Wit­nesses

Doc­u­men­tary on World War II sex slaves seeks recog­ni­tion for the dwin­dling soror­ity By Pan Xiao­qiao

Beijing Review - - Culture -

Movie di­rec­tor Guo Ke was scrolling through Weibo, the pop­u­lar Chi­nese mi­croblog­ging site, five years ago when some­thing caught his eye. It was a blog about a 92- year- old woman, Wei Shaolan, who was liv­ing in Guangxi Zhuang Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion in south­ern China. Wei was a sur­vivor of the bru­tal sex slav­ery that thou­sands of women in East Asia were forced into by the in­vad­ing Ja­panese dur­ing World War II, and what went to Guo’s heart es­pe­cially was the tragedy that con­tin­ued be­yond Wei’s gen­er­a­tion.

In 1944, the Ja­panese ar­rived in Guidong, Wei’s vil­lage, slaugh­ter­ing, loot­ing and rap­ing. Wei, then a young nurs­ing mother, tried to flee with her baby daugh­ter but was caught and dragged to a “com­fort sta­tion,” Ja­pan’s eu­phemism for the hun­dreds of pris­ons set up in East Asia to pro­vide sex slaves for the troops. There, she was bru­tal­ized for three months, and her daugh­ter died. When she man­aged to es­cape and re­join her fam­ily, she found her­self preg­nant.

She gave birth to a son, Luo Shanxue, and his suf­fer­ing has been as in­tense as his mother’s. Shunned and stig­ma­tized by the vil­lage be­cause of his Ja­panese blood, Luo lived the life of a pariah, with his mother as his only com­pan­ion.

The re­port made Guo search out the vil­lage and be­gin to doc­u­ment the lives of the mother and son. Though rec­on­ciled to his life, Luo couldn’t help voice his oc­ca­sional an­guish. “My life is a tragedy be­cause of the Ja­panese in­vaders,” he told Guo. “The lo­cals de­spise me, and when I was young, six women re­fused to marry me. I am con­demned to re­main alone be­cause of my Ja­panese blood.”

The in­ter­views made Guo de­cide to shoot a doc­u­men­tary on the mother and son. The 43-minute film was called Thirty Two, a ref­er­ence to the num­ber of Ja­panese sex slav­ery sur­vivors alive in China at that time. As he re­searched the dwin­dling com­mu­nity in China, he felt a sense of ur­gency. The av­er­age age of the women was around 90, and each year, their num­ber was de­creas­ing. As they were a part of his­tory, it was nec­es­sary to record their lives and save them from obliv­ion.

So in 2014, Guo de­cided to cre­ate a col­lage of the lives of all the re­main­ing sur­vivors in China, and an­other doc­u­men­tary, Twenty Two, paid tribute to the com­mu­nity, which had been re­duced to 22 at that time.

Twenty Two was re­leased in China on Au­gust 14, which is now ob­served as the In­ter­na­tional Memo­rial Day for the Vic­tims of

Li Ail­ian feeds stray cats

Wei Shaolan and her son Luo Shanxue have a meal

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