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UPDATED: September 19, 2014 NO. 39 SEPTEMBER 25, 2014
Uncomfortable Truths
Documentation of wartime "comfort women" is under consideration for the Memory of the World Register
By Li Wuzhou

TELLING THE TRUTH: Professor Su Zhiliang (first left) addresses Japanese visitors on the historical record of wartime "comfort women" at an archive in Shanghai in July 2013 (LI WUZHOU)

During his investigation, Su also learned that in the summer of 1942, soldiers in the 56th Division of the Japanese Army rushed to a busy area in Mangshi, Yunnan Province, capturing more than 50 women of the Dai ethnic group to serve as "comfort women." None of the women came back alive.

Su and other investigators recorded these survivors' testimonies in two books, Studies on the "Comfort Women," and Sex Slaves of the Japanese Troops: A True Account of Chinese "Comfort Women." From these survivors' combined retellings, Su learned that "comfort women" were, first and foremost, deprived of freedom. Often, a woman was raped by Japanese soldiers several or even dozens of times a day. Thus, some unyielding women committed suicide. Those resisting rape, attempting to escape, or who contracted serious venereal diseases or became pregnant were killed. By the time the war had ended, no more than one fourth of "comfort women" had survived.

For those who made it out alive, survival itself has not been an easy task. Many are looked down upon by people around them. Some have lost fertility. Others have refused to marry because of their bad memories.

An act of state

By calling them "comfort women," said Su, the Japanese Army intended to mislead the world into thinking that these women were military prostitutes, and disguise the nation's war crime of forcing women into sexual slavery. He added that this also added insult to injury for the victims, many of whom were later discriminated against by society and defamed.

The Japanese army abused a large number of women from China, Korea, Southeast Asian countries and even some from Europe and North America, said Su. The "comfort women" system was an "institutionalized government crime, and the most painful record in the history of women around the world," he said.

Few "comfort women" are still alive today. Though some have demanded compensation from Japan, their requests are continually refused by the Japanese Government with various excuses; once, the government said that recruiting "comfort women" was not an official act of state.

Yet Su said many scholars studying the issue, including himself, are able to present a large amount of evidence proving that the forceful recruitment of "comfort women" was an act orchestrated by the Japanese Government and troops. He said that he has spent 20 years reading documents ranging from old newspaper clippings to documents kept by Japanese Government agencies and the army, to study the matter.

After Japan set up the first "comfort station" in Shanghai in 1932, one of the first in Asia, Japan led a full-scale invasion of China in 1937. Su's study revealed that the Japanese Army set up "comfort stations" on occupied land in more than 20 Chinese provinces, enslaving an estimated minimum of 200,000 Chinese women.

"In the beginning, I did not expect Japan's 'comfort women' system to be so well-established. It involved Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Navy, the Ministry of War and the invading Japanese Army," he said.

"'Comfort stations' were set up for army divisions, companies, detachments and even squads. There were even rules on how to transport and finance the stations," said Su.

Recently, the Jilin Provincial Archives publicized more than 100,000 documents left behind by the invading Japanese Army. Su studied the archives, finding more than 40 documents related to "comfort women," one of which details how the Japanese Army set up "comfort stations" with public funds.

"Documents from the Central Bank of the puppet Manchukuo regime show that Unit 7990 of the Japanese Imperial Army spent 532,000 yen ($4,972) in four months to set up 'comfort stations,'" Su said, noting that back then, the monthly salary of a Japanese second lieutenant was only a few dozen yen (less than $1). The spending related to "comfort stations" was also reported to the command centers of relevant Japanese troops and military police officers, which revealed that the actions were approved by the Japanese Army.

According to Su, historical files relating to the "comfort women" submitted to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register include 29 groups of documents from five major sources—namely, the Japanese Kwantung Army stationed in the northeastern part of China, the police force in the Shanghai International Settlement, the puppet regime of Wang Jingwei, the Central Bank of Manchou and the written confessions of Japanese war criminals.

These documents clearly record Japan's crimes related to the forced recruitment of the women, the living conditions in "comfort stations" and the number of Japanese soldiers frequenting them, as well as the ratio of Japanese soldiers to "comfort women" and details of gruesome rapes.

"These materials have proved, from various perspectives, that the forceful recruitment of 'comfort women' was an official act carried out by the Japanese Government and the Army," said Su.

The author is a journalist for China Today magazine

Email us at: zanjifang@bjreview.com

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