Documentary "25 words"

Screenwriter LIU Shen
English script proofing Matthias Kind

(Primer)

In December 1941, the Pacific War erupted . Due to the complexity of the war and the spread of fighting, communication and postal routes between countries were completely cut off.

After the outbreak of World War II, people all over the world suffered to varying degrees from the war's devastation. At that time, a 27-year-old Chinese girl studying in Germany was very worried about losing contact with her family in China. Her name was HE Zehui.

HE Zehui's home was in Suzhou. Her family had eight brothers and sisters, four of them were studying abroad.

When mail and communications were interrupted, they lost contact with their family in Shanghai and everyone at home felt very worried about them.

During World War II, millions of people lost mail contact with their families and relatives, especially those in countries at war with each other.

At that time, an international organization in Geneva tried its utmost to re-establish international communication.

In early 1942, through successful negotiations with the occupying Powers by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), communication links could again be restored in some countries and regions.

Titles 25words
"Once upon a time, words were worth their weight in gold. "

The eight children of the HE family hailed from a respectable family in Suzhou, China. Their father, HE Cheng, had studied at the Japanese Military Academy in his early years.

In 1900, when the Eight-Nation Alliance invaded Beijing and the Qing government was forced to sign the Boxer Protocol and pay 450 million silver taels of reparations to the coalition countries in exchange for continuing their imperial rule.

Interview(04:02)[15V]
QIAN Minxie
Daughter of HE Zehui and QIAN Sanqiang
Professor of Peking University

My grandfather had studied in Japan and joined the Chinese Revolutionary League. Alongside Sun Yat-sen, he vowed to overthrow the Qing Dynasty, achieve democracy, and establish a republic in China. After the Qing Dynasty was overthrown, the society was not as good as he had imagined so he decided to use his family's assets and send his eight children to the eight allied countries to study their strengths.

Interview
HE Zeyong
Second son of HE Cheng
Cytologist

As I remember, my father and mother is that they taught us to be good people.
HE Zecheng
Fourth son of HE Cheng
Geological Instrument Expert

What he expected for our education was that we should do something real in life, instead of wasting our time with superfluous things. Therefore, none of the children in our family became engaged in politics.

QIAN Minxie
Daughter of HE Zehui and QIAN Sanqiang
Professor of Peking University

Before the War of Resistance against Japan broke out, their father had sent the older children abroad according to his own ideals.

Interview
GE Yunpei
Daughter of GE Tingsui and HE Yizhen
Professor of Shenyang Architecture University

Although my grandfather went to a military college he never thought of rescuing China by force. Instead, he believed in natural science and that science and industry could rescue the country. Therefore, all my mother's five brothers and sisters learned natural sciences.

The HE children all went to study abroad to fulfill their father's dream.

The eldest daughter HE Yizhen was only 21 when she went abroad. Her father had given her a sum of money and said: "You can use this money to get married, or you can study abroad; it’s up to you."

Determined to study abroad, HE Yizhen didn’t marry early and have children, like traditional Chinese women.

Interview
HE Zeying
Third daughter of HE Cheng
Botanical Researcher

My eldest sister went abroad first. After graduating from Jinling Women's University in Nanjing she taught for a year in Zhenjiang because my aunt thought she was too young and should become more mature before going abroad.

In 1931, HE Yizhen boarded a ship to the United States to study.

At that time, her younger brothers and sisters were still young. Zeming and Zehui were in high school, Zeyong was 12, Zeying 11, Zeyuan 9, Zecheng 7, and the youngest brother Zeqing was only five.

Interview
GE Yunpei
Daughter of GE Tingsui and HE Yizhen
Professor of Shenyang Architecture University

My mother's first trip abroad was in 1931. Soon after she arrived in the United States, she heard the news of the Mukden Incident (September 18) when the Japanese army invaded the three North-eastern provinces of China. She was deeply shocked by the news, and from that time on her ideal of studying to save the country began to take form.

HE Yizhen obtained a Ph.D. after several years studying in the United States. She returned to China and taught physics for graduate students at Yanjing University. That’s when she met a talented student, GE Tingsui.

GE Tingsui had graduated from Tsinghua University and was one of the patriotic students who had participated in the December 9th Movement to resist Japan and save the nation. He also took part in developing high explosives at the munitions factory to fight the Japanese invasion. Later, the Southwest Associated University appointed him as a lecturer in physics.

Interview
GE Yunpei
Daughter of GE Tingsui and HE Yizhen
Professor of Shenyang Architecture University

In July 1941, my father and mother got married, and moved to America in September. This was my mother's second trip to the United States. My father was studying, and my mother working. Shortly after, a big incident happened: the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Interview
QIAN Minxie
Daughter of HE Zehui and QIAN Sanqiang
Professor of Peking University

As the war developed, correspondence between warring countries was interrupted. Still, my mother continued to write letters, even though there was no response.

Interview
LIU Xintian
Daughter of HE Zeying
Botanical Researcher

At that time ,communications were cut off, normal postal services between China, the United States, and Germany did not operate, so they were very worried about each other.

Six months after the outbreak of the Pacific War, when HE Zehui in Germany learned that the Red Cross had restored the mail route, she immediately sent a letter to her eldest sister HE Yizhen in America; it was written in German and contained only 25 words.

The letter read:

Dear Sister, how are you and the family? Do you have any news from parents, brothers and sisters? Can you write letters home? I am fine.
yours, Zehui.

HE Zehui’s letter to He Yizhen was delivered through the ICRC mail system. According to the requirements of the Red Cross, HE Yizhen had to write her reply on the back of the letter. Since she couldn't keep her sister's letter, she copied it on a piece of paper.

From this paper we can see the form of the original letter, including the stamp and postmark on it.

This German letter was written in Berlin on March 4, 1942. It transited the ICRC headquarters in Geneva on April 15, arrived in Berkeley on July 22, and was finally read by HE Yizhen on July 23. The delivery took more than four months.

After receiving the letter from HE Zehui, HE Yizhen wrote back to her sister that same evening:

Zahwei (Zehui): No words from parents. Sent message in May through Red Cross. Will send again with your message. Daughter Yünpei 4 months. All well.

                              I-djen (Yizhen)

Meanwhile, HE Yizhen had also written a letter to the family in Shanghai, telling them Zehui’s news from Berlin. Her letter read:

Zuhying (Zeying): Just received fine message from Zahwei (Zehui) through Red Cross. Inquiring about family. How are you all? We all well. Yünpei healthy. Please answer.
yours,i-djen(yizhen)

According to the provisions of the Red Cross, this kind of letter had to be written on a special form. The American Red Cross Berkeley Chapter in California explained in a letter to HE Yizhen the basic requirements of a Red Cross message.

Interview
GE Yunpei
Daughter of GE Tingsui and HE Yizhen
Professor of Shenyang Architecture University
What did this letter say?It said:
The American Red Cross to HE Yizhen:
We are enclosing a message to you which was forwarded to our office from the National Headquarters of the American Red Cross at Washington, D.C.
If you wish to answer this message, please write your reply on the reverse side of the enclosed form and return it to us. Your reply should not be more than twenty-five words. It may be written in a foreign language if a translation in English is written directly below. Also, the news given must be of a strictly personal character.

Please be assured that we shall be very glad to give you this service if you desire to send a reply.

Very truly yours,
(MRS.) HAROLD W. CONKLIN EXECUTIVE SECRETARY
(MRS.) CLAIRE McCORKLE
HOME SERVICE SECRETARY
BERKELEY CHAPTER
AMERICAN RED CROSS

Interview
WANG Xiaohua
Officer of the Red Cross Society of China

Because this is an open letter, which any government has the right to inspect, its content is limited to family news and family related matters, it must not refer to any political, military or other information. Since such letters go through many government hands during the chaotic times of war, this is understandable.

Interview
François Bugnion
Independent Consultant in Humanitarian Law and Humanitarian Action

Because those messages had to go through censorship, and of course the longer the text and more complex the language, the longer the process, so the 25-word limit was a way of ensuring that there would be a regular flow, that the messages would not just pile up in the censorship offices.

So it's interesting to notice that right from the beginning people were concerned with this issue of family links and that it was not enough to relieve the physical suffering of wounded soldiers, that was what the Red Cross was created for.

This was a huge task because all communication was interrupted between many warring countries. All Red Cross messages had to be sent to the ICRC headquarters in Geneva and then reposted from there to the different National Red Cross Societies.
This circuitous transmission route resulted in much longer delivery times of the letters.

Delivery of 25-word letters
Sender
Local Red Cross Society
National Red Cross Society→←Governmental Inspection
GENEVA
National Red Cross Society→←Governmental Inspection
Local Red Cross Society

Receiver

Interview
François Bugnion
Independent Consultant in Humanitarian Law and Humanitarian Action.

This is unfortunately one consequence of war that postal relations are interrupted; nations at war don't want to continue normal relationships, and the connections are interrupted, so you could not ship a message directly, let's say, from San Francisco to Tokyo. First, there wasn't any ship sailing from San Francisco to Tokyo or back. So you had to go through a neutral country, and there were very few neutral countries during the Second World War. Switzerland was one of them and was one which succeeded in maintaining communications with almost all parts of the world.

Episode

Come to me, Red Cross

You jolted on the bumpy mountain roads
You floated on the boundless sea
You are a starlight in my lonely nights
You are the last hope in my longing pain

Come to me, Red Cross
Come to me, Red Cross

I hope it’s not just a dream
I hope it’s not an illusion
I have shed my tears
Because you feel sad for me
You're braving the flames of war
You haven't lost your way
You will surely come
You won’t let me down

In Geneva, although the ICRC's Central Tracing Agency had a large space and service system to process these letters, they were still overwhelmed by the sheer number of letters. More than ten thousand letters arrived here every day. The Central Tracing Agency mobilized about 4,000 volunteers, divided into 31 services that were dealing with letters from different countries and regions.

Interview
François Bugnion
Independent Consultant in Humanitarian Law and Humanitarian Action

In terms of figures, as far as I know, 24 million civilian family messages were forwarded through the services of the International Agency for Prisoners of War here in Geneva. Though it may be considered a limited figure taken into consideration the numbers of persons concerned, but each message had to be sorted out, checked, controlled, reach the right person and be delivered often by the National Red Cross Societies., because in many parts of the world, the postal services had broken down with the war; people were recruited to the armed forces, and so I believe each of these messages was, in a way, a miracle.

During the entire period of the War, about 55 million letters were sent to Geneva.

Interview
GE Yunpei
Daughter of GE Tingsui and HE Yizhen
Professor of Shenyang Architecture University

In 1942, my mother sent a first letter to the family. It was this form of letter, a Red Cross message. She wrote it in English. It reads as follows:

Granddaughter born March 30th in Berkeley. [That's me!] All well. Tingsui awarded University fellowship. Financially good. How is everybody at home?

The letter HE Yizhen wrote to her family on May 21, 1942 was not in fact sent to Shanghai until October 8 of the same year; then its delivery to the HE family by the ICRC Delegation in Shanghai was also delayed for some time, so this letter was on the way for about five months.

Interview
HE Zeying
Third daughter of HE Cheng
Botanical Researcher

She(He Yizhen) was in America,Because Zehui was in Germany and we didn't have any news from her, I asked my eldest sister in America if she had news from Zehui.

Interview
LIU Xintian,Dauther of HE Zeying,Botanical Researcher
This type of communication could not exceed 25 words, 25 characters in Chinese, or 25 words in English. It took a long time, sometimes a letter needed maybe six months before we could receive it; a return mail took one year or more. Nonetheless, they could at least have contact.

Interview
CAO Songsheng,Former ICRC Officer
How can thoughts of missing someone be fully expressed in 25 words? That's not easy at all. These were words they cherished. Every word transmitted their feelings and affection.

GE Yunpei
Daughter of GE Tingsui and HE Yizhen
Professor of Shenyang Architecture University

Every 25-word letter between my mother and my second aunt would always contain words like: “Is the family alright? I’m fine.” This shows the only thing they worried about was the other’s safety, nothing else mattered. The famous 8th-century Chinese poet Du Fu wrote in a poem: “War has been blazing for three months, a letter from home is worth its weight in gold.” Only people who have had this kind of life experience, like my mother and my aunt, can understand the true meaning of this poem.

Theme song 25 words

Breeze of days gone by
Rain of days gone by
Grass of days gone by
Sky of days gone by
You and me of past days
Walking in the street
Intimate old times
Popping up in my mind

Dear
How are you?
My beloved hometown
I hope you are well
Even if tears soak my clothes
Even if I have so much to tell
Through 25 words
I express my yearning

In fact, the HE family who lived in the foreign concessions in Shanghai, did not know that even the right to 25-word letters wasn't easy for them to get.

in 1937, the ICRC proposed to the Japanese to bring humanitarian aid to the war theater in China, however, the ICRC’s request was rejected by the Japanese military and the Japanese Red Cross

In spite of that, the ICRC still sent their delegates to China. Under very difficult conditions and restrictions, they visited wounded soldiers in hospitals and did all they could to gain the right for civilians to correspond. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the ICRC and pressure from the international community, the Japanese military was forced to agree, starting from 1942, to the opening of Red Cross mail routes between the three cities of Shanghai, Chongqing and Hong Kong; but there were no postal routes opened in other parts of China until the end of the war.

In February 1942, the ICRC appointed Edouard Egle, a Swiss businessman who had been doing business in China for many years, as its representative in Shanghai. At the same time, Ernest Senn and Rudolf Zindel were also appointed as representatives in Chongqing and Hong Kong respectively.

Mr. Edouard Egle came to China in 1911. Before he became the ICRC delegate in Shanghai, he was the manager of Siber Hegner & Co, Shanghai, which was the Shanghai branch of the Swiss company Siber Hegner based in Zurich; this company had been trading with China since 1900.

Siber Hegner & Co. Shanghai was located on Yuanmingyuan Road, near the Bund. Mr. Egle set up the ICRC office inside the company, with the ICRC logo on its door.

The file of Mr. Egle is kept in the ICRC's historical archives in Geneva.

Mr. Egle hired 18 Chinese employees in Shanghai. The main mission of the Red Cross office he led was to provide relief goods to prisoners of war, to send them clothing and food on behalf of their families, to help civilians exchange family letters, and to look for missing POWs and foreign nationals of enemy countries.

Shanghai, November 1942. ICRC delegate Edouard Egle negotiates with Japanese army officials.

Shanghai, November 1942. Edouard Egle negotiates with Japanese army officials.

Shanghai, November 1942. Edouard Egle at work, accompanied by Japanese army officials.

Shanghai, November 1942. Edouard Egle visits prisoners of war.

Thanks to Mr. Egle's outstanding work in Shanghai, the Shanghai residents were able to communicate with their relatives and friends overseas. Unfortunately, all the work that Mr. Egle did in those years has remained largely unknown.

After the war, Mr. Edouard Egle responded to a request by the Japanese Red Cross to assist the Japanese prisoners of war in Shanghai. By then, he was working as a full-time Red Cross staff member until he died on duty in Africa in the 1960s.

Interview
WANG Xiaohua
Officer of the Red Cross Society of China

I have learned from the ICRC archives that many celebrities,to study the strenths of those coutris, famous politicians, and political figures enjoyed prisoner this Red Cross service during their time as prisoners, such as France’s former president Charles de Gaulle and South African leader Nelson Mandela. As prisoner of war or security detainee, they both received this service by the Red Cross.

Olivier Jean Dunant
Descendant of Henry Dunant and Gustave Moynier

Looking after prisoners of war and allowing them to contact their families through letters is undoubtedly an important part of the humanitarian work. And I can add - since you are asking about my personal memories - that my grandmother Juliette Peyrot had worked at the International Prisoners-of-War Agency during the two World Wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45.
And from that time of her work at this Agency, I have kept extraordinary letters of people who thanked her for what she had done to help them through her work at this agency for prisoners of war and also civilians.

Interview
Mr. Bernard Dunant (great-grandson of Henry Dunant's brother) and Mrs. Monique Dunant

During the war (1939-45), the Red Cross had an agency to search for people which was very useful for many prisoners and wounded people who found themselves in foreign countries.

There is a very concrete example of a neighbour who found her mother in Germany. As a child, she had been taken and placed in a foster family, and after the war she found her mother in Germany, thanks to the Red Cross.

Episode
Come to me, Red Cross……

HE Zehui, after graduating from Tsinghua University, went to study physics at the Berlin University of Technology, in Germany.

The interview data of CCTV in 2005

HE Zehui
Second daughter of HE Cheng
Nuclear Physicist, Academician of Chinese Academy of Sciences

When the occupying Japanese army entered the campus of Tsinghua University, we wanted to fight the Japanese. After graduation, you couldn’t find a job as a girl, you just were supposed to get married, and that was it. China didn’t need me, so I left the country. At that time, going to Germany was the cheapest option.

In HE Zehui’s second year of study in Germany, the Sino-Japanese war broke out. However, the Chinese had already been certain that this was going to happen, so Zehui had chosen ballistics as her main area of study, preparing herself to return home and fight against the Japanese.

Interview
GE Nengquan
Former Secretary-General of Chinese Academy of Engineering

In that year, she studied ballistics. This is when a bullet is fired from the barrel of a gun or weapon, you need to control the mechanical forces it is subjected to, and know the aiming range required for an accurate shot. This is what she studied. It's called ballistics.

It was unbelievable for a girl to study ballistics, yet HE Zehui chose this school and ballistics as her major. She ran into a lot of troubles.

Interview
GE Nengquan
Former Secretary-General of Chinese Academy of Engineering

The special field of study HE Zehui wanted to study was a secret at that school, because it was related to the military industry. The faculty was called Technical Physics Department, in a building separated from the other faculties by a partition that prevented people from entering. Also,this faculty did not take in non-German students,and females as a rule especially.Only German students were there, no foreign nationals, nor any girls!

The interview data of CCTV in 2005

Interview
HE Zehui
Second daughter of HE Cheng
Nuclear Physicist, Academician of Chinese Academy of Sciences

I just wanted to fight the Japanese, that's why I studied in the military field. They found it strange that a girl would get involved in the military industry.

Interview
GE Nengquan,
Former Secretary-General of Chinese Academy of Engineering

When the head of the department, who used to be a technical adviser to the Republic of China National Government's weapon department, was invited to China, HE Zehui argued with him: “If you can go to China as a consultant, why can't I enter your school and study this course?”

This reasoning earned her the teacher's permission, and HE Zehui was granted special admission to the school. She fully dedicated herself to the study of ballistics at the physics department.

Interview data of CCTV in 2005

Interview
HE Zehui
Second daughter of HE Cheng
Nuclear Physicist, Academician of Chinese Academy of Sciences

The Germans themselves were not all allowed to attend, but he allowed me so I did experiments there.

This girl, who desperately wanted to study ballistics, and who was rejected by the Nanjing Government War Industry Bureau because she was a female, had never forgotten her wish to serve her country in time of crisis with the knowledge she had acquired. In a letter to her family of September 8, 1937, she wrote:

The domestic news from China is getting worse by the day. Perhaps we have to return home immediately. As I’m majoring in ballistics, the Military Industry Bureau might send a telegram asking me to come back and serve them. If it is true that Chinese cannons and guns don't shoot precisely, then they should indeed let me have a go, I'd make sure they shoot accurately. They didn't invite me early enough; otherwise the Japanese soldiers would have long ago been pushed back to their three islands.

More than a year after the outbreak of the Pacific War, HE Zehui continued to write letters to her eldest sister in America and her family in Shanghai, yet she never received a reply. She was extremely anxious. Previously, whether she was in China or Germany, she was always able to receive letters a few pages long. But now, even a single word was hard to come by.

Interview
QIAN Minxie
Daughter of HE Zehui and QIAN Sanqiang
Professor of Peking University

Even though she kept writing those 25-word letters, she could not receive any response. But she never gave up writing, as she was hoping to let her family know that she was safe.

Theme song
25 words

Breeze of days gone by
Rain of days gone by
Grass of days gone by
Sky of days gone by
You and me of past days
Walking in the street
Intimate old times
Popping up in my mind

Dear
How are you?
My beloved hometown
I hope you are well
Even if tears soak my clothes
Even if I have so much to tell
Through 25 words
I express my yearning

The day of reunion will come
The flames of war cannot sever our flesh and blood

Written in Germany on January 29, 1943
Received in the U.S. on July 22, 1943

I sincerely hope all of you are fine. Have you got news from Dad and Mom? How’s the family? My main work, apart from physics, is growing vegetables and fruits.
Your Zehui

Written in Germany on February 25, 1943
Received in the U.S. on September 23, 1943

How are you? Have you got news from home? I’m fine. In my garden there is plenty of work. Wish you all the best and good health.
Your Zehui

Written in Germany on May 18, 1943
Received in the U.S. on September 19, 1943

How are you and your family? I’m fine. Have you got news from home? Have written letter through Red Cross every month for 1 year, but no reply received to date.
Your Zehui

Written in Germany on July 28, 1943
Received in the U.S. on December 3, 1943

Dear Sister! I haven’t heard from you in a long time. How are you? Yesterday I received news from parents. Everyone at home is fine, and so am I.
Your Zehui

Written in Germany on September 21, 1943
Received in the U.S. on February 24, 1944

How are you and your family? I’m fine. When will you return home? I’ll leave immediately, if there is possibility. See you soonest. Your Zehui

Written in Germany on November 24, 1943
Received in the U.S. on February 24, 1944.

Dear Sister, how are you? I’m fine. Your Zehui.

Written in Germany on November 28, 1943
Received in the U.S. on April 7, 1944

Dear Sister, how are you? Do you have news from parents? Since autumn, I am in Heidelberg. Since I settled in Heidelburg .All is excellent. Best regards.
Your Zehui

Due to the 25-word limit, the language in the letters was abbreviated, neglecting grammar rules; it was a depressing “wartime language”.

HE Zehui’s last 25-word letter to her sister was written on November 28, 1943, only four days apart from her previous letter to her sister.

At this point, she still had not received any reply from her eldest sister. HE Zehui could not help but have all kinds of sinister forebodings. However, apart from continuing to write letters, she could not think of any other way to contact her sister.

In fact, after HE Yizhen had written two letters, one in May 1942 to her sister in Germany, and one in July 1942 to her family in Shanghai, she no longer communicated through Red Cross messages. Why was that?

Interview
GE Yunpei
Daughter of GE Tingsui and HE Yizhen
Professor of Shenyang Architecture University

All three letters were sent in 1942, but from 1943 onward my mother did not reply to any of the ten letters received from my second aunt HE Zehui. To understand this we need to know that 1943 was the year when my father got his Ph.D. from Berkeley and started working for the top secret Manhattan project, in radar research. So from then on, my mother stopped writing to my second aunt HE Zehui.

In 1943, GE Tingsui obtained his Ph.D. The topic of his thesis was “Research on Invisible Ultraviolet Light Sources”. This was military-related research. The ‘gallium lamp’ that he invented was used during the final stage of World War II by the U.S. army to scout the Southeast Asian islands occupied by the Japanese.

In January 1944, GE Tingsui was transferred from the Manhattan project to the spectroscopy and radiation lab of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This was also a top secret research team of the U.S. military.

GE Tingsui’s greatest contribution was developing the microwave duplexer, which is a key component of radar; it uses microwave radar transmitter and receiver tubes for automatic frequency control. He also won the patent for this invention. In the “Radar” book series written after the war, GE Tingsui’s work was mentioned in many places.

Radar was known as “the invention that changed the world”. A physicist in World War II once said: “It is radar that has won this war.”

On March 3, 1943, HE Zeying wrote a letter to her eldest sister in the United States. This letter was written in Chinese, and was exactly 25 characters long.

Interview
HE Zeying
Third daughter of HE Cheng
Botanical Researcher

1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25
This is the Red Cross stamp and this is the letter I sent to the United States through the Red Cross.

A reply letter from HE Zeying to her sister was adrift on the postal route for nearly one year, so the exchange of this family letter took a total of one year and a half.

From late 1942 until the end of the war, HE Zehui and her family in Shanghai never received any letter from HE Yizhen.
This made the family very worried about HE Yizhen because they could not imagine the reason why she did not write back. This mystery wasn’t revealed until after the war.

Interview
GE Yunpei
Daughter of GE Tingsui and HE Yizhen
Professor of Shenyang Architecture University

During World War II, from the period of 1942-43 alone, she kept 13 Red Cross messages. From this you can see that my mother had a very strong relationship with her parents and siblings. Even though they were scattered all over the world, they often wrote to each other, because they missed each other very much, especially during the turmoil and chaos of war.

HE Yizhen recorded the dates when each letter was sent and received on the back of an envelope.

She kept these family letters all her life.

Interview
Martin Unternährer,Communication Delegate,ICRC Beijing

For us at the Red Cross, the basic element, or the basic principle that we have, is that of humanity, and in the notion of humanity is included not only the physical wellbeing of people, but also the psychological wellbeing. A very central element of the psychological wellbeing is to know where members of your family are, where your brother is, where your parents are, where members of your family are. That is really a very, very central element to the psychological wellbeing that people have. So we also very much address that issue.

Interview
Olivier Dubois,Deputy Head of Central Tracing Agency and Protection Division,ICRC Geneva

Still today, there are cases that date back from World War II. Together with Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies, we are able to trace family relatives. Unfortunately, as time goes by, most of the time, it’s the sons or daughters, grandsons or granddaughters that receive information of what happened sixty years back.

Interview
QIAN Minxie
Daughter of HE Zehui and QIAN Sanqiang
Professor of Peking University

When my mother was in Germany, she had no contact with anyone from her family for one and a half years.

In fact, the eldest sister HE Yizhen had written a letter from the United States to HE Zehui in Germany, but the German government had refused the exchange of Red Cross messages, hence HE Zehui never received this letter.

She was missing her family and wanted her family to know what she was doing. She gradually lost patience and was even thinking of leaving Germany to return to China. But the war was an obstacle to her desire to return home, and isolated her from her family.

While HE Zehui was utterly lonely and missing her family, she suddenly remembered the news that she had received just before the outbreak of the war: her classmate QIAN Sanqiang from Tsinghua University was working at the Curie Laboratory in Paris, France. This brought back memories of her old school and the time she spent there.

At Tsinghua University, HE Zehui and QIAN Sanqiang were seen as the perfect match by their friends and peers. However, at university, they were too busy in studying; there was no chance for the spark of love to ignite between them.

Interview
QIAN Sijin
Son of HE Zehui and QIAN Sanqiang
Professor of Peking University

During World War II, my father was in France and my mother in Germany. After my mother left for Germany in 1936, they had no further contact.

QIAN Sanqiang, the son of famous sinology professor QIAN Xuantong, was an intelligent and diligent student.

The Curie Laboratory was one of the most famous nuclear physics labs in the world at that time. After the old Curies passed away, their daughter Irène and her husband Frédéric Joliot continued to lead the lab’s work.

In 1940, QIAN Sanqiang completed his doctoral thesis and oral exam, and was awarded a French national doctorate degree. Through the recommendation of the couple Joliot-Curie, QIAN Sanqiang became a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).

Interview
QIAN Sijin
Son of HE Zehui and QIAN Sanqiang
Professor of Peking University

In 1943, my mother sent a 25-word letter to my father, but this communication was very limited: only 25 words, 25 Chinese characters, or 25 words in English, German or French. Therefore, the first time my mother sent a letter to my father, she only enquired about his condition and whether he had any contact with China; and if he had, she hoped he could help convey the message that she was safe and well in Germany - something like that.

The interview data of CCTV in 2005

Interview
He Zehui
Second daughter of HE Cheng
Nuclear Physicist, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Was there a word limit for letters?

Yes, there was a limit of 25 words for letters to warring countries.

Can you remember how you expressed your thoughts in exactly 25 words?

Well, you could always write a few more letters.

You remember those 25-word letters. Is there one that left a particularly deep impression?

No, there isn’t. It was only: How are you? I’m fine. Don’t worry! Something like that…

Towards the end of the war, in early 1945, QIAN Sanqiang and HE Zehui expressed in the letters their feelings for each other. After sending each letter, they would eagerly wait for the Red Cross messenger to appear, each message carrying the scent of battle.

Interview
QIAN Sijin
Son of HE Zehui and QIAN Sanqiang
Professor of Peking University

Through these messages, they gradually restored their friendship. Since they had been schoolmates for four years, they already knew each other well; then, through their exchange of 25-word letters, they grew even closer.

Far away from home and family, the good memories of schoolmate friendship let the flower of love bloom in their hearts. Although 25 words were very short, their love for each other was unstoppably growing between the lines of their letters.

It was the 25-word messages that sustained the power of love, and helped them get through those darkest days.

Episode
Come to me, Red Cross

I hope it’s not just a dream
I hope it’s not an illusion
I have shed my tears
Because you feel sad for me
You're braving the flames of war
You haven't lost your way
You will surely come
You won’t let me down

Come to me, Red Cross
Come to me, Red Cross…

In spring 1946, when the smoke of World War II gradually dispersed, HE Zehui came to Paris where these wartime lovers finally got their wish to embrace happiness.

Even the usually reclusive couple Joliot-Curie attended their wedding, and extended their best wishes to these promising young Chinese.

After their wedding, QIAN Sanqiang and HE Zehui took up work together at the Curie Lab, and discovered ternary and quaternary fissions of heavy nuclei. They received the attention of Western nuclear physics circles, and became known as “the Curies of China”.

However, they lived a materially poor life, often short of food. That’s when sister HE Yizhen in far-away America had to sent food and clothes parcels through the Red Cross to her sister who had just become a mother.

Fortunately, the shadows of war and hardship eventually dissipated…

When the war was over, HE Yizhen and her husband GE Tingsui carried on their scientific research in the United States. GE Tingsui had left the radiation lab of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and engaged in theoretical research on the internal friction in metals at the Institute of Metal Research in Chicago.

In that period, he invented the famous “Ke’s Pendulum” and discovered “Ke’s Peak”, after which he became a renowned expert in the field of internal friction in metals.

After the war, communication gradually returned to normal, and the '25 words’ had become history. Yet, for the HE sisters, it was still a question when they would be able to return to their homeland and be reunited with their loved ones. They felt very homesick.

Day and night, the HE sisters missed their hometown and family very much, and were determined to return to China.

In May 1948, QIAN Sanqiang and his wife HE Zehui carrying their six-month-old daughter QIAN Zuxuan, set out on their journey home, carrying the hope of the Chinese that science would save their country.
On the ship back home, they remembered the Joliot-Curie couple bidding them farewell, and whose parting advice still echoed in their ears: ‘Serve science, but science must serve the people’.

In November 1949, HE Yizhen, her husband GE Tingsui and their two children, embarked on their journey home across the Pacific, where the call of the motherland was awaiting them. The dream of national revival and a prosperous country rose in their hearts.

Interview
GE Yunpei
Daughter of GE Tingsui and HE Yizhen
Professor of Shenyang Architecture University

In 1949, after the founding of the People's Republic of China, our family of four traveled on a ship across the Pacific Ocean back to China. First we arrived in Hong Kong where we transferred to a smaller boat to Tianjin; and from there we reached Beijing.

When we were in Hong Kong, I wrote a letter to my friend. This is the envelope, the special stationery used on the ship we had traveled on. I wrote this letter to say that we were on our way home and that I was excited to see my Grandma. But this letter was never posted, so my mother kept it.

On the back of the letter, I also made some drawings; one is the train that we took from West Side in Chicago, above I drew a large ship, with some president’s name written on it. It looks quite real.

Interview
GE Yunpei
Daughter of GE Tingsui and HE Yizhen
Professor of Shenyang Architecture University

My mother and her family were very close to each other. They left many letters and photographs. Even though they loved taking photos, and they had many photos, there is not a single photo of the whole family together, or a group photo of the eight siblings.

One reason the family photos are not complete is because my mother was 16 years older than her youngest brother.So the family photos are not complete. Then, when my mother was 21, she went to study abroad, and so did her younger siblings. When my mother returned home, her sister had already left to study abroad and wasn’t there, so the family was never reunited. Before 1949, my mother's siblings returned from overseas one by one, but by that time their parents had already passed away, so no photo was ever taken of the whole family.

In 1941, my mother went abroad for the second time. She had seen that the country was perishing and there was nothing she could do, so she left once more to study abroad. But she never thought that she would not see her parents again.

When we were on our way back to China, my Grandma passed away. This became my mother’s and my lifelong regret. My mother had been yearning for the day she would see her mother again, and even decades later she still told me: “How could I not miss my mother? Not a day passes without me thinking of her.”

Since HE Yizhen went to study in America in 1931, the HE family was never reunited again.
Even though the four siblings returned home one after the other, the family could no longer be reunited, because their parents had already left this world.

The HE family’s eight children all became scholars in natural science.

HE Yizhen, one of China’s first generation of female doctors of physics, studied and worked in the United States for 14 years. When she returned, HE Yizhen became New China’s pioneer in spectroscopy, and developed amorphous physics and metallic glass research.

HE Yizhen retired at the age of 85, and passed away on July 30, 2008, in Shenyang, at the age of 98.

HE Yizhen’s husband GE Tingsui continued to lead the world’s advanced research in the field of internal friction in metals, and later became an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

In 1999, he received the world’s highest award in material science – the Mehl Award.

In April 2000, GE Tingsui passed away in Hefei at the age of 87.

HE Zeming graduated from Kyoto Imperial University in the 1940s. After returning to China, he worked as an engineer at the Central Machinery Plant in Kunming. Later, he became professor at the Beijing Steel and Iron Institute, and vice-principal of North China University of Technology.

HE Zehui, Chinese Academy of Sciences, researcher at the Institute of High Energy Physics. On March 5, 2011, she celebrated her 97th birthday.

Beijing, May 29, 2010

On June 28, 1992, QIAN Sanqiang, Chinese Academy of Sciences, founder of China’s nuclear energy research, and famous nuclear physicist, passed away in Beijing at the age of 79.

HE Zeyong studied in Japan in the 1930s and 40s. In 1944, he returned to China, and taught at the Shanxi Women’s Medical School. After New China was founded, he served as a professor at Shanxi Medical University, and became a famous cytologist.

Taiyuan, August 19, 2010

During the war years, HE Zeying studied on and off at Soochow University in Taipei. After being accepted at Taiwan University, she decided to leave Taiwan in order to return to New China, and boarded the last ship heading for the Mainland. Later, she did plant research at the Nanjing Botanical Garden.

Nanjing, June 13, 2010
HE Zeyuan graduated from Suzhou Industrial College.

HE Zecheng graduated from North China University of Technology, Geological Instrument Expert.

Shanghai, October 5, 2010

The youngest of the eight siblings, HE Zeqing, entered Tsinghua University in 1944 to study physics. Later, he became a lecturer at Changchun College of Geology, and died young in 1976.

During the ultra-leftist years, the eight HE siblings suffered oppression and torment to varying degrees. Yet, in their lifetime, they never gave up their pursuit of science.

HE Cheng’s dream as a father was that of building a strong nation, after its poor and weak people had gone through a period of backwardness and bullying.

The dream of saving his country through science finally came true through his eight children. These children, along with millions of other talented Chinese scholars, experienced the brutality of war and great mental suffering. Yet, they made tremendous contributions to their country, for civilization, and for progress of humanity.

This family paid the price of long separation to help build a strong nation. 25 words was all they could anxiously wait for. And when the war ended, they had forever lost the chance to reunite. ‘25 Words’: a Chinese family's memory of war, but also the collective memory of an era …

After the movie finished,
He Zehui passed away in Beijing at Jun,20,2011,
At the age of 97.

The transmission of information between separated families in the midst of war:
This was the initial humanitarian idea
of Henry Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross Movement.
Humanitarian concern is not only physical, but also spiritual.
Psychological comfort is often more important than physical treatment.

During the Franco-Prussian war in 1870,
the ICRC began to deliver letters between governments of warring countries or between families
through its Tracing Agency in Basel, Switzerland.
During World War I,
from 1914 to 1918,
Red Cross messages were for the first time delivered on a large scale in a well-organized manner:
20 million Red Cross messages were forwarded.

During World War II, the Central Tracing Agency was also called "International Prisoners of War Agency" and "Central Agency for Prisoners of War".
The Central Tracing Agency had about 4000 employees.
It was divided into 31 service departments,
and transmitted a total of 55 million letters,
including 24 million between civilians of different warring countries.

Today,
although the means of communication have dramatically changed,
the ICRC's exchange of Red Cross messages still continues.
Moreover, the ICRC and the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
continue to receive tens of thousands of tracing requests related to World War II.
The ICRC still endeavors
to help reunite families after 60 years of separation.

In 2009, the ICRC collected and distributed 253,000 Red Cross messages,
published more than 83,000 names on its Family Links website,
made over 12,000 phone calls for separated family members,
helped reunite 1063 families,
and handled 45,605 tracing requests, including newly submitted cases.

The ICRC is an independent organization
whose exclusively humanitarian mission is
to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war
and internal violence and to provide them with assistance.
The ICRC has long called for the total elimination of landmines and nuclear weapons.

Director Liu Shen

Geneva,Nov,2010
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum

End Song: Spring View

Though a country be sundered, hills and rivers endure,
And spring comes green again to trees and grasses,
Where petals have been shed like tears,
And lonely birds have sung their grief.
After the war-fires of months,
One message from home is worth a ton of gold.
I stroke my white hair. It has grown too thin
To hold the hairpins any more.

Title Inscription
President,Executive Vice President,
Vice Presidents and SG of RCSC  Hua Jian Min

The Filming Unit
Zhejiang Beingmate Scientific-Industrial- Trade Share Co., Ltd.

Special Thanks
"International Committee of the Red Cross(ICRC)
The ICRC Regional Delegation for East Asia
Central Tracing AGency
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum
ICRC Photos Library
ICRC Audiovisual Archives ICRC Library and Public Archives Unit
Embassy of Switzerland
CCTV
Beijing Television Station
ShenZhen Santorini Culture Transmmison Ltd.
Liulichang Culture Industry Development Association
Parkson Retail Development Co., Ltd.

He Zehui  He Zeyong  He Zeying  He Zechen  Wang Mingzhen  Ge Yunpei
Liang Ke  Ge Yunjian  Ge Yunxi  Qiang Mingxie  Qian Sijin
Liu Yida  Liu Xintian  He Changjuan  He Weichun  He Wei  Wang Yi
Ge Shensheng  Liang Yinpu  Liang Xiaotong  François Bugnion  Bernard Dunant
Monique Dunant   Olivier Jean Dunant   Cao Songsheng
Philippe Marc Stoll   Oliver Dubois   David Pierre Marquet
Martin Unternäehrer   Matthias Kind  Hu Xiangqun  Cynthia Lee   Fan Mingshu
Michelle Rockwell    Daniel Palmieri    Fania Khan Mohammad
Marina Meier     Florence Zurcher     Yoshino Sugawara   Mark Williams
Riccardo Chiesa  Bradley Phillips  Charlie Qiao   Judy Zhu  Ge Nengquan
Yu Hao  Wen Hongyan  Lv Tongyu  Li Fei  Sheng Wei  Wang Xiaohua
Xia Hongyan  Ma Hui  Fan Xin  Liu Changjing Zhang Ming  Liu Dongmei
Tai Encheng  Liu Yi Meng Ling Liu Mengnan  Tai Qian  Francis Cardozo
Wang Xiaobing  Xiao Zhiwei  Fang Qianfeng  Wu Haiyan  Anna
Zhu Qi  Chen Derong   Bai Fan  Liang Huajun  Zhang Yujun
Zheng Zhi  Li Jingyun  Li Jingzheng  Wang Jinmin  Zhang Lin
Yue Min  Xu Bin  Xu Hongbing  Liu Jingzhu  Zhang Chenghua  Su Hua
Gao Qing  Chen Hong  Han Lixin  Li Jingchuang  Xu Zaijie  Liu Wanzhuan
Li Yan  Guo Shuguan  Ma Wenjing  Yang Zhuxi  He Liou  Jiang Li 
Derrick Boyd  Li Li   Liu Liping  Huang Xiaorong  Gu Hong   Hu Xiaohong
Bai Lan  Yao Zhenghua  Ying Si  Qu Zuojie  Liu Fen  Yu Haibo

Staff

Production Supervisor
WANG Wei

Executive Producers
Guo Changjiang Hao Linna
Zhang Xudong Xie Hong

Consultant
François Bugnion
Bernard Dunant
Olivier Jean Dunant

Supervisor
Yang Bohong Fangfang
Guo Xiaohong Lu Di

Planner
Zhang Jingchun Liu Yuhong

Producer
Guo Weixi

Screenwriter
LIU Shen

Director
LIU Shen

Art Consultant
LI Yeping
TIAN Anli
Xu Pei

Music Supervisor
GAO Yujing

Assistant Director
SU Runjing

Cameramen
ZHANG Dilong
WU Zefeng
Alain Pentucci

Editor
LIAO Cai

Visual Arts and Concept Designed By:
Phonetic Labs LLC

Titles Producer
LU Jun

Post-production Assistant
LIU Sisi
WANG Le
DENG Wenda
YANG Deshuai

Documentation & Picture Editor
SU Runjing
LIU Sisi

Continuity Clerk
LIU Yuelong
SUN Yuman

Chinese subtitles
LIU Sisi
GENG Yuntong

English subtitles
DENG Wenda
XU Linhui

Composer
GAO Yujing

Lyrics
LIU Shen
DU Fu

Song Translation
OUYANG Mengsu

Theme Music "Memories" Performer
GAO Yujing

Theme Song /Episode Singer
ZHAO Yue

End Song Singer
DONG Qun

Music Producer/Arrangement
CHEN Xi

Sound Effect
CHEN Xingbin

Sound Recording
Perfect Music

English script proofing
Matthias Kind

English Translation
Mark Williams
QIAN Sijin
LIU Yi
OUYANG Mengsu
DENG Wenda
LI Yan
LI Hao
YU Xiamin
Eva Bian
XU Weijue

French Translation
Matthias Kind
ZHANG Jingwen

German Translation
QIAN Zuxuan
QIAN Minxie
JIANG Mutian

Chinese Voiceover
CHEN Weikang

Chinese Dubbing
LIN Hui

English Voiceover
HAN Bo

English Dubbing
CHEN Jun

Production Manager
WANG Weiyu

Marketing Director
JIANG Mutian

General distributor
Yue Zhao

Website Promotion
www.25words.net

Global Circulation
Soba International Media

Red Cross Society of China
Red Cross Society of China Universal Love Fund
Soba International Group

Jiont Production
May 2011