Thoughts on the issue of the sexual violence of the Japanese military in China <Part 3> - ‘Comfort women’ of the Japanese military in China: Who can ask for forgiveness and reconciliation?

Posts Lee Sun-IResearch Professor, KyungHee University Institute of Humanities

  • Created at2019.03.12
  • Updated at2020.12.14

A 'decision' based on a ‘tolerant' policy

It was in 1992 that the women who suffered sexual violence by the Japanese military in China began a trial seeking an apology and compensation from the Japanese government. As a result, the investigation and discussion regarding the rape in China led to the publication of 『The Japanese Terror in China(日军侵华暴行实录)』 by the Beijing Publishing House in 1997. Before then, the ‘comfort women’ or the sexual violence of the Japanese military were virtually not open to discussion.

After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, the Chinese government detained more than 1,000 suspected war criminals and conducted an investigation together with the victims. Japanese war criminals arrested by Russian troops in 1945 and transported to Russia were handed over to China in July 1950 and detained at the Fushun War Criminals Management Center (photo 1). On April 25, 1956, at the National People's Congress, the 「Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Decision on the Handling of Japanese War Criminals Under Detention who Committed Crimes during the Japanese Invasion War 」 (hereafter, abbreviated as the ‘Decision on War Criminals’) was passed and promulgated as the decree of Chairman Mao Zedong.

The view of the Fushun War Criminals Management Center

The Supreme People's Court of the People's Republic of China organized a special military court in accordance with this Decision on War Criminals and held an open trial in June and July 1956 in Shenyang, Liaoning Province and Taiyuan, Shanxi Province. Both the indictment and defense of the trial were asserted and ruled based on the ‘Decision on War Criminals’. The ‘Decision on War Criminals’ declared that the war criminals of Japan deserved severe punishment as they had caused enormous damage to the people of China for their crimes against international laws and humanity. However, as 10 years had passed after Japan's surrender, many situational and environmental changes occurred. Also, recently, the people from China and Japan developed friendly relations. Moreover, even though there is a difference in degree among the war criminals during their imprisonment, an absolute majority of them claimed that they had repented their wrongdoings. Thus the ‘Decision on War Criminals’ declared that the war criminals were to be classified under the 'tolerant' policy.

A victim appealing her own sufferings during a war criminals trial.

 

As a matter of fact, this ‘Decision on War Criminals’ implies leniency toward war criminals by using the expression "tolerance" on two occasions. Indeed, the legal counsel at the court cited three reasons mentioned in the ‘Decision on War Criminals’. The three reasons indicated the changes in the current situation, the defendant's apology and repentance, and the restoration of friendly relations between China and Japan, and what follows is the logic of the defense demanding a lenient decision for Japanese war criminals. First, the suspects were nothing more than a component of the structure belonging to the imperialist country, the military, and each national institution. Second, they grew to become militarists in the education and environment of militarism. However, now they are deeply repenting through the efforts of the Chinese government to edify them.

In fact, China carried out an "edification" project based on the "careful and steady consideration" for prisoners handed over from the Russian government in 1950, and in the process, a “fundamental transition in the prisoners' perception and attitude took place”. In a way, one might say that the confidence gained through the success of the edification project continued in the trial. However, the edification project of the Chinese Communist Party may be seen as a violation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions in that no adverse distinction should be founded on religion or faith. In court, however, an optimistic political philosophy of socialist edification served as a defense logic advocating the major war criminals.

In fact, China carried out an "edification" project based on the "careful and steady consideration" for prisoners handed over from the Russian government in 1950, and in the process, a “fundamental transition in the prisoners' perception and attitude took place”. In a way, one might say that the confidence gained through the success of the edification project continued in the trial. However, the edification project of the Chinese Communist Party may be seen as a violation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions in that no adverse distinction should be founded on religion or faith. In court, however, an optimistic political philosophy of socialist edification served as a defense logic advocating the major war criminals.

Nevertheless, the prosecution did raise some objections on the grounds of the main arguments of the defense. It was Wang Zhiping who indicted eight war crimes, including Suzuki Hiraku. He said that while an individual is subject to social influence and historical constraints, the proactive role of the individual must never be denied.

War criminal Suzuki Hiraku

Suzuki Hiraku's own written statement at the time of the war criminals trial

 

In the past, Japan, which had been dominated by militarism, had many followers, but at the same time, there were progressive forces that stood for peace. However, the defendant abandoned the least amount of conscience that human beings should have and committed 'a variety of crimes with a sense of purpose.' He argued that, therefore, they must not avoid legal responsibility for the serious crimes they have committed. Also, although the criminal acts of the defendants were executed by orders, those with certain positions were aware of the international laws. Therefore, he believed that they were aware that the massacre of unarmed innocent people, the destruction of villages, the rape of women, and spraying poisonous gas were all serious criminal acts. He argued that, then, as a person with the least amount of conscience would have been able to change or deter the orders sent from superior officers, they must not avoid grave responsibilities. Finally, although the defendants may have admitted their wrongdoings at court, “at first, they did not admit their crimes and even claimed that the invasion of China was the duty of Japanese soldiers.” However, no lawyers ever refuted these arguments, and even the prosecutor made no statement of opinion, instead expressing his full understanding.

Eventually, nine people were convicted in Taiyuan, and 120 pleaded guilty but were not indicted. Among the nine convicted war criminals were three rapists. Among the 120 criminals, 118 of them with the remaining data had committed rapes and gang rapes, and 43 of them had committed the crime of forcibly converting women into ‘comfort women’. 70 of them raped and gang-raped dozens of women, and some even admitted child rape. What constitutes the important part of the crimes committed by 120 people who were not indicted here is the sexual violence against women, such as rape and gang rape. Nevertheless, most of them were not indicted.

The Chinese government appears to have sought to establish diplomatic ties with Japan through the realization of "justice" that showed China's "tolerance" rather than to bring them to account through this trial. Zhou Enlai (周恩來), the then prime minister, said with disarming frankness at the third session of the National People's Congress on June 28 that, "The Chinese government's handling of war criminals ...considered the strong desire to restore normal relations between the two countries as soon as possible.”

However, how did the victims feel while attending and watching the trial? Is it the power vested in the prosecutors to “bear the heart of those who have passed away and arraign the criminals for their crimes?” Who is the principal of forgiveness for the war criminals? Many who appeared as witnesses and testified about the damage they suffered appealed to the government to avenge the criminals on their behalf.

 

Who can ask for forgiveness and reconciliation?

Among the war criminals were Sumioka Kitzu (住岡義一) and Sagara Keiji (相樂圭二), who directly inflicted harm upon the victims of Shanxi Province. Many stories were also told about the women whose mind and body had been destroyed by violence against women (rape, gang rape, and "comfort women") committed in Shanxi Province. Except for those who were sentenced to prison terms and served time immediately after the end of the trial, those who were acquitted of the charges and were allowed to be released due to an illness returned home on three occasions by the Japanese steamship of Koanmaru sent by the Japanese Red Cross. The majority of those who were sentenced to serve were also released and returned to Japan by the mid-1960s.

What is impressive, however, is the report of the farewell speech made on their return home. Quoting the idiom, "Do not delay in making amends for your wrongs (過則勿憚改)," Tominaga Juntaro (富永順太郞), who returned home after being first acquitted, said:

"I certainly did wrong. Today I had an opportunity to fully repent. I am now very happy. I am sorry for the people of China who have suffered significant disasters and pain. I believe there is nothing more pleasant than transforming myself into a good man. I would like to take the first step of my life from today. I would like to be a good person in the second half of my life. Thank you all. Now my heart is full of pleasure."

 

The returnees said, "Japan and China should quickly restore diplomatic ties, normalize their relations and build friendships like brothers again," vowing to make the efforts to achieve this end. Certainly, since this was released by the Chinese press, it is not clear exactly what statement they actually left behind. However, we can at least infer from the report why the Chinese government did not indict war criminals and sent them back home.

The cry of the victims, the Chinese government's "tolerant" and "just" trial, and the war criminal's self-confidence that he has become a "good man” allow us to ponder upon who has the right to ask for forgiveness and reconciliation? What should be premised for forgiveness and reconciliation to be possible? Lee Jae-seung, a jurist, said if state power monopolizes the process of punishing criminals and becomes the sole realizer of justice, then the alienation, exclusion and destruction of the victims are expected, as he gave thought to whether there is an ethical grammar in forgiveness and reconciliation. His comment offers an important clue to understanding the pain of Hou Donge, a ‘comfort woman’ victim of the Japanese military in China.   

The Japanese soldiers, who were 'edified' in the War Criminals Management Center in China and stood a lenient war criminals trial, returned home and organized the 'Society Returnees from China' to make the efforts in promoting friendship between China and Japan. The victim Hou Donge, however, was unable to speak even on the day she made a painful decision to speak out about her sufferings as she simply shed sorrowful tears throughout the day. She said since the diplomatic relations between China and Japan have been established, it would be even more difficult to hold them accountable today (1992)."

In fact, in 1952, the regime of the Chinese Nationalist Party under Chiang Kai-shek (Taiwan) said in paragraph 1 of the 「Treaty of Peace between the Republic of China and Japan(日華條約·附屬議定書)」, a peace treaty signed with Japan, that "As a sign of magnanimity and goodwill towards the Japanese people, the Republic of China voluntarily waives the benefit of the services to be made available by Japan pursuant to Article 14 (a) 1 of the San Francisco Treaty.” Then, 20 years later, on September 29, 1972, the representatives of both China and Japan announced a joint communique on normalizing diplomatic ties between China and Japan at the Great Hall of the People. Regarding the war reparations, Article 7 of the Joint Communique prescribed that “The Government of the People's Republic of China declares that in the interest of the friendship between the Chinese and the Japanese peoples, it renounces its demand for war reparation from Japan.”  

Therefore, although enormous damage had been caused, this created a situation where no ‘individuals’ who suffered were allowed to hold anyone responsible. Victims seriously wounded in their dignity by the Japanese military were once again deeply wounded, as their sufferings were switched into the shame for being ‘prostitutes’, suffering a serious blow in their daily lives. In addition, the self-esteem of men who had not been able to ‘protect’ these women were deeply wounded, and so they went along with the showing off of the ‘great power’, China, and sealed the issue while knowing the reality of the suffering, leaving the victims to lose their ways to restore their dignity for a long period of time.

Most of the female victims were born in poor and prejudicial rural areas and wore foot bindings. They could not read and did not know why such severe violence had to occur at their villages. These women began to speak out about their sufferings. Their testimony would be the very language for the viewpoint of women that Ding Ling who had ‘witnessed’ the suffering wished to create through ZhenZhen, the protagonist of her 1941 work. I truly hope that the language will become a new language to write a new history.

 

 

 

Related contents

Writer Lee Sun-I

Lee Sun-I (Research Professor of The Humanities Studies at Kyunghee University) 

[email protected]