Remembering the Forgotten War

Looking back on the sixtieth anniversary of the surrender of Japan, Rana Mitter finds the political background to the demonstrations in China against Japanese history textbooks are full of complexities.

The streets of downtown Shanghai are filled with angry students loudly protesting against Japanese aggression and demanding that the Chinese government stand up to the imperialists from across the sea. This is not the spring of 2005, when anti-Japanese protests in cities across China shocked observers around the world with their virulence, but December 9th, 1935, when students took to the streets, angered by the increasing encroachment of the Japanese empire into north China.

Seventy years after those demonstrations, it seems that Chinese anger against Japan is still a factor that can give rise to popular protest and even threaten governments. Why should this theatre of war remain a flashpoint? Often, the issue is portrayed in stark terms. The argument heard on the Chinese side is that, unlike the Germans, the Japanese have not accepted their war guilt, that Japanese school children do not learn about their country's brutal wartime past in school, and that there is a rising right-wing tide in Japan that wants to rehabilitate the war as a noble undertaking.

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