Ironclad evidence of past wrongsIt takes three hours on a high-speed train to get from Beijing to Taiyuan city in Shanxi province. Yu County is two hours away from Taiyuan through mountainous paths. Yu County has not changed much since the late Qing dynasty. But it harbors a dark past: Japanese forces invaded this remote area and captured young women during the war.
The outside world would not have learned of the ordeal that this peaceful mountain village had gone through if it were not for the efforts of 62-year-old Zhang Shuangbing. The retired elementary school teacher lived in this village all his life, and some 20 years ago, he learned that former comfort women victims were living there.
The residents of the mountain village still had the traditions and mindset of a feudal society. During the Cultural Revolution, these victims were persecuted as Japanese collaborators. Zhang traveled around Shanxi and nearby Henan province and found 127 victims of Japanese wartime sexual slavery, collecting their testimonies. Recently, he attended a forum held at the Korean National Assembly and gave a presentation on the status of Chinese comfort women.
Zhang Shentu, 89, is one of the victims Zhang Shuangbing found. Recently, I accompanied Zhang Shuangbing and visited Zhang Shentu. The old lady had small feet, an indication that her feet had been traditionally bound.
It was the binding of her feet that led to her victimization. One day in 1942, Japanese soldiers stormed into her house, and she dashed out the door. But it was impossible to run fast with bound feet. The 16-year-old newly married bride was forced to serve as a comfort woman for the Japanese military.
She struggled to speak due to a respiratory illness, but she told me that she could forgive everything if Japan apologized.
During the meeting with Zhang, a Chinese saying, "the ironclad details pile up a mountain high,?did not leave my mind. The phrase is used by everyone, from Chinese President Xi Jinping to average Chinese people, when criticizing Japan's history of whitewashing.
Chinese people use this phrase to refute Japan when it fabricates the scope of the Nanking Massacre or denies the forcible mobilization of the comfort women and describes them as prostitutes. Zhang Shentu is living ironclad evidence that the Japanese leaders?denial of wartime savagery is simply wrong.
But there is not much time. Among the 127 comfort women victims that Zhang has found, only 11 are alive today. Japanese leaders must atone and repent before it is too late.
*The author is the Beijing correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.
BY YEH YOUNG-JUNE
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 15, Page 30