International expert Matt Friedman’s new TEDx Talk on human trafficking is out. Must watch for journalists & for anyone interested in learning more about trafficking and modern slavery:

Human trafficking is a global concern affecting millions of people. Many have horrific tales, whilst others may never get the chance to speak out. After encountering first-hand trafficked victims on the streets of Nepal as a public health officer, Matt Friedman dedicated the next 25 years to anti-trafficking activism and fundraising. He asks how we can change attitudes to human trafficking, get more people involved and bring an end to slavery in the modern era.

Friedman is an international human trafficking expert with experience as a manager, program designer, evaluator, and front-line responder. He is currently CEO of The Mekong Club, an organization made up of Hong Kong-based private sector business leaders who have joined forces to help fight human trafficking in Asia.

Friedman is also co-founder of the 852 Freedom Campaign in Hong Kong. This campaign raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for vetted NGOs in the region that work together & supports new initiatives and media projects that help end modern day slavery.

Mark your calendars for this phenomenal May 29 event!  Andrea Morricone is a highly regarded Italian composer and conductor, and Seunghee Lee is a world acclaimed clarinetist, trained at Yale University and the Eastman School of Music. See Seunghee’s website here.

The leading Hong Kong-based anti-slavery organisation, The Mekong Club is one of the beneficiaries of this gala ( I have done the due diligence on hundreds of NGOs since 2005 on behalf of several billionaires and private family foundations and I can definitely vouch for The Mekong Club for its cost-effectiveness, efficiency and impact. Matt Friedman, an internationally renown human trafficking expert & the CEO of The Mekong Club has advised governments in the last month and presented on human slavery to more than 22,000 people in Asia over the past 18 months. He is catalysing an anti-slavery movement in Asia and inspiring a generation of abolitionists.

Thank you Seunghee Lee & your husband SK for organising this incredible event. Thanks for your incredible generosity.

Concert for Cause Gala Poster

I am humbled and grateful for the journalism award given to me today for my documentary series on human slavery in China, Hong Kong and Thailand.

I received the 2013 International Human Rights Press Award (TV Merit) from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, the Hong Kong Journalists Association & Amnesty International HK.

I dream of seeing the end of human slavery and child exploitation in our generation. I’ve done due diligence on dozens of NGOs that work on fighting slavery and poverty and I vouch for and help raise funds for the work of Hong Kong-based The Mekong Club the leading anti-trafficking NGO & campaigner that mobilizes corporations, schools and churches to fight slavery in Hong Kong and the region. It’s led by prominent international expert Matt Friedman. Matt has more than 20 years of experience and is the author of 9 books including some on human trafficking (Google Matthew S. Friedman). Here’s Matt Friedman’s inspiring TED talk:



This article appeared in Hong Kong’s AmiraCulture

Every year North Korean women are trafficked into sex slavery or sold as enslaved brides to Chinese farmers and disabled men. Exact numbers are not known but nonprofit workers estimate it’s in the thousands. The traffickers pounce on starved residents of the alienated country who cross over illegally into China in search of food, medical aid and freedom. In 2011 North Korea was rated one of the top 23 worst countries for human trafficking by the U.S. Department of State. Here is one woman’s tale. “I wish my country was a place I didn’t lack anything.” Su-jin (not her real name) spoke with a small voice as she began to explain why she had to leave North Korea. Her hair was unwashed, in an updo, and her skin had a dull yellow pallor. It had taken me several hours to reach her hiding place in a village by car in the northern China countryside. Su-jin went on to tell me in a flat tone that the traffickers had lured her from North Korea, promising to give her a job, knowing she desperately wanted to send money back to her impoverished parents. After a dangerous raft ride across the Tumen River and a walk across the border into China, Su-jin’s dream of stable employment vanished. She was quickly taken by the traffickers to the man who would purchase her as a wife. She was sold for RMB1,000 (US$154). She and her “husband” then went “home” to a smelly, dank cave. A few traumatic years later, Su-jin found a way to escape her husband and the cave. But she could only do so on her own. She had to make a hard decision to abandon her young children. Here she began to cry, and I could feel her deep sadness. Su-jin was then captured by other traffickers and sold again to another Chinese farmer. Eventually she escaped this marriage too and found refuge with an ethnic Korean man who forced her to work in a dance bar, pouring beer for local businessmen. “I was so scared to dance and pour drinks,” she said. In order to calm her jitters and to escape her misery she sought solace in alcohol. She became an alcoholic and her unhealthy lifestyle caught up with her when she was diagnosed with liver cancer. A few Christians reached out to her during visits to the bar and after resisting for weeks, she succumbed and underwent a dramatic conversion. She says that’s when she began to hope again. After years of abuse and uncertainty Su-jin has finally found freedom. She knows she’s extremely fortunate to be free and to have a newfound inner peace. And she is grateful to the NGO workers who reached out to her and for the risks they take daily to help refugees from North Korea. Without them she would not be alive today. Sylvia Yu is a journalist based in Hong Kong.

From the archives: My CBC Viewpoint China Column from 2005

By Sylvia Yu

For 63 years, Mr. Chen Chong Wen has had to change the bandages on his leg daily. His home-style remedy for his oozing wound is to use a playing card to stop the flow. “There’s no medicine for this,” he said, “it hurts very much and it itches.”

The stench of rotting flesh is overwhelming as he shows his leg. His open sore is terrible-looking and has a tofu-like texture. He feels he’s been a burden to his family because they have to take care of him. “It’s my bad luck,” he says and looks down at the ground.

Mr. Chen Chong Wen (center) with injured leg from biological warfare

Chen was infected with “rotten leg disease,” it’s also known as glanders, as he was running away from the Japanese Imperial Army in Zhejiang province in 1942. His mother was also infected. And not too long after her heel rotted off, she died in terrible pain.

At the time he didn’t know why he had met such misfortune, but Chen now knows that he was a victim of biological warfare, inflicted by the Japanese military during an invasion of China.

Chen has had several costly surgeries in the last eight years with no government support. He’s interested in joining a lawsuit against the government of Japan to receive some compensation to ease some of his suffering. So far no single rotten-leg case has been filed against the Japanese government.

Since June 1995, Chinese victims of Japanese war crimes have begun to sue the Japanese government, according to Kang Jian, a Beijing-based human rights lawyer. She says there are 24 cases altogether on behalf of biological warfare survivors, Rape of Nanking (Nanjing) and sexual slavery victims.

“We’re asking relatives to testify and we have survivors to bear witness on the use of biological warfare dropped on villages, and chemical bombs and canisters that are still being unearthed in China,” she says.

Li Meitou with Thekla Lit, a founder of BC Alpha. (Photo: BC Alpha)

Last fall I met another survivor of biological warfare in southern China. I went to visit 77-year-old Ms. Li Meitou in her home village near Tang Xi township.

The tiny woman limps along ahead of me as we walk to her home. She smiles gently and often in spite of the chronic pain she endures. Li has had rotten leg disease since she was 12 years old.

“I’ve had difficulty walking and I experience pain, a fierce burning feeling,” she says. Because she can’t afford medical treatment, she uses some over-the-counter medicine and salt.

Li’s home was a small, dark one-room place with a dirt floor and dingy walls; one small table and bench lined the back. I felt sick that she had to live this way. Why wasn’t she receiving any substantial financial support?

As she sits down she takes off her bandage and shows me her rotting leg. One of my friends has to walk back and turn away because the smell of her open wound made him nauseous. She asked us to tell her story to the world so that all would know what the Japanese did to her and others in her village.

Exact figures of deaths as a result of Japanese biological warfare are hard to come by. But China’s most famous champion of biological warfare survivors, Wang Xuan, who has gathered evidence for lawsuits launched in Tokyo, says as many as 50,000 people in Quzhou died in 1940 from the plague that spread to neighbouring areas until 1948. In total 300,000 people fell ill from this plague attack.

China's most famous champion of biological warfare survivors, Wang Xuan. (Photo: BC Alpha)

Wang, whose home village in Yiwu was devastated by biological warfare, says the Japanese military used germ-carrying fleas mixed with grains, fibres, beans and cottons. They dropped these “balls” from the sky and let them float down. The local rats then ate the grains, and the fleas also jumped onto small animals and infected people.

The fleas were specially raised to carry germs at the infamous Unit 731 laboratory in Northern China that the Japanese military set up to create and test biological warfare experiments. One Unit 731 veteran testified in a Japanese court how rats and fleas were raised and how 600 kg of anthrax was produced monthly at the compound.

About a decade ago, farmers from Wang’s home village “wanted to fight for their rights and dignity” for the immense suffering and deaths caused by the Japanese military. They sent a petition to the Japanese Embassy in Beijing.

Somehow a group of Japanese peace activists heard about the village and decided to find out more. The Japanese activists reported their findings at an international symposium in Harbin, China, which the Japan Times covered. Wang, who was living in Japan at the time, read the article. The rest is history. She got in touch with people from her village again and eventually became a vocal activist as well as researcher and translator for the Japanese legal team.

The illiterate villagers set up a Japanese biological warfare investigation committee. They were able to obtain a diary of a Japanese military doctor who was stationed with the occupation army in Yiwu. He was a Christian and humane, says Wang. He condemned the war crimes and documented biological warfare activities in his diary.

There was three years of preparation involving the Japanese peace activists, scholars, villagers and local Chinese government. They had an annual medical check up to trace evidences of the plague in the area. Every year, researchers caught 100 rats to see if they still carried the plague, by determining if plague germ antibodies were in their blood.

Up until 1996, plague germs were found in rats. In 2001, a Chinese doctor testified that biological warfare still threatens the Chinese people. His testimony was covered by international news agencies.

The villagers lost their first-ever lawsuit in August 2002. However, the Tokyo District Court confirmed the use of biological warfare by the Japanese Imperial Army. “For the first time in history an office of authority in Japan admitted biological warfare in China. The verdict is in history. The [Japanese court] said biological warfare was in violation of the Geneva Treaty and international agreements and that Japan was responsible for that,” says Wang. “But they said the issue of responsibility was resolved because China gave up her rights [to seek war reparations] in the 1972 Sino-Japan Joint Communiqué.”

In the recent war of words and diplomatic tensions between China and Japan, the most important voices have not been heard. Many actual victims of Japanese war crimes are living in squalid conditions and cannot afford basic medical treatment.

How is it that survivors of cruel, inhumane acts in war, like Chen Chong Wen, have been forgotten? I just don’t understand and shake my head at the Japanese prime minister and his repeat visits to a shrine that honours infamous war criminals (no one responsible for biological warfare was ever convicted for crimes against humanity).

Indeed, I’m dumbfounded at the lack of financial aid for these biological war crime survivors, when I’ve been told China is angry about Japanese history textbooks that whitewash the suffering of the Chinese during the Japanese invasion. The elderly survivors need medical help, and they need financial aid.

I will never forget the sight of Chen Chong Wen weeping. With a pained expression on his face, Chen sobbed loudly, “I don’t want anything else. I just want the wound to close. That’s the only thing I want.”

Bright Angel Fund is changing the lives of the blind in China

In Beijing this past May I met some visually impaired, wonderful musicians. They are beneficiaries of the Bright Angel Fund program. Through my company’s consulting work for high net worth individuals, multinational corporations and family foundations, I have directed funds to BAF’s free job training project for the blind last year.

One of the highlights of having my own philanthropy advisory is building relationships with heroes who are making a difference in the lives of the poor and vulnerable. Mary Chiang is the founder and director of BAF and she never fails to inspire me with her colossal vision for the blind in China. She is using her vast influence to effect social change – what a role model! I will be writing more about her and her important work in the months to come (in other writing projects).

For me, philanthropy is a way of life, a passionate pursuit of changing lives & community.

With blind musicians and performers in Beijing. I'm in black (leftside) and Mary Chiang is at the far right

These young people are all so sweet and sensitive. They can “feel” the aura of a person and know immediately what the person is like. Their loss of sight has heightened their other senses especially intuition. Hey, I think they should be part of every company’s hiring process to measure a potential employee’s character! (this could be explored further – will raise it with Mary).

A few of these blind young people performed at the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics in 2008.

Mary Chiang continues to open doors for these performers and wants to see them perform in other countries.

On another note, Mary is a highly influential woman who brokered the first Chinese presidential visit to the US – for president Jiang Zemin. To illustrate how connected she is, there is a glossy large-ish magazine that targets elites in China that had Premier Wen on one side and she graced the other side (this mag had 2 covers). In many media interviews, she has boldly spoken of how her faith motivates her to defend the blind who are extremely vulnerable to exploitation, slavery and abuse. Mary is revolutionizing the world of the blind in China. Amazing, extraordinary woman.

In the photo below, they performed some songs for me. I recorded it and will see how I can upload it.

“…We ought not to be weary in doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

-Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

In central China, thoroughly enjoying my time with Yuan nai nai, a mother, a grandmother and a former Japanese military 'comfort woman' during the Sino-Japanese war.

Me and the cutest 3-year-old - she has the sweetest voice and loves to sing, but also can be very strong-willed. This one is a leader and needs to be nurtured in the right way so that her spirit won't be broken by harsh discipline

Thankful for times and people who change your life… thankful for the ability to choose where I want to work and everything else. The former trafficked women I met in The Golden Triangle region do not have the freedom to choose because they were born in a village and have had limited education, nor have they developed confidence in themselves to fulfill their dreams. Those of us who do have decision-making power can help empower the voiceless. We have a huge responsibility if we’re willing…

Notes by a global nomad:

It’s been quite a journey since a few months ago when I frantically packed for The Golden Triangle region and with fingers flying and burning up the keyboard, I finished a book project (actually it’s 3 separate books). After flying to multiple cities, and traveling by trains, planes and automobiles, my head feels like it’s spinning with the faces of different people I have met and the colours, the textures, the outlines, the smells of the vastly differing contexts all run in a long smoky blur. The challenge now is to write what I’ve witnessed.

I miss the folks at my last pit stop… the former trafficked & sexually exploited women I had met and interviewed and especially this adorable 3 year old Ai Xin who left a mark on me. I haven’t uploaded her photo yet. But I can share this: her father is a pimp and her mother was a 16 year old who was forced into prostitution. Her 35-year-old father could no longer care for her full-time. Ai Xin was out with her dad all night while he did his pimping work and she had the filthiest mouth (she’d repeat what her father would say). Some abolitionists convinced Ai Xin’s dad to release his daughter to their full-time care and it turned out that he had asked his older sister to take her in, but she refused (he beat her up for some other issue and she was angry with him). Now Ai Xin’s in a safe home for former sex slaves who are single mothers and her innocence is being restored.

She’s a three-year-old child again!

Here’s another photo with elderly ‘Asian Holocaust’ survivors of the Asia Pacific War from my collection of memories this year:

These grandmas are so girlish and happy in this picture. They loved taking these photo booth style pictures.

“If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.” – William Wilberforce

I have been without internet for sometimes the entire day and I have lived to tell about it. (half kidding)

It’s intense to be around abandoned kids and former sex slaves. So some of us volunteers decided to kick back and hang around with some elephants at the minority village!

No twitter and facebook access and spotty wifi + a very intense schedule on the road = neglected blog. I have a few more cities to go before I have an extended time of work.

I call him Bif. He had his wheaties and then some this morning. FYI: he responds only to Chinese with a heavy dialect.

Poseurs for a day in minority dresses. I'm wearing a Jingpo outfit at the far right.

I am this minority rock star's biggest fan for the moment

Hani minority guy at the village well

At a touristy village theme park that features 26 minorites... I need another day to go through all of the minority villages


September 2016
« Jul