Today marks the 74th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre, where Japanese soldiers went on a rampage of rape and murder, targeting women and children alike, killing more than 300,000 Chinese during the brief few weeks when they took over Nanjing, then capital city of the nationalist government. The issue that is perhaps the most contentious between Japan and China is Japanese history text books largely having this tragedy swept under the carpet; vastly toned down without admission of guilt or completely ignored altogether. The Japanese impasse with the rest of her Asian neighbors is similarly over prevailing Japanese unrepentant attitudes towards her colonial past. Germany’s attitude and actions towards their WW2 past offer a big contrast.
In the long run, I am confident Japan will reconcile with China and other Asian countries. The current climate in Japan and few decades of whitewashing history will certainly prolong the reconciliation.
To the Chinese government’s credit, she has largely put this difference aside in favor of normalization. I might add this is done so with some anger from many ordinary Chinese citizens given Japan’s attitude.
I think the Japanese strategy is to wait the issue out. They hope in the distant future, when the victims have long gone, the emotion would have subsided. The “cost” then in formally recognizing a more truthful history would be relatively “low.” Perhaps. Perhaps when the relationship between the two countries have become more normalized and friendly, differences will be easier to reconcile.
Until then, I think Japan’s international profile will remain limited. For example, Japan’s bid for a permanent seat in the Security Council will always be thwarted by her Asian neighbors.
Over the years in my travels to Japan, I have had chance to discuss this history with a number of friends there. One even cried as he recounted some of the stories his grandfather told him. The two atomic bombs and Japan’s defeat in WW2 were bitterness the Japanese also had to endure. Rape by American soldiers were a common occurrence during the early years of occupation.
This particular friend knew full well of the Nanjing Massacre too. After I told him my grandparents home was destroyed by Japanese bombers, he apologized profusely as he cried.
One of them lost her best friend from high school (who is Chinese) after they started discussing this past.
A large percentage of the Japanese population view their invasion of Asia was to keep the region for herself and to ‘protect’ it from Western colonialists. This was their propaganda during the invasion and still lingers today.
One thing we all unanimously agreed: war and invasions are bad. We all should be striving to prevent such adventures. Remember, Nanjing Massacre was just but one episode. Cities throughout China were terrorized by Japanese bombers, including my grandparents in Fujian Province in the south. Chinese deaths totaled 10-20 million where the majority were civilian. Japanese accounted for 3 million in WW2.
The Nanjing Massacre was a horrific past and there are still survivors alive today. As humans, we all could use some reminder what brutality we are capable of. Towards that end, I am looking forward to watching a new film by acclaimed director, Zhang Yimou, starring Christian Bale, called, “The Flowers of War” (“金陵十三钗”), where an ordinary American driven by conscience saves a group of Chinese girls from Japanese soldiers during the massacre.
This truth will eventually emerge more strongly in Japan, given time, as China grows stronger economically and the relationship between the two countries normalize.