Why the past still separates China and Japan
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More deeply in the Chinese mind, say some local scholars, is a sense that by never fully apologizing, and by minimizing wartime atrocities, the Japanese are subtly jabbing at the Chinese - implying cultural superiority by suggesting that it was not China, but the United States, that defeated Japan in 1945. "It is a way for Japanese to tell us we are inferior," says one retired scholar.Skip to next paragraph
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Japanese sources say Tokyo has apologized on three separate occasions, and that the Chinese are continuing to use the war as a "history card" to gain leverage and sympathy internationally. "The Chinese keep banging us, beating us. What do they want? They teach young people that Japanese are untrustworthy, and beasts," says one well-placed Japanese official. "We don't teach our children they are beasts."
Some China scholars say the Chinese Communist Party also uses the war as a way to legitimize itself through a patriotic appeal. Some point out that while Beijing has sought to highlight Japanese aggression in World War II, it is woefully lacking in coming to terms with its own history - events like the Great Famine of the late 1950s, in which millions died, the Cultural Revolution, and the more recent Tiananmen Square episode of 1989.
One diplomat speculates that the war is kept alive in China partly because the Chinese Communists were never were able to confront the Japanese military directly after the war. The government-in-exile of Chiang Kai Shek represented China at the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty.
In 1972, the Japanese sought quickly to establish relations with China after US President Nixon cleared the way, which led to a rapproachment without much historical reconciliation. Under a 1978 peace treaty, China gave up its right to claim reparations from the Japanese government, in the view of some experts. "In the heart of the Communist army, there was never a chance to say 'We won,' " says the diplomat. "They have not lost that obsession."
Yet Chinese say the main reason the war is kept alive is due to what they regard as Japan's two decade-long campaign to deny wartime atrocities. Cases such as Unit 731 pale in comparison with the Japanese massacre at Nanjing between December 1937 and May, 1938 - when an estimated 300,000 Chinese died. Japanese textbooks never treated the Nanjing event in anything but a cursory manner, and Tokyo has never taken responsibility.
"Not until 1994 were Japanese schoolchildren taught that [Emperor] Hirohito's army was responsible for the deaths of at least 20 million Allied soldiers and Asian civilians during World War II," writes author Iris Chang in "The Rape of Nanjing," a 1996 account of Japanese brutality and the contemporary effort by Tokyo to sanitize its past.
"When the Japanese came out with a textbook that denied the Nanjing massacre and lied about the Japanese invasion, when they started to build monuments to their troops, that hurt us - and we realized it was time to do something," says Han Xiao, an official with the Unit 731 exhibit. "We want these museums to tell the truth to all peoples of the world, and especially to educate the younger generations, so it won't happen again."
Some Chinese students interviewed felt that "we should not forget," as one put it. But many also look to Tokyo for the latest music and fashions. At an exhibition of Japanese student art at a gallery in Harbin, another student says: "Let the past be the past. I think it was natural for Kouizumi to visit the shrine."