No Justice and Conscience, No Peace

Professor Su Zhiliang

Dean of Department of History, Shanghai Normal University

Director of Centre for Research on Chinese ¡§Comfort Women¡¨


In recent years, East Asia has witnessed incessant incidences and rumpus with regard to Japan¡¦s war responsibilities and historical understanding of  WWII. The Japanese government approved revisionist history textbooks, Japanese courts repeatedly ruled against victims of Japanese war crimes. Despite outcries around the world, the present Japanese Prime Minister has continued to pay homage at Yasukuni Shrine which has enshrined convicted Japanese war criminals. On the surface, it may seem to be an internal affair for the Japanese to visit Yasukuni Shrine. But if you are asked whether you would support paying homage at the Cathedral where Hitler was enshrined, then you will realize that such Yasukuni Shrine visit is not that innocent.


As a matter of fact, although the war was over sixty years ago, in Asia many problems left over by this chapter of history have not yet been resolved.  Victims of the Japanese war crimes are still suffering physically and emotionally. Let me use the Japanese military sexual slavery as an example, its violence and cruelty is extreme in human history and civilization.


The so-called ¡§comfort women¡¨ were those who were forced by the Japanese government and its military organs to serve as sexual slaves for the Japanese military.  When the Japanese invasion of China began in 1931, the Japanese navy set up the world¡¦s first ¡§comfort station¡¨ in Shanghai ¡V The Big One Saloon. This ¡§comfort station¡¨ for the navy was operated by overseas Japanese and doctors from the military were assigned to examine the ¡§comfort women.¡¨ The victims in this comfort station included women from China, Korea and Japan and its operation lasted until Japan was defeated in 1945. After the Japanese military launched the full scale invasion against China in 1937, the ¡§comfort women¡¨ system was introduced to all Japanese occupied territories. Estimated 400,000 females from different countries were forced into sexual slavery. These included women from China, Korea, Southeast Asia and some white women from Holland, Australia , etc. Our research of the past 14 years reveals that both the number of ¡§comfort stations¡¨ and that of victims have far exceeded the researchers¡¦ anticipation. Just in Shanghai alone, the number of identified ¡§comfort stations¡¨ has now reached 156.  As ¡§comfort women¡¨ their freedom was taken away and they were violently raped by the Japanese soldiers day and night. Some of them went insane with the incessant sexual assaults and abuses. Many died in the ¡§comfort station¡¨. As punishment and also to teach other victims a lesson, some ¡§comfort stations¡¨ even slaughtered ¡§comfort women¡¨ and fed their flesh to others. The ordeal as ¡§comfort women¡¨ left severe physical and mental wounds on the victims. Physically, an overwhelming majority of the ¡§comfort women¡¨ had gynecological diseases. Many suffered from infertility, headache, neuralgia, gastritis and other physical problems. Many lost their ability to work at an early age and suffered severe manic disorder, phobias and withdrawal symptoms. Many were repulsed by normal sex life and some lost the enthusiasm to live.


In 1996, ¡§comfort women¡¨ victims from Shanxi province filed the first Chinese ¡§comfort women¡¨ lawsuit against the Japanese government in the Tokyo District Court. More suits followed by ¡§comfort women¡¨ from Hainan and Taiwan against the Japanese government. But Japanese courts have rejected all claims on the basis of the statutes of limitation or that the Japanese government is immune from civil suits in court. The main reason for losing all these lawsuits is that the Japanese government, courts and society have failed to sincerely reflect and acknowledge the war crimes committed by Japan. Hence, NGOs of Asian countries held a Women¡¦s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan¡¦s Military Sexual Slavery in Tokyo on December 2000. The panel of judges of the Tribunal ruled that the Japanese government and the Japanese emperor Hirohito were guilty and fully responsible for its wartime sexual slavery. However, to actually deliver punishment to the perpetrators and to compensate and restore honour to the ¡§comfort women¡¨ victims, humanity has still a long way to go.


For the many surviving victims of Japanese war crimes in North and South Korea, China, Southeast Asia etc., the ¡§war¡¨ is not yet over. For Japan has not yet sincerely acknowledged and apologized for their war crimes, nor compensated the victims. On the contrary, salt is repeatedly rubbed into their old wounds, with Japanese Prime Ministers paying homage to the enshrined war criminals and denials of war atrocities made by Japanese politicians.


From year 2002, many historians and teachers from China, Japan and Korea spent three years to write a history textbook entitled Modern History of China, Japan and Korea. This is a book that bears heavy historical lessons, a book that also tries to open a way for the future. China, Japan and Korea need to have mutual understanding, acceptance and tolerance, each needs to better understand the history of the others and our common history as well. We hope this history textbook will be a fruitful attempt, beneficial to the resolving of differences and bringing about reconciliation in East Asia. It is also our show of support to progressive forces in Japan that are trying to stop revisionist history textbooks from entering classrooms in Japan. Only when we have a common understanding of history can we have a foundation for reconciliation and peace. Only when a common understanding of history is reached can there be a common ground for building notions of mutual security and development. 


Today, more and more people in Canada and the United States are learning about the significance of Yasukuni Shrine visits. It might one day even become an issue in Japan-Canada and Japan-U.S. relations. During his visit to Asia in May 2006, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan advised Japan to follow what Germany has done as this would greatly improve Japan¡¦s bilateral relations with  neighboring countries. Annan urged Japan to face its war responsibilities and apologize to the victimized nations.  Reflecting on this chapter of history, acknowledging its war crimes and making sure such atrocities and wrongdoings of the past will never happen again , these are the burning issues facing the Japanese government today.