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'Comfort women' living with the shame that never ends

By Yang Yang | China Daily | Updated: 2014-04-01 07:20

In mid-March, the municipal government of Nanjing, the capital of East China's Jiangsu province, announced that seven shabby buildings, numbers 2 to 18 in Liji Alley, would become subject to the laws related to the preservation of cultural relics.

The houses were once home to Asia's biggest "comfort station" for Japanese Imperial Armed Forces during World War II. Women from China and neighboring countries and regions, such as the Korean Peninsula, were forced to provide sexual services for the Japanese soldiers. However, instead of "comfort women", the expression "sex slaves" is a more accurate description of the women's plight. The "comfort station" was a legitimate center for rape.

Yuan Zhulin from Wuhan in Hubei province was abducted to a "comfort station" in Ezhou in 1940 at age 18. She was housed in a small room that contained just a bed and spittoon. On the first day, she was raped 10 times.

Along with many other Chinese women in the building, Yuan was given very little food, had no place to bathe and wasn't allowed to rest, even when she was menstruating. She quickly fell pregnant and tried to escape, but she was caught and subjected to a forced abortion. After Japan surrendered in 1945, Yuan returned to Wuhan and spent the rest of her life in agony and shame.

Her adopted daughter Cheng Fei said Yuan often had nightmares about the comfort station. The years of abuse caused tension headaches and she was unable to sleep, even with the help of sleeping potions. Moreover, her agony and shame were not only historical details - Yuan also had to bear the insults of her fellow Chinese, who called her "a Japanese prostitute".

The abuse continued until 2006, when Yuan had a stroke and died.

It's difficult to ascertain exactly how many Asian women were subjected to sexual slavery by the Japanese troops, but Su Zhiliang, an expert on comfort women at Shanghai Normal University, estimates that around 200,000 Chinese women were abused.

Japanese governments have repeatedly refused to officially acknowledge the crimes committed in Asian countries, including China, the Philippines and South Korea, despite protests from other countries and some Japanese observers.

In February, at a conference in Shanghai devoted to the issue of "comfort women", Chinese and South Korean academics pledged to scour the archives once again and use the results of their research to apply for inclusion in UNESCO's Memory of the World register.



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