Searching For The Survivors

‘‘Comfort Women’’

U Wuzhou

[On August 6, Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged Japan to produce a comprehensive, impartial and lasting resolution on the issue of wartime sexual slavery, the so-called "comfort women." She lamented a report released by the Japanese government on June 20 that said it "was not possible to confirm that women were forcefully recruited." In appealing to Japan, Pillay recognized that such a statement would cause tremendous agony to those female victims.

On July 24, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of Japan, in which it demanded the Japanese government recognize its responsibilities and ascertain the perpetrators' crimes. The OHCHR also pointed out the importance of fully including the facts concerning "comfort women" in Japan's history textbooks.

China Today conducted an exclusive interview with Professor Su Zhiliang to find out more about the OHCHR's petition to Japan, and China's view on the "comfort women" issue. As director of the Comfort Women Research Center at Shanhai Normal University, Professor Su initiated China's application for the registration of historical documents on "comfort women" in the Memory of the World Program in June 2014. This international project, launched by UNESCO, aims to preserve documentary heritage.]

It was by chance that Su got into research on "comfort women." In 1992, he went to the University of Tokyo as a visiting scholar to research the history of narcotics in China.

During a casual conversation with one of his Japanese counterparts, Su learned that the first "comfort station" was established in Shanghai. In the past the Japanese government had deliberately concealed the issue of "comfort women"; but by 1992, the subject had attracted increasing attention worldwide.

After returning to China, Su immediately started an investigation into the issue. But he faced multiple difficulties: The Japanese army had destroyed many relevant documents and files prior to the capitulation; few people had paid attention to the issue for quite a long time; most victims had passed away and those that were still living and their descendants were unwilling to talk about the painful experience for various reasons. However, Su persevered with his research and eventually found more than 100 victims who were willing to make their experience public. Some of these brave women's stories are recounted below.

Tan Yadong, who lives today in Wanru Village of Nanlin Township in Baoting Li and Miao Autonomous County, Hainan Province, said that she remembered a girl who became pregnant after being raped by Japanese soldiers. On discovering the pregnancy, the soldiers tied the girl to a tree and stabbed her stomach with bayonets and forced other "comfort women" to watch. Tan told the investigator working for Su that the horrific scene had plagued her dreams at night to date.

Yang Shizhen's life changed forever when she was kidnapped and held at a "comfort station" for seven days aged just 16 years old. Following her ordeal, she suffered mental disorders and double incontinence. Zhang Xiantu was forced to become a "comfort woman" at 17 years old. Whenever she saw Japanese soldiers approaching she would tremble with fear and could not stop shaking. Such is the potency of this painful memory that her hands still shake today. Chen Yabian has an eye problem: Her eyes constantly water due to an injury sustained at the hands of Japanese soldiers as she tried to resist their violation.

Su and his fellow investigators collected the above stories when they visited the surviving "comfort women." These stories and more are recorded in two books—Research on "Comfort Women" and The Truth about the "Comfort Women"The Imperial Japanese Army's Sex Slaves.

Through the interviews, Su came to know that the victims had no freedom at all and were often raped by Japanese soldiers many times a day. Some women committed suicide because they couldn't bear the insult. Soldiers killed those who resisted them, tried to escape, contracted serious venereal diseases or got pregnant.
In one case, over 50 women of the Dai ethnic minority were abducted from the streets of Mangshi City, Yunnan Province. Their assailants were the soldiers of the No. 56 Division of the Japanese army. None of the women survived.

When the war was over, only a quarter of all "comfort women" had survived. But most led miserable lives. Some were discriminated against, some became infertile and some developed a lifelong hatred of men.

Sexual Slavery
The term "comfort women" is debatable. Coined by the Japanese army, according to Su, the name implies that those women were recruited to "comfort" Japanese soldiers. This intentional, euphemistic ambiguity conceals Japan's culpability in establishing a wartime sexual slavery system. Some people, whether intentionally or unintentionally, confuse "comfort women" with military prostitutes. The mix-up and resulting discrimination that surviving "comfort women" faced after the war adds insult to injury.

'"Comfort women' are in fact women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army. A large number of women from China, Korea, countries of Southeast Asia and even some European countries were ruthlessly crushed by the Japanese soldiers' actions," Su told China Today. "The 'comfort women' system set up by the Japanese army was an unprecedented case in human history of man abusing woman, specifically the women of enemy countries and regions, and an Institutional state crime against women's rights that goes against the grain of humanitarianisrn, ethics and common rules of war. It is the most painful memory in women's history."

In July 2012, then US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, denounced the use of the euphemism "comfort women" for what should be referred to as "enforced sex slaves," urging Japan to face up to its sexual atrocities during WWII. The South Korean government followed suit, changing the official English translation of "comfort women" to "sex slaves."

The surviving "comfort women" are passing away one by one. Although some of those who are still living today have sought justice by going to Japan to appeal for compensation, they have come away empty-handed, not even receiving an apology from the Japanese government. The Japanese government rejected their appeals citing expired statute of limitations and denying it as a state action.

A State Action
On the issue of denial, Su pointed out that scholars around the world, himself included, can provide a large amount of evidence to show that such behavior occurred under the direction of the Japanese government and its army.

Through over 20 years of investigation and research, especially from Japanese historical sources, including those that the Japanese invaders were unable to destroy, Su has gained an insight into Japan's implementation of the sex slavery system in China. The Japanese army's first "comfort station" in Asia was set up in Shanghai at the beginning of 1932. After an all-out war of Japanese aggression against China broke out in 1937, the Japanese army set up and operated "comfort stations" in every occupied region around the country. According to Su's investigation, the "comfort stations" were everywhere in over 20 provinces and cities occupied by Japan in Northeast, North, Central, and South China. There were more than 160 such locales in Shanghai alone. Su estimated that at least 200,000 Chinese women were forced into sexual slavery under the Japanese army.

"When I first started my research, I never imagined the 'comfort women' system would be that widespread or as highly organized as it was. High-ranking government departments, such as the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Justice, as well as its colonial authorities in Korea and Taiwan were all involved. There were 'comfort stations' at every military level, from division to squad. The Japanese invaders operated a complete system covering transportation and finance," Su said.

Recently, China's Jilin Provincial Archives published over 100,000 documents and files about Japanese aggression against China. It took only a week for Su to find over 40 files about "comfort women," among which was a startling finding that suggested that the Japanese army set up "comfort stations" with public funds.

"According to the files of the central bank of Manchukuo, a puppet state in Northeast China and Inner Mongolia, the No. 7990 force of the Japanese Army spent 532,000 Japanese yen in four months on setting up 'comfort stations,'" said Su. At that time, the monthly salary of  second lieutenant was less than 100 Japanese yen. "The files show that the Japanese government invested a lot in 'comfort women' arrangements. Those files were copied to commanders of the Japanese army and its military police, shelving that they were approved by high level officials and proving their validity," Su said.

He went on: "The documents released this time and the archives I found from Japan's Army Ministry, Navy Ministry, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Foreign Affairs together show us a complete and well-enforced system."

As the leading petitioner for the Memory of the World Program application of "comfort women," Su said the documents China submitted include evidence from five entities: the Japanese Kwantung Army stationed in Northeast China; the police force in the foreign concessions in Shanghai; the puppet Manchukuo authorities and its central bank; and written confessions by Japanese war criminals. The submitted files present a clear picture of the "comfort stations," from their facilities to statistics covering the number of Japanese soldiers and the number of "comfort women" that were allocated to them.

They also include 24 photos provided by Su that he has collected since 1992 by visiting many bookstores in Japan and reading various memoirs of Japanese invaders.

Kouhei Hana, a Japanese writer with the Chinese penname Hua Gongping, published a book called Military Comfort Women: Stories of UMI-NO-IE in Japan, in which he gives a detailed description of a "comfort station" run by his father for the Japanese Navy in Shanghai from 1939 to 1945. Six of the 24 photos provided by Su to the Memory of the World Program are from this book.

Su believes that evidence from various angles proves that the exploitation of "comfort women" was a carefully orchestrated action of the Japanese government and military; it was directly planned by the state government and military command and painstakingly implemented by its armies in different locations.

When asked why he wanted to include the plight of the "comfort women" in the Memory of the World Program, Su said that it was not about fostering anti-Japanese sentiment; he just hoped that future generations would draw lessons from the painful and inhuman events.

Su said that in 1972, when China-Japan diplomatic ties were resumed, the Chinese government and its people longed for China-Japan friendship and cooperation. As regards the issue of war, China hoped Japan would look introspectively at itself without needing prompting to do so. China, therefore, acted with restraint and didn't repeatedly emphasize Japan's war crimes; China even gave up the right to demand war-related compensation from Japan. Because there was no investigation on the "comfort women" issue for quite a long time after the war and many victims have now passed away, there are only a few witness testimonies to be heard today.

When Su started his research on "comfort women" in the 1990s, he was advised by relevant departments to steer clear of the issue for the good of China-Japan friendship. They told Su it would be wise not to publish his findings if he went on with the study. However, Su personally believes that the "comfort women" issue must be clarified, precisely for that reason—for the good of China-Japan friendship.

Japan persistently denies history and the conscription of "comfort women" as a state action. Japan refuses to apologize to and compensate the surviving "comfort women" in Asia, whose number is believed to exceed 400,000.

Don't Forget Us, the first textbook published in South Korea on the issue of "comfort women," has been put into use among middle and primary school students to remind people never to forget these victims.

On July 25, 2014, Japan again rejected the demand from the US and the UN to acknowledge its guilt. Su feels indignant about that: "Japan seems to be adopting the ostrich policy. It thinks others will stop pursuing its crimes if it just buries its head in the sand. That is not an appropriate attitude for a national government."

"I sincerely hope the Japanese government and its people, especially the government, can learn from Germany. To exercise deep introspection on the war it waged is a precondition, or a political foundation, for Japan to eliminate its conflicts with other Asian countries. Without this, Japan's future looks bleak. It must re-examine itself over the war crimes it committed," said Su.

Su believes the "comfort women" issue is a scar left by WWII that affects Japan's relations with China, South Korea and other countries, which is why research on "comfort women" is so important. The victims' grievances have not been addressed, nor have they received any compensation. In order to honor the memories of victims who are no longer here to see justice done and ensure such a heinous crime never happens again people must confront Japan. Today, Abe's cabinet is becoming more and more dangerous. For example, it allows the country to exercise collective self-defense and has revised its constitution to turn Japan into a warlike country by various means. That is a dangerous signal.

"If Japan truly wants to live together in peace with other Asian countries it must first redress the problems of its history," Su concluded.

[source : China Today, October 2014]

Vol. 47, No. 27, Jan 11 - 17, 2015