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Tough questions: A Japanese self-reflection on the Sino-Japanese war
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11:56, August 14, 2007

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Seventy years after it all began, the question is still being asked: who was responsible for the Sino-Japanese war?

Journalists at Japan's leading daily newspaper, the Yomiuri Shimbun, have taken a surprising lead in trying to provide answers.

For many Chinese, it's a one-word answer -- Japan. But for Japanese, it is more complicated: was it the Emperor Showa, the generals, the Prime Minister or the Japanese people?

Unlike the Japanese who worship at the Yasukuni shrine where top war criminals are honored, and unlike the Chinese who throw stones at Japanese-brand cars, the journalists decided they should reflect history in a rational and practical way.

The journalists, most of them born after the war, spent 14 months from the summer of 2005 interviewing eyewitnesses and scholars and collecting information. The result was the book "From Marco Polo Bridge to Pearl Harbor: Who Was Responsible?"

Last month, the Chinese version was published by Xinhua Publishing House in China.


The two-centimeter-thick book comprises 350,000 Chinese characters, 22 chapters and three parts.

The first outlines the background to the Sino-Japanese war, covering aspects of Japanese society and government, the Emperor, military leaders and the press.

The second section covers the period from 1928 to 1945, including a cluster of critical events from the 1931 Manchurian Incident and the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937 to Japan's surrender in 1945.

The third analyzes responsibility and what lessons modern Japan can learn from the war.

"It is definitely not a perfect book, but it's not bad, and actually very meaningful," said Wang Jianlang, deputy director of the Institute of Modern Chinese History under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), at the launch of the Chinese version.

Almost every Chinese expert notes the significance of the involvement of the Yomiuri Shimbun and its editor-in-chief, Tsuneo Watanabe.

The daily newspaper with a circulation of 10 million strives to reflect the majority conservative opinion of Japan.

"It is very meaningful that such a news organization is willing to pick up the issue of 'responsibility' for the Sino-Japanese War," Wang said. "Regardless of their conclusions, they made them and recognised that some Japanese must take responsibility."

The Chinese government has long complained the Japanese state has failed to properly acknowledge responsibility for the war and to make a formal apology.

The book started as a series of articles published by the Yomiuri Shimbun in 2005 when tension between China and Japan was running high because of then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's frequent visits to the Yasukuni Shrine which honors class-A war criminals.

Editor-in-chief Tsuneo Watanabe, a key opinion former, surprised the public by overseeing the articles as he stood politically with Koizumi and conservative politicians.

He discussed the articles with long-term rival Yoshibumi Wakamiya, director of the editorial board of the liberal Asahi Shimbun, and openly criticized Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine.

"People with no experience of wartime are now a majority of the Japanese population. I believe it is our obligation as Japan's most influential newspaper to tell our millions of readers who was responsible for starting the Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War, why they did so and why the nation kept fighting until many of its cities had been almost completely reduced to ashes," Watanabe said in the book's foreword.

This was considered by Chinese observers to be a critical turn in Japanese public opinion.

"I admire the courage of the writers from Yomiuri Shimbun to brush aside parochial nationalism at a time when neo-nationalism in Japan is rising and its politics is sliding to the right," said Bu Ping, director of Institute of Modern Chinese History of CASS, who wrote the preface for the Chinese version.

Tetsuya Ennyu, one of the young journalists who joined the War Responsibility Reexamination Committee set up in the Yomiuri Shimbun, once told China Daily that some of his friends were surprised to learn the facts and details, which they only knew vaguely from textbooks.

Prof. Cui Baoguo, of Tsinghua University's School of Journalism and Communication, recommended the book to Xinhua Publishing House.

"We read several chapters and realized its publication in China would be meaningful," said Wang Qixing, managing editor of the publishing house.

In 2005, resentment towards Japan had risen among China's youth, resulting in a barrage of anti-Japanese sentiment on the Internet and demonstrations in front of the Japanese embassy in Beijing.

Watanabe hoped the book would show Chinese readers that there are people in Japan who have launched a re-examination of history to identify the responsibility of the Japanese government and military leaders before and during WWII.

"I would like the Chinese people to understand that the Japanese youth of today are not responsible for the war -- Japan's war criminals are already dead," he said. DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES

The book detail the responsibilities of every key individual in Japanese political and military circles at that time.

For instance, Emperor Showa expressed a desire for peace, but stayed within the constraints of his constitutional authority and had no legal responsibility for the war, according to the book.

The book lays most of the responsibility with Hideki Tojo, then Prime Minister and War Minister. He is blamed for supporting to expansion of the invasion of China, starting the Pacific War and promoting "kamikaze" suicide attacks.

Fumimaro Konoe, Tojo's predecessor, is held responsible for allowing the military to dominate the policy-making process.

But, from a Chinese perspective, the book fails to answer a greater question: what is the responsibility of Japan as a country?

Chinese records show about 35 million casualties, including 31.2 million civilians, in the eight-year war.

"This book talks more about the responsibilities of individuals from the perspective that Japanese people, including many common soldiers, were victims of the government's policies," Bu Ping said. "But China and other Asian countries that suffered talk more about the responsibility of Japan as the country that started the war. The perspective is different."

The Tokyo Tribunal heard that Japan was responsible because it started the war, committed crimes against humanity towards civilians, abused prisoners of war and used weapons of mass destruction.

Watanabe said he was not witness to the atrocities that Japanese troops perpetrated on the Chinese.

"I had no choice but to read afterward about what happened in China before and during the war. Therefore, I am afraid that from the perspective of Chinese readers, our efforts to delve into the suffering inflicted on the Chinese people are insufficient," he said.

Chinese scholars disagree on the books conclusions.

"As a reader, it seems to me that they think 'we didn't do it well enough' rather than 'we shouldn't have done it'," Wang Jianlang said.

For many Chinese, the main lesson Japan should learn is never to go to war except in self-defence.

"One thing that this book did not dwell on was the national strategy of Japan at that time," said Wang Ping, an expert with the Institute of Japanese Studies under the CASS.

The book concludes that the Marco Polo Bridge Incident took place simply by chance and, if "handled properly, all-out war could have been avoided". Wang believed otherwise.

The strategy to acquire Mongolia and China for their resources, known as the "Continent Policy", existed since the 1870s and was clearly held by the Japanese government in the 1930s, Wang said. "That's why we think Japan would have gone for war regardless.

"The writers did a good job in compiling information, but I think deeper analysis is required. For example, why did militarism take over Japan at that time?" she asked. FINDING A WAY FORWARD

Is it possible for both sides to communicate with and reach a mutual understanding?

After reaching an agreement on the specific issues for study, historians from both countries will hold the third meeting on Joint History Study in December to narrow the gap in interpreting history.

"China and Japan may not reach complete agreement on historical issues anytime soon," said Bu. "What's important is that both sides should contribute information and ideas on the issues, giving people a chance to judge and communicate."

The book made its own contribution in this respect.

A survey launched last February by Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows that 77.9 percent of Japanese thought China-Japan relations should be improved.

After Japanese Prime Minister Shinzou Abe's China visit in October last year, more than 70 percent of Chinese thought better relations were crucial, according to a survey released by China Youth Daily.

The book was "indispensable for Japan to forge friendship and peace with its neighbors in the future", Watanabe said in the foreword.

Source: Xinhua

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