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Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Tri-nation history text aims to counter whitewash

Staff writer

Anti-Japanese sentiment in China and South Korea soared last month, in part because of a contentious, government-approved history textbook that has been criticized for glossing over Japan's wartime aggression.

To improve relations with those two nations and to counter the text, which was produced by a group of nationalist historians, an unofficial supplementary textbook on the modern history of Japan, China and South Korea has recently been compiled by people from all three countries.

"The History That Opens the Future" was written by scholars, teachers and members of citizens' groups who have been concerned about the impact of the contentious history text ever since its first version was screened and approved by the government in 2001.

"While the (nationalists') text compiled by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform completely hides Japan's history of colonial rule and invasion, the book we made describes the history accurately," said Yang Mi Kang, one of the writers and a senior member of the Asia Peace and History Education Network, a citizens' group in South Korea.

Reading the book and understanding the history of the three countries should help people to trust each other, Yang said.

"Then based on the mutual trust, I hope people create a better future," she said.

The text, which only covers the region's modern history and is not an official text approved by authorities, is expected to be used as supplementary reading material for students in Japan, China and South Korea.

Sumio Obinata, a Waseda University professor and one of some 50 writers of the text, emphasized the work's significance, saying it is the first common history text for the three nations although there are projects to compile a common history textbook for Japan and South Korea, and for Japan and China.

The textbook, in three versions -- Japanese, Chinese and Korean -- will go on sale in all three countries in early June. The text consists of an introduction, four chapters covering the 19th century to the post-World War II era, and a final chapter on current issues, including visits by Japanese politicians to Yasukuni Shrine.

"The textbook compiled by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform is based on nationalism. But this text was written based on peace and human rights," said Yang, who recently visited Tokyo.

For example, there are pages devoted to the issue of "comfort women," who were forced into sexual slavery for the Imperial Japanese Army.

The book explains how the women were kidnapped or deceived and taken to frontline brothels, and describes their life in the brothels and their later demands for compensation from the Japanese government. Estimates put the number of sex slaves -- many of them Korean -- at a minimum of 80,000, the text says.

The case of one woman from a village in Milyang in southern Korea is also described. She was deceived by a broker, who asked her to work in a factory in Japan, and was taken to Taiwan in 1940, when she was 17.

In the brothel, where some 20 Korean women were confined, she was forced to provide sex to about 10 soldiers a day. She was not given enough food and suffered from venereal disease, which caused her thigh to swell up, and she had to have an operation.

"We aimed to present the actual life that the women were forced into and what kind of pain they have been suffering since then," Obinata said.

While all seven junior high school history textbooks authorized in Japan in 1996 included the term "military comfort women," not one of the eight approved by the government in April even mentions the term and some merely make vague references to the fact that women were forced into sexual slavery.

Obinata said writers of the approved texts stopped mentioning sex slavery due to increasing pressure from rightwing political groups, including that of the nationalist historians.

The original draft of the textbook at the center of the disputes with China and South Korea did not make clear the 1937 Nanjing Massacre actually occurred and was revised before it was approved by the government. The history text calls the massacre an "incident," but "The History That Opens the Future" devotes two pages to the issue.

Although the exact number of victims of the massacre, which lasted for weeks after the Japanese seized Nanjing in December 1937, cannot be verified nearly seven decades later, the writers of the book made efforts to show available data.

According to the text, research presented at the military tribunal held by the Nationalist Chinese government in 1946 claimed 190,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians were killed and incinerated by the Imperial Japanese Army, and 150,000 bodies were buried by a humanitarian organization in the city.

The text also mentions more than 200,000 as the figure for the number of the victims that was presented at the Tokyo Tribunal.

Another record referred to in the textbook is the diary of Kesago Nakajima, the 16th Division army commander who led the operation.

"Because we had a policy not to take prisoners generally, we decided to get over them straight away," his diary says in an entry dated Dec. 13, 1937. It also states that one unit "dealt with some 15,000" people and that "a commander dealt with 1,300."

While it is impossible to trace every detail of a historical incident like the massacre, Obinata said the writers tried to show records that would symbolize the entire structure of events.

To complete the book, the historians, teachers and citizen group staff have since August 2002 met four times in Japan and three times in both China and South Korea, according to the professor.

The process of writing and editing the book was complicated and time-consuming, as every part had to be translated into each language to gain consent from all parties, Obinata said. There was no sponsor for the book so all the work was done on a voluntary basis, he added.

The people put a lot of hard work into the book because it was their shared dream to publish such a text, Obinata said, adding he not only wants students but also adults in Japan to read the book and learn the history of Japan's colonial rule and aggression.

"If people understand the past, they can understand the meaning of the present," Obinata said, maintaining that understanding history could help Japanese find a way to solve the problems between their country and China and South Korea.

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