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History Cannot Be Distorted

The fight of Chinese and other Asian peoples against Japan's attempts to whitewash its militarist past has lasted for more than half a century, but unfortunately it looks as if it will go on, agreed Chinese scholars when commenting on Japan's current move to revise its junior high school history textbooks.

According to Japanese and Asian media, in their drafts submitted to Japan's Ministry of Education for screening, seven textbook companies involved have either altered, slashed or blurred a considerable number of important historical facts related to Japan's wartime aggression in Asian countries.

Major changes have been made in recording important historical facts like the "comfort women," the Nanjing Massacre and the policy of "burn all, kill all and loot all" once pursued by Japanese militarists in China.

According to the Japan Times, textbooks currently in use from all seven textbook companies that submitted drafts for screening use the term "comfort women," including four that describe these women as "frontline comfort women." However, only three publishers touch upon the actual issue and merely refer to them as "comfort women" in their draft textbooks, which would be used beginning in the 2002-03 school year.

As for the Nanjing Massacre, which witnessed the worst atrocities committed by Japanese troops during World War II, six drafts mentioned the event with only one putting in a concrete figure -- 200,000 -- for the number of casualties. The others either described the number of casualties as "many," said there is no accepted count or that the tally is still in debate. Current textbooks mention specific numbers, such as 200,000 and "more than 100,000," said the Japanese newspaper.

Only one draft refers to the policy of "burn all, kill all and loot all" once implemented by Japanese troops in China. In contrast, five publishers take up the issue in their current textbooks, according to China Economic Times.

There is also a tendency to deliberately change such words as "aggression" and "slaughter," replacing them with words like "advance" and "kill" respectively in the new drafts, the Chinese newspaper said.

Latest Chinese studies reveal that no less than 360,000 to 410,000 women were forced into sexual slavery during the Japanese occupation of China. Among them, more than 200,000 were Chinese. Chinese historians have estimated the death toll in the Nanjing Massacre at 300,000.

Japan's Ministry of Education screens new drafts of textbooks about once every five years. Crises over history textbook revision broke out twice, in 1982 and 1992, when Japan seriously distorted its history textbooks.

Japan's on-going move to rewrite history has aroused concern among Chinese scholars who see both political and social motivations behind the unwelcome changes.

The rise of conservative forces in Japan is contributing to the current move to whitewash the history, said Lu Guangye, a senior research fellow with the China Institute for International Strategic Studies.

Some Japanese have taken China's economic development and the modernization of national defence as a "threat" to Japan, giving rise to the so-called "China Threat" theory, Lu said.

In the same vein, Ke Hui, a researcher with the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies, said the pro-conservative tendency which is prevailing in Japan's political and social life is to blame.

Since 1993, changes in Japan's political arena have not only resulted in Japan becoming more politically conservative but also have pushed the media and scholars to the right, said Ke.

In its effort to make Japan a major political and international power and in its call to restore national pride, Japan began in the 1980s to whitewash its disgraceful past. At that time the idea that Japan should say "no" to China started to gain ground. And it became difficult for extending economic loans to China.

In the 1990s, influenced by Japan's economic downslide, the conception that Japan should follow the United States has dominated the minds of ordinary Japanese. Influenced by such conservative ideas, a considerable number of Japanese now view China as a threat to Japan, said Ke.

How should a country handles its history of aggression against neighbouring countries is a serious matter, and only deep soul-searching and sincere repentance along with concrete action can win the trust of the victimized nations and the hearts of the world's people, said Lu.

Some people in Japan have counted on downplaying the country's wartime crimes as a way of restoring national pride among the young while pushing historical truth and the feelings of the victimized peoples into the background.

However, we believe that self-examination of one's responsibility for one's acts of aggression is the starting point for the rebirth of a nation, and that the seed of patriotism cannot be sowed in the soil of historical ignorance and national chauvinism, Lu said.

Another long-standing view held in Japan is that Chinese criticism of Japan's attitude towards history is intended to contain Japan and win economic aid.

"This is absolutely wrong," said Lu. "Japan has miscalculated the situation if it thinks offers of economic aid will make China accept Japan's distortions of history."

In fact, the Chinese people have always taken a forward-looking attitude towards Sino-Japanese ties. Rifts that have arisen since the end of the 1980s have largely been triggered by Japan's attempts to distort historical facts, Lu said.

The present distortion of history in the textbooks reflects the fact that Japan has never truly faced or accepted criticism of its crimes in World War II, and this has become an major obstacle for Sino-Japanese relations, said Jin Youguo, a senior research fellow also with the China Institute for International Strategic Studies.

Sino-Japanese friendship has been founded on the basis of Japan's correct handling of its past aggression against China. In recent years, the two governments have reached a consensus that the two sides should use history as a mirror and look into the future. The Japanese Government should make sincere efforts to remove any obstacles by taking overall Sino-Japanese friendship into consideration, Jin urged.

It is said that the textbook companies have taken orders from concerned government departments. "If this is the case, the Japanese Government's self-examination of history has been insincere," Jin said. "Objective depiction of history is essential to sound Sino-Japanese relations."

Since the normalization of Sino-Japanese relations in 1972, Sino-Japanese ties have been on a whole progressing well, commented Lu Guangye.

"As mankind embraces the new century, we hope Japan does not defend its militarist past and refrains from educating its young with false history. More importantly, we hope Japan does not do anything that may hurt the feelings of its neighbouring countries in the new century."

From the strategic and geopolitical point of view, the maintenance of friendly relations is in itself in the best interests of the two countries, said Ke Hui. "If Sino-Japanese relations turns sour, it will do a disservice to the two countries and have a negative impact on the two countries' cultivation of relations with other nations."

Since the economies of the two countries are highly complementary, closer economic ties are mutually beneficial, and there are bright prospects for Sino-Japanese co-operation in many areas such as environmental protection and China's campaign to revitalize its western regions, Ke said.

(China Daily 11/29/2000)

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