Thoughts on the issue of sexual violence of the Japanese military in China <Part 1> - Issues raised by the ‘comfort woman’ victims of the Japanese military in China

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

  • Created at2019.03.14
  • Updated at2021.11.24

Thoughts on the issue of sexual violence of the Japanese military in China < Part 1 > -
Issues raised by the ‘comfort woman’ victims of the Japanese military in China

Issues raised by the ‘comfort woman’ victims of the Japanese military in China Many people recall the image of an innocent girl who was forcibly taken away by the Japanese military and brutally assaulted. China, at that time a battlefield, was one of the places where such damaging incidents frequently occurred. The Japanese military continuously used brutal violence against Chinese women during the war. They openly took away women to commit sexual abuse across the battlegrounds, occupied areas, as well as urban and rural areas.

Hou Donge (侯冬娥, born in 1921) is among the ‘comfort woman’ victims of the Japanese military in China that have been announced so far. Hou Donge is famous for being a Gai Shanxi (蓋山西), which means the most beautiful woman in Shanxi Province. There are books and documentary films that portray her dignity as a human being even while she was subject to wretched cruelty. She is also the first victim in China to file a lawsuit against the Japanese government. This article will briefly introduce some of the ‘comfort woman’ victims of the Japanese military in China, including Hou Donge, and give thoughts on several issues.


Hou Donge (侯冬娥), Liu Mianhuan (刘面换),
and Wan Aihua (万爱花)

&nbsp;The cover of the Chinese version of 『Gai Shanxi and Her Sisters』 written by Ban Zhongyi (班忠义), a Chinese resident in Japan. &nbsp;

The area around Yu County in Shanxi Province was occupied by the Japanese military between 1938 and 1939 and even the area where Hou Donge lived was captured around the fall of 1941. Around the summer of 1942, when the Japanese military tried to remove the village chief's daughter, the chief insisted that the Japanese military should take Gai Shanxi (Hou Donge), who was then famous for her beauty, instead of his daughter. Hou Donge, who was therefore taken away, was completely destroyed by the bitter violence of the Japanese military, but refused to give up her dignity as a human being until the very end. She was such a strong woman that other victims testified that she even endured the violence of the Japanese military for a young girl who was taken with her. Before being taken away by the Japanese military, she was the first woman in the village to become a member of the Communist Party and she also served as the chairman of the Women's Salvation Association. However, after the war ended, the fact that she was removed by the Japanese military during frequent political campaigns in China became a thorny issue and she was deprived of her party membership. This shocking act also led to her attempting suicide. Up until her unfortunate death in 1994, her life was bleak beyond description. Not long before her death, she reportedly visited another victim who had suffered in the past and told her, "It was not our fault."

Another Chinese 'comfort woman’ victim of the Japanese military, Liu Mianhuan (刘面换 born in 1927), was taken away at the age of 15 by a villager who had turned into a hanjian and three armed Japanese soldiers. After suffering from severe sexual violence, she was finally able to be released after donating properties scraped up by her parents to the puppet government (Weichihui). After being released, however, she had to suffer the cold glares of the villagers and was tormented as her boyfriend abandoned her. She also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as she used severe violence against her children after marriage. She said, "The Japanese military created a life full of disaster."    


The image of the house where Hou Donge lived (Source:


Another victim, Wan Aihua (万爱花, born in 1930), was a woman who became a Communist Party member in 1942 when she was only 14 years old and actively participated in the work of the Children's Party under the Communist Party, including anti-Japanese projects, propaganda, and making military boots. However, from 1942 to 1944 after engaging in the activities for less than a year, she was taken to certain places several times by the hanjians and Japanese military and suffered severe torture and sexual violence. The purpose of the torture was to make her reveal the names of the Communist Party members. After being released from the Japanese military, Wan Aihua wandered from place to place with her adopted daughter to make ends meet. She filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government with Hou Donge for the first time and was questioned in person as part of the lawsuit in the Tokyo District Court in November 2000. She also testified before the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal.  


2000년,&nbsp;An image of Wan Aihua (front line) heading to file a suit against the Japanese government in 2000 (source:



Nan Erpu (南二仆), Yuan Zhulin (袁竹林),
and Lin Yajin (林亚金)

Nan Erpu (Nan Erpu , born in 1912) was taken by the Japanese military base in the spring of 1942 by Japanese soldiers who turned up at her home and was continuously assaulted by a Japanese platoon commander for over eighteen months. She was able to return home after the war, but she also had to go to prison due to "staying with the Japanese military for a long period of time.” After being released, the stigma unfortunately did not cease, and she committed suicide after suffering from social pressure. When she was alive, she always talked about the misdeeds of the 'Japanese bastards.'

Yuan Zhulin (born in 1922) is from Wuhan (武漢)City in Hubei Province, who was barely making ends meet with laundry work, but she was so poor that she could not even feed her child properly. In the spring of 1940, when she heard that a woman named Zhang Xiuying was recruiting cleaners for her inn and applied for the position, it turned out that it was a ‘comfort station’ built by remodeling a shrine dedicated to Guan Yu. She was given the name Masako and underwent a physical examination there. A nameplate with a Japanese name on it was hung in front of the room assigned to her, which was about 23 square-meters wide. Wearing a yukata, Yuan Zhulin had to endure countless sexual abuse by the Japanese military. She was 18 years old at the time. After the war, Yuan Zhulin lived with her mother in a remote mountain village near Wuhan. However, as her mother mentioned her miserable experience of being raped by the Japanese people at a political rally in the village, this brought about disaster to their lives. She was ousted to a remote area under social and political persecution and had to suffer hardship over the years. She said, "My pain is not something the Japanese can compensate for with money. I demand that they prove my innocence and offer an apology."

Lin Yajin (born in 1924) was born in Baoting Li and Miao Autonomous County, Hainan Province. In 1939, the Japanese military seized Sanya, an area adjacent to Baoting County. In 1940, a Japanese military contingent stationed in Sanya invaded Baoting County and set up a barracks. Around October 1943, Lin Yajin was taken by armed Japanese soldiers to their base while she was reaping rice with four other women. They were confined to a "strange building," as they entered through the gate and each of them was locked up in a small room. After each act of abuse, they had to wash their lower body according to the regulations. The Japanese forced them to take medicine. The medicine was white and red, was flat and about the size of a little fingernail. Usually, Japanese troops were always stationed on guard at the building gate. With the lives of the four people held together at stake, their families had to send food to bring them out. The severe acts of violence killed three of them, and Lin Yajin was the only survivor. Lin Yajin was also criticized as a "Japanese prostitute" during the Cultural Revolution. Lin Yajin said, "I abhor the Japanese. I will make sure that the Japanese people apologize and compensate. Now I am too old to work. I am still suffering from these insults," she repeatedly said below her breath.   


The ‘comfort woman’ victims of the Japanese military in China who suffered severe damage at their hometown  

Su Zhiliang, a leading researcher for ‘comfort women’ of the Japanese military in China, has provided the following five methods on how the Japanese military obtained the ‘comfort women’ in China. First, taking women openly and violently in cities and rural areas in the battlefields and occupied areas; Second, tricking women by claiming that female employees and cleaners are being recruited; Third, recruiting them through Weichihui (a puppet government) once the situation in the occupied area becomes stabilized; Fourth, using women who have been taken prisoner; Finally, in large cities, the Japanese military and puppet governments used the existing prostitutes.

If any of the victims mentioned above were to fit this category, then Hou Donge, Liu Mianhuan, Lin Yajin, and Nan Erpu would fall within the first method, while Yuan Zhulin falls under the second method of being tricked by a pimp (Zhang Xiuying) and Wan Aihua also falls within the second method of being a female prisoner. Some of the Japanese prostitutes have fallen victim, but they have yet to be found in the oral statements of Chinese victims. It is not easy for a previous prostitute to reveal her suffering as a victim. The fact that Weichihui and the hanjian were intervening in the suffering of the victims in any way at all is well illustrated by the victims’ statements.

As we take the liberty of organizing the status of damage sustained by the victims, it is possible to infer some aspects of violence against the women committed by the Japanese military in their process of invading the country. The Japanese military used merciless acts of violence against the women on the battlefield. It also appears that the women were provided to soldiers as ‘comfort goods’ and had to suffer continuous violence at the ‘comfort stations’ (rape camps). Once the battle is over and Weichihui = puppet government takes office, it seems that they consigned them with the supply of the "comfort women."

There were many victims who suffered similar violations as wartime rape in places such as Shanxi, China, which had become a fierce battlefield, while in some cases, as in the case of Yuan Zhulin, a pimp, not the Japanese army, is brought to the foreground. Yuan Zhulin fell victim to a job fraud close the city center of Wuhan. This demonstrates that the Japanese military actively used such pimps depending on the region. Some of the victims of wartime rape in China have also testified that they witnessed Korean women in the "comfort stations." The scene in which Korean women were taken to a strange place where they did not know the language spoken and encountered Chinese victims reminds us once again of the difficulties of the issue.

Some argue that the "comfort stations" were adopted as a measure to suppress wartime rape and were indeed effective. However, the Japanese military brought the "comfort stations" to coincide with their troop movement, and it is generally believed that the suppression of wartime rape was one of the factors for this measure. However, given the circumstances of the above victims, it is not easy to draw a line between wartime rape and the "comfort stations." It was nothing more than having different aspects of violence depending on the operating power by those who took it for granted to provide (receive) women as ‘comfort goods’ to carry out the war. The ambiguity of the boundaries also reveals how philosophically impoverished the right-wing claims in Japan were to such an extent that it could be exempted if they fulfilled "commercial" requirements.

Victims in China suffered damage in their hometowns. Therefore, the villagers were aware of the details of the damage in overwhelming detail. The lives of the victims after the war show that they suffered the secondary damage which was different from the Korean victims who were taken far away. Since the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, China has practically eliminated the prostitution market through the Prostitute Liberation Project. However, while the prostitution market had disappeared, the “shame” levelled on the prostitutes remained intact. Moreover, the abuse of the enemy against the victims was turned onto the prostitutes, and the shale was more deeply engraved. All of the victims discussed above had to endure severe levels of criticism and hatred as they were viewed as "Japanese whores," "historical counter-revolutionaries" and "the shame of the village" amid the political movement that took place in postwar China.

If we include the circumstances that the victims of sexual violence by the Japanese military in China are placed in our sight, we face many difficulties in giving thought to the issue. If we divide the frontline into the war waged by Japanese imperialism and the women who suffered severe damage in that war, that is, the wrongdoing and the damage, we can derive the criticism towards Japanese imperialism along with the demand for an apology and compensation by the Japanese government. However, if we accept that the process during which the victims were created and the position in which the victims were placed after the war to mirror society from a different angle, we can again grasp how tough the struggle of the socially disadvantaged would be. What is the range of reasons for this issue? It feels like the ‘comfort woman’ victims of the Japanese military are the ones raising this issue.



To be continued in Part 2.

Writer Lee Sun-I

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