Friday, February 20, 2009

A view of the “women’s self-offering corps” - in 1942

I just read Gord Sellar's short story "Cai and Her Ten Thousand Husbands" (as well as listened to the podcast/audiobook of "Dhuluma No More" (it starts at 44:00)), and I have to say that they are both well worth your time. I enjoyed "Dhuluma" a lot, but I'm responding here more to Gord's well-written piece putting "Cai and Her Ten Thousand Husbands" into context. It becomes clear very quickly, when reading the story, that it is about the "Comfort Women." There are a few paragraphs which refer to the plight of these girls in Donald Clark's Living Dangerously in Korea, The Western Experience 1900-1950 which I'd previously bookmarked, and which his post has prompted me to transcribe.

In Kanggye, in the very northwest of Korea, missionary Lillian Ross ran a Bible institute which had classes for local men and women. She wrote, in 1937, of one of her graduates:
Her younger daughter (17 years) was sold to a yorichip (roadside restaurant) by her husband. She did not know better than to go and did not even notify her mother for some months. Now she is kept here in town. She has been sparing her spare time weeping at her mother’s. The mother is distracted. The price of the girl has gone from ¥100, which the husband received, to ¥230. The police doctor [has] sent her to the hospital and already the price is ¥240. [I received] ¥60 from the US recently. The mother thinks she can raise ¥60 by selling her sewing machine. I do not have the [funds] even to advance [the rest]. [pg 178]
The above quote goes to illustrate the way girls could be sold, something that was occurring long before the joshi teishintai, or the “women’s self-offering corps,” was established. Clark also describes the observations of Ethel Underwood, writing that, "In her view, recruitment for military brothels was an extension of the established business of prostitution that preyed on girls from poor Japanese families as well as from Korea." He then presents an excerpt of Ethel Underwood’s October 1942 unpublished (due to wartime censorship) report titled “The Darkest Blot in Korea”:
Agents deliver the girl to the crowded dormitory of the employment agency. From here they are sold and resold to factories, hotels, inns, and private homes. The younger girls are taught how to serve food and drink, how to dress and comb their hair, then they are sold to “cafes” or “drink houses,” [and] resold at rising prices until the original 100 yen becomes 200 yen, 300 yen, or sometimes 1,000 yen or more. Girls who from infancy have learned submission to men are now taught to please them. At any stage from the mother’s door to the third or fourth sale the girl may be raped, “broken in,” “prepared” for commercialized vice. The totals are appalling. During the one month of March 1940, 1,500 Korean girls around the age of fourteen were taken through the one port of Antung into Manchuria and northern China. Parties of ten to twenty little pre-adolescent girls were constantly seen being taken into police stations for identification, for travel permits, medical examinations, [etc.]. Older girls are not wanted. “They fight too much if they are not broken in before puberty.” Police regulations make the tracing of girls difficult…

Sometimes a tearful mother goes on a journey and returns with a pitiful little body, sick and defeated, disillusioned and disgraced. More often nothing is ever heard of the little girl. But the dives of Mukden, Peking, Shanghai, and the barracks of Nanking, Hong Kong and now Manila have competent doctors to throw out any girl dangerously diseased. Koreans hear, shudder, and are ashamed. They revile and hate their rulers and despise them. Thousands of Korean leaders from schools and churches, newspapers and farms [who have been] thrown into jails these last few years report that the only conversation of the police force is of drink, and of the lustful delight of girls from inns and cafes, and from the registered brothels. Brutal by day and bestial by night, the policeman is both hated and despised. [Pg 200]
There's little I feel like adding to that disturbing picture. Unfortunately, the hatred she speaks of would find new outlets in the late 1940s, and it was in that maelstrom that Ethel Underwood was killed in her own house after communist assassins broke in trying to kill one of her guests.


Anonymous said...

i fucking loooooooove your blog, yo. i've been reading for a couple of years and i always appreciate the thoughtful tone and historical insight. you provide a real service that stands apart from the morass of typical dreck and self-promotion in which the expat blogging community typically wallows.

again, nice work. and thanks.
*Andre Goulet, Suwon

matt said...

Wow. Thanks for the kind words!

gordsellar said...

And thank you for your kind words, Matt. I'm glad you enjoyed the stories, and definitely have to check out that book sometime! The quotes and context, though sobering, make it even harder for me to stomach the whole, "It was completely Japan's fault!" tack that so many like to (or have been convinced they should) take.

Andre's praise of your blog is well deserved!

MZ said...

Hey there, I just came across your blog and will be curious to explore it when I have some more time later this week. Ethel Underwood was my great grandmother. I live in the states but in 2016 had the chance to visit the Home for Girls she started as a result of all the trauma she saw around her. It was life changing. In fact in a few weeks a group of students who currently reside there will be visiting the US and seeing some of the important sites in Underwood and Korean American history (plus fun tourist spots!) I'm fortunate that I'll also be able to visit with them when they are in my neck of the woods. I look forward to reading more of your writing and am grateful for the inclusion of my Great grandmother's words. She was a wonderful woman whose life was cut short leaving a hole in the hearts of many. I'm glad her impact lives on.