Willy Lam: China's Own Historical Revisionism

Roundup: Talking About History

[Mr. Lam is a sinologist who specializes in Communist Party politics and Chinese foreign policy.]

China's government bitterly accuses Japan of historical revisionism, but the new Chinese leadership should also earn high marks for creative and self-serving misinterpretation of past events. Going by a recent propaganda offensive, for instance, one would easily conclude that the Chinese Communist Party single-handedly defeated the Japanese imperialists in World War II.

The fact is, of course, that when Tokyo surrendered to the American-led Allied Powers in 1945, the CCP could hardly claim victory. It was, for one, expending at least as much effort fighting the better-equipped Kuomintang (KMT or Nationalists) forces as Japanese invaders.

It's easy to see why China's ruling communists would want to savor today a triumph that eluded their predecessors 60 years ago. The disinformation campaign requires relentless media manipulation and political mobilization, but it aims to boost the party's sagging legitimacy as well as preventing archrival Japan from emerging as a political power on the world stage.

As a true disciple of Mao Zedong, President Hu Jintao is a master at molding history to serve political ends. And though the Hu team probably understands that nationalism is a double-edged sword, the "anti-Japan card" seems indispensable at a time when Communism is dead and the social fabric is being torn asunder. Thus the marathon WWII-related ceremonies and television documentaries teaching these peculiar "lessons of history."

And relentless they have been. While inspecting WWII battlegrounds in central Shanxi Province late last month, Mr. Hu -- who has nearly four decades of experience as a Marxist theorist, commissar and spin-meister -- noted how "the great victory over the atrocious Japanese invaders" was achieved "under the flag of the anti-Japanese national united front championed by the CCP." Mr. Hu then paid tribute to the larger-than-life exploits of the Long March generation of party elders.

During the sometimes frenetic commemoration exercises of the past few weeks hardly any mention has been made of the perhaps equally heroic -- and certainly of much larger scale -- efforts made by the non-Communist elements who fought in the 1937-1945 anti-Japanese war. The state media has also only made the skimpiest reference to the fact that the Japanese war machine was crushed mainly by the U.S. Instead, Mr. Hu earlier this year chose to dwell on how Soviet soldiers had helped China defeat the hated Japanese by fighting "shoulder to shoulder" with their Chinese comrades in the northeastern provinces.

The truth is that, though the KMT leadership that ruled much of eastern and central China during this period was incorrigibly corrupt, Nationalist soldiers did most of the fighting against the Japanese intruders. The great majority of casualties sustained by Chinese soldiers were borne by KMT, not Communist divisions. Mao and other guerrilla leaders decided at the time to conserve their strength for the "larger struggle" of taking over all of China once the Japanese Imperial Army was decimated by the U.S.-led Allied Forces.

Apart from using the 60th anniversary of WWII to drum up support for the CCP, Mr. Hu and his colleagues in the Central Military Commission want to underscore the imperative of strengthening the People's Liberation Army, which earned its spurs during the twin anti-KMT and anti-Japanese campaign. As the Soviet-trained defense minister, Gen. Cao Gangchuan recently put it, "the history of WWII has shown that we'll be invaded [again] in the absence a strong national defense."

Read entire article at WSJ

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weihan zhou - 11/1/2006

Some of the information that is posted here is incorrect.

"fighting the better-equipped Kuomintang (KMT or Nationalists) forces as Japanese invaders."

By the end of the invasion, the KMT had already allied with the CPC to help fight the foreigners. However, the KMT were poorly equipped and even after WWII, relied heavily on American support. The CPC, who received support from the USSR, were well equipped with not only fire-power but also the support of over 70% of the Chinese people.