June 25, 2007 / 1:39 AM / 10 years ago

Chinese woman breaks silence on sex slavery horror

RUGAO, China (Reuters) - Zhou Fenying is a living witness to the dark history that still poisons China’s relations with Japan more than 60 years after World War Two.

When Zhou was 22, Japanese soldiers came to her village in eastern China, grabbed her and her sister-in-law and carted them off to a military brothel, she says.

Now 91, Zhou has broken decades of silence to speak of her traumatic experience as a “comfort woman” -- the euphemism the invading Japanese used to describe women forced into sex slavery.

“I hid with my husband’s sister under a millstone. Later, the Japanese soldiers discovered us and pulled us out by our legs. They tied us both to their vehicle. Later they used more ropes to tie and secure us and drove us away,” she told Reuters in her home village in Jiangsu province.

“They then took us to the ‘comfort woman lodge’. There was nothing good there,” she said, speaking through a local government official who struggled to translate her thick dialect into Mandarin.

“For four to five hours a day, it was torture. They gave us food afterwards, but every day we cried and we just did not want to eat it,” Zhou added, sitting in her sparsely decorated home.

The Chinese government says Japan has yet to atone properly for its war crimes, which it says included massacres and forcing people to work as virtual slaves in factories or as prostitutes.

In 2005, a push by Japan for a permanent U.N. Security Council seat sparked sometimes violent anti-Japanese street protests in cities across China, with demonstrators denouncing Tokyo and demanding compensation and an apology for the war.

“OF COURSE I HATE THEM”

Zhou -- neatly dressed in a dark blue traditional Chinese shirt, her graying hair combed back into a bun -- avoided saying what had happened to her in the brothel, except that she was there with at least 20 other Chinese women.

But her son, Jiang Weixun, 62, said she had told him they were repeatedly raped by Japanese soldiers on a daily basis.

Zhou Fenying, 91, is seen during an interview in her village home in Rugao, east China's Jiangsu province in this May 8, 2007 file photo. When Zhou was 22, Japanese soldiers came to her village in eastern China, grabbed her and her sister-in-law and carted them off to a military brothel, she says. Now 91, Zhou has broken decades of silence to speak of her traumatic experience as a "comfort woman" -- the euphemism the invading Japanese used to describe women forced into sex slavery. REUTERS/China Daily/Files

This harrowing experience has left a deep scar on Zhou’s life. She cannot forget, and nor can she forgive.

“If it were you, wouldn’t you hate them? Of course I hate them. But after the war, all the Japanese went home. I‘m already so old. I think they are all dead by now,” Zhou said.

Zhou said she had served as a “comfort woman” for two months before a local town official rescued her by paying off the Japanese.

She went back to her husband of 10 years, Ni Jincheng, who later died fighting the Japanese.

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Zhou remarried and lives with her son, Jiang, from her second marriage.

Jiang said his mother had been moved to tell her story after learning of the death of Lei Guiying, a well-known former Chinese comfort woman.

Lei died of a brain hemorrhage in April. She had gone public with her experiences last year after hiding the ordeal from her family for 60 years.

Jiang said he was not ashamed of his mother, one of only an estimated 50 former Chinese sex slaves still alive today.

He said her experiences should highlight to the world the extent of the wartime crimes committed by the Japanese.

“When my mother told me about this, as her son, I do not hate her for that. The Japanese are the ones I should be hating. The Japanese are those who committed the crimes. The Japanese are responsible for this, they raped all of the women,” he said.

Tokyo has not paid direct compensation to any of the estimated 200,000 mostly Asian women forced to work in brothels for the Japanese military before and during World War Two, saying all claims were settled by peace treaties that ended the war.

Instead, in 1995, Tokyo set up the Asian Women’s Fund, a private group with heavy government support, to make cash payments to surviving wartime sex slaves.

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