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'Comfort women' in WWII seek justice

2014-09-18 08:45 Xinhua Web Editor: Mo Hong'e

At 89, Zhang Xiantu still wakes up in the middle of the night, seized with horror and soaked in cold sweat.

"In my dreams, I am taken away by the Japanese soldiers again," said Zhang, who's deteriorating health has her confined to a bed in her small home in Yuxian County, Shanxi province.

She said the nightmare has haunted her for more than seven decades.

During an interview with Xinhua on Wednesday, she's overcome with a fit of asthma, something she attributes to the agitation brought on by the fury and shame of speaking about her dark past.

Zhang was 16 and had been married for just a few months before a group of Japanese soldiers broke in and looted her house of all food, bedding and cattle.

It was the second day of the Chinese lunar new year in 1942.

Zhang herself was locked away at a Japanese war camp, where she was raped by at least 20 Japanese soldiers every day.

After about three weeks, her family paid a ransom for her release. She has since been fighting chronic gynecological diseases and psychological scarring.

She cannot spend the night alone, so her son has to be at her bedside day in day out.

Zhang sued the Japanese government in 1998, demanding a public apology and proper compensation.

Of all the 16 former comfort women in Yuxian County, only Zhang is still alive.

She said she is now fighting for justice on behalf of all these victims.

Li Xiumei was among the first comfort women to sue the Japanese government in 1995. But up until her death in April, she had not received the apology she demanded.

"She was only 14 when she was taken as a sex slave," said Li's daughter-in-law Zhao Zhuangxiang. "Her mother committed suicide out of guilt and grief."

Justice was Li's only will, Zhao said.


Thousands of Asian women were forced into sexual enslavement by the Japanese soldiers during the second World War, including an estimated 200,000 Chinese.

In Shanxi Province alone, 126 former "comfort women" are on record.

Zhang Shuangbing, a former primary school teacher, has made several visits to these women over three decades, taking down their account of humiliation and helping them file lawsuits.

"Twenty percent of the women were too ill to bear a child. At least 60 percent were divorced and unprovided for," he said.

By coincidence he met Hou Dong'e in 1982, a former comfort woman who was living in miserable conditions. "She was alone, ill and penniless," Zhang recalls.

Shocked by her situation, Zhang spent all his spare time traveling across the province to find out more about this vulnerable group. He compiled his findings into a book entitled "Women in Japanese Wartime Camps".

Zhang wrote to the Japanese government in 1992, demanding a compensation of 100,000 US dollars for each of the comfort women. Without any response from Japan, he helped the women take legal action beginning in 1995. The suit lasted for more than a decade and ended in failure.

"I feel extremely guilty that so many of them have died in grievance -- only 13 are still alive," he said. "But the pursuit for justice will continue, and I will help their family members seek justice for the deceased."

China held a host of commemorative activities Wednesday on the eve of the 83rd anniversary of the "9.18 Incident," or "Mukden Incident" which marks the beginning of the 14-year war against Japanese aggression.

On Sept 18, 1931, Japanese troops blew up a section of the railway under their control near Shenyang, and then accused Chinese troops of sabotage as a pretext for attack. They bombarded a barracks near Shenyang the same evening, beginning a large-scale armed invasion of northeast China.

The incident was followed by Japan's full-scale invasion of China and the rest of Asia, triggering the war against Japanese aggression.

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