The Rising East


Sunday, July 15, 2001

Asian nations won’t
permit history’s
wounds to heal

To the Chinese, Koreans and Japanese caught up in a raging dispute over accounts of Japanese history during the first half of the 20th century: A plague on all three of your houses.

The latest ruckus with the Chinese and Koreans on one side and the Japanese on the other erupted after the Ministry of Education in Tokyo approved several textbooks intended to teach Japanese students the history of their nation in modern times.

Chinese officials charged that the books whitewashed Japan's aggression against China from 1937 to 1945, including the Rape of Nanking and other atrocities during World War II. The Koreans accused the Japanese of ignoring their harsh colonial rule of Korea from 1905 to 1945, when Korea was liberated at the end of the war.

The Japanese have agreed to rewrite a few passages but beyond that have blithely brushed off the protests as unwarranted or with vague explanations that different people see history differently.

A little background: Chinese historians since the most revered of them all, Ssu-ma Chi'en in the 1st century B.C., have written history to justify the rule of their emperors. On his deathbed, the Grand Historian told his son: "You must serve your sovereign."

In modern China, Communist leaders have been notorious for inventing heroes to glorify their party. The latest was the pilot Wang Wei, whose jet fighter collided with an American intelligence plane over the South China Sea. He parachuted, evidently to his death, but was shortly after lionized as a patriotic soldier, faithful husband, doting father and All-Chinese champion.

Further, Chinese officials fume at other nations for "interference in the internal affairs of China" whenever China is criticized. But they seem not to mind telling the Japanese what they should teach about Japanese history.

Thus, the Chinese don't have much credence when they criticize historical writing in other countries. They seem to be using the issue to bludgeon Japan for political and diplomatic advantage today rather than to have set straight a record with which they disagree.

Nor do the Koreans have much credibility. For a half-century, they have nurtured an obsessive hatred of Japan. It's in their history books, in museums, palaces, temples and monuments -- and in everyday conversation. Almost everything that goes wrong in Korea today is blamed on the Japanese.

At the same time, the Koreans seethe with envy of Japan, copying music, art, subways, shipbuilding, electronics, even the names of political parties. Talk to a South Korean about the promising future of his country and, more often than not, he will set Japan as the mark to beat.

The motives of Koreans are seemingly to browbeat the Japanese into political and economic concessions as well as to indulge in self-serving emotion instead of getting a record corrected.

In this turmoil, the Japanese do themselves no favors with their insensitivity and turning of blind eye to their immediate past. As thoughtful Japanese have conceded, their nation has not confronted its record of aggression and atrocities in China, Korea and Southeast Asia.

Some Japanese argue that the conquest of Asia was intended to rid the region of Western imperialism. That may be true but they neglect to point out that Japan intended to replace the West with the brutal rule of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Some older Japanese contend that the Rape of Nanking did not occur, which is preposterous, or the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor would have been OK if only an ultimatum had been delivered as intended, or Japan occupied Korea to save it from China or Russia. Those Japanese need to get real. Most Japanese born after World War II are unaware of that dark period of their history.

None of this should surprise Americans who have studied their internal conflict of 1861-1865. To Northern historians, it was the Civil War, to Southerners, the War Between the States. They couldn't agree on the names of battles: Antietam to the North was Sharpsburg to the South. As for causes of the war and the atrocities committed by both sides, neither this column nor this newspaper has the space even to begin that argument.

The Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese should calm down and reflect, each on their own views, which may be like telling water to run uphill.

Richard Halloran is editorial director of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

E-mail to Editorial Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin