Publication Details

Ward, R. 2007, 'Left behind: Japan's wartime defeat and stranded women in Manchukuo', Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, vol. 9 March, pp. 1-6.


The zanryu fujin (stranded war wives) are former Japanese emigrants to Manchukuo who remained in China at the end of the Second World War. They were long among the forgotten legacies of Japan's imperialist past. The reasons why these women did not undergo repatriation during the years up to 1958, when large numbers of former colonial emigrants returned to Japan, are varied but in many cases, the 'Chinese' families that adopted them, or into which they married, played a part. The stories of survival during the period immediately after the entry of the Soviet Union into the Pacific War on 9 August 1945, the civil war that followed, and throughout the years of the Cultural Revolution, are testament to their strength. At the same time, the history of how the zanryu fujin came to be in China is useful for understanding the Japanese government's colonial policies, its wartime attitudes toward women, and its post war handling of inconvenient war legacies.

Until well into the 1990s, the Japanese government maintained different policies towards the zanryu fujin and the zanryu koji (abandoned war children) on the grounds that the zanryu fujin had 'freely' chosen to remain in China. As the stories of the three women below illustrate, the zanryu fujin did not necessarily initially 'decide' to stay in China, but the circumstances they faced often left them with little choice. Some later, after having children who they could not take with them to Japan if they returned, did choose to stay in China. But under the circumstances, it is hard to justify the Japanese government's view that the zanryu fujin had 'freely' chosen not to return to Japan. Indeed, their stories highlight a pattern of abandonment by the Japanese government. The lives of the three zanryu fujin in the period immediately after the Soviet invasion cast light on the question of choice and the situations that led them and many women to stay in China.