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Nanjing facing its troubled past
Nanjing facing its troubled past

NANJING — War crimes should never be forgotten, no matter how misleading may be their names. Asia's history includes “comfort stations,” places used during World War II by Japanese forces to provide sexual services to their soldiers, often by imprisoned women from other countries.

A recent controversy in this eastern Chinese city, infamous for the mass rape and murder of the Nanjing Massacre, has brought this particular chapter of the war back to light. On Nov. 6, China News reported that the Liji comfort station, which the Nanjing authorities promised last year to protect and turn into an historical archive gallery, had been abandoned over the past year, and had been filled up with piles of construction rubbish from nearby building sites.

Jing Shenghong, professor at the Nanjing Normal University and an expert on the history of the Nanjing Massacre lamented to the Modern Express Daily that “the public’s concept of preserving history isn’t strong enough. This comfort station is irrefutable evidence of Japan’s war crimes. We have been calling for these sites to be protected for more than 10 years.”

After such widespread criticism, officials have now vowed to revive the memorial project.

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A memorial at Yanziji in Nanjing, for victims in Nanjing Massacre — Photo: 范适安/GNUFDL

Most of the “comfort women’” were young girls or women forcibly taken away or enticed from their home with promises of work in factories, or as nurses or other types of work. Once recruited, they were incarcerated and forced into prostitution. Though there is controversy as to how many women were involved, there were at least some tens of thousands of Asian women lured into these military brothels in the Japanese-controlled territories from China, Korea, and Taiwan to Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam.

According to Jing’s investigation, there were more than 40 comfort stations in Nanjing alone during the Japanese occupation. Most of them have disappeared. No. 2 Liji Street, an L-shaped two-story building still in relatively good condition, was Asia’s biggest station, with a surface of 4,800 square meters. The women incarcerated here came mostly from Korea. In the same neighborhood, another station was mainly filled with Chinese women, while another contained Japanese women who were volunteers.

By 2003 the location of the Nanjing comfort station had been forgotten, so an elderly Korean woman, assisted by Chinese and Japanese researchers, was taken back to Liji Street to identify the comfort station. She says she was duped by the Japanese, and imprisoned there for three years.

Nanjing, former capital of the Nationalist Republic of China, was one of the Chinese cities that suffered most from the war atrocities carried out by Japanese forces. Following the capture of the city in December 1937, tens of thousands of Chinese women were raped — and according to most estimates, between 250,000 to 300,000 Chinese people were massacred within weeks, many buried alive in mass graves.

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