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The “comfort women” system began after the Japanese army invaded Manchuria in Northeast Asia in 1932.
The system of abuse escalated after the 1937 Nanking massacre in the Chinese city now known as Nanjing, and continued throughout the second world war.
In most cases, the women were taken from their homes and forced to work as sex slaves.
Those who resisted the repeated rapes were beaten or killed, and those who attempted to escape were punished with anything from torture to decapitation.
“She [Liu Mianhuan] recounted during our interview: ‘The torture made my private parts infected and my entire body swollen.
The pain in my lower body was excruciating to the point that I could neither sit nor stand.
There is a vast body of scholarly work and documented evidence of Korean “comfort women” – work started by Korean and Japanese researchers and feminist scholars in the early 1990s – but until a few years ago there was no book in English on the Chinese women who were forced to service Japanese soldiers.
All 12 of the women featured in the book have since died; most were in their late 80s or 90s.
So why did the stories of Chinese “comfort women” remain unknown for so long?
Qiu suggests that after the war, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East stopped short of holding the leaders of the Japanese military and government responsible for the military comfort stations.
“This Japanese soldier said that the [pregnant] women were taken out and used for bayonet practice and that the baby and the woman were killed together.
He said no one knows how many women were killed that way, [but it] must be tens of thousands,” Qiu says.“The worst fear of the survivors is that their painful experience will be forgotten.