The analysis of the textbook controversy reveals that history education plays a crucial role in shaping national identity: it aligns the past with an idealized view of nationhood. Because national identity is based on a particular historical narrative, alternate accounts of historical events are perceived as direct assaults on national identity.
While history textbooks serve to instill a value system among students, patriotic education can also foster a certain form of loyalty among future citizens so that the continuation of current institutions can be ensured. In exposing the highly politicized nature of history textbooks in Japan and China, the textbook controversy has provided an insightful lesson about bilateral relations. History continues to be exploited by various forces as an effective way of passing down the preferred system to next generations. This battle over history among various political forces demonstrates a tendency to politicize history as a means of legitimizing and reinforcing a particular kind of value system. The attempt to control the past is a defining feature of Sino-Japanese relations because each country’s foreign and domestic policy reflects the official interpretation of history. With this analysis, we can understand the importance of reconciling the past between China and Japan by separating emotional aspects of history from bilateral dialogue. Consequently, leaders can strengthen bilateral relations by recognizing how historical interpretations relate to national identity and engaging in dialogues to reach a consensus over disputed views of history, thereby reducing tensions and future diplomatic backlash.
The overview of history textbook controversy in Japan has exposed the profound impact of war memories in Sino-Japanese relations. Moreover, the diplomatic damage of textbook controversy can spread beyond China and Korea by circulating to other parts of Asia, leaving a permanent strain to regional cooperation. The widespread anti-Japanese manifestations in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan illustrated the profound impact of the textbook controversy. Moreover, the presence of ultranationalist movement in Japan and nationalist sentiment in China represent dangerous forces that could exacerbate the bilateral relations. Therefore, the unresolved controversy will continue to damage the bilateral relations as long as both governments remain committed to exploiting history as a means of political discourse to serve its interests. As the European postwar experience shows, both Chinese and Japanese governments have long-term interest to reconcile differences over historical narratives through increased bilateral cooperation such as joint textbook projects. With this objective in mind, the health of Sino-Japanese relations will contribute to the overall regional stability in Asia and encourage economic development and cultural exchange.