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Japan, China play Nanjing numbers game that both will lose

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By Lisa Gay

The gap between Japanese and Chinese perceptions of history — specifically, the events of World War II -- is still staggeringly wide. A report released in January, jointly prepared by scholars from both countries after a three-year effort, yielded no agreement over the numbers killed during the Nanjing massacre. Chinese scholars stuck with figures close to those given by postwar tribunals, which ranged from 250,000 to over 300,000, while Japanese scholars used the far-lower figures of 20,000 to 200,000. Once again, the two sides were unable to agree on a common narrative on what happened during the war.

The report was an effort undertaken by the Institute of Modern History of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and the Japan Institute of International Affairs. The idea was to lay the groundwork for increased goodwill, but instead it exposed the deep divisions that underlie relations between the two biggest powers in East Asia.

To be sure, the news wasn’t all bad. During the course of compiling the report, scholars on both sides affirmed that Japan had waged a war of aggression. Thanks to this, Chinese people can finally understand that most Japanese regret the suffering their country caused in East Asia during the war, and that only a clamorous minority of fringe right-wingers assert otherwise.

Nonetheless, the Chinese are still rightly concerned about the failure of Japanese leaders to adequately apologize for World War II. They always “regret” the pain and suffering they caused in East Asia, but never say exactly what they are so sorry over. Nanjing? The years of colonial rule? Comfort women? The government shies away from reciting past crimes, as if they can conveniently be buried along with those who remember the war. This deliberate silence will always give East Asian neighbors further ammunition for Japan-bashing.

At the same time, the casual anti-Japan attitudes of many Chinese can be upsetting. When I was an exchange student, I visited the memorial at Hiroshima with a group of classmates, the majority from Asia. Our reactions were starkly different. I was upset over the horrors my country visited upon that city. But shockingly, my Chinese friend just stared and muttered, “They got what they deserved.” It was an ugly reaction, and scarcely understandable. But it exists, and the Japanese must know where these emotions stem from.

From the 1949 founding of the People’s Republic until 1972, when diplomatic relations were re-established with Japan, ordinary Chinese people never got a proper apology from Japanese leaders, much less reparations. No doubt American policy played a role in this. MacArthur and co. were more concerned with shoring up Japanese strength as a bulwark against the communist threat than with meting out justice, even to the point of rehabilitating war criminals and putting them back into power.

This might have changed in 1972 when the Chinese and Japanese governments sat down and signed a “joint communiqué” that severed Japanese ties with Taiwan and directed them toward the Mainland. But as part of the agreement, the Chinese government waived any rights for individuals to seek compensation for abuses occurring during World War II. While a pragmatic move by the state, it completely ignored the unsettled anger felt over the war. Some people claim that anti-Japanese sentiment is a smokescreen the Chinese government uses to distract the masses from sensitive domestic political topics. But in reality, it is rooted deep within modern Chinese culture—and even the authoritarian government in Beijing has trouble controlling its most virulent outbreaks.

Japan can break the impasse — and must do if it is to be an equal partner in Asia. Indeed, there are gestures Japanese leaders can make that might warm up the chilly atmosphere.

One is to straighten out the situation at Yasukuni Shrine. Ever since 1978, when head priest Nagayoshi Matsudaira quietly enshrined Class A war criminals there, the memorial has provoked ire all across East Asia. Yet Yasukuni is virtually the only place for the Japanese to remember their war dead. A separate, secular memorial dedicated to regular soldiers might be a sensible compromise.

There’s also a tantalizing rumor, reported by both Le Figaro and The Daily Yomiuri, that Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is considering a visit to Nanjing sometime this year. Such a trip would offer a fantastic opportunity to dispel accusations that Japan feels no remorse for the war, and it would lay the base for stronger ties in the future. And there is reason to hope that Hatoyama’s more Asia-centric policies will create real progress in relations with its most important neighbor.

This couldn’t come at a more crucial point. With China poised to overtake Japan as the world’s second largest economy by the end of the year, it’s vital that Japanese leaders not let a spat over history cloud the future. Whether the number of Chinese civilians killed was 30,000 or 300,000, Japan committed a crime against humanity at Nanjing, and no one should ever have cause to doubt it.

Lisa Gay is a freelance writer who splits her time between China and Japan.

This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

37 Comments
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If both sides agreed to stop applying numbers, which are debatable no matter what you used, and simply agreed to always use the term "alot of civilians" then this problem would be solved. I don't think either side could deny that.

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At the end of the day there were around 20 million Chinese dead at the hands of Japanese. So there are plenty of relatives of dead victims who hold animosity.

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While declining to mitigate the numbers of the victims hurled by the Chinese, Japan should only listen to the plight of the Nationalist descendants of the victims in Taiwan.

To make these communist Tibet, Uigurstan and Taiwan abusers be viewed as victim would be a great show of disrespect to the living victims in those oppressed regions. If Japan is to remorse for aggression during WWII and the victims it has produced, it should stop talking to Beijing.

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nationlistre -can't really make sense of your post, but i think you're saying current living descendants of communist chinese should have no voice in this, since you said "japan should only listen to the plight of the nationists..."? i'm sure you'll think otherwise, if a relative or immediate family of yours were one of the butchered victims.

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20,000 to 200,000

that's a big range. more like a guesstimate than anything else.

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This article is so old and tiring. Plus this writer just repeats the most heated aspects of the arguments. Her mixing up all the various WWII issues, such as the Comfort Women and colonization, which are SKorea-Japan issues together with Nanking , a China-Japan issue decimates any credibility she attempts to project. There is an enormous Chinese population that is not hung up on WWII as evidenced by the popularity of Japanese products, culture and food and the long lines to visit the Japan pavillion at the Shanghai Expo. Frankly, a crappy article at the wrong time.

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stevecpfc at 04:21 AM JST - 6th May The massacres alleged by China did no really happen and the bombings of >Hiroshima and Nagasaki were acts of evil against an already beaten Japan >who are of course 100% victims. I know this truth from the unbiased >posts of OssanAmerica and Nigelboy.

Please post evidence that I have said those things.

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At the end of the day there were around 20 million Chinese dead at the hands of Japanese.

That is exactly the kind of numbers that should be discussed and acknowledged by Japan. 20,000,000. Twenty million Chinese souls. Various issues?? It put's the whole 20,000-200,000 argument into perspective.

Both officers supposedly surpassed their goal during the heat of battle, making it impossible to determine which officer had actually won the contest. Therefore (according to the journalists Asami Kazuo and Suzuki Jiro, writing in the Tokyo Nichi-Nichi Shimbun of December 13), they decided to begin another contest, with the aim being 150 kills.[6] The Nichi Nichi headline of the story of December 13 read "'Incredible Record' [in the Contest to] Behead 100 People—Mukai 106 – 105 Noda—Both 2nd Lieutenants Go Into Extra Innings".

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Look Japan just accept you caused a massacre, stuff the numbers. You were ij the wrong, guarantee you will not repeat this and promise you will not tolerate right wing idiots that deny the facts. Do this and gain respect like Germany, simple.

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guarantee you will not repeat this and promise you will not tolerate right wing idiots that deny the facts. Do this and gain respect like Germany, simple.

YUP, do all of the above and build a major memorial, let the good times roll.

But, you do gotta love how the author found a way to somehow attempt to blame America.

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stevecpfc at 06:30 AM JST - 6th May Look Japan just accept you caused a massacre,

They have.

stuff the numbers.

Agree with that.

You were ij the wrong,

PM Tanaka in 1972 already atated that Japan waged a war of aggression on China and apologized and offered reparations. Chou En Lai declined the reparations and opted for the ODA instead.

guarantee you will not repeat this and

The constitution already does.

promise you will not tolerate right wing idiots that deny the facts.

Sorry but the constitution we forced up Japan also forces them to accept the rights of individuals and free speech. Not much anyone can do about your obsession ythe right wing unless they break the law.

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I don't know about everyone else, but even 20,000 slaughtered innocent people is a pretty horrific number. Bottom line Japan, own up to your past and move on like Germany has done. Or keep this fire of anger alive forever. Your choice.

Japan killed, raped, murdered and abused much of Asia during the war. They killed prisoners and broke nearly every global standard of treatment for captives. Japan pressed her own people into a suicidal and unwinnable war that was lost the first day a shot was fired. It never had any hope of winning based on economic capacity alone. And the leaders were clearly a bunch of right wing morons pumped full of ill founded bravado that nearly wiped the entire nation off the map.

So just admit it, swallow this difficult fact and move on already. If you teach your kids the truth, maybe you can avoid having Japan try to wipe itself out again in the future. And maybe we will have to listen to less of these uneducated J-rednecks driving around in their black trucks.

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Lisa Gay, the degree of outrage about Hiroshima rises in direct proportion to how much one knows about Japan's actions in that war. Don't try to blame American policy for Japan's refusal to apologize. You need to stop relying on the leftist tenet of blaming America first. Then you will be able to write articles that display a depth of intellectual awareness, balance and maturity.

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"leftist tenet of blaming America first" What?! Since when is taking responsiblity for something a "leftist" approach? I am sick to death of the polar black and white thinking of far too many Americans. It should be obvious that the political spectrum is extremely diverse and people do not fall into camp a (right) and camp b (left. This is utter nonsense.

Bottom line. The US should take some responsibility for the use of two nuclear weapons dropped on Japan. Why? Because motivations were mixed between the desire to end the war and the desire to send a very clear message to the threat of Soviet expansion in Asia. This is neither first nor last. It is simply a statement of fact.

Japan, equally, should take responsibility for leading her people to a suicidal war based on the ambitions of a few unrealistic leaders. The subsequent death and destruction across all of Asia, including the two nuclear detonations in Japan rest firmly on the shoulders of these leaders and the people of the country who failed to stop and resist them.

You see 12 year sensei. It is not black or white, left or right. It is a question of historical fact, political complexities that drove decisions then and now and blame shared across many people and many decisions.

So enough of the left/right partisanship BS. It is getting tired and standing in the way of what the nation and the world really needs, which is change for the betterment of humanity.

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Let the US set an example to Japan by apologizing and paying reparations to Iraq for what happened in March 2003.

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what does china ask for in a war? peaceful occupation?

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Japan does not seem to be very good with numbers when it comes to Chinese dead but everybody who dies from cancer in Hiroshima or Nagasaki get chalked up the the A-bombs........a number they keep to the digit.

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I agree with this post from beginning to the end.

tkoind2 at 10:05 AM JST - 6th May I don't know about everyone else, but even 20,000 slaughtered innocent people is a pretty horrific number. Bottom line Japan, own up to your past and move on like Germany has done. Or keep this fire of anger alive forever. Your choice. Japan killed, raped, murdered and abused much of Asia during the war. They killed prisoners and broke nearly every global standard of treatment for captives. Japan pressed her own people into a suicidal and unwinnable war that was lost the first day a shot was fired. It never had any hope of winning based on economic capacity alone. And the leaders were clearly a bunch of right wing morons pumped full of ill founded bravado that nearly wiped the entire nation off the map. So just admit it, swallow this difficult fact and move on already. If you teach your kids the truth, maybe you can avoid having Japan try to wipe itself out again in the future. And maybe we will have to listen to less of these uneducated J-rednecks driving around in their black trucks.

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12 Year Sensei,

“Don't try to blame American policy for Japan's refusal to apologize. You need to stop relying on the leftist tenet of blaming America first. Then you will be able to write articles that display a depth of intellectual awareness, balance and maturity.”

Considering there wasn’t a single instance in the above article in which the author attempted to “blame American policy for Japan’s refusal to apologize” (a statement in and of itself wholly inaccurate, since Japan is on record for having apologized numerous times over the years), I find the irony of you presuming to lecture anyone on awareness, balance, and maturity particularly rich. Methinks thou knoweth squat of what thou speaks.

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This article is so old and tiring. Plus this writer just repeats the most heated aspects of the arguments. Her mixing up all the various WWII issues, such as the Comfort Women and colonization, which are SKorea-Japan issues together with Nanking , a China-Japan issue decimates any credibility she attempts to project. There is an enormous Chinese population that is not hung up on WWII as evidenced by the popularity of Japanese products, culture and food and the long lines to visit the Japan pavillion at the Shanghai Expo. Frankly, a crappy article at the wrong time.

On the contrary, this article is quite timely. Rather than let happen what usually happens when the subject of Nanking and other Japanese Imperial Army atrocities in East Asia is debated, namely bring everything to a standstill as Japanese scholars refuse to go forward towards any meaningful expression of contrition due while they quibble over details, it keeps the issue alive and in proper perspective.

The author states with much-needed clarity:

“Whether the number of Chinese civilians killed was 30,000 or 300,000, Japan committed a crime against humanity at Nanjing, and no one should ever have cause to doubt it.”

As it stands, the debate has continued to be a rehash of the something like this:

Chinese Parties: “We would like to have a comprehensive apology for the Japanese Imperial Army’s slaughter of 300,000 unarmed Chinese in the city of Nanking during the War.”

Japanese Parties: “It was only 20,000 slaughtered . . . . . . ”

Chinese Parties: “ . . . . . ?”

Japanese Parties: “What? You certainly can’t expect us to feel sorry until we settle on numbers, can you?”

And the debate rolls on ad nauseum.

Like a master burglar seeking to reduce a stiff prison sentence for 1000 burglaries, because, he states, “I only committed 100 burglaries,”

Or the rapist who seeks to overturn a life sentence for 500 rapes, because, “I only committed 50.”

Or the murderer who seeks clemency from the death penalty for killing 100,000, because, he passionately implores, “I only killed 1000.”

This silliness of Japan trying to knit-pick its way via technicalities out of meaningful dialog and contrition regarding some of the most horrific atrocities of the 20th Century leaves everyone, friends and allies alike, with a bad taste in their mouth at a time when Japan needs to start acting like a leader and less like a petulant child.

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LFRAgain at 08:05 PM JST - 6th May "Frankly, a crappy article at the wrong time." On the contrary, this article is quite timely.

I disagree entirely as does the Chinese government.

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LFRAgain at 08:05 PM JST - 6th May “Whether the number of Chinese civilians killed was 30,000 or 300,000, Japan committed a crime against humanity at Nanjing, and no one should ever have cause to doubt it.”

I may have to object to "the crime against humanity" label. What differentiates a m"massacre" from a "crime against humanity"? And for those who still cling to the notion that the numbers are irrelebant imagine trying to get a murder who killed 10 people to confess to having killed 100. Obviously it won't be an easy task. Resolution between all partieswill come first from a resolution of the truth, and by declaring that the "numbers don't matter" is to declare that the truth doesn't matter.

This silliness of Japan trying to knit-pick its way via technicalities >out of meaningful dialog and contrition

I find the Chinese side equally silly.

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what does china ask for in a war? peaceful occupation?

who would ask for a war in the first place?

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LFRAgain: The author INDEED states that "no doubt American policy played a role in this" regarding Japan's refusal to apologize. Read the article again. Carefully. Tkoind: The U.S. has indeed taken responsibility for the atomic bomings. I was told that they did it. Look up 'responsibility' in the dictionary so you can use it correctly. I feel your leftist dogma keeps you from understanding other's writing. Read the article again. Carefully. I myself am a liberal. Your anti-bipartisanship shpeil is simply boilerplate. I heard it over 30 years ago when it was Soviet propaganda.

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As it stands, the debate has continued to be a rehash of the something like this:

Not really. As page 271 of the report mentions, it clearly states that there were civilian massacre conducted by the Japanese army.

http://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/area/china/pdfs/rekishi_kk_j-2.pdf

And as Ossan alluded to, it's the Chinese side that keeps insisting on the 300K number without providing any back up for such numbers.

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Numbers don't matter, what matters is the nature of the crime and those who dare read about them will have nightmares - if they're can realistically imagine putting themselves into the shoes of the victims.

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If China is so fixed on apologies why doesn’t she apologize to her own people for the murders committed under Mao during the Cultural Revolution? It made what Japan did in China during the war pale by comparison. Or how about what is going on today in Tibet? China has a lot to be ashamed about.

You raised an interest point LuckyNeco in that Chinese side initially refused to disclose the study results of post war China which includes such events that you mentioned. I doubt it will ever be released to the Chinese public though.

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Triple888 at 05:49 AM JST - 7th May Numbers don't matter, what matters is the nature of the crime and those >who dare read about them will have nightmares - if they're can >realistically imagine putting themselves into the shoes of the victims.

No one would deny the suffering of the victims. However Nanking is just one of many such occurences on this planet that have taken place in the first half of the 20th century.

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OssanAmerica at 07:11 AM JST - 7th May. However Nanking is just one of many such occurences on this planet that have taken place in the first half of the 20th century.

But only few ranks with Nanking in the way they were brutally killed by the savage Japanese military.

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12_year_sensei,

I would ask that you read the article carefully again yourself. You upbraid the author for supposedly lacking intellectual awareness, yet you willingly stumble into your criticisms unarmed with even a rudimentary grasp of the more fundamental aspects of the issue, carrying some sort of anti-liberal chip on your shoulder in a forum that has little to do with American politics, left or right.

The author does not “blame” U.S. policy after the war for Japan’s refusal to apologize (which Japan did . . . several times, speaking of “intellectual awareness”). She writes that U.S. foreign policy towards rebuilding Japan after the war made the chances of an apology Chinese would be happy with increasingly unlikely. And the historical record supports this, as U.S. foreign policy and the War Tribunals essentially answered any and all questions of reparations and contrition, culminating in the San Francisco Treaty, whether those answers were what the Chinese wanted to hear or not. It should also be noted that the Chinese had very little influence on the outcome of the conclusion of the war or the Treaty. This isn’t leftist dogma or liberal revisionism. It’s fact.

You discredit the author’s observations out of hand for supposedly lacking adequate thought, balance, and maturity, but I have to say again, it’s hard to take seriously the criticisms of someone who not only seems unaware of simple historical facts, but also insists on couching those criticisms in some bizarre out-of-the-blue assault on “Liberalism.”

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LFRAgain at 08:51 AM JST - 7th May. I have to say again, it’s hard to take seriously the criticisms of someone who not only seems unaware of simple historical facts, but also insists on couching those criticisms in some bizarre out-of-the-blue assault on “Liberalism.”.

What is a unaware of simple historical facts? Do you really know?

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sfjp330,

What is a unaware of simple historical facts? Do you really know?

Well, if you want to play a philosophical game of "When I turn around, does everything behind me simply cease to exist," or "If a tree falls in a forest, and noone is there to hear it, does it make a sound," that could certainly provide some fun. But you'd be hard pressed to cast doubt on Japan's numerous issued apologies over the years with a conspiratorial, "How do we know what really happened?" ;-)

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But only few ranks with Nanking in the way they were brutally killed by the savage Japanese military.

Only when you take into the numbers. This is why they debate the numbers.

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sfjp330 at 07:44 AM JST - 7th May OssanAmerica at 07:11 AM JST - 7th May. However Nanking is just one of >many such occurences on this planet that have taken place in the first >half of the 20th century. But only few ranks with Nanking in the way they were brutally killed by >the savage Japanese military.

Oh I'm don't know about that. 2,000,000 German women between 8 and 80 years old raped he Soviet Red Army. How about the Manchu's beheading 2,000,000 Chinese for failure to wear pigtails? World history is full of brutal atrocities.

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"But shockingly, my Chinese friend just stared and muttered, “They got what they deserved.” It was an ugly reaction, and scarcely understandable"

what's not understandable? Is it understandable that the Japanese during ww2 were raping, looting, and killing innocent people in china, Korea, parts of Russia, and ALL of southeast asia and many other places? check out this website to see what happened to all the money the japanese stole. http://www.worldwar2treasure.com/history.html

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what's not understandable? Is it understandable that the Japanese during ww2 were raping, looting, and killing innocent people in china, Korea, parts of Russia, and ALL of southeast asia and many other places?

It's an author's opinion-- not the posters.' You cannot simply reduce Japan's war guilt to the A-bomb victims just because what the imperial Japanese government did upon their neighbors and other countries in the Pacific. Such assumption is problematic.

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This article ignores the fact that the Chinese government have actively encouraged anti Japanese sentiment. The war movies that used to be shown repeatedly on CCTV showed a govt. determined to maintain division at the same time as they happily accepted aid money from Japan.

It also ignores the Chinese govts determination to stick to the 300,000 figure. The number is written in huge figures outside the new memorial in Nanjing. It is unthinkable that the number would be reduced or removed to improve relations. Chinese govt. statistics from that era are notoriously unreliable in other areas. It is impossible to determine the veracity of the number.

That said, Japan's repeated apologies carry no weight with Chinese people, in part as the article suggests because ot the lack of specificity.

Japanese people in general do understand that their army committed atrocities. What they don't understand is why despite apologies China has so much antipathy to them about something that happened so long ago. Vietnamese attitudes to American and Australia are an interesting contrast. (though the fact it was a civil war makes the situation quite different).

I hope Hatoyama can go with an open mind and an open heart and feel the pain of the Chinese. It would be a long over due gesture.

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