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Abduction in reverse
An account of consular police methods of persuading Japanese women to leave their Chinese families and depart Fuqing.
David R. Ambaras
Some women may have felt compelled to leave, and consular police at times appear to have applied psychological pressure to gain their assent. The Foreign Ministry archive does not contain transcriptions of actual dialogues between consular police officers and Japanese women (or Chinese men). But in a travelogue on Fuzhou published in the June 1936 issue of the journal of the Taiwan Communications Association (Taiwan Teishin Kyōkai zasshi), Miyachi Kōsuke recounted an “unknown story of the antlion’s pit” told him by Ishii Kanosuke, the principal of the Japanese elementary school in Fuzhou, concerning one such encounter. In the autumn of 1934, Ishii had accompanied, at his own request, consular police seeking to recover a woman in Fuqing. (According to an article in the Taiwan Nichinichi shinpō in the same year, he had been involved in the extrication of seven or eight women.) Uneducated and illiterate, this woman had separated from her Japanese husband and was working in a small bar in northern Japan when she met a Chinese peddler and accompanied him to Fuqing, along with her Japanese son. But her family lost track of her and requested her recovery.
Finding her and her son in the village, the consular police began to work on her with their own rhetorical tools: “Your family are greatly worried about you and have asked for us to come get you. You’ve discarded your country and moved away from your relatives; don’t you feel unfilial? Just return to Japan for now, and you can always decide to come back here after discussing it with your parents. The government (okami) will even pay your way back to Japan.” She agreed to leave (and the police got her to start walking immediately), but was pursued by her husband, who told her not to believe them, reminded her that despite their poverty, “No one loves you like I do,” and promised to get the other village children to stop isolating her son Ken, whom he had always loved “more than a real son.” As she appeared unsure of what to do, he took the boy in his arms and told her that she could go back to Japan by herself. She didn’t really want to go, but was also tormented by feelings of guilt towards her parents, feeling on which the consular police played repeatedly, finally swaying her. (She took the boy with her.)
After relaying more poignant details from Ishii’s story, the author concluded: “This woman certainly did not go happily back to Japan. It is only that someone with more developed knowledge than she possessed worked their way into her weak woman’s psyche and moved her heart. I wonder if back in Japan, she is now leading a happy life. Compared to when she was working as a maid in a filthy, brothel-like bar, she may have been much happier living as a housewife with a family in China, even if she was materially poor.” In other words, this was an abduction in reverse, with consular police deploying their own “sweet talk” and empty promises (for they surely knew that this woman would never be able to return to China, even if she truly desired to do so). While clearly seeking to mitigate sensational images of the antlion’s pit and highlighting the multiple forces affecting women’s lives, this account nonetheless reinforced the image of women as ignorant, hapless victims of guile and psychological manipulation that denied them true happiness.
See also: Complex lives, contingent tactics