Study of English

January 30, 2008

Nanjing memorial lacks balance / Museum marking 1937 incident being used for political purposes / Yomiuri shimbun newspaper, Tokyo, Japan

Nanjing memorial lacks balance / Museum marking 1937 incident being used for political purposes
Takanori Kato / Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondent

SHANGHAI–Concerns about a possible deterioration in delicate Japan-China relations were behind the Japanese government’s request last week that China tone down the contents of the Memorial Hall to the Victims in the Nanjing Massacre in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province.

Tokyo said the exhibits on display in the memorial hall, which reopened in December after a major expansion to mark the 70th anniversary of the 1937 Nanjing Incident, could “inspire anti-Japanese feeling and animosity” among Chinese citizens.

The hall’s floor space was expanded more than 10-fold to 9,000 square meters, and the museum now stands on a 7.4-hectare plot of land, which is three times larger than its previous precincts.

The number of photo exhibits, including those showing scenes of killing, was drastically increased to about 3,500. On the whole, they play up the brutality of the Imperial Japanese Army more than the previous exhibits.

For example, visual and audio devices have been installed to inform visitors that “300,000” Chinese were killed in the incident–a figure disputed even by Chinese scholars.

Also, controversial Japanese newspaper articles claiming two Japanese army officers competed to see how quickly they could kill 100 Chinese during the Imperial Japanese Army advance toward Nanjing were enlarged to life-size for the exhibition. The authenticity of the articles is contested.

Shanghai Consul General Yuji Kumamaru told senior officials of the city and the memorial hall that the exhibits “don’t provide sufficient coverage of Japan’s postwar development and the friendly relations between the two nations after the normalization of their diplomatic ties.”

Japan is disturbed by the nature of the exhibits, which it believes goes against mutual moves to improve bilateral relations. Once-chilly bilateral ties turned around in the past year enough to make Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao declare, “Spring has come [to bilateral relations].”

Apparently out of consideration for Japan’s stance, the hall has an expanded exhibition on bilateral “friendship” that centers around Japan’s provision of official development assistance to China. Given the overwhelming “anti-Japanese” sentiment of the exhibits, however, the exhibition on the whole is clearly unbalanced, as Kumamaru pointed out.

The memorial hall has served as a pivot for nurturing patriotism among Chinese by stressing the brutality of the Imperial Japanese Army and the orthodoxy of the Chinese Communist Party that “defeated the invaders.”

The memorial hall was built to “record history on the soil of Nanjing with the blood shed in the massacre” in 1985, according to the hall, following a history textbook controversy in 1982. The controversy was ignited after Japanese media reported that the word “invasion” used in a history textbook to describe the Imperial Japanese Army’s move into northern China had been replaced with the word “advance.”

In 1997, the hall was designated as a “model base for patriotic education” in a bid to underpin the legitimacy of the Chinese government, which had been shaken in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

The exhibits reflect the fact that the hall repeatedly has been used for political ends. Patriotic education cannot be compromised as such education is essential if the Communist Party wants to garner public support for its monolithic rule at a time when social ills, such as economic gaps between haves and have-nots, and political corruption are ever proliferating.

When work to expand the hall was launched in 2005, bilateral relations deteriorated to one of the lowest levels over former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine and other thorny issues. Also that year, large anti-Japanese demonstrations were held across China.

In some respects, anti-Japanese sentiment prevailing on Chinese Internet sites is preempting any moves toward “weak-kneed” diplomacy and making concessions with Japan difficult.

Meanwhile, another source of concern for Japan is that more and more Chinese people support submitting an application to have the hall registered as a World Heritage Site like the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camps and the A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

According to a Chinese newspaper, one obstacle standing in the way for the hall to be registered as a World Heritage Site had been the size of the plot of land on which the hall stands. Under UNESCO rules, a site must have at least 5.33 hectares in order to apply for registration, the paper said. The latest expansion project has made it possible for China to apply for the designation.

Moves to win international recognition for the hall as a form of “negative cultural heritage” are evident in the hall’s addition of a 3.2-hectare “peace square” with a goddess statue.

Zhou Chengshan, director of the memorial hall, said the exhibits “aren’t aimed at implanting grudges or hatred.”

But it appears the hall is trying to make the “history trump card” more effective, while at the same time managing anti-Japanese sentiment.

As long as the exhibits are a reflection of Chinese domestic politics, the Chinese government is unlikely to accept the Japanese government’s request to tone down the message sent by the museum. Moves to register the hall as a World Heritage Site could very well develop into a political morass.

China’s continuing use of historical issues for political purposes will inevitably hinder the healthy development of bilateral ties, especially at a time when a joint study of history by scholars of the two nations is under way.

The Japanese government should spare no effort in making its stances on those issues clear. Beijing, for its part, should refrain from manipulating public opinion by denouncing the Japanese government’s request as “negation of the historical events,” thereby fanning anti-Japanese sentiment.

(Jan. 26, 2008)

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