Revisiting the Comfort Women: A Contrapuntal Reading of Their Stories in Postwar Taiwanese Fiction and Documentaries
Elliott S.T. Shie (Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Tsing Hua University)
As a euphemism for prostitutes working in military brothels, “comfort women” refers to women working voluntarily or by coercion for the Japanese military during World War II. Rather than investigating the historical reality of Taiwan’s comfort women under Japanese rule, this article examines the depictions of “comfort women” in postwar Taiwanese fiction and documentaries. In 1998, director Yang Jiayun made the first documentary, Grandmothers’ Secrets: Stories of Comfort Women from Taiwan, about Taiwan’s wartime comfort women, which was followed by a sequel, Song of the Reed, by Wu Xiujing (2015). These two documentaries function as public discourse and, through various modes of representation, construct the comfort women not only as victims but also as empowered subjects. The second part of this article shifts its focus to the literary representation of comfort women, analyzing Chen Qianwu’s short story “Hunting Captive Women” (1976) and Li Yongping’s autobiographic novel Drifting Rain and Snow (2002). Chen’s work challenges the binary oppositions between the oppressor and the oppressed, the victimizer and the victim, when third parties such as Southeast Asian women are involved. In addition to revealing Taiwan’s double role, Li’s story points to the oppressive character of patriarchy and his own sinister cooperation with it. Through the method of contrapuntal reading with an implicit knowledge of the historical background, this article juxtaposes and contrasts the documentaries with the literary texts in hopes of providing alternative perspectives on the complexity of the controversies surrounding the topic of comfort women.
comfort women, documentary, postwar Taiwanese fiction, articulation, contrapuntal reading