China: Story of 'comfort woman' adapted for silver screen

GMT 21:15 2015 Thursday ,28 May

Arab Today, arab today China: Story of 'comfort woman' adapted for silver screen

'Comfort woman'
Taiyuan - XINHUA

A movie based on the experiences of Hou Dong'e, a former "comfort woman" during World War II in north China's Shanxi Province, is set to wrap this weekend and will grace movie screens across China this September.

The film, "Dahan", has been adapted from the book "Women in Japanese Wartime Camps", which was written by Zhang Shuangbing.

Retired teacher Zhang spent 33 years collecting the accounts of 172 women who were forcibly recruited by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II to serve as sex slaves.

"When she was younger they said Hou was the prettiest woman in Shanxi," Zhang said. But when he first met her in 1982, she had the air of a woman whose experiences had aged her far beyond her 61 years.

Happily married and with babe in arms, Hou was just 20 years old when her life was ripped apart. When Japanese soldiers came to her village in Yuxian County in 1941 demanding women, the village head sacrificed Hou to protect his own daughter.

Thus began more than a year of sexual brutality at the hands of the Japanese, featuring rape, abuse and forced prostitution at a military brothel. The experience left her infertile

Back home in her village, her one-month-old daughter starved to death and her husband left her.

Forty-years later, when Zhang first met Hou, she was eking out an existence as a farmhand and was living in a two-room cave dwelling. Her only belongings were her bedding, a stool and a red wooden cabinet. Looking at her then, it was hard to imagine the beautiful woman who had once turned heads across Shanxi, he said.

"It took me ten years to convince Hou to tell me her story," Zhang said.

It wasn't until 1992, after Zhang heard that other comfort women were demanding a public apology from the Japanese government that Hou found the strength to recall her darkest days.

When Zhang told Hou he could help her write an appeal letter, he was met with silence.

After a pause, she responded timidly with the question: "Where shall I start?"

"Soon she began to wail," he said. "Her outpouring of emotion was so moving I cried with her."

That year, along with other former comfort women, Hou lodged a complaint with the Japanese government. She was invited to take part in a discussion in Tokyo in October, but she fell ill and was unable to make the trip.

Hou died in 1994 from a heart attack.

Zhang wrote to the Japanese government in 1992, demanding compensation of 100,000 U.S. dollars for each of the comfort women he represented. After Japan failed to respond, he helped the women begin legal action in 1995. The suit lasted for more than a decade but ended in failure.

Of the women Zhang interviewed, only 11 are still alive.

"Dahan" is the first Chinese movie to focus on the stories of comfort women in Shanxi, a province which was ransacked by the Japanese.

"I have no idea if the film will be a success," Zhang said. "But I hope more people learn about these comfort women, and the Japanese will one day finally apologize. My one wish is that this happens before they all pass."

According to director Zhang Yueping, he chose the title "Dahan" as it is the final period of winter in the traditional Chinese calendar.

"After Dahan comes spring, and new beginnings," he said.

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