HARDLY a week goes by that the Chinese Government does not criticize the Japanese Government for refusing to acknowledge and apologize for its crimes in China during World War II. Since 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the 2nd Sino-Japanese War, the outcry against Japan and calls to remember the Rape of Nanjing have been constant.
One of the most controversial aspects of this issue is that of comfort women, a placid euphemism for the brutal kidnapping and rape of hundreds of thousands of women throughout Asia by Japanese soldiers during the war. Even though as many as 400,000 women suffered as sex slaves during the war, some of Japan’s top officials have gone so far as to deny the women even existed.
The suffering of the comfort women did not end with the war. The terrible facts of life after the war are described in detail in Peipei Qiu’s new book “Chinese Comfort Women.” Many comfort women hid their past as best they could because they were treated so shamefully by Chinese society. Today, only 23 comfort women are officially counted in China, but there could be many more who kept silent about their past after seeing their fellow comfort women persecuted again and again. Many of them then suffered humiliation and indignities at the hands of their own countrymen during the Cultural Revolution. Their property was confiscated, their families punished, and they were publicly “struggled” against as “Japanese collaborators.”
Even today, the few known comfort women do not receive any support from the Central Government, though a few receive a paltry sum of 100 yuan a month as part of local social security schemes. A report in China Daily describes the living conditions of the women today as “desperate.” The newspaper quoted Su Zhiliang, director of the Research Center at Shanghai Normal University, as saying, “Most of the former comfort women still alive in China live in desperate conditions — physically, socially, and financially — and they long for attention, recognition, and support from society.”
Caring for comfort women needs to begin at home. According to some statistics, at least 40 percent of former comfort women never married because they were ostracized by society. This leaves them without descendants to care for them today. Most of the women suffered from devastating health consequences — infertility, chronic pain, etc. — that can cost thousands of yuan per month in medical bills. Some of the comfort women are being cared for by NGOs and individuals. The NGOs and individuals are collecting their stories, donating money and providing funerals for those who pass away. Why isn’t the government taking the lead in these efforts?
In South Korea, another country whose women were abused by the Japanese troops, their comfort women are well taken care of. They live in special nursing homes and have all their medical and physical needs cared for by the government. Li Xiaofang is a photographer and historical researcher who has been recording the lives of the surviving comfort women for more than a decade. He told China Daily, “There are more former comfort women here in China than in South Korea, and their experiences were equally miserable… they deserve more attention and support.”
While the Japanese should apologize and pay for their war crimes, the women they brutalized are not Japanese, they are Chinese. It is the responsibility of the Chinese Government to care for these aging testaments to history. Waiting for the Japanese to step in and take responsibility for the comfort women is a waste of time and precious lives. The Chinese Government can act now and take the lead in showing the world how these women should be honored.