'Missing Histories': History Education and China-Japan Relations

tags: World War II, history education, China, Japan, history



Zheng Wang is an Associate Professor of Seton Hall University and a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center. He is the author of Never Forget National Humiliation: Historical Memory in Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations, which is the winner of the International Studies Association’s Yale H. Ferguson Award.

When treating the ill or injured, doctors are incapable of diagnosing patients unless they know the source causing the condition. Similarly, resolving an international conflict of any magnitude requires the identification of source of the tension. The BBC’s recent documentary Missing Histories: China – Japan is a high-quality piece of journalism with the goal of discovering the sources of the conflict between the two countries. Throughout the investigative report, Japanese journalist Mariko Oi and Chinese journalist Haining Liu together visit schools in their respective home countries to observe the approach both countries take in teaching their shared history, focusing on the treatment of the wartime period (1931-1945, including Japan’s invasion of China to the end of World War II).

From the interviews conducted by Oi and Liu, they discovered a sizeable gap exists between both countries in their dedication and detail as it relates to the history of the wartime period. For instance in Japan, textbooks only use a small number of pages to chronicle the war. The description of the atrocities which took place is very bland. Japanese officials and textbooks editors who received Oi and Liu’s interviews even questioned whether the Japanese military actions in China and Korea could be called ‘invasions” and whether there was a “massacre” in Nanjing. Finding the facts of history education in Japan was a big shock to Haining Liu, the Oxford-educated Chinese journalist. She was shaking and crying after an interview. In the Chinese classroom, however, the curriculum is heavily loaded with the contents of China’s traumatic national experience from the Opium Wars through to the end of the Sino-Japanese War in 1945. State-run national patriotic education is conducted from kindergarten through college. Naturally, the younger generations in China and Japan are getting two completely different understandings of this period in history....



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