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Comfort women controversy continues
By Zou Huilin (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-07-17 01:07

Many resident living in the five buildings in Lane 125 of Dongbao Xinglu, in Shanghai's Hongkou District, don't know the past history of their residences. All they know is that the buildings are crowded too close together and that it would be nice to see them torn down and replaced. Then they could move into clean, new, modern apartments.

What they do not know is that Lane 125 of Dongbao Xinglu was formerly the site of a Japanese comfort women centre during World War II.

Chen Jinyu, 79, tells of her four-year painful experience as a comfort woman during World War II on September 18 last year at a Shanghai international symposium about Japanese invasion into Asia. Chen was forced into sex slavery in 1941 when she was 16 years old. [newsphoto]
"I moved into this house in 1983 when my company offered me an apartment here. People in the company told me it used to be a comfort woman centre,'' said a woman surnamed Weng who is one of the few residents there who know those buildings history.

Building 1 in Lane 125 formerly served as an entertainment palace for the Japanese invaders, according to Weng, around 70. So the rooms in the building were very large. However, these big rooms were divided into smaller rooms by the current residents.

Weng said as the five buildings was built a long time ago, the lighting and fixtures are old and worn out, and most current residents find their quarters too crowded, as there are too many families crowded into them.

Weng added, "As the city is changing very fast, the young people who once lived here have all moved out to better quarters.''

Whether to pull down the buildings or to preserve them has been a topic of discussion for a long time.

Three years ago, many scholars from Europe and the United States visited the buildings, and they suggested turning them into a museum to commemorate the comfort women who were raped and degraded as sex slaves of the Japanese invaders. Moreover, the municipal urban planning bureau at that time had included the five buildings on its list of historic cultural sites.

But the city started a new round of infrastructure construction two years ago, and the new Metro Line 3 is scheduled to run through the area where the five buildings are located, so they are threatened with demolition.

Officials of the Municipal Urban Planning Bureau declined discussing the fate of the five buildings.

One official working in the Hongkou district government who refuse to give his name, said, "No definite decision has been made on whether or not to demolish the five buildings. We hope we can find some way to save them.''

In contrast to the largely negative view of the area's residents and the city planners, scholars engaged in the study of the Japanese practice of forcing Chinese women to serve as sex slaves in World War II, strongly urge that the buildings be preserved and protected.

Su Zhiliang, the director of the history department of Shanghai Normal University, pointed out the five buildings have significant historical value and should not be destroyed.

"The five buildings were, in fact, used for the first comfort women centre in China, which was set up by the Japanese Navy, and they are well preserved, having survived both the war and the weather,'' Su said.

He added that in some ways, the five buildings have more historical value than Li Ji Xiang, the first comfort woman centre the Japanese set up in Asia, in Nanjing, capital city of Jiangsu Province.

Su believes that although the buildings are in the area slated for the new Metro line and although the residents currently living in them have to be taken care of, the five buildings should be preserved.

He says that the municipality should at least hold a public hearing to discuss the fate of the five buildings involving the residents, the experts and other Shanghai citizens.

On the other hand, some historians in the city also hold that such a site need not be preserved, as it is just like a ugly scar in people's memories of the dark and painful past when the Japanese occupied the city.

Su refutes this, saying that the judgment should not be made by historians or experts, but by the people who suffered the humiliations imposed upon them be the Japanese in such institutions.

When word came out that the comfort woman centre in Nanjing would be pulled down, 80-year-old South Korean comfort woman Pio YoungXsin spoke only three sentences.

"As a comfort woman once, how I wished I could bomb the building into pieces, But for the education of more people, especially the younger generations, the building should be preserved. If such a building is pulled down, the Rightists in the Japanese Government will be the happiest people in the world.''

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