Sex slave memes show China’s history education is lacking, academics say
Images of elderly ‘comfort women’ with captions including ‘Speechless and choking with sobs’ were swiftly removed from QQ this week
Academics say memes apparently mocking wartime sex slaves that were removed from social media platform QQ this week highlight a lack of education and historical sensitivity among young people.
Tech giant Tencent, which owns QQ, apologised and removed the memes on Monday – a day after they appeared – after an outcry from users.
They were produced by Shanghai Siyanhui and featured images of “comfort women” in their 90s from the second world war. The images were accompanied by captions in Putonghua including “I was really wronged”, “Helpless”, “Speechless and choking with sobs” and “At a loss”.
The fact they were even produced showed incredible insensitivity, said Xiang Longwan, honorary director of the Shanghai Jiaotong University’s Centre for Tokyo Trial Studies.
“The incident demonstrates just how much our younger generation is lacking in basic judgment on what’s right and what’s wrong,” Xiang said.
“History education in this country is problematic – the central authorities should give this some attention.”
The memes were based on stills taken from a sombre documentary on the lives of 22 women – the only remaining Chinese survivors in 2014 when it was made – who had been forced to work as sex slaves for the Japanese military. They were some of the estimated 200,000 victims from China, South Korea and other countries in the region.
The film, Twenty-Two, was released on August 14 and was the first documentary aired on the topic in China. One of the women, Huang Youliang, died this month.
The memes were swiftly withdrawn after an angry reaction from QQ users. “This incident has exposed flaws in our content supervision and reviewing system,” Tencent said in a statement. “We will launch a self-investigation and improve the related systems.”
Shanghai Siyanhui could not be reached for comment.
Although the memes were removed, screenshots continued to be circulated as commenters condemned them on social media.
“These merciless people and companies using the images of ‘comfort women’ to make memes have tried to create amusement out of our humiliation. They’ve crossed the line to make money,” one person wrote in a Baidu chat room.
Another said on Sina Weibo: “They don’t respect history and they don’t respect these elderly women.”
Academic Su Zhiliang has spent two decades researching comfort women and said it was a topic that should be completely off limits.
“If the creators of these memes really knew what these women went through, they wouldn’t be trying to use their images for amusement,” said Su, director of the Research Centre for Chinese “Comfort Women” at Shanghai Normal University.
“Young people need to learn that not everything can be used for amusement. We should follow Germany’s example and restrict what people can do in this area – and there must be tough punishment for violators.”
Germany has strict laws governing symbols linked to Hitler and the Nazis, who ruled the nation between 1933 and 1945. Earlier this month, two Chinese tourists were arrested in Berlin after making illegal Nazi salutes in front of the historic Reichstag building housing the German parliament.
On Wednesday, Chinese authorities detained two men who were seen in photos circulated online posing in Japanese military uniforms outside a Shanghai war memorial site.
That came after two men in Guangxi were detained last week after they posed as Japanese wartime soldiers outside a railway station, swinging a sword and shouting at people walking past.