Cat. 1, Personal 1 – BL-8 (BEAUTIFUL LIFE, Ch. 8) – Almost a Comfort Woman

Cat. 1, Personal 1 – BL-8 (BEAUTIFUL LIFE, Ch. 8) – Almost a Comfort Woman

BEAUTIFUL LIFE  by Anthony Marr
Ch. 8 – Almost a Comfort Women

To be born in China during the Japanese invasion is like a new cell born in the body of a woman being raped.

The Japanese invasion of China is usually said to begin in 1937, but in fact, it began six years earlier with the invasion of Manchuria, which up till then was a group of nine northeastern Chinese provinces. The Japanese seized it in 1931 and made it into a puppet state called Manchu Guaw (Manchu Nation) to serve at least as a staging ground for the subsequent full scale invasion of central and southern China.

If we want to broaden the scope a little and include Korea, we’d have to push the invasion date back to 1901. From 1901 to about 1910, Korea was under Japanese military rule, when any and all resistance was mercilessly crushed. As of 1910, Korea ceased to exist as a nation and became a colony of Japan, and so it remained for 35 years until Japan surrendered in 1945. It was also during this period, especially after 1936, when Japan conscripted and sent tens of thousands of Korean men to the front line in the invasion of central and southern China, and tens of thousands of Korean women were seized to serve as “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers.

Recollections by Koreans from the occupation times had it that they were forbidden to speak Korean at school, and had to speak Japanese in the presence Japanese at all times. Many even had to change their names into Japanese. Girls of elementary school age were considered too dependent, but those of secondary school age were fair game, especially the ones who broke Japanese rules. One day, they would be taken away and never seen again. Enough of this happening and it inevitably came to light that they were made into “comfort women”, even though they were very uncomfortable and as young as 13 years old. The “ugly” one would be sent to factories to work without pay. Beatings, sometimes to death, and plain killings, were rampant, of men, women and children alike, for the flimsiest of reasons, or none at all. Medical experiments were conducted on Koreans and non-Japanese people of other nationalities elsewhere in Asia.

According to one account, “This treatment, and the general aim to suppress and destroy much of Korean culture caused a festering hatred underneath the polite and respectful face the Korean people had to show for their Japanese superiors.

After the war, some Japanese stayed behind in Korea, either because they were unable to get away or because they had built a life for themselves there and wanted to try and blend in with the Korean population. Some were able to go undetected but most were found out and were beaten or tortured to death by Korean people seething with anger over years of painful occupation.”


This resonates with accounts I’ve heard as a child about what happened in China, and history has it that where the comfort women are concerned, although Korea has the spotlight, many of the women were from other occupied countries, including Burma, China, East Timor (then Portuguese Timor), French Indochina, Hong Kong, Indonesia (then the Dutch East Indies), Macau, Malaysia, New Guinea, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and other occupied areas.

Military “comfort stations” were located in most of the above listed places, which, in theory, were to keep Japanese soldiers from raping outside of the stations, and to keep venereal disease under control, but in practice, the Japanese were emboldened by comfort-women-use, and raping intensified in some places, with or without “comfort stations”, and VD (STD) ran rampant in the “comfort stations”.

As can be seen above, some of the places were colonies of European powers. Inevitably European women too fell into Japanese hands, notably Dutch and Australian, and their fates were no better. They were either abducted from their homes or schools, or lured with false promises of good employment. Once “recruited”, they’d be transported to and incarcerated in distant comfort stations – until the war ended, or they died, whichever came first.

Under [Treatment of Comfort Women], Wikipedia states:

Approximately three quarters of comfort women died, and most survivors were left infertile due to sexual trauma or sexually transmitted diseases. Beatings and physical torture were commonplace.

Ten Dutch women were taken by force from prison camps in Java by officers of the Japanese Imperial Army to become forced sex slaves in February 1944. They were systematically beaten and raped day and night. As a victim of the incident, in 1990, Jan Ruff-O’Herne testified to a U.S. House of Representatives committee:

“Many stories have been told about the horrors, brutalities, suffering and starvation of Dutch women in Japanese prison camps. But one story was never told, the most shameful story of the worst human rights abuse committed by the Japanese during World War II: The story of the ‘Comfort Women’, the ‘jugun ianfu’, and how these women were forcibly seized against their will, to provide sexual services for the Japanese Imperial Army. In the ‘comfort station’ I was systematically beaten and raped day and night. Even the Japanese doctor raped me each time he visited the brothel to examine us for venereal disease.”

In their first morning at the brothel, photographs of Ruff-O’Herne and the others were taken and placed on the veranda which was used as a reception area for the Japanese personnel who would choose from these photographs. Over the following four months the girls were raped and beaten day and night, with those who became pregnant forced to have abortions. After four harrowing months, the girls were moved to a camp at Bogor, in West Java…

… Victims from East Timor testified they were forced into slavery even when they were not old enough to have started menstruating. The court testimonies state that these prepubescent girls were repeatedly raped by Japanese soldiers while those who refused to comply were executed. … the women working at the brothels “most likely served 25 to 35 men a day”… … a Japanese naval surgeon… wrote in his memoirs that the women continued to work through infection and severe discomfort, though they “cried and begged for help.”

I’m devoting space to the comfort women issue because, first, I feel for them; second, there were up to 400,000 of them when one is one too many; third, their end-fates were almost always tragic; fourth, it has been whitewashed, concealed and denied by the guilty, and by and large ignored by the apathetic; and fifth, their plight needs to be known and deeply felt to generate meaningful action, and meaning action is required if there is any decency in humanity at all.

Oh, and there is a sixth reason. This one is personal. My own mother narrowly escaped capture, or I wouldn’t be here to write about her.

Her name was Deeb-Tsui (Butterfly Green, 1919-2008). When the Japanese moved up the Pearl River, she was still in her teens. Hers was a distinguished rural family on her mother’s side, with an aquaculture and rivertransportation business complete with its own fleet of tugs and barges. Her paternal side was martial. Her father was an army colonel who was killed in action by the Japanese in 1939; her mother remained a widow till the end. She was her mother’s forever only child, and was quite the princess.

One day in late 1937, when she was 18, her idyllic life came to a shattering end. Her father was away on a military campaign, leaving her, her mother, her boy cousin and several farm workers at home. Though Japanese invaders were moving daily closer to the village, the ill-informed villagers would not know it until the Japanese flag began topping the horizon or rounding the nearest river bend. Still, the rumours of war echoed from house to house, farm to farm, village to village, until four Japanese armored personnel carriers bearing the Japanese insignia rolled into the village unannounced with three dozen armed men. As soon as the vehicles were parked in the village square, the soldiers began immediately searching house to house, dragging out daughters, mothers and grandmothers alike. Within minutes, a girl was spread-eagled on the gritty earth, naked and screaming, with three men working on her. Soon another, and another. The Rape of the Virgins, and non-virgins, had begun, at this village as in a thousand other villages.

While the girls were crying in no language, the soldiers were having an uproar of a time in a language the villagers did not understand. Not all of the intruders were engaged in sexual activities. A few disgruntled-looking ones seemed to have been placed on crowd-control duty, and they took their frustration out on the villagers. At one point, when a half-naked girl was being deflowered on the ground, a young lad about her age came charging out of the house like a bat out of hell, with a Chinese sword in his hand. One of the men shot him in the leg, shattering his femur, and he fell screaming several feet behind the raper of his sister, or cousin, or the girl of his dreams. The sword had fallen out of his hand, but was just within reach. The raper of the girl did not even slow down. The lad was left writhing on the ground, to watch. Incredibly, he grabbed the sword, half-rose from the ground, made a dive towards the raper – whose torso was more or less horizontal over that of the girl – and, with his body weight behind it, drove the blade of the sword into the rear end of the man, to the hilt. The tip of the sword could have punctured the raper’s heart. The man howled and rolled off the girl, with the sword handle protruding from his posterior. The lad was quickly subdued by three men, and pinned on his back at the feet of the girl, with his broken leg bent at a hideous angle. One of the men on crowd control duty who appeared to be a medic went to tend to the wounded man and drew the sword out of him, the blade red with blood.

In spite of the several simultaneous raping going on, this became the center of attention of the moment. Even the other rapers stopped in mid-thrust. An officer issued an order, and the girl was pulled to her feet. One of the soldiers thrust the bloody sword at her, blade first. She automatically took it, her right hand at once wet with blood. The officer issued another order. A non-uniformed man next to him said, incredibly in Mandarin, which the villagers could understand, barely, “Pull his pants off.” His tone was wooden. The girl just stood there, paralyzed. “Do it,” said the man, almost gently. The officer barked another order. The Mandarin-speaking man muttered to the girl, “forgive me,” and slapped her in the face. She still did not move. The officer ordered again, and the man struck again, and again, until the girl had collapsed in a heap next to the lad. Still she did not move. The officer barked another order and handed the man a shiny black swagger stick. The Mandarin man waited a moment too long, and was struck hard on his back with the stick by the officer himself. He turned toward the girl and said, “Take his pants off, or I will break his other leg.” The girl seemed paralyzed in spite of herself. The officer barked again, and the Mandarin man, taking another moment to steel himself, raised the stick above his head, and brought it down on to the shin of the lad as hard as chopping wood, breaking the other leg. The lad and the girl screamed in unison, as did some of the people in the crowd. The man turned to the girl and said in Mandarin, “I’m very sorry about this. But you’d better do as ordered, or I’ll have to break his arms.” The girl cried hysterically, but this time did as ordered. The lad gritted his teeth, looked up at her, but stopped making a sound. The Mandarin man then said, “cut off his genitals.” “NOOOOOO…”, screamed the girl. When she was taking her breath, the Mandarin man said quietly, “Do it.” The girl slowly raised the sword, and said to the lad, “Forgive me, my love.” In one swift motion, she plunged the blade into his chest, pulled it out and, in Roman fashion, fell on to it, their blood, and that of the raper, mixing within her.

A shocked silence, soon shatter by the officer barking again. Ten men were randomly pulled from the crowd. The officer drew his sword, and personally beheaded them one by one. After that, the sacking of the village resumed.

Near one house, a middle-aged woman, too homely to be in danger of being considered a comfort woman, said to the Mandarin man, “If you will spare my daughter, I will tell you who the most beautiful girl in this village is, and where.”

“How far is it?”

“Not far,” she said.

“Lead me there yourself.”

She hesitated.

“Fine,” he said, and made a move towards her house.

“Okay, this way,” she said hurriedly.

He detached himself from the rape scene and followed the woman – to my mother’s house.

By then, my mother had taken refuge in one of the ponds and hidden herself amongst the water lilies. He found her without too much trouble, hauled her out of the water, gazed at her drenched face for a full minute, then said to her, in slow and deliberate Mandarin, “You indeed are beautiful. I would have courted you under better circumstances. But right now, listen carefully. If I can find you, so can they, and they have dogs. I want you to leave at once. I don’t care where you go, but don’t come back. Oh, and I would advise you to be dress like a boy. Now GO!”

Within three minutes, my mother, my grandmother and my uncle were gone.

The woman who led the Mandarin man there observed the whole thing with her mouth open. She was too smart, but not smart enough. She should have left, but curiosity had got the better of her. The Mandarin man shot her on the spot, leaving the farm workers to clean up, so they later reported.

My mother took a train to Shanghai, thankfully not to the fateful thencapital of Nanking, worked for a while as a telephone switch-board operator, and volunteered for the Red Cross. On December 13, 1937, Nanking fell to the Japanese, who began a 6-week massacre, complete with rape of course. When they were done, over 200,000 civilians and disarmed soldiers were murdered, mostly by the sword. The Yangtze River ran red for days.

In 1942, my mother met my father (Ma Wung-Sui – “Great Emotion” – 1913-2000) in Canton, who until the invasion was a member of the provincial legislature. On the 25th day of the first moon of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, of the Gregorian year 1944 AD, when the war still had more than a year to run, I was born.

To be born in China under Japanese invasion is like a new cell born in the body of a woman being raped. The rest is up to me.

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