Pu Zhiqiang : China Needs to Amend Its Textbooks, too





Pu Zhiqiang, in the NYT (4-28-05):

[Pu Zhiqiang is a Chinese lawyer. This article was translated by Perry Link from the Chinese.]

EVER since June 4, 1989, when the world's cameras embarrassed the Chinese government by recording the slaughter of unarmed protesters in Beijing, spring has been a sensitive period in Chinese politics. Public demonstrations of all kinds have been repressed as if they were vicious cancers. It is indeed news, then, that people have been protesting in the streets of Chinese cities about Japan's wartime past, its textbooks' reluctance to face history squarely, and its proposed accession to the United Nations Security Council.

Of course, the fundamental nature of these protests is different from that of the demonstrations of 1989, because they so far have had the tacit approval of the authorities. The protesters have incurred essentially zero risk, and suspense over the outcome has also been near zero. But even when protests are government-sanctioned, they still offer the Chinese people a rare chance to let off some steam.

If truth be told, however, China and Japan have much in common. China shares many of Japan's flaws and has yet to master some of its important strengths.

We Chinese are outraged by Japan's World War II crimes - the forcing of Chinese into sexual slavery as "comfort women," the 1937 massacre of unarmed civilians in Nanking, and the experiments in biological warfare. Our indignation redoubles when the Japanese distort or paper over this record in their museums and their textbooks. But if we look honestly at ourselves - at the massacres and invasions strewn through Chinese history, or just at the suppression of protesters in recent times - and if we compare the behavior of the Japanese military with that of our own soldiers, there is not much to distinguish China from Japan.

This comparison haunts me. When I think of the forced labor in Japanese prison camps, I am reminded of forced labor camps in China, and also of the Chinese miners who lose their lives when forced to re-enter mines that everyone knows are unsafe. Are the rights of China's poor today really so much better protected than those of the wretched "colonized slaves" during the Japanese occupation? There was the Nanking massacre, but was not the murder of unarmed citizens in Beijing 16 years ago also a massacre? Is Japan's clumsy effort to cover up history in its textbooks any worse than the gaping omissions and biased blather in Chinese textbooks?

China's textbooks omit the story of how the Great Leap Forward of the late 1950's was actually the disastrous failure of a harebrained economic scheme by Mao that led to the starvation of 20 million to 50 million rural Chinese. No one really knows the numbers. Nor do we know how many were killed in the campaigns to suppress "counterrevolutionaries" during the 1950's, in the Cultural Revolution during the 1960's, or even in the Beijing massacre of 1989. Yet we hold Japan firmly responsible for 300,000 deaths at Nanking. Does our confidence with numbers depend on who did the killing?

China and Japan both have blood on their hands, but they have important differences as well. Comfort women and others whom Japan has injured or insulted can sue either Japan's government or its big companies, and they can do this in either Japanese or Chinese courts. Japanese who want to can demonstrate in Tokyo shouting "Down with Japanese militarism!"

These things are very different in China. The Chinese government decides on its own whether to give modest compensation to the widows of dead miners....


comments powered by Disqus

Subscribe to our mailing list