Japan's History Wars and Popular Consciousness
Japan's History Wars and Popular Consciousness
Mr. Ko spends much of the quieter moments in the comic book developing an unusual historical narrative: that
"The only good thing to come out of that country is its food," says Mr. Ko, a semiretired professor here at
The Taiwanese-born author is one of the more toxic figures in a burgeoning Japanese revisionist movement that encompasses academe, popular culture, and much of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The project that unites them is, in effect, a revisionist revolution: an attempt to overturn much of the well-documented historical record that is the foundation for accepted wisdom about what took place during imperial
If these academic revisionists have their way, the
Disputed history, sex, and politics have long been grist for the mill of
"It is absolutely clear that
"The Chinese figure of 300,000 civilian deaths is nonsense," says Mr. Fujioka. "There was no massacre of civilians or illegal killings. Perhaps 15,000 Chinese soldiers died." In using the highest Chinese claims of deaths to discredit reports of the massacre, Fujioka and other neonationalists ignore the careful documentation compiled by Japanese and other historians, More important, they ignore the systematic repression in the course of a Japanese invasion and war that took a toll in lives of well over ten million Chinese.
Mr. Fujioka, 63, an education professor who also teaches cultural anthropology, has never written a serious academic history of Japanese war crimes, although he did help write a 1999 book on Chinese propaganda and
He recently won an award as columnist of the year from the right-leaning Sankei Shimbun, a
Mr. Ko is not a historian, either, but a prolific writer of populist books, sometimes publishing four or five a year, with titles that seem designed to provoke. Recent additions include The Ugly Chinaman and South Korea Was Built by the Japanese.
Into the Mainstream
People with such views have hovered on the fringes of Japanese academe for years. But over the past decade they have gained popularity with the general public. Twelve of the 18 members of
Much of the most sophisticated research on the atrocities committed by Japanese troops during World War II, including the
Many professors publish in in-house journals that Nakano Koichi, a political scientist at
While the details and the number of deaths continue to be debated, most historians agree that the Nanjing massacre -- also known as the "Rape of Nanjing" -- was an atrocity, in which 80,000 or more Chinese civilians and surrendered soldiers were killed (the International Military Tribunal on the Far East in 1946 considered credible a figure of 200,000) and tens of thousands of women raped following the Japanese capture of the city. Despite compelling documentary evidence, eyewitness accounts and photographic evidence, Japanese revisionists continue to reject charges that war crimes and atrocities occurred there.
The country's undigested war history continues to poison one of the world's most important bilateral relationships. Recent anti-Japanese riots in
"It is very difficult indeed," says Kitaoka Shinichi, a law professor at
Mr. Fujioka opposes such discussions, arguing that Japanese academics have nothing to gain by talking to their Chinese counterparts. "There is no point in talks," he says. "The Chinese government has decided there was a massacre -- so what good can come out of them?"
At least half a dozen movies on the
In response the Japanese director Mizushima Satoru says he will draw on the revisionist work of Higashinakano Shudo, a professor of intellectual history at
Mr. Higashinakano, who declined to comment for this article, and Mr. Fujioka are the leading figures in what has been called the maboroshii-ha, or illusion school, of Nanjing research, which rejects all allegations of war crimes in the taking of the city. Mr. Higashinakano says 30,000 published photos of events from the massacre are faked. The two professors' work is opposed by many academics in
"There are a lot of crazy people on both sides who collect around the
Hata argues that roughly 40,000 Chinese died in the taking of the city, although he disputes that the term "massacre" can be applied to the simultaneous killing of captured soldiers and says wartime Chinese propaganda inflated the casualty figures.
Mr. Hata points out that many of the most active revisionist war-crimes scholars are not historians. Still, he thinks, there is room for them in the intellectual bazaar.
"They're often ridiculous, but the level of understanding by ordinary Japanese people about this issue is very high," he says. "I trust public opinion when it comes to judging for themselves." He says the illusion-school faction is a hakeguchi -- an outlet for frustrations in
Harsher critics of the illusion school say its members do not belong in any serious scholarly discussion. "These academics are not interested in a debate," says Mr. Nakano, of
Mr. Nakano says that while the revisionists have helped popularize a once-taboo discussion, their pulp publications, with huge readerships, are "pushing the trained historians out of the public debate about war crimes."
Few universities have taken action against revisionist academics. Once tenured, professors are difficult to remove from Japanese faculties, which in any case are seldom openly confrontational.
Mr. Ko says he is well liked by
Most observers say trying to silence the deniers would play into their hands, allowing them to argue that their right to free speech has been denied.
"Freedom of expression in
The revisionists, then, are free to keep sharpening their rhetorical blades, whatever the consequences. What started out as an apparent effort to play down a dark period in Japanese history has become an exercise in outright denial.
"Some of the older [revisionist] academics may be overwhelmed by what is happening," says Mr. Nakano, of
The debate over the Nanjing Massacre is examined by David Askew at New Research on the Nanjing Incident.
See also Takashi Yoshida, The Nanjing Massacre. Changing Contours of History and Memory in Japan, China, and the U.S.
Find a partial list of manga books by Ko Bunyu.
David McNeill writes regularly for the Chronicle of Higher Education, the