"White Chrysanthemum"

By Yurim Jin

Published Date: 2021 / 08 / 16


"Mary Lynn Bracht's 2018 novel White Chrysanthemum is a story about comfort women in Korea, who were exploited as sex slaes in the Japanese occupation. A pair of sisters come out as the main characters: 하나 and 아미. The two each have their own story, their own pain and memory throughout the Japanese occupation.

Hana was a haenyeo (해녀) from Jeju island. (Haenyeo are female divers in the Korean province of Jeju. who make a living by harvesting a variety of seaweed, clams and other sea foods). Her mother, who was a skillful haenyeo herself, was often out at sea, and Hana and her younger sister Ami had to take care of themselves. One day, when their mother was at work, Hana notices a Japanese General coming towards the shore where she and Ami were wandering around. In the Japanese colonial era, meeting a Japanese man when there was nobody next to you was an extremely dangerous situation – oftentimes these men would take the young girls and exploit them as comfort women. At first, the recruitment for comfort women was official and public, via advertisement. The first comfort facility was made in January of 1938, near Shanghai. There were 24 Japanese and 80 Korean women always waiting for the soldiers. However as the 2nd world war took place and the need for comfort women dramatically increased, Japan started forcing Korean women to be sex slaves. In 1941, the Japanese army general requested 2 million women from Joseon, and took away hundreds of young girls.

At the age of 13, Hana was taken away from her family and her home. In return, she was put into a villa which was one of the comfort facilities for soldiers in war. There were other girls just like her, quiet and gloomy. At first, she didn’t know what situation she was being forced into, but soon met the first soldier who would forever make her suffer by forcibly raping Hana’s body and leaving her in devastating pain. And this was just a start. After that, tens, hundreds of soldiers entered Hana’s bedroom and exploited her body….

< White Chrysanthemum> is not just a story about Hana. It is also about the thousands and millions of comfort women in Taiwan, Philippines, and Indonesia, who still suffer from their memories and traces on their body. It is about ‘remembering’ them, listening to their pain, and reflecting it to our current society. Right now, fourteen women in Korea are still calling for a sincere apology from Japan. They are survivors from the Japanese occupation, who suffered as sex slaves. Right now, the Japanese government is denying the fact that they ‘forcibly enforced’ comfort women during the 1900s, and constantly claims that it was ‘voluntary’. This is where the victims and the Japanese government keep quarreling. The coercive enforcement of the Japanese Government during war times has been proven by various testimonies and inspection reports from the Netherland government etc. However the Japanese government is still silent, saying that there is no ‘direct evidence’.

Although now elderly, the survivors continue to picket their last hope in front of the Japanese Embassy in Jongro. On July 14, just a few weeks ago, the 1500th Wednesday rally took place. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the rally, which took place every Wednesday, was reduced into a 1-person protest which was broadcasted on live on YouTube. Yong Su Lee, 95, said in the video, “Japan is still blotting out lies, ludicrous statements. I don’t know if time will wait for me, but I will try my best, till the day they apologize.” When will the cries of Lee be heard? Hopefully such a day comes soon enough for Lee to die at peace.

Works Cited ‍ ‍
<일본이 사죄하는 그날까지 자리 지킬 것… 1500회 맞은 수요 시위> 한겨례뉴스, https://www.hani.co.kr/arti/society/society_general/1003520.html#csidxb6bd5fffe9c49c885318e4708487d6c .

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