battlefield, such as the massacre, were really not covered in Canada,” Chen said, who became upset when her peers could not relate to her feelings.

To present a more complete history to a wider audience, Chen decided to preserve the voices of the Second World War survivors and their families for generations to come.

During the past five years, Chen has volunteered with the Association for Learning and Preserving the History of the Second World War in Asia (ALPHA) in Toronto, participating and organizing various activities.

As co-president of the McMaster chapter of ALPHA, she motivated other student leaders and inspired an enthusiastic team of volunteers to learn this piece of history, through first-hand accounts, photo exhibits and film screenings.

She also collaborated with other campus organizations and introduced a seminar and debate series on topics such as: war crimes and justice, individual and state responsibilities, human experimentation and biochemical warfare.

It surprised Chen that many students without Asian backgrounds fell strongly about participating in these activities, reinforcing her belief that human rights are universal and that relevant history could be applied to modern-day world affairs.

Upon entering her master’s program, Chen became ALPHA’s director of communications at U of T, where she created social media strategies to engage more students, including an art competition and podcasts spotlighting survivors of the Second World War in Asia.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, Chen volunteered for ALPHA’s Asia Pacific Peace Museum to research and help create content for permanent exhibition.

Chen was grateful and humbled to receive the Young Achiever’s Award. Her family, who also attended the gala and witnessed the moment, were so proud of her. Being recognized by CPAC is a huge encouragement for her, Chen said. In the future, she plans to continue advocating for underappreciated issues that are important to Asian Canadians.

With the theme of “Achieve and Aspire” this year, the annual gala raised funds for CPAC’s research, training and public education initiatives to increase awareness of and combat anti-Asian racism, and advance racial equity, diversity and inclusion.

Scarlett Liu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Economist & Sun