Comfort women in popular fiction

Objects of praise, sympathy, pity, and fantasy

By William Wetherall

First posted 1 August 2015
Last updated 2 April 2017

Novels Andrews 2014 Keller 1997 Lee 1999 Tamura 1947 Tang 1985


Quite a few fictional works in English and Japanese feature so-called "comfort women" (ianfu ˆΤˆΐ•w), some as protagonists. They vary in quality and ideological treatment. The titles shown here are just of a few of those I will eventually introduced here.

Some authors have claimed that their story was based on actual experiences, which does necessarily make the stories truthful. They may be compared to popular and even academic histories that readers assume to be true, but which are full of falsehoods that have gained the status of truth in tabloid history.

Tamura Taijirō's Shunpuden (1947), the earliest known and arguably the most truthful and realistic Japanese novel to feature Chosenese comfort women in China, was subject to censorship by GHQ/SCAP (General Headquarters, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers) officials during the Allied Occupation of Japan. And all film versions have distorted the story, the first to avoid censorship during the Occupation, the remakes to avoid touching sensitive nerves among Japan's small but reactive populations of Chosenese and Koreans.

Yosha Bunko and The Steamy East

This page is associated with the "Comfort women" feature under the "Legacy issues" group in the "The Sovereign Empire" part of the "The Empires of Japan" feature under "History" on the Yosha Bunko website. I have also listed it on The Steamy East site because some of the stories, while marketed as "literature", have more the feel of "genre" fiction, with elements of mystery and intrigue and even sexual titilation.


Andrews 2014 Andrews 2014
The English and Korean editions of William Andrew's
Daughters of the Dragon: A Comfort Woman's Story

Andrews 2014

William Andrews
Daughters of the Dragon (A Comfort Woman's Story)
Minneapolis (MN): MADhouse Press LLC, 2014
340 pages, paper cover

원작FWilliam Andrews
Original story: William Andrews
번 역F김서경
Translation: Kim Sŏgyŏng <Kyoung Seo-Kim>
용(龍)의 딸들
(위안부 여인의 삶과 죽음)
Yong (lyong) ui ttaldŭl (Wianbu yŏin ui salmgwa chugŭm)
[Daughter of the dragon (The life and death of a comfort woman)]
Minneapolis (MN): MADhouse Press LLC, 2014
457 pages, paper cover

The back cover of the English edition reads as follows.


In 1943, the Japanese tear young Ja-hee and her sister from their peaceful family farm to be comfort women for the Imperial Army. Before they leave home, their mother gives them a magnificent antique comb with an ivory inlay of a two-headed dragon, saying it will protect them. The sisters suffer terribly at the hands of the Japanese, and by the end of the war, Ja-hee must flee while her sister lies dying. Ja-hee keeps her time as a comfort woman a secret while she struggles to rebuild her life. She meets a man in North Korea who shows her what true love is. But the communists take him away in the middle of the night, and she escapes to the South. There, she finally finds success as the country rebuilds after the Korean War. However when her terrible secret is revealed, she's thrown into poverty. In the depths of despair, she's tempted to sell the comb with the two-headed dragon that she believes has no magic for her. Then one day she discovers its true meaning and her surprising heredity. And now she must find the only person who can carry on the legacy of the two-headed dragon . . . someone she abandoned years ago.

Set within the tumultuous backdrop of 20th century Korea, Daughters of the Dragon by Mayhaven Award-winning author William Andrews will make you cry and cheer for Ja-hee. And in the end, you'll have a better understanding of the Land of the Morning Calm.

The actual story

The story is really about an American named Anna -- a palindrome -- who was born in the Republic of Korea and when 5-months old was adopted by Htennek and Nasus Noslrac in America and had a dog named Ydnas. Anna Noslrac -- or Anna Carlson if you play her name game -- tells her story in her own voice. And it is essentially a juvenile adventure story, as Anna is only 20 -- not yet an adult under American law -- when she becomes curious enough about her her biological roots to pressure her father to take her back to Korea to pursue them.

Unable to find out anything from the adoption agency, they are about to leave when an old woman approaches Anna and slips her an address she is urged to visit before she leaves. Anna's father is not excited about the idea but lets Anna go alone. The women turns out to be her grandmother and she wants Anna to have an heirloom that turns out to be coveted by others who want the dynastic powers it is said to represent.

The reader knows that Anna -- like the heroes and heroines in all such stories -- will overcome all obstacles -- including her father's feelings that she should let others have the heirloom it to keep it would jeopardize her life, at at times even her own doubts about whether she should accept the political baggage that comes with her unexpected royal descent -- and prevail against all evil. The main reason to keep turning the pages is to learn how, when she boards the plane home, she will smuggle it out of the country.

RESUME Nancy Drew Young Reader cut out gratuitous sex


Q: Was it difficult to write some of the more brutal scenes?

A: Very difficult. I tried hard to be respectful of the reader and the comfort women. I did not want to be exploitive. But I felt I had a responsibility to show what actually happened to these women. It has to be brutal because that's what they experienced.


Keller 1997 Nora Okja Keller
Comfort Woman
Viking, 1997
Keller 2002 Nora Okja Keller
Fox Girl
Penguin Books, 2003 (2002)

Nora Okja Keller 1997

Nora Okja Keller
Comfort Woman
New York: Viking Penguin, 1997
215 pages, hardcover

Nora Okja Keller
Fox Girl
New York: Penguin Books, 2003
First published by Viking Penguin, 2002
290 pages, papercover
Plus 11-page readers guide

Both novels presented here concern the plight of women whose circumstances led them to become prostitutes. Both involve racially-mixed protagonists in "Korea" and Hawaii, which are features they share with the author's biography.

Nora Okja Keller was born 1965 in Seoul, the Republic of Korea, to a Korean woman and a German father. Keller is her husband's name.

Keller was raised in Hawaii mainly by her mother, and after a college education in Hawaii and California, focusing on literature, she began working in Honolulu as a journalist. In 1995 she won a prize for a short story titled "Mother Tongue", which she incorporated in her first novel, Comfort Woman, which was published in 1997 and received the 1998 American Book Award in 1998.

Keller reported in a number of interviews that Comfort Woman was inspired by Hwang Keum Ja (1925-2014), who according to YonHap News who "was forced to work at a glass factory at 13 and then sent to China to work as a sex slave at 16" according to an obituary. In Releasing the Story to the World: An Interview with Nora Okja Keller by Jocelyn Lieu, herself a writer, Okja reportedly said this about her inspiration to write Comfort Woman.

The thing that drew me to write Comfort Woman in 1993 was a lecture I attended where a former comfort woman, Keum Ja Hwang spoke about her experiences as a young girl forced into a comfort camp where she was forced to sexually serve Japanese soldiers. That was the first time I had ever heard about that and I remember thinking, 'Why is this the first time I've ever heard about this? Why am I only hearing about it now? Why doesn't everyone hear about it? Why isn't it a part of our national consciousness of world history?

The synopsis on the front flap of the jacket of my edition of Comfort Woman reads as follows.

To be continued.


Lee 1999 Chang-rae Lee
A Gesture Life
Riverhead Books, 1999

Chang-rae Lee 1999

Chang-rae Lee
A Gesture Life
New York: Riverhead Books, 1999
356, 2 pages, paperback

This second novel by Chang-rae Lee, following Native Speaker (1995), has become one of the celebrated fictional portraits of war-crime guilt on Asian American Studies reading lists at American colleges and universities. Lee, born in the Republic of Korea in 1965, came with his parents to the United States when he was three. He graduated from Yale University in English, and Native Speaker was his Master of Fine Arts thesis at the University of Oregon, where he then taught creative writing. He is now a professor of creative writing at Princeton University.

A Gesture Life features Franklin Hata speaking directly to the reader as the novel's first-person protagonist. Everyone regards the retired medical and surgical supply store proprietor as a kind, thoughtful, intelligent, and sensitive Oriental man, and "Doctor Hata" enjoys "an almost Oriental generation as an elder" (Lee 1999: 1). Hata, presumably of Japanese descent, is haunted by his memories. And when one day his estranged adopted daughter Sunny contacts him, his quiet life begins to slowly disassemble. His closet door opens, and in it we see his birth in Korea, his service as a medic in the Imperial Japanese Army, his love for K, a Korean comfort women.

Hata reveals his relationship with K through, of course, his own eyes, which are possibly delusional. K is the only comfort woman who seems to gaze at him as though she might like him. His unit commander, a doctor named Captain Ono, who is also fond of K, orders Hata to keep an eye on her to prevent her from killing herself.

Hata's recollections are those of an ambiguous situation in which it is impossible to know whether K, who Hata describes as unemotional, has any true romantic feelings for either man, or submits to them merely because she is being kept in captivity and is merely protecting herself by not resisting.

First-person "perpetrator"

My impression from reading a lot of fiction involving a "perpetrator" and a "victim" is that most writers would have given this story's microphone to the comfort woman or her daughter. Apparently Lee himself began writing this story as a "comfort woman victim" rather than "peretrator guilt" story. In a Beatrice Interview with Ron Hogan in 2000, Lee acknowledges that giving Hata the novel's voice was an afterthought.

RH: When you started writing A Gesture Life, you wrote directly about the comfort women. Why did you end up abandoning that version?

C-RL:   I just felt for a lot of reasons that it wasn't working out the way I wanted, both in terms of voice and narrative. It's a difficult story to tell, because at least in the particular form I was telling it in, I couldn't find anything to tell other than the horrendous crime, and it was just unrelenting. I found that it was simply too much for me to handle--and, in a strange way, because it was so straightforward, I couldn't find the drama in it.

But there was a character, just a side character in the original story, someone who came into a scene and left a scene. Then my mind followed him outside of that scene, and the more I thought about him, the ways in which his character expanded became more complicated. I imagined that he became a prosperous man living in another country, with a family, albeit not a really typical one, and the more I thought about him, the more modulated and complicated and interesting his story became. So once I got onto his voice, I immediately understood the ways in which this story could branch out and widen in scope.


Tamura Taijirō's Shunpuden
Tamura 1947 1947 Ginza Shuppansha edition
Cover by Migishi Setsuko
Yosha Bunko copy
Tamura 1949 1949 Yakumo Shoten edition
Cover by Okamura Fuji
Yosha Bunko copy

Tamura Taijirō 1947, 1949

The life of a spring woman

One of the most important works of fiction -- which is arguably more factual as "social history" than most radical "sex slave" accounts of comfort women in China -- is Tamura Taijirō's Shunpuden, a novella he wrote in 1946 shortly after his repatriation from China. The story was slated to appear in the inagural issue of a new literary magazine in 1947, but censors at General Headquarters, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (GHQ/SCAP) suppressed the galleys, and the magazine was published without it. However, a month later a slighly reworded version was published in a collection of Tamura's stories, and this version -- with some minor changes -- continued to be published in various collections.

See Tamura Taijiro's Shunpuden: The life of a Chosenese comfort woman in wartime China in the Literature section of Yosha Bunko for a summary of the story, publication particulars, scans of the covers of various editions, and translations of selected passages.


Tang 1985 Tong Te-kong (T'ang Te-kang)
Tsang-cheng yü ai-ch'ing
Yuan-Liou Publishing, 2010
Copped and cropped from YLib
Tang 1985 Tang Degang (Tong Te-kong)
Zhanzheng yu aiqing
Guangxi Normal University Press, 2015
Copped from

Tang Te-kang 1985

War and Love

Tong Te-kong (T'ang Te-kang, Tang Te-kang, Tang Degang “‚德„ 1920-2009) was born in Anhui in Hefei province as a national of the Republic of China during the transition from its 1st to 2nd republics. After Japan's invasion of China in 1937, Tong made his way to Chungking (Chongqing), where Chiang Kai-shek had set up his Nationalist government in exile. From 1939-1943 he studied history at National Central University in Chungking (dŒc‘—§’†‰›‘εŠw), and in 1948, during the civil war between Nationalists and Communists, he went to America to continue his studies and in 1959 he received a PhD in history from Columbia University. He later taught at Columbia University and at City University of New York (CUNY), became a US citizen, and died in San Francisco.

Dΰ₯δoˆ€ξ (ν‘ˆ—^ˆ€ξ)
‘δ–kF‰“—¬o”Ε, 1988

Tong Te-kong (T'ang Te-kang, Tang Degang)
Tsang-cheng yü ai-ch'ing (Zhanzheng yu aiqing)
[War and love]
Tang Te-kang tso-p'in chi (Tang Degang zuopinji)
[Collected works of Tang Degang]
Shang p'ien, Hsia p'ien (Shang pian, Xia pian)
[Volume 1, Volume 2]
T'ai-pei : Yüan-liu ch'u-pan-she < Taipei: Yuan-Liou Publishing >, 1988
1103 pages

George Hicks on "War and Love"

George Hicks describes the novel and its story as follows (Hicks 1995: 41-42). He does not cite any references that I can find and so it is anyone's guess as how he came up with his version of the story. The [bracketed remarks], highlighting, and boxed comments are mine.

The situation in China was extremely tortuous, with regional rivalries, and tensions between Nationalists and Communists and the sometimes ambiguous pro-Japanese regine of Wang Ching Wei. Some further light on these complexities, and on spying by comfort women, is provided by a post-war novel written in Taiwan by T'ang Te Kang, entitled War and Love. It claims to be based on testimony by ex-comfort women, and certainly agrees with the general picture drawn by Japanese sources. It portrays Wang Chin Wei's 'false army' as aiding the development of comfort stations, largely for their own monetary gain, and its involvement in smuggling to the unoccupied ares. In the later stages of the war, the Japanese Army in China is described in the novel as sinking into dissipation, 'infected with Chinese-style vices'. Amid scenes of corruption, great tragedy and heroism were, however, played out.

The main action of the novel is set in an unnamed 'mountain zone', with three classes of comfort stations. The highest is the Imperial Army Comfort Station reserved for Japanese only and meant to be staffed by Japanese, though many of its women were actually Chinese from the region north of the lower Yangtze, traditional home of courtesans, wearing Japanese costume. The next class was the Chinese and Business Gentlemen's Club for 'false army' soldiers, and traders with the Japanese. Here the staff were all Chinese. At the bottom came the Army and People's Reception Station, with primitive facilities and short visits.

The novel's story concerns only Chinese characters associated with the middle-ranked house. Its proprietress had been a Japanese-speaking professional in Shanghai. The Chinese staff are described as having been mostly 'seized, bought, deceived or drafted', though some had come voluntarily. The story of the proprietress is intertwined with that of a refugee from Soochow, originally employed in the lowest class of brothel but moved up to the middle-class house when this ran short of staff. Then the more attractive from the lower-class house were used to make up the numbers. She forms an attachment with a guerrilla client disguised as a 'false army' soldier, and they both flee when the kempeitai begin to uncover espionage activities. The rest of her tragic story concerns the civil war leading up to the Communist victory.

The so-called "false army" is also dubbed "fake army" (‹UŒR, 伪军 wei-chün, weijun). Writers who regard Wang Ching-wei (Wang Jinwei) as a traitor call his government a "fake" (‹U, 伪 wei) or "puppet" (˜ψ™S kuilei) government or "regime" (­žά, 政权 cheng-chuan, zhengquan). The same terms are used to describe the government and military of Manchoukuo.

The drift of the story supports the view that one motive for the intensive use of Korean women was the fear of espionage by indigenous [Chinese or other local] women. synopsis of "War and Loves"

Guangxi Normal University Press in Guilin, Guangxi province, posted the following description of the novel in its English publicity on

War and Love: I and II (Collected Works of Tang Degang, Hardcover) (Chinese Edition) (Chinese)
Hardcover -- February 1, 2015
by Tang Degang (Author)

This book is the only novel of Professor Tong Tekong, also an oral account of history. The story tells that a Chinese American Mr. Lin Wensun went back to China in the 1970s and unexpectedly met his ex-wife Ye Xiaoying et al who were lost because of war in his young age. They were delighted at the meeting after decades and recalled a variety of experiences in those years, from their first meeting, acquaintance and love to the final departure as well as the life and death of people around them. The book shows the ""authentic"" life of the Republic of China.

Hardcover: 828 pages
Publisher: Guangxi Normal University Press; 1st edition (February 1, 2015)
Language: Chinese

Web tidbits on Tang Te-kang

Tang Te-kang authored many books about Nationalist China and its leaders. He lectured widely about the political history of China in the 20th century and its relationship with Japan. He also contributed to movements by people of Chinese descent in the United States to publicize the plight of Chinese victims of Japan's agressions in China. The following texts were cut and pasted from the Internet.

From official Kuomintang website
Historian Tang Te-kang (“‚德„), a noted Columbia University professor, once stated that Chiang Kai-shek was the only leader in China's long history to have moved the nation's capital in order to fight on against enemy invasion and then moved the capital back in victory.
Beiyang Fleet Should Not Be Sole Target of Blame for Defeat in First Sino-Japanese War (Source: China Times, July 16, 2014).

Chang Iris β The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II β
At a seminar for the 58th anniversary of the Japanese invasion of China, scholars urged Chinese victims to demand reparations from Japan. Tang Te-kang, a professor at Columbia University, said that the victims have a precedent in pressing Japan for compensation-set by Japan itself when it demanded and received reparations from China after it and seven other countries invaded China during the Qing dynasty. According to the historian Wu Tien-wei, Chinese victims are entitled to these reparations according to international law; Lillian Wu, "Demand Reparations from Japan, War Victims Told," Central News Agency, July 7, 1994.