Why does the “Nanjing Massacre” remain such a contentious issue over seventy years on? Introduction The event at the origin of the contention The rise of the contention over time: the massacre as an instrument to serve politics The unsolved controversy on textbooks Public opinion beyond control Content of the contention Conclusion The Nanjing massacre during the winter of 1937-1938 has no parallel in either country’s history of external relations in terms of scale and brutality.
China and Japan emerged traumatized in terms of human casualties, economic consequences, but also humiliation and nation pride. Nevertheless, for decades, the event was concealed and did not appear as a political issue in their post-war political and economic relations. The essay will tend to demonstrate why the history quarrel started in the 80’s and the role played by historical myths and nationalism. It will analyse why the textbook issue is crucial and how exacerbated anti-Japanese attitude among the public opinion developed.
Finally we will examine the questions the two countries would have to address objectively, with no emotional and ethnocentric statements, to solve the problem of history. The event at the origin of the contention The ‘Nanjing Massacre’, also known as the ‘Rape of Nanjing’, is a six weeks rape and mass murdering that happened during the winter of 1937-38 in Nanjing, the former capital of the Republic of China during the Sino-Japanese war. According to the various sources, the Japanese imperial army killed between several thousand people to 300 000 Chinese civilians and unarmed soldiers and raped between 20, 000-80,000 women.
The difficulty to evaluate the exact number is partly linked to the fact that information was released from the occupied city and transmitted mainly by the few foreigners living there; yet, the main cause lies in the definition of the massacre itself and the interpretation of the two parties, China and Japan. It is still a very contentious issue , as China and Japan do not agree about what exactly happened. The rise of the contention over time: the massacre as an instrument to serve politics
Though the events were related immediately after they occurred in China and abroad, it is striking that almost immediately after the event, both sides concealed the events for decades until the 80’. A direct link can be established between the domestic social and political contexts, the international climate and the content of the debate. In other words, the interpretations of the massacre have been orchestrated over time according to the needs of the politicians in power. During the 1950s-60s there were no real disputes between both nations about the historiography of the war.
Both nations created their own nationalistic myths in rewriting history to address their political climate. Japan The post-war Japanese conservatives wanted to keep the state power, needed to gain public opinion concerning the policy of recovering economic domination and to justify their collaboration with the United Stated that wanted to assure Japan would be an important anti-communist ally. To do so, the Japanese elite had to shape Japanese war memory in introducing three myths in the national collective memory.
The ‘myth of military clique’ holds that the Sino-Japanese war and the Pacific war was an aggression; it whitewashed the responsibilities of the Emperor and the conservative ruling class by blaming a small group of militarists for causing the war. Also, Japan only accepted responsibility for aggression towards the Western nations and disrupting world peace, but whitewashed its actions for aggression and atrocities in the Asian countries. At last, Japan introduced the myth of ‘sacrifice as hero”.
Japanese imperial soldiers were praised as heroes because they served their country in times of need. By including these myths in all the historic textbooks during the 1960s-70s, Japan cleared its historic debts and passed them on to Asian countries. China When the war ended, the Chinese CCP government had to deal with the anti-communistic guerrilla supported by the KMT and the United States that tried to overthrow it. China set up a ‘United Front’ in order to erode the international support base of the U. S. It organized propaganda campaign to point out the U.
S. and the KMT government as the worst enemy of China, rather than Japan. The communist government published history textbooks in which the Sino-Japanese war was only one event of the 100-year Chinese struggle against foreign imperialism and domestic reactionary forces. The government also included the ‘myth of military clique’, stating the ordinary Japanese people were free of responsibility for the war and only blamed a small group of Japanese militarists in order to increase favourable impression in the Japanese society.
Though there was divergence on the glorious image of the Japanese army and the deny of Asian victimization, the government put it away in order to prevent Chinese hatred towards Japan. It even implemented restrictions in publications: all academic research dealing with the Japanese atrocities and Chinese suffering were suppressed, movies concerning the war were banned, and the history textbooks were censured. By covering up the truth about the Sino-Japanese war and the Japanese atrocities, the Japanese and Chinese government were able to achieve the main goals of their political agenda.
The international political climate changed by the end of the 1960’s and lasted through the 1970s. Japan and China were sharing the same enemy, the Soviet Union, which brought both nations closer to each other. They formed an alignment against the Soviet Union. This does not mean that China and Japan agreed about the historiography of the war but they covered this disagreement with diplomatic gestures creating an illusion of friendship. For example, the Chinese government easily accepted Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka’s superficial apology in 1972 in exchange for diplomatic recognition.
During the meeting between Zhou Enlai and Yoshikatsu Takeiri, the Chinese premier offered to forego Japanese compensations for the war. The relationship between China and Japan took a complete turn in the 80’s. Domestic politics were the main causes of the change and led both nations to a revision of national collective memory in China and Japan. China The death of both Mao and Chang pushed the politics to stress the unification of the country instead of the antagonism between communists and nationalists.
Additionally, Deng Xiaoping’s new economic reform and open-door policy in China received a lot of criticism from the conservative old guards, while the population suffered from unemployment, corruption, crime and inflation. A rising patriotism was the solution to keep the population’s support and reinforce the conservative party and the CCP’s new ideology. Through patriotism the government wanted the Chinese population to praise China’s national greatness. To do so, the Chinese Ministry of Education restored in 1985 ‘Five-Love Education’.
Compared to the previous history textbook, which accentuated the war between the KMT and the CCP, the new history textbooks focused on China resisting foreign aggression. ‘China wanted to redeem past humiliation and restore national glory’. The Sino-Japanese war became the most important fact in the Chinese history books, rather than being only one part of the 100-year war against foreign nations. The Chinese history textbooks dealt a lot with the Japanese aggression and atrocities, but still maintained its position concerning the ‘myth of military clique’.
Japan By the end of the 80’s two main historical events contributed to the awareness of the Japanese people and favoured an open debate. The first event is the illness and death of Emperor Showa Hirohito. This made it possible for critics within Japan to consider the Emperor’s role and responsibilities in the Sino-Japanese war and atrocities. The second event is the election of a non-Liberal Democratic Party Prime Minister Hosokawa Morihiro in 1993. These two events allowed a debate between the leftists, and the rightists.
The two movements did not only include the Japanese elite, but also intellectuals, grassroots social groups and ordinary people. The Japanese leftist criticized the government for manipulating the facts about the Sino-Japanese war. This movement carried out a lot of research studies concerning Japan’s aggressive behavior towards Asian countries and Japanese atrocities during the war from 1937 till 1945 and wanted the government to get rid of the three myths it imposed to the Japanese history. On the other hand, a neo-nationalist movement of history came into being as counter-reaction to the leftist movement.
This movement criticized the government for recognizing Japanese atrocities. It also tried to prevent Japanese apologies for aggression and atrocities. The main idea of the neo-nationalist movement is that Japan ‘fought a just war and liberated Asia from Western Imperialism’. This movement also received international support. For example, the Foreign Minister of Thailand, expressed gratitude for Japan’s contribution to Asian independence making the debate open at an international scale. In August 1993, Hosokawa Morihiro called the Sino-Japanese war an ‘aggressive war’.
In 1995, Murayama Tomiichi, a socialist Prime Minister, showed emotions of ‘deep remorse’ and ‘heartfelt apology’ for Japan’s actions. Although both political figures expressed a majority of the people’s opinion, they were highly criticized by the right who believed Japan had nothing to feel sorry for. The unsolved controversy on textbooks History textbooks serve the function of informing the young generation about their nation’s past and give them directives on how to perceive and behave with other countries. In the case of the Nanking massacre, the variations in ontent concerning the facts in both camps constitute the bases of the controversy and contention on which every opinion founds its criticism and complain, the variations in the content making the textbooks a crucial issue between the two countries. The Japanese government and/or population gradually started seeking for about the Japanese responsibility of the war and atrocities; this led to radical positions that went from recognition of the facts to total amnesia. The first sign of truth seeking occurred in 1965 when Ienaga Saburo sued the Japanese government for violating freedom of expression and scholarship.
The second period of the textbook controversy started when the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported an article concerning the Ministry’s textbook screening process. According to the article, the Ministry of Education demanded that the word ‘invasion’ would be replaced by ‘advance’ in the history textbooks. This caused lots of protest within Japan, but also in China and Korea. The Ministry of Education and the Asahi Shimbun newspaper later revealed that no such changes were applied to the textbooks and it was only an optional revision for improvement. A new era in the textbook controversy started in 1995.
In China, the new history education concentrated on the conflicts between the Chinese nation and the foreign nations that invaded China in the past; it particularly targeted Japan. The objective was to redeem national pride and self-esteem and was a key aspect of nationalist propaganda. During the same period, the Japanese history textbooks started to include the sufferings of non-Japanese victims and to discuss Nanking atrocities. In 1997, 6 out of 7 junior textbooks stated that the Japanese military had killed between 100 000 and 200 000 Chinese. Four of the books mentioned the Chinese official estimate of 300 000 people to be killed.
The 1997 editions provided the most detailed information ever given. It is very likely that the release of these pieces of information in textbooks is linked to the internationalisation of the textbook dispute that began in 1982 when quarrels between Japan and neighbour countries including China started. In the meantime, the neo-nationalistic movement formed the ‘Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform’ as counter reaction to the left-leaning education system. The movement accused the education system for giving Japan a negative image from the war.
This movement wanted to whitewash all accusation of aggression and atrocities against Japan during the Sino-Japanese war. This movement published the New History Textbook in 2000 that caused a lot of national and international protest. This book whitewashed all Japanese responsibilities for aggression and atrocities during the war, and even passed those responsibilities to other nations. In spite of the progress in terms of reconnection of the massacre, the conflict accelerated on 2005 when the Japanese minister of education, Mombusho, released a contentious textbook that was criticized for whitewashing Japan’s aggression.
It resulted in massive anti-Japanese demonstrations all over China and escalated to attacks on Japanese interests in China that lasted for about 3 weeks. Such nation-wide incidents clearly prove how efficient have been Chinese leaders in reinforcing nationalism in the last decades, through official school propaganda. While in the Mao-era, the blame was placed on a few Japanese militarists, the 80’s domestic needs highlighted atrocities and Chinese victimhood, developing a global anti-Japanese feeling and creating a public fear of Japanese remilitarization.
Yet, the government is aware that too strong an anti-Japanese movement could threaten its power if uncontrolled and mismanaged and it starts to recognize the limitation of exploiting the textbook controversy. It pushed the government to protect Japanese interests against angry crowds. The challenge of the politics will consists in being able to remove nationalist myths on both sides and promote a sound and well-balanced written understanding of the history. Public opinion beyond control As the controversy over the massacre became publicly known and part of the
Chinese culture, the various means of communication took it over and did not hesitate to take sides against the Japanese population and to reinforce stereotypes. People started writing books and journals about the events and, contrary to well-documented and scientific works, most popular novels and articles in newspapers were looking for sensations and did not hesitate to call the Japanese soldiers “Guizi” (devils). On the other hand, Japanese Leftist journalists and writers carried out lots of research concerning Japan’s responsibility during the war.
Honda Katsuichi, a Japanese journalist who traveled to China, released many articles called the ‘Journey in China’, discussing Japanese aggression and atrocities. Films were also released to the public about the Nanjing massacre. In 1995 Hong Kong filmmakers released the film ‘Don’t cry, Nanjing’ showing Japanese atrocities. Japan reacted to this by releasing the movie ‘The Moment of Destiny’, inclining that the Nanjing massacre was a fabrication of the chief prosecutor of the Tokyo trials.
The Chinese population is not inclined to recognize the simultaneous victimization of Chinese and Japanese people but is mainly preoccupied with China’s sufferings. In spite of China’s official position (since 80’s) that retains the distinction of the good Japanese majority against a handful of bad Japanese, Chinese people tend to believe that the entire Japanese nation was evil. It also led to national and international legal battles that took place between Japan and China and that any citizen could follow.
Ienaga Saburo (Japanese) sued the government in 1965 for violating freedom of expression and scholarship. Between 1991 and 1995, more than 27 lawsuits were filed against Japan to compensate Chinese victims of Japanese war atrocities. One of the lawsuits was the case of Li Xiuying who was stabbed nearly 30 times by 3 Japanese soldiers during the atrocities. But Japan also filed lawsuits to restore the reputation of Japanese soldiers who in 1937, were blamed for to have engaged in a contest to kill more Chinese. This tendency largely contributes to provoke hatred instead of objective analysis of the tragedy.
Chinese war museum exhibits that fostered a self-congratulatory nationalism like the memorial hall of the victims built in 1985 have also reinforced it. The same apply in Japan with the Yasukuni Shrine’s museum that do not present any reference of Japanese atrocities. The risk is that the Chinese government is not able to control the consequences of its decision to allow expression of anger against the war. The extreme anti-Japanese nationalism in China today represents a public opinion that is distinct from state propaganda.
More dramatic are the opinion pools that show that the young generation is ever more inclined to hostile feelings against Japanese due to the war. Content of the contention The grieves expressed by China over the massacre concern the recognition and the definition of the massacre itself but also the attitude of Japan in the decades that followed in terms of compensation and apology. Recognition of the massacre Japanese revisionists and nationalists argue that the massacre has been largely exaggerated or wholly fabricated.
Some Japanese scholars even argue that every killing that occurred was justified militarily. On the other hand, China estimated that 300,000 civilians were brutally killed by the Japanese army. The facts of the Nanjing Massacre are still being debated between Japan and China. Japan and China have not found yet a consensus concerning the number and identity of the victims, the war crimes and the responsibility of both China and Japan. The Chinese government argues that the Japanese Imperial army has killed 300,000 innocent Chinese civilians during the Nanjing Massacre.
According to China, there was no military reason for the killing, and thus it is regarded as a war crime. China wants to receive full recognition from Japan for these facts. However, Japan does not agree about all these facts. Most of the Japanese History Textbooks estimate the number of victims between 100,000 to 200,000. Moreover, some Japanese people argue that the Japanese army did not kill innocent Chinese people, but fought against Chinese soldiers or civilians who were a treat towards the Japanese army.
As the Japanese military was fighting against a treat, Japan argues that the killing cannot be regarded as a military crime. Finally, some Japanese people also argue that Japan should not bear the whole responsibility for what happened in Nanjing, because the KMT government pulled the Chinese military out of Nanjing, abandoning its own civilians. Apology China claims Japan has never apologized for the aggression and atrocities during the Sino-Japanese war. This aspect is very much debated nowadays between the Chinese and Japanese governments.
There have been attempts from Japan to apologize for the atrocities that occurred during the war, but the Chinese government and most of the population argue that Japan has never sincerely apologized. When Kakuei Tanaka apologized in 1972, he expressed ‘deep reflection’ for the ‘much trouble that Japan brought to the Chinese people during an unfortunate period’. This apology has been criticized because Kakuei Tanaka did not use the word ‘apology’, nor said what happened during the unfortunate period . When Tomiichi Murayama apologized to China in 1995, he gave the first clear and formal apology for Japanese actions during the war.
Yet, it was only achieved by using a very mild word “hensei” which connotes reflective remorse. But China expected a formal apology or “daoqian” which carries admission of responsibility and remorse. In both Japanese and Chinese cultures, an apology is to effect personal self-examination. Personal self-examinations and apologies are usually made by inferiors to superiors. When adopted by the political sector, it has detrimental effects, placing one country on a higher moral ground than the other damaging the national identity of the whole nation.
Thus, Sino-Japanese relations have reached an impasse on this issue. Compensation China also argues Japan has never paid any compensation for the war. Besides, straight after the war, the Communist government hardly made any request for Japanese war crimes as China wanted to build a friendly relation with Japan. In the 1952 Japan-ROC peace treaty, Chiang kai-Shek declined any war compensations. During the 1960 China decided it would renounce war compensations in exchange of friendship with Japan.
From the late 1970s till now, the Japanese Ohira administration accepted to extend low-interest yen loan programs to China. This loan reached 3. 3 trillion yen by 2004 and has been highly useful for China to develop. Japan argues that this loan was part of the compensation for the historic debt Japan owed to China. But no official statement has ever been made to link the financial aid programs with Japanese aggression. Conclusion The recent Chinese diplomatic move and Japanese positive response look at as a step towards more regular relations but has not come without calculations.
The objective is not purely diplomatic as big economic interests are concerned. Yet in order to succeed and develop substantial economic relationships, they will have to play down differences over political and diplomatic issues. Aside to the question of Taiwan, or exploration of natural gas in the East China Sea, the question of writing honest and shared history and arranging settlement of moral and financial burden of the history is one of them and certainly a pre-requisite to gradually eliminate the widespread anti-Japanese sentiment in society.
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