A powerful and emotional movie about Chinese comfort women directed by local filmmaker Zhang Yueping, was completed on May 18, according to an official announcement. “Great Cold” — which will be released in the region — is the first such feature film to center on comfort women from north China’s Shanxi Province.
A Moment of Heartbreak
The film is set in several different cities across Shanxi in the early 1940s, where numerous Chinese women and girls, the so-called comfort women, were forced into sexual servitude by the Japanese Imperial Army before and during World War II (1939-1945).
Addressing various psychological problems faced by those female survivors during the war, the film reflects on how their past nightmarish memories and experiences affected them. The film’s plot-line relied on a survey and traveling investigation conducted by a former primary school teacher Zhang Shuangbing.
In fact, Zhang’s involvement into the world of comfort women was almost an accident. Around 30 years ago, he returned from a school trip one fall and was struck by the sight of a solitary old woman, who was harvesting millet with great difficulty.
“Helping her with the farm work, I later learned that the woman named Hou Dong’e was raped and put into sex slavery by Japanese Imperial officers. At that time, China had no files or records about the comfort women. Shocked by Hou’s situation, I made several visits to certain places in Shanxi to record the miserable lives of more female victims, taking down their accounts of humiliation and helping them file lawsuits,” recalled Zhang.
According to Zhang, thousands of Asian women were bound into sexual enslavement, among which at least 60 percent were divorced or unprovided for. As for Shanxi alone, 127 former comfort women were identified and 300 witnesses’ stories were recorded. Together with his team of volunteers, Zhang wandered through Shanxi Province and recorded what he saw and felt about those comfort women’s current lives. Later, in 2011, Zhang compiled his findings into a book titled “Women in Japanese Wartime Camps.”
“The film is shot based on my findings”, he said.
“Only 12 survivors are now alive. More than a hundred victims passed away without receiving any official apology from the Japanese government. Our great promises for the anti-war times and wishes for peace are still forthcoming,” said Zhang, adding that it was an urgent need to convey more about the vulnerable groups through the film, which can be seen as its main motivation.
“We want to remind people through the familiar or realistic scenes about Chinese comfort women, not to instill hatred, but for peace,” explained Zhang.
Implied Meaning Just for Peace
The feature film’s title “Great Cold” refers to the last solar cycle in 24 solar cycles. It comes around January 20 each year, and symbolizes the cold atmosphere and attitude that those who committed the crimes (the Japanese Imperial Army) took to the comfort women mainly in Asia.
“We named it after the last solar term of the Chinese lunar calendar because of our great hope for the upcoming warmth after the severe cold,” explained the director.
“Just as in the line ‘If winter comes, can spring be far behind?’ by British poet Percy Shelley from his ‘Ode to the West Wind,’ we hope that film can warm victims’ hearts by exposing the facts in a proper and real way,” said Zhang.
When mentioning the special shooting locations in Shanxi, filmmaker Zhang describes how Yu County was one of the places that suffered the worst destruction by the Japanese Imperial Army, as well as the place where the most women and girls were raped. Therefore, including Yu County in the upcoming film makes it all the more vivid for viewers.
Great Expectation for Facing It Squarely
Earlier in May this year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used the term “victims of human trafficking” as an alternative term for “comfort women”, causing a stir worldwide.
Senior officials from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) criticized Abe’s remarks as an intolerable insult to victims. Spokesperson Hua Chunying from China pointed out that Abe’s misleading statement would exert a negative influence on China-Japanese relations.
In fact, China, along with South Korea and other Asian countries that were invaded by the Japanese Imperial Army, has always been, insistently, supplied evidence to testify to the existence of comfort women.
South Korea has established memorial sculptures and a museum to remember the terrible history about comfort women who suffered during World War II. Meanwhile, people from southeast China’s Taiwan built the “Comfort Women & International Women’s Rights Museum” to educate more people on the topic.
Last year, China released its first comfort women themed drama “Er Yuelan” in Nanjing, another place where individuals were raped by the Japanese Imperial Army, partly based on the book the “The Rape of Nanking” by the American journalist of Chinese origin, Iris Shun-Ru Chang (1968-2004).
Memoirs of comfort women were released one after another to refute Abe’s distorted views about those affected. Meanwhile, the ongoing commemoration of the 70th anniversary to celebrate the victory of China’s anti-aggression war provided another facet of evidence to the terrible behavior conducted at the time by the Japanese Imperial Army. As one of the foundation blocks to provide evidence for comfort women, the above-mentioned film is scheduled to premiere in September this year.