China plays victim of history

29th April 2005 at 01:00

Protesters in China and South Korea angry at Japan's so-called "white-washing" of its wartime history are ignoring similar behaviour in their own countries, critics say.

The recent anti-Japanese protests were sparked by the approval of a school history textbook that allegedly glosses over atrocities such as the "Rape of Nanjing" and the mass enslavement of "comfort women" during the Sino-Japanese War.

However, Chinese schools teach a significantly edited version of history to their own pupils, portraying their country as a victimised nation and glorifying the People's Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party.

Su Zhiliang, professor of history at Shanghai Normal university, said that "textbooks represent the will of the authorities".

China's textbooks depict heroic patriots battling against a variety of foreign invaders, not least those fighting against Japan during the Second World War.

Since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, the government has consistently claimed that it was the Communists who secured victory against the Japanese invaders. This ignores the fact that the war of resistance was declared by Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government in 1937. The Communist politburo adopted a "non-resistance" policy.

"The Nationalist army paid a heavy price and it earned China the right to be one of the four great powers with permanent seats in the United Nations Security Council ... Yet all this vanished in the history made up by the Chinese Communists," said Chinese commentator Liu Xiabo.

It is not uncommon to meet young Chinese adults who believe their country to be "non-aggressive", having only fought in self-defence. Curiously absent from their history textbooks are mentions of China's border war with India, the annexation of Tibet and the 1979 invasion of Vietnam in retaliation for the ousting of the Beijing-backed Khmer Rouge regime. Also quietly avoided are events such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and the millions of Chinese who starved to death in the ill-fated Great Leap Forward (1958-60).

The Chinese government has effectively brought an end to the anti-Japanese furore by withdrawing its backing for the protests. But the boycotts of Japanese products will, in theory, continue as opinion polls have shown a marked increase in the number of Chinese who say they will not buy Japanese goods.

South Korean textbooks have been criticised in the past for downplaying the role of Korean collaborators during Japan's colonisation of the Korean Peninsular (1910-1945).

Critics say South Korean textbooks also fail to mention the 1980 Kwangju massacre that followed declaration of martial law on May 17, 1980, by military strongman Chun Doo Hwan. Resistance to Chun's move was quickly quelled, except in Kwangju, where Special Warfare Command troops were sent in. Later officials said 193 had been killed, but the true death toll may be more than 500. Textbooks mention nothing of a massacre.

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number


The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now