Funeral of comfort woman Zhang Xiantu

 

food offerings

On Friday Nov 20th I arrived in XiYan town in Yu county,  Shanxi for the funeral of Zhang Xiantu. She was the last surviving member of a group of comfort women that sued the Japanese government in 1995. In 2007 a top court in Japan recognized the crime but rejected the compensation claims.

 

CAPA wreath

I came to Shanxi because a few weeks earlier in Beijing we had a major contemporary group exhibition which I co curated with Fion Gunn “Intimate Transgressions” dealing with the issue of sexual violence as a weapon of war (click here for previous post). This large group exhibition will continue to visit cities in 2016 within China and Asia before going to Australia and Europe.

 

One of our artists Gao Yuan had researched the comfort women in Yu county for her photography and video work and we had chosen Gao’s portrait of Zhang Xiantu for the large poster outside Inter gallery in 798. Once I was kindly offered a car ride from Beijing by artist Meng Zifan and Jiang Yuchun there was no question, I was able to go.

fire

There were stone slabs on one alley way which I was told was likely to be 300 years old. And so I couldn’t help thinking that there would have been little change to this impoverished village since the war. On entering the family farm-yard there was a fire burning wood to welcome and offer warmth for visitors, this is where I met with the funeral musicians huddled around the fire.

grandchildren copygrandchildren

 

 

 

 

 

In the covered area was the shrine in front of which laid a variety of food and a portrait of the departed Zhang Xiantu. Behind this was a red embroidered frame encasing the coffin. To the right hand side were family members mostly grandchildren dressed in white keeping vigil and mourning.

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 07.06.58

At the back in the farm yard were some livestock. There was a large stack of corn drying and further to the left were pens of sheep bleating and behind that were hens and chickens. The musicians had started and the cooking corner filleting fish and frying shrimp had started in earnest.

 

Zhang Xiantu’s story

 

The life story of this woman has been gathered from a mixture of online sources and stories I heard from people I met at the funeral. Zhang Xiantu was the daughter of a landowner and so she would have been comparatively wealthy, had her feet broken and bound when she was a little girl. However Zhang’s life was about to bear more incredible hardships. A few months after she was married, the Japanese came to her village, she was unable to run away. She was imprisoned for 20 days. Yu county had makeshift comfort stations which were repossessed village houses or army camps unlike the official military brothels in Shanghai. She was raped punched and kicked by the Japanese soldiers trying to control Northern China in Spring of 1942. It is estimated there were 200,000 comfort women on the Korean peninsula and China who were kidnapped or coerced in to sexual slavery for the Japanese army.

Her family sold valuables and borrowed from friends and relatives to trade her back. Her father sold all his sheep and the payment ruined him. She returned back to her father’s place where she was nursed back to health even though food was very scarce. “There was nothing to eat, nothing to wear, my parents were also starving, we had nothing. ” Zhang had said in an interview with FT reporter Lucy Hornby earlier this year. Having been initially shunned by her husband’s family she was later allowed to return 2 years later. The price of her freedom ruined her family “I want the Japanese to pay the money” she was quoted.

 

Once she returned to her husband’s home she discovered he suffered from PTSD from the war and no treatment could remedy his shaking hand, he couldn’t feed himself yet alone support the family and so Zhang was responsible for labor along with household chores of her in laws. Over two dozen “known” comfort women survive in China most of them living in impoverished countryside areas.

Zhang Shuangbing speaks

The reason we know about their stories is because of a primary school teacher Zhang Shuangbing. (Although they share the same name he is no relation to Zhang Xiantu.) A few decades ago he had his first encounter with a different comfort woman. In Autumn 1982 he was out on his bike returning with students on a field trip when he noticed a lone elderly woman Hou Dong’e working alone in the only field which was not harvested. She had bound feet was kneeling cutting millet plants one by one. Zhang enquired with local villagers about this social ostracism he was told she had been brought to the Japanese fortress during the war. Moved by these difficult circumstances he wondered if he could seek government assistance for her. 10 years later comfort women in other Asian countries began to organize a movement to demand redress from the Japanese government. An article early that year by Tong Zeng stated not one single Chinese comfort woman had come forward to publicly testify. This was the beginning of Zhang Shuangbings life mission. For 30 years he wore out several bicycles crossing the provinces of Shanxi and Heibei, following the hints of villagers, locating and encouraging these elderly women to tell their painful stories, documenting their accounts and helping them file lawsuits. In July 1992 with the help of Zhang Shuangbing, Li Guiming and other local volunteers Hou Dong’e and three other survivors sent a written document to the Japanese Embassy in Beijing stating their devastating experience at the hands of the Japanese army demanding an official apology and monetary compensation. This was the first time former Chinese comfort women voiced their demand for restitution. Numerous cases have been filed since then.

On Friday Zhang Shaungbing said “a pursuit for justice will continue”

Also at the funeral were grass root volunteers and other motivated individuals, some documentary film makers of the production “Twenty Two” by filmmaker Guo Ke which will be released at the Beijing Film Academy at 6.30 on Dec 11th -admission free. Also from Hong Kong was Mei Li from HistoryWatch who had interviewed many comfort women in Shanxi and Hainan over the past few years. There were also people present from the feature film “Great Cold” by Zhang Yueping which was released in May 2015.

pall bearers copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many of the funeral traditions symbolize a transformation of one life into the next the breaking of the bowl into pieces hitting the ground.

Once the ceramic bowl was smashed on the ground outside the family yard the coffin was carried on it’s way after many stops at various points in the village, firecrackers released at every turn in the laneway finally making it’s way to the burial ground, the edge of a sweetcorn field.

village walls copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow November 25th is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Niamh Cunningham- Bio 。。。个人简介-倪芙瑞莲
由此及彼——中(国)爱(尔兰)女艺术家邀请展 The Pattern That Connects
Recently at Wuxi Bund Art Centre “Silent Explosion”
My interview with Today Art Museum and Today Art Media on the COVID era

Recent Interview , click on above image April 2020

Link to newspaper coverage -Carlow Nationalist (click on image)

In Her Eyes, F&E 100x100cm acrylic on canvas, 倪芙瑞莲Niamh Cunningham 2019

Silent Explosion
Recent ‘China-Ireland’ exhibition Shanghai Nov 29th 2019

China Ireland exhibition at MUSEu&m, Shanghai , opening Nov 29th

Early stage – Sculpture project HongFangzi ShaWan Sichuan
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1919-Whirls in the Old Terezin acrylic on canvas 30x30cm Niamh Cunningham 2019

Gobi Heaven Art Festival August 2019

Participating in the International Artists program for this exciting event in the Gobi Dessert

Jul.Aug 2019 Group Exhibition , Hamilton Gallery , Sligo, Ireland and also Sept 2019 at the Irish Consulate Offices , Park Ave NYC
Granary Art exhibition SiShui Shandong June 2019

Granary Art Exhibition SiSHui , Shangdong June 2019 click on image

Swim Duck Video …30 sec clip of original work recently shown at Bloomsday event at Embassy of Ireland Niamh Cunningham 2019
clip from Swim Duck video Niamh Cunningham 2019

Clip from 'Swim Duck' Video by Niamh Cunningham 2019

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Granary Art Museum , Sishui, Jining , Shandong

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Currently showing in Budapest Aprli- May 2019

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Talk on James Joyce at Bookwork Beijing April 2019

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Artist talk at Beijing Geely College Dec 11th 2018
Map and Territory project Nov -Dec 2018 at Beijing Geely University
Map and Territory

Map and Territory

Current Events 正在展出

 

即将展出:

 

 

正在展出:

沉默的爆破

2020年07月11日-07月31日

无锡运河外滩美术馆

 

最新动态:

 

 

 

2019年11月”中国 爱尔兰  MUSEu&m , 上海

*2019年11月装置中国—红房子首届国际户外装置创作营在乐山沙湾红房子开营 …开始阶段

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*2019年7月”1919″ 爱尔兰  Sligo -Hamilton Gallery  

*2019年5月“胜日寻芳“ 山东济宁市泗水等闲谷艺术粮仓美术馆

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*2019年4月”奥德赛——回归”群展2019年4月13日在东岳美术馆开幕。

*2018年11月-12月“地图与疆域”国际艺术邀请展 北京吉利学院

*2018年11月-12月“纸上·至上”展览,韩国光州市立美术馆北京创作中心

*2018, 10月中欧国当代艺术全球巡展·上海

2018, 9月-10月“纸上·至上”展览,沈阳市拓•空间,

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 *2017年12月,广州新造当代艺术中心,纸上·至上 纸艺作品群展.

Upcoming Exhibitions

*

Current Exhibition

*Silent Explosion, Wuxi Bund Art Centre, Jiangsu,  July 11-31 2020

Recent  exhibitions:

* Sculpture project in HongFangzu , Shawan, Sichuan , begining phase Nov 2019

Current Exhibition

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* Sculpture project in HongFangzu , Shawan, Sichuan , begining phase Nov 2019

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*1919 – Group Exhibition Hamilton Gallery , Sligo , Ireland July – September

*Gobi Heaven Art Festival , Inner Mongolia , August 2019

*A piece of Cotton Paper  9th floor gallery Songzhuang June 15th

*”Winning the Day ‘ Granary Art Centre,  SiShui , Shandong, May – June 2019

*Beyond the form of Art , Wick Art Centre , Budapest, Hungary may 2019

*Odyssey The Return ; group exhibition at Dong Yue Art Museum, Beijing  in April

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*Thousands of Sprouts, an experimental online exhibition – by Elizabeth Ross  Nov 2018

* On Paper Supreme, Gwangju Art Museum Beijing Creative Centre Songzhuang Nov- Dec 2018

*China Europe Internaitional Contemporary Art Global Tour Shanghai Oct 2018

*An Irish Airman foresees his Death – Hamilton Gallery Sligo, Ireland June – Nov 2018

*On Paper Supreme, Extension Space, Shenyang, Liaoning,  Sept 16th – Oct 21st  2018

*Artist Nomination Exhibition, Huaiyin art gallery, Huai ‘an shi, Jiangsu, July-Aug 2018

*On Paper Supreme, Ordos Culture and Art Centre , Inner Mongolia , Aug 17th – Sept 10th  2018

*International Abstract Art , ChungChuen College, Jinan, July 2018

* On Paper Supreme, QingDao , Tiantai Art Centre, June 2018

* Existence , International Feminist Art Exhibition,  Mezzi Bookstore Art Space , Changsha

* Excavations 20 April-4th June  He Gallery, Golf Club.

*’Mortgaged Time’ 21st- 29th April at Red Gate Gallery , 798 Beijing  April 21st

*’Excavations’ 12-18th Enjoy Museum 798,  Beijing   preview 5 pm 12th April

* 5 week residency at Guanlan Printmaking base , Shenzhen (Feb-March 2018)

*Lunar New Year theme exhibition “Red Fruit” showing at Raycom IT centre, Zhongguancun,  28th Jan continues to March 3rd, organised by RoveArt , supporting the Female Protection Fund.

*Chinese & Foreign Visual Arts Hunan,  at the Meixi Academy Book Complex, Changsha Dec 26th to Jan 26th 2018.

* ‘Beyond Time’  Raycom IT Centre, Zhongguangcun, Beijing Dec – Jan 27th  2018

*”Qualitative Phase and The Narrative” Beijing Film Academy Triennial Exhibition at Dong Yue Art Museum, Beijing, curated by Li Zhen till Dec 18th 2017…………………………………………….

 

-.On Paper Supreme made its final exhibition for 2018 in Beijing Songzhuang opening Nov 16th
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A response to WB Yeats poem 'An Irish Airman Foresees his Death'

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exhibited in Jinan curated by Ma Yi Ying
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和策展人郭桢在开幕式《存在》

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Excavations showing at Enjoy Museum 798 April 2018

Excavations , a cross collaborative exhibition showing contemporary art by Chinese and Irish artists , showing in Enjoy Museum, 798 , 2018.4.12

Very honoured to have Irish Ambassador Eoin O’ Leary visit Chinese New Year exhibition “Red & Fruit”

Irish Ambassador Eoin O'Leary with subway paintings at Raycom Centre exhibition Feb 2018

Stay updated with Niamh’s work and her trips around Beijing

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Stay updated with Niamh’s work and her culture vulture trips around Beijing