History serves as an important function of informing the next generation of citizens about their nation’s past and instructing them about how to live and behave in relation to other countries.49 History makes up public memory that shapes citizens’ understanding of the past and ideas about future society. Public memory of a nation’s past is not a simple replication of objective facts, but a collective narrative retrieved from many retold stories.50 Thus, measuring whether or not Japanese textbooks present an accurate account of the Nanjing Massacre does not address the question of this research. Rather, it is the selection of these historical facts, which reveals certain ideological predisposition and political agenda that deserves the discussion. The underlying theme behind the textbook controversy lies in an ongoing struggle for the dominance between defenders of various political ideas in Japan.51 The controversial New History Textbook simply represents one ideological camp (right-wing conservatives and ultranationalists)

49 Hugh B. Mehan and Sarah A. Robert, "Thinking the Nation: Representing of Nations and the Pacificism in Latin American and Asian Textbooks," Narrative Inquiry 11, no. 1 (2001).

50 Marita Sturken, Tangled Memories : The Vietnam War, the Aids Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997). P7.

51 John E. Bodnar, Remaking America : Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992). P13.

attempting to shape Japan’s war memory through a different narrative of history. What’s at stake here is the national identity, and the race to determine who should define what it means to be Japanese.

Consequently, all political forces have interests to preserve or change the existing system by fostering public loyalty to a particular structure of society through history education. Both the ultranationalists’ motive to create a “correct” view of Japanese traditions and culture through history rewriting, as well as the opposing ideology of left-wing scholars and teachers demonstrate this attempt to define Japanese identity with grand historical narrative.

As the textbook demonstrates, the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform has successfully transformed the history textbook into a political document to convey its political messages to students.52 The glorification of Japanese history, for example, symbolizes the group’s objective to reconstruct public memory in order to imbue a certain form of patriotism among youths. According to John Bodnar, a history professor at Indiana University, patriotism is invented as a form of social control in the quest for power by various political groups.

Thus, the nationalist flavor of New History Textbook embodies the function of history as a political instrument to serve the interests of right-wing group. Given the dominance of the LDP in Japanese politics, right-wing conservatives have clear interests to safeguard the existing power structure by fostering national pride among citizens so that they will remain loyal to status quo and fulfill patriotic duties to ensure the survival of the current system. The continuing legacy of history and patriotism education is both effective and powerful; thus, the Japanese government

52 Robert, "Thinking the Nation: Representing of Nations and the Pacificism in Latin American and Asian Textbooks."

wields considerable power to nourish loyal citizens by allowing official expressions to permeate the language of history textbooks.

Other aspects of history and public memory manifest in the definition of a nation as a unique entity. By extolling the exceptional qualities of a nation, history textbooks such as New History Textbook can construct memory of a nation by comparing it with other nations. This comparison enhances the nation’s uniqueness and helps people consolidate and strengthen their national identity with respect to other nations. In most cases, regardless of the accuracy of facts, public memory of national history will survive as long as the public deems it to be true. This illustrates history textbook’s important function as both political and cultural document aimed at mobilizing citizens in a particular direction, usually for legitimizing the governing body or targeting against a particular group of people.53 Thus, the issue of history textbook in Japan symbolizes a struggle between right-wing and left-wing groups, and has roots to the government’s patriotism-enhancing campaigns. By creating official interpretations of history, textbooks can serve as a powerful instrument of nation-building and promoting a particular form of national identity.

In fact, the use of history as part of political discourse is not limited to Japan. The accusing country, China, for example, also employs a centralized educational system to present an official view of history. Since the Chinese government directly supervises the publication of history textbooks, the official presentation of Chinese history also serves to legitimize the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Therefore, Japan does not stand alone with respect to the

53 Hamada, "Constructing a National Memory: A Comparative Analysis of Middle-School History Textbooks from Japan and the Prc."

political use of history textbooks. The interesting point about Japan’s case is, however, that the issue of history continues to remain highly sensitive due to Japan’s attitude towards its war responsibility. Unlike its Western counterpart Germany, who negotiated considerable compromises for history writing after World War II and eventually achieved a high level of regional integration through formation of the European Union (EU), Japan has not yet achieved credibility in the eyes of Asian neighbors.

The importance of history, especially its role of formulating public memory and mobilizing the mass towards a particular direction, must not be overlooked. As China and Japan attempt to establish self-images in this globalizing era, the concept of ethnocentric nationalism and “regional centrality” in Asia remains central to understanding the occasional diplomatic skirmish over Japanese history textbooks.54 Therefore, one cannot dismiss the role of right-wing groups in Japan because of their potential impact on public memory and policy-making. Finally, the existence of strong network among political, social, economic, mass media groups supportive of nationalist ideology implies that the movement is not limited to the sphere of education alone. The movement is rapidly spreading to other popular media sectors such as manga, films, and novels. For example, the growing popularity of Yoshinori Kobayashi’s political commentary comic, known as Neo Gomanism Manifesto Special: On War, deserves attention. Kobayashi’s right-leaning ideology manifests in his denial of the Nanjing Massacre and Japanese war crimes in his works. With the analysis of the significance of the ultranationalist movement in Japan, the

54 Ibid.

following section analyzes China’s attitude towards and diplomatic strategy in response to the textbook controversy.


When the Japanese Ministry of Education approved New History Textbook in 2001, the event did not receive as much media attention as it did in 1982 with Asahi ShinbuiTs “invasion” and “advance” report. During 1982, for example, the Chinese media launched a campaign against the alleged revision in Japanese history textbooks with numerous media coverage of the issue. Renmin Ribao, China’s official newspaper, published a total of 232 articles related to the textbook controversy over a period of two and half months in 1982.55 As the Chinese government maintains a tight control over media, the sustained effort to publicize Japan’s domestic problem implies the CCP’s strategy to manipulate Chinese nationalism in order to divert the growing anger with domestic problems abroad. As China embraced the capitalist market, the government no longer rests on an ideological support of communism. With the loss of ideological appeal, the Communist regime now relies heavily on vibrant Chinese nationalism. As a result, the Chinese government has been indirectly encouraging nationalism, in particular among youths through media campaigns depicting China as a victim country against aggressive,

55 Rose, Sino-Japanese Relations: Facing the Past, Looking to the Future? P64.

non-apologist Japan.56 Moreover, the systematic reinforcement of Chinese nationalism in the state-authorized history textbooks propagates anti-Japanese sentiment with heroic descriptions of Chinese Resistance Movement against the Japanese Imperial Army.57 The popular anti-Japanese sentiment witnessed in the 2005 nationwide protests partly reflects the result of the government’s political strategy.

The politics of victim/victor complex is deeply embedded in Chinese foreign policy vis-a-vis Japan. While the frequent demand for Japan’s apology of its wartime atrocities illustrates China’s victim mentality, the victim complex of China dictates the general diplomatic approach towards Japan, as well as the belief that China has moral responsibility to educate Japan into acknowledging and remedying its past wrongdoings.58 By deliberately provoking public uproar over Japan’s distortion of history, the Chinese government has succeeded in reinforcing nationalism by linking the textbook controversy to the public fear of Japanese remilitarization. Such fear is deeply rooted in China’s collective memory of Japanese aggression during World War II, and China’s history as a victim country defending its national sovereignty against Japanese imperial force. Finally, the official presentation of Japan as an aggressor country allows the Chinese state to fully exploit and cultivate nationalism against Japanese as a means of scapegoat for corruption, political repression, and growing socioeconomic gap at home. Thus, it is no surprise that Chinese diplomacy based on the victim/victor complex resembles that of Japan’s patriotic education campaigns. Both sides hope to boost pride and confidence in their

56 John Chan, "Anti-Japanese Protests Erupt in China," World Socialist Web Site 8 April 2005.

57 Chunghee Sarah Soh, "Politics of the Victim/Victor Complex: Interpreting South Korea's National Furor over Japanese History Textbooks," American Asian Review 21, no. 4 (2003). P176.

58 Ibid. P177.

own country by selectively choosing parts of history that appeal to readers’ patriotism. For example, because the Japanese government hopes to further enhance patriotism among children, the LDP favors history that portrays Japan as a unique, benign country. Similarly, the growing anti-Japanese sentiment among Chinese people serves to reinforce the national unity that is crucial to bolster the current regime’s political legitimacy.59

Nevertheless, China’s aggrieved and defensive nationalism may backfire in the future if the public opinion conflicts with the official agenda. In fact, the uncontrollable nature of popular anger against Japan poses a dilemma for the Chinese central government. Although the regime has been fostering the public anti-Japanese sentiment, the violent demonstrations throughout China in 2005 in response to the controversial Japanese textbook illustrated that the violence of angry mobs could escalate to the level where the government can no longer contain.

Despite China’s authoritarian regime, public opinion plays an important role in shaping the government’s foreign policy. With respect to the protests against Japan’s textbook controversy, the Chinese government is well aware of the danger of leaving the public hostility unaddressed for the fear of instability triggered by the uncontrollable anti-Japanese movement. The fear about the transformation of popular uproar into anti-government movement has roots to history of social unrests in China. Examples such as the May Fourth Movement of 1919 provide an insightful lesson about the repercussions of excessive nationalism.60 The famous May Fourth Movement occurred due to Germany’s territorial concession of China to Japan as a result of the Versailles meeting. The public sense of injustice sparked the nationwide student and worker

59 Rose, Sino-Japanese Relations: Facing the Past, Looking to the Future? P126.

60 Chan, "Anti-Japanese Protests Erupt in China."

movement against not only Japan but also against China’s corrupt government for accepting the concessions.61 As this anti-Japanese and anti-imperialist movement brought an end to the Qing Dynasty and eventually gave power to the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese government fears that uncontrolled nationalism, if left unmanaged, could potentially topple the current regime.

Although the Chinese government issued statements blaming the Japanese government about the handling of history problem, the government also appealed to the Chinese public to remain calm. Following the nationwide protest in China, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, expressed that Chinese people had to express their positions in a rational manner.62 The Chinese government even moved to protect Japanese businesses and consulates as police quickly dispersed angry crowds. This series of preventive actions to reduce and confine the magnitude of anti-Japanese sentiment represents the regime’s recognition of the limitation of exploiting the textbook controversy to its own political advantage. China understands the longterm benefit of promoting mutual understanding, as peaceful bilateral relations remain indispensable to ensuring stable economic development in Asia. Although China tends to exploit the history issue to limit Japan’s political influence in Asia, both Japan and China must realize that the nationalistic discourse disguised in patriotic education for political gains can only generate more suspicion and mistrust between two countries.

The attempt to attribute one’s domestic problems to other’s perceived threat neither helps nor resolves the damaged bilateral relation. Rather than manipulating the controversy for

61 Ibid.

62 Mitter, "Remembering the Forgotten War."

political gains, the Chinese and Japanese governments need to respond to the growing need to construct a long-term stable relationship. As Mindy L. Kotler suggests, “the Japanese government, by focusing on Yasukuni shrine visits and reinterpretation of history, ignores a dynamic, democratic, and prosperous postwar Japan in favor of a potentially darker memory of order, militarism, and obedience while the Chinese government ignores Japan’s grief on China’s own mistakes in order to relive the unifying satisfaction of victory and victimization.”63

The 2007 visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao in Japan has demonstrated China’s pragmatic approach to bilateral relations by prioritizing economic, cultural, and political ties instead of continuing the anti-Japanese bashing policy. In his speech, Hu Jintao affirmed the importance of Sino-Japanese friendship: “as neighbors, and as countries with an enormous influence on Asia and the world, China and Japan have no alternative but to walk the road of peace, friendship and cooperation.”64 Most notably, Hu Jintao accentuated the fact that it is essential to come to terms with each other’s differences through a common understanding of the past. This statement underscores the idea that the Sino-Japanese relations cannot continue without mutual trust of one other in reconciling history and promoting collaboration in trade and security.

63 Kotler, Mindy L., and others. "Chinese and Japanese public opinion: searching for moral security." Asian Perspective 31, no. 1 (2007). P123.

64 Frackler, Martin. "In His Visit to Japan, China Leader Seeks Amity New York Times (2008), http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/08/world/asia/08china.html?_r=l&fta=y&oref=slogin. (accessed May 17,2008).

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