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October 19, 2009
Rewriting history in East Asia

A Japanese textbook criticized for whitewashing war crimes.

Hsin-Yin Lee, a former associate producer at Worldfocus,  is a news editor at the “China Times” in Taipei.  She blogs here about an unusual proposal by the Japanese foreign minister, and the roadblocks to pan-Asian unity.

During a lecture at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan last week, Japan’s Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada suggested that China, Japan and South Korea write a common history book.

The proposal set East Asian nations buzzing.

Japan has been notorious for its distortions of the historical record – propagated in the Japanese education system –  that whitewash the war crimes of Imperial Japan before and during World War II.

The  Japanese approach to history has caused turmoil in the region for decades.  According to a survey conducted by Chinese media,  Twenty-three percent of respondents said the biggest obstacle preventing trilateral cooperation among the three nations is “dispute over history.”

But after Japan’s general election in August,  the country seems to be at a turning point in many ways.  New Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is endeavoring to fix fragile trilateral relations by introducing the concept of “Yuai,” the Japanese term of fraternity.

China and South Korea apparently were pleased with the idea of a common history book.  “It is a good idea to make a textbook based on a common recognition of the past histories of the three East Asian nations,” a presidential spokesman in South Korea said, “however, it will be a long-term and painstaking project.”

Indeed, in Japan, conservative nationalists have already held several rallies, accusing Okada of being a “madman” or a traitor.”  The road to consensus building doesn’t look so smooth.

Still, there have been precedents for former foes sitting down to write history textbooks together. In 2006, France and Germany co-authored the textbook in response to calls from high school students of both countries. The history textbook not only touches on the arduous reconstruction during the post-war era but also examines the war crimes of Nazi Germany.

François Fillon, the then-French Minister of National Education, noted, “We have lived through centuries in which the interpretation and writing of history nourished a ferment of bitterness between us.  We are now seizing the opportunity to make it the bond that unites us.”

Can we Asians apply the European model here, despite the fact that hatred, mistrust and animosity have kept us apart for centuries?

To me, the answer is yes.

I believe the concept of “Yuai” is the first step in reaching out to one another. I believe there is something shared by all mankind — something strong enough to break the boundaries of time and space, gender and race — that could bring us together once again.

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I think FM Okada needs better briefers. Such a text book already has been hashed out and exists. It is even in Japanese bookstores.


“Can we Asians apply the European model here, despite the fact that hatred, mistrust and animosity have kept us apart for centuries?”

Smash all Models into Dust!
They, alone, are what hinder clarity
in the Geometries invoking
pristine Perceptions!

Then, begin anew…from the Dust.

But who will give the “Breath of Life”…
where there is, otherwise, only Dust
into any Perception
of whatever Model
from any…

Creation of Man?

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