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December 1, 2011

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Ex-home for 'comfort women' held by Japan to be memorial

SHANGHAI plans to turn a former "comfort house" that was used to hold women forced into sex slavery by Japanese troops during World War II into China's first memorial for the victims, officials said yesterday.

The three Western-style buildings in Hongkou District, then known as the Daiichi Salon, was set up by Japanese troops in Shanghai from November 1931 to August 1945, when Japan surrendered.

"It's been decided that the buildings will be retained to make people remember the history, even if they had few architectural values nor had any important people living inside before," Li Kongsan, an official with the Shanghai Cultural Relics Management Commission, told a forum yesterday.

Li said the commission had begun making restoration and relocation plans for people living inside. More than 250 people from 53 families are living in the two-story buildings on Baoxing Road E. with flat roofs and arched doors. The living conditions are quite poor as residents must cook in a public kitchen on the first floor, while more than 10 families use three toilets together. Electric wires can be seen everywhere in the houses, and wooden floors creak when stepped on.

Some Japanese-style doors and wooden sculptures of Mount Fuji can still be seen in the houses, said 67-year-old resident Wu Yuzhen, who has lived in one of the buildings for 65 years. He and his wife live with his 96-year-old father in a 20-square-meter apartment in the building.

"We support the government's decision to retain the buildings, but also hope the government can either restore the buildings to improve the living conditions or relocate the residents," said resident Shao Weizhong.

Li said the best solution is to let the city and district governments and the residents combine efforts to pay for the huge relocation fees. The total cost to move each family is at least 2 million yuan, he said.

"It is quite urgent for the country to build such a memorial to leave the evidence of crimes, as most of the victims, called "comfort women," have died and historical sites were demolished," said Su Zhiliang, a professor at Shanghai Normal University and one of China's leading experts on sex slaves.

Shanghai opened an archive on comfort women at the university in 2007, with exhibits including audio recordings and written accounts by Chinese comfort women as well as photographs.

Japanese troops set up a total of 149 houses in the city for comfort women during World War II.

About 200,000 Chinese women were forced into sexual slavery nationwide, according to Su.


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