By Eric Vandenbroeck 17 Sept. 2012

Protesters in China have begun another day of demonstrations against Japan, after protests over disputed islands spread across numerous cities and at times turned violent. Tensions have been heightened this week after the purchase of some of the islands by the Japanese government from their private Japanese owners.

The islands, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, and also claimed by Taiwan, have become an increasing source of friction in the region.

Analysts see Japan's decision to buy the islands as damage limitation in response to a much more provocative plan by the nationalistic governor of Tokyo who wanted to purchase and develop the islands.

In 2010, Chinese commentators began to describe the South China Sea as one of China’s “core interests,” on a par with Taiwan, Xinjiang, and Tibet. China was clearly on the offensive even in the East China and Yellow seas. Occasionally rather difficult incidents occurred that fired up public opinion in China, Japan, and the other countries involved. Defense forces were strengthened. The issues involved not only ownership of the islands, but also control over sea lanes and potentially large reserves of oil, natural gas, and fish. China showed little willingness to compromise on these issues; neither did most of the other states involved. The United States had no firm opinion on the territorial issues involved, but insisted on open shipping lanes, here as elsewhere. Confrontations can easily escalate. There is no guarantee that diplomatic solutions will be found.

While China appears to have legitimate older claims (1), one weakness of Beijing and Taipei’s case is that they did not challenge Japan’s sovereignty claim until after UN surveys in the late 1960s suggested the area could be rich in oil or/and gas deposits.

Seokwoo Lee wrote in Territorial Disputes among Japan, China and Taiwan concerning the Senkaku Islands (Boundary & Territory Briefing Vol.3 No.7). IBRU. p. 10-11. "For a long time following the entry into force of the San Francisco Peace Treaty China/Taiwan raised no objection to the fact that the Senkaku Islands were included in the area placed under US administration in accordance with the provisions of Article of the treaty, and USCAP No. 27. In fact, neither China nor Taiwan had taken up the question of sovereignty over the islands until the latter half of 1970 when evidence relating to the existence of oil resources deposited in the East China Sea surfaced. All this clearly indicates that China/Taiwan had not regarded the Senkaku Islands as a part of Taiwan. Thus, for Japan, none of the alleged historical, geographical and geological arguments set forth by China/Taiwan are acceptable as valid under international law to substantiate China's territorial claim over the Senkaku Islands."

The Washington Times disclosed a classified 1969 Chinese government map showing that the disputed islands were territory belonging to Japan, and it used the name Senkakus instead of the Chinese name for the islands, Daioyu. It contains a dividing line south of the islands indicating that they fall within Japanese territory; the map can be seen here.

Tokyo and Beijing generally abided by a tacit agreement to keep the islands dispute quiet. By keeping control over construction and landings, the central government would be able to keep up its side of the tacit agreement with China on managing the islands.

And it appears now that China saw Japan's proposed nationalization as an opportunity to exploit.

The past two days slogans included "For The Respect Of The Motherland, We Must Go To War With Japan."

And after first sending patrol ships to the islands, yesterday Crews at an air unit of the Jinan Military Region piloting new-type fighters J-11B added a live ammunition drill to enhance operation capabilities.

To protect themselves, Japanese, firms, in turn, felt obliged to shut China plants. 

Chinese patriotic Nationalism

To understand the present outburst we have to understand that during the 20th century, the Chinese Communist Party initially utilized communism, since 1989 it increasingly used patriotism to mobilize its population.

Published this month Wenfang Tang and Benjamin Darr, based on surveys conducted in the past decade, found that China had the highest level of nationalism of 36 countries and regions surveyed.

And in an upcoming Book titled “Reinventing Modern China: Imagination and Authenticity in Chinese Historical Writing” (2012) Huaiyin Li contends that both the revolutionary historiography of the Maoist era and the modernization historiography of the reform era were primarily products of historians’ ideological commitment, which distorted and concealed the past no less than revealed it.

He goes on to demonstrate to what extent historians’ dedication to faithfully reconstructing China’s past has been, and still is, compromised by their commitment to an imagined trajectory of history that served a political agenda.

The form of historical representation in the form of Romanticism continued in an extreme form during the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960’s early 1970’s, when radical historians linked struggles between good and evil in history to current power struggles and used the distorted historiography to serve their political purposes, ideas still carried over in modern school text books (see below).

It is not just the islands of Japan or the Philippines and the China Sea (see China's Invented History) question. Also, events like the Anti-western Olympic torch relay protests calling for a boycott of CNN and French goods have generated a new tide of nationalism. Why are these Chinese young people, some of elite schools in the United States or the European countries, so ‘‘patriotic’’ and ‘‘nationalistic’’?

Contemporary Chinese nationalism is greatly preoccupied with the past, which it is constantly reworking. And it has been suggested that every policy shift in recent Chinese history has involved the rehabilitation, re-evaluation and revision of history and historical figures. (2)

As I have detailed before Chinese people’s historical consciousness of its colonial past and the belief that China must never forget “national humiliation” are the dominant ideas in China’s public rhetoric. National ideas are difficult to change, as they become ingrained in public rhetoric and bureaucratic procedures that make them resilient like all traditions that are institutionally entrenched. These ideas often unconsciously but profoundly influence people’s perceptions and actions. One cannot understand China’s current situation without knowing China’s past. Historical memory is the most useful key to unlocking the inner mystery of the Chinese, as it is the prime raw material for constructing China’s national identity.

Long after the ‘national humiliation Century’ itself was meant to have ended in 1949, the rhetoric of national humiliation is constantly employed to explain contemporary diplomatic crises. Through the lens of historical memory, an isolated and/or accidental event (as viewed by the outsiders) might be perceived as a new humiliation. Thus accidental behavior or missteps by other nations could quickly touch on sensitive Chinese feelings about the 19th and 20th century legacy of the imperialism that weakened China.

History and memory as tools of mobilization

Much of the recent discussion regarding China revolves around the government’s national strategy of a ‘‘peaceful rise.’’ It can be shown (3) that the Chinese government leaders used history and memory to reshape national identity so as to strengthen their legitimacy for ruling China after the end of the Cold War, something that is still reflected in Chinese school text books today.

Periodically, the official propaganda apparatus would go into overdrive whenever there were international incidents in which China was apparently disrespected or poorly treated. An example of that was the 2001 crisis after the collision of warplanes off the Chinese coast.

Interviewing many Chinese military leaders in Beijing, a belief shared widely at all levels of military and political leadership- is that the United States during the three incidents was trying to divide China territorially, subvert it politically, contain it strategically, and frustrate it economically. And that from the standpoint of many Chinese people, the United States has a master plan against China.

On April 1, 2001, a V.S. EP-3 Aries II airplane on a routine surveillance mission near the Chinese coast was intercepted by two Chinese-built F-8 fighter jets and then collided with one of the jets. The damaged V.S. airplane, with its twenty-four crew members made an emergency landing on China's Hainan Island at Lingshui where chinese officials detained the crew. The damaged Chinese fighter jet crashed into the water. Chinese efforts to find the F-8's pilot were unsuccessful and it was later determined that the pilot, Wang Wei, had died. (4)

China immediately charged the United States with responsibility for the incident, stating that the U.S. airplane had turned suddenly into the Chinese jet and then landed at Lingshui without permission. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, it was "normal" and "in accordance with international practice" for Chinese military airplanes to track the U.S. surveillance plane over China's water areas. The direct cause of the damage and crash of the Chinese airplane was that the U.S. plane suddenly veered into the Chinese jet, which was against flight rules. The Chinese side issued a statement on April 4th which demanded a formal apology. The US side should make a prompt explanation to the Chinese government and people about the US plane's ramming of the Chinese jet and its infringement upon China's sovereignty and airspace, apologize to the Chinese side and bear all the responsibilities arising from the incident.

President Bush demanded the Chinese government release the twenty-four crew members. "Every day that goes by increases the potential that our relations with China could be damaged." Secretary Colin Powell flatly rejected China's demand of apology. He said on April 3rd: "I have heard some suggestion of an apology, but we have nothing to apologize for. We did not do anything wrong.

After the US's rejection of China's apology demand and China's decision 10 detain the plane's crew while it investigated the collision, the incident immediately became a crisis. Each of the two governments found itself in dilemma. For Beijing, it was unable to release the U.S. crew without an apology, but it seemed the U.S. never was going to offer a formal apology. For Washington, it needed to get the twenty-four crew members returning home as soon as possible to end the crisis; however, the Chinese would not cooperate without an apology. The two positions seemed irreconcilable.

The two sides finally agreed to set up a negotiation mechanism to seek a solution. Ambassador Joseph Prueher was appointed as the US chief negotiator; his Chinese counterpart was Mr. Zhou Wenzhong, China's Assistant Foreign Minister. They talked in Beijing.

After initially adopting a belligerent posture, the Bush administration moderated its tone over the next several days in an effort to defuse the confrontation with China. On April 4, Secretary Powell sent a letter to Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qicheng. For the first time since the collision, Powell expressed "regret" over the loss of the Chinese fighter jet. Powell's statement was followed the next day by a similar expression of regret from President Bush.

Yet the Chinese side also "lowered the bar" on what would constitute an acceptable apology. On April 6, Chinese President Jiang Zemin used the tenn "excuse me" when he commented to journalists:

I have visited a lot of countries and seen that it is normal for people to ask forgiveness or say "excuse me" when they collide in the street. But the American planes come to the border of our country and do not ask forgiveness, is this behavior acceptable? The standoff between the two governments lasted eleven days.

On April 11 then, ambassador Joseph W. Prueher, sent a letter to Chinese foreign minister, Tang Jiaxum, reflecting the outcome of discussions between the two governments. 1t was the fifth version of the letter that was passed to the Chinese side, containing the exact wording that was the object of days of struggle by U.S. and Chinese diplomats. The English-language version of the letter says President Bush is "very sorry" for entering Chinese airspace and making an emergency landing on Hainan Island "without verbal clearance." It also asked Beijing to "please convey to the Chinese people and to the family of pilot Wang Wei that we are very sorry for their loss."

Beijing government and the Chinese media simply did their own translation of the English text, in which the double "very sorry" became "shenbiao qianyi" (deep expression of apology or regret) which was what Washington had tried hard to avoid in its Chinese version. Chinese media were also required to use this (Foreign Ministry) version in their reports.

On April 12th, the Chinese government issued a statement: "Since the U.S. government has already said "shenbiao qianyi" (used 'very sorry' in its English version) to the Chinese people, the Chinese government, out of humanitarian considerations, decided to allow the 24 people from the D.S. spy plane to leave. And pilot Wang Wei was declared 'revolutionary martyr'.

Like a father refusing his son's repeated prostrations of forgiveness, rejecting America's repeated apologies was one of the few ways China's leadership could seek to restore Chinese self-esteem in the eyes of the Chinese people ‘s indoctrinated sense of national humiliation. (In fact I suspect a similar strategy will intimately be applied in the current standoff with Japan, the Chinese government will insist that Japan apologize or repent in regards the Diaoyu Islands.)

Yet there existed other options for a quicker response, including some existing international practices for handing such an incident. For example, a "normal" response for handing the EP-3 plane collision accident could be that the 24 crew members of the EP-3 would be allowed to return home in the first several days, China might hold the plane and then the two countries start to negotiate about compensation and settlement.

Instead through the lens of historical memory, an isolated and/or accidental event possible was perceived by Chinese leaders as a new humiliation. The disputes in question, thus easily touched on sensitive Chinese feelings about Western imperialist nations taking advantage of a weakened China in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The historical memory variable helps explain why Chinese leaders did not choose to resolve the incident through cool diplomacy. When the incident was perceived as bullying, and when the central myth and the legitimacy of the government is highly dependent upon maintaining China's "national face," it became natural and understandable that the government needed to be "tough." "Cool diplomacy" would not pass the domestic test and therefore was eliminated as an option.

Many Chinese people however concluded that the United States even had a master plan against China. In fact there were various conspiracy theories regarding the China policy of the United States that have been widely spread in China since the end of the Cold War. Thus every time there is an incident between the two countries, conspiracy theories erupt assuming there is a big U.S. conspiracy behind the current event.

So for example today (Tuesday 17 Sept) some of the demonstrators chanted: "The U.S. government is the mastermind" behind the Senkaku/Diayou situation. (the link is being added as an addenda on 19 Sept)

Yet also here, conspiracy theories about imperialist powers have a long history in China. The May Fourth Movement in 1919, China's first nationalist movement in modern history, was touched off by what Chinese called ''the Versailles conspiracy." 

In early 1919, the victorious nations of World War I convened a peace conference in Paris. Britain and the United States dominated the meeting and rejected the Chinese representatives' demands such as taking back the privileges in Shandong that Japan had taken from Germany during World War I. The Chinese warlord government yielded to the pressure exerted by the foreign powers and signed the Versailles Treaty.

Many Chinese believed that there were schemes among the western powers against China, and even secret agreements between the warlord government and the foreign powers. On May 4th, over 3000 students of Peking University and other schools gathered together and held a demonstration. They shouted out such slogans as "Struggle for sovereignty externally, get rid of national traitors at home." A grand conspiracy among the western powers to divide China and a conflation between enemies and traitors has since then become China's worst security scenario.

Since the days of John Foster Dulles the Chinese leadership has perceived an American campaign to undermine the political authority and rule of the CCP through a combination of sanctions and "peaceful evolution" tactics. In the 1990’s the U.S. emphasis on human rights, the battles over extension of Most Favored Nation trading status, and the opening of Radio Free Asia were all seen in Beijing as proof positive of an American conspiracy to undermine CCP rule. From the Chinese leadership's perspective, the U.S. threat to the CCP's political survival is precisely equated with a threat to national security.

History textbook indoctrination today

In his article ‘‘Modernization and History Textbooks,’’ Chinese history scholar Weishi Yuan (2006) strongly criticized China’s history textbooks and history education. He believed that the current history education is actually fostering blind nationalism and closed-minded anti-foreign sentiment. This essay was published at China Youth Daily’s weekly supplement, a well-known and popular national newspaper in China. Due to the publication of this article, this weekly supplement was closed down by the government. (5)

In Japan, the history curriculum has always been an issue of much debate among historians, politicians, and ordinary people. Basically, the lack of internal consensus indicates uncompleted nation building and identity search in these countries. Japan, South Korean, and Taiwan have all claimed a national objective of becoming a ‘‘normal country.’’

However, such a process of normalization presupposes a reconciliation of opinions at home over their country’s own history and a reconciliation of their own self-image with the images its neighbors hold of their past. A Newsweek article has commented on China’s history education: ‘‘To face the future confidently, China must be able to face its past truthfully.’’ (6)

This comment holds true for each of the East Asian countries. The unsolved historical issues and the uncompleted search for national identity has become one of the major security uncertainties in East Asia.

History textbooks have been regarded as the major component in the construction and reproduction of national narratives. Some scholars have conducted detailed studies about how different countries deal with the history and memory issues in their education systems and how conflicting national narratives of different sides have generated conflicts. For example, Chunghee Sarah Soh describes and interprets South Korean citizens' recent national furor over Japanese history textbooks. The author observes that Koreans harbor a deep sense of victimization in their collective memories of the checkered historical relationship with Japan, which, in turn, has generated a nationalist vehemence to vanquish Japan's ethnocentric representations of bilateral and regional events in history textbooks.(7)

Tomoko Hamada in turn compared three Japanese middle-school history textbooks and one officially approved textbook of China about their descriptions of Japan's colonialism in Asia (1937-1945). This study indicates that the Japanese texts tend to employ formulae for describing the nobility of failure, while the Chinese text follows more closely the conventional hero folktale with such functional units as endurance, struggle, and ultimate victory.(8)

In 2006, even The Wall Street Journal reported that the Chinese Government ordered the closure of Bingdian Weekly because the weekly argued that “official textbooks inaccurately depicted the 1900 Boxer Rebellion, a nationalist uprising” in which thousands of Chinese Christians and many foreigners were killed. Not surprising, in the same article the WSJ also concluded,” Beijing’s anxiety over a news media that is increasingly driven by market forces and a burgeoning sense of professionalism, rather than official propaganda directives. Authorities have jailed several Chinese journalists in the past two years and moved to tone down feistier publications.”(9)

As for the historical subject mentioned in the WSJ, a hundred years following the 1840 Opium War, China was on the verge of subjugation and loss of its thousands-year-long national identity. The Eight-Power Allied Forces occupied Beijing in 1900. Japan annexed Taiwan and Manchuria and occupied more than 900 cities from China. Hong Kong, Macao, and numerous small areas became concession zones to foreign powers. The invasion by Western powers and Japan reduced China to the status of semi-colonial society. The Chinese nation was facing a grave threat to national survival.

As represented by China's national anthem, a very strong sense of crisis, or sense of insecurity, has always been an important theme of the national political discourse in China when it states: "The peoples of China are in the most critical time, everybody must roar his defiance."

Another popular political slogan in China is, "Never let the historical tragedies be repeated." The government therefore asks people to always keep a wary eye on international "anti-China forces." "Heighten our vigilance and defend our motherland" is another political slogan. So also day some Party officials and international experts still often warn their colleagues and people not to relax their vigilance against the international "anti-China force," especially the United States. Such kind of remarks on vigilance have even become a sign of being "patriotic" and "sober-minded" for the speakers and became very popular in China's political discourse.

This also had to do with the fact that after the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the most serious challenge for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the 1980s was a crisis of faith in socialism, crisis of belief in Marxism, and crisis of trust in the party. When the official Communist ideology lost credibility, the Communist regime became incapable of enlisting mass support behind a socialist vision of the future. There was a spiritual vacuum resulting from decades of communist repression of both traditional and Western belief systems. Under these circumstances, some intellectuals, particularly the younger generation of intellectuals, turned to Western liberal ideas and called for Western style democratic reform. The belief and faith crises finally evolved into a pro-democracy movement and eventually led to the large-scale Tiananmen demonstration in the spring of 1989. These crises became even more evident following the international collapse of the communist ideology itself. China's communist rulers feared that, in the mind of ordinary Chinese, they had already lost the "mandate of heaven" to rule china.

The patriotic education campaign

The ''patriotic education campaign", launched shortly after the "Tiananmen Incident" was used to redefine the legitimacy of the post- Tiananmen leadership in a way that would permit the Communist Party' s rule to continue on the basis of a non Communist ideology.

As a central part of the "patriotic education" campaign, Beijing called upon the whole nation to study China's humiliating modern history and how much the country has been changed by the Chinese Communist revolution. The education focuses on China's "chosen trauma" ("a century of humiliation" starting from the Opium War in 1840) and "chosen glory"-its splendid ancient civilization and the recent achievements. In fact, Beijing is using patriotism as a new ideology to fill the "spiritual vacuum." The Campaign is a nationwide mobilization targeting mainly the youngster. Since its beginning in 1991, the Campaign has continued without any signs of decline. The CCP has set the entire propaganda machine in motion for this Campaign.

This showed how the content of history and memory remains politically significant over time, with a focus on the process of institutionalization-that is, how the content of history and memory became embedded in organizations, education systems, popular culture and public media.

The Party conducted a major revision of the school history textbooks in 1991. In the new textbooks, the old class struggle narrative was replaced by a patriotic narrative. With nation-centered patriotism replacing class-based ideology as the key component of history education, an education campaign using past history of resisting foreign aggression swept Chinese schools. After the reform, Chinese Modern and Contemporary History-"education on national humiliation" (guochi jiaoyu)- has become a required core course in high school and a subject of the nationwide university entrance examinations for all candidates.

In comparison with previous propaganda campaigns launched by the CCP, especially those in the Maoist years, the patriotic education campaign was carried out in a much more practical and sophisticated way of "selling" the CCP' s ideas and agenda. As a new approach propaganda, the CCP uses China's memory sites as the major content of education. Beijing has constructed more than ten thousand "patriotic education bases" nationwide-museums, memorial halls, and monuments in memory of China's past wars with foreign countries, civil wars and the myths and national heroes in history. Visiting these memory sites has become a regular part of school curriculum. The state-controlled popular culture producers have made a large amount of films, songs and books on the theme of patriotism-many of them have drawn materials from China's modem and contemporary history. State-run newspapers, magazines, radio and TV programs all have special columns or sections on the theme of patriotic education.

Since 1991, the ruling party has successfully made the education available at all times and everywhere in people's daily lives. The content of history and memory has become institutionalized in China-embedded in political institutions and the Chinese Communist Party's new ideological tools. Although all nation-states, from Western democracies to non-democratic societies, have laid great emphasis on teaching their national history, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the Campaign for Patriotic Education in China is one of the most massive attempts of using national history to conduct ideological re-education in human history.

In October 2004, 10 government ministries and CCP departments issued a new document-‘‘Opinions on Strengthening and Improving the Work of Patriotic Education Bases.’’ This document asks government agencies and education institutions to ‘‘liberate thoughts’’ and to improve teaching methods, especially those that involve communication with the younger generation. It also mentions that officials should try to ‘‘make entertainment a medium of education.’’ That same month, Beijing put forward a new patriotic education project-‘‘Three One Hundred for Patriotic Education.’’ The ‘‘three one hundred’’ are 100 films, songs, and books with a common theme of patriotism. Seven PRC ministries and CCP departments, including the Ministry of Education and the Propaganda Department, jointly recommended 100 selected films, 100 selected songs, and 100 selected books to the whole society. Many of these films, songs, and books were about modern and contemporary Chinese history.

To ad to this, in 2005, China’s National Bureau of Tourism (NBT) published a list of ‘‘100 Red Tourism Scenic Spots’’ and recommended them to tourists. The NBT also named 2005 as the ‘‘Year of Red Tourism.’’ (10) The Party also launched a special propaganda campaign to memorialize the 60th anniversary of the anti-fascist and anti-Japanese war.

From 2004 to 2007, more than 400 million people have taken ‘‘red tourism’’ in different provinces in China, and increased during 2011. See also China's 'red tourism' makes revolution fun. 

The communist propaganda movie "Beginning of the Great Revival" was being heavily promoted at cinemas across the city, featuring a star cast of mainland Chinese and Hong Kong actors.

"While I'm not a Party member, I know how difficult it was to achieve our current happy life, which came from a lot of blood and the lives of revolutionaries," said Gao Pan, 27, after watching the movie, here:

Essentially, the CCP skillfully replaced the term ‘‘education’’ with ‘‘tourism.’’ But as we have seen, national narrative in most cases, is not an objective description of the past; it is rather an act of selection, appropriation, and proliferation of selected features from the people's past. The national narrative emerges out of forgetting of possible or alternative past and constructing a past that is meaningful in the present context.  These visualized items monuments, statues, hero figures in films and dramas-have provided people evidence of the existence of national history and state identity.

In their book Ideas and Foreign Policy, Judith Goldstein and Robert Keohane (1993) proposed an analytic framework to study how ideas (defined as ‘‘beliefs held by individuals’’) help to explain political outcomes. According to them, once ideas or beliefs become embedded in rules and norms-that is to say, once they become institutionalized-they constrain public policy. Furthermore, once a policy choice leads to the creation of reinforcing organizational and normative structures, the policy idea can affect the incentives of political entrepreneurs long after the interests of its initial proponents have changed.

Thus China's "chosen trauma" and "chosen glory" have been used by the Communist government, especially its top leaders, to construct the rules and norms of the ruling party. The discourse of national humiliation has become embedded in patterns of political discourse and the identity of the ruling party, and also, an integral part of the construction of Chinese nationalism. The CCP leaders are the educators or the manipulators of history and memory in China, but at the same time, they are also the believers of their own ideology.

Hence the content of history and memory has provided a whole set of theories to define the identity and worldview of the Chinese Communist Party: The Party's responsibility and leadership role have been entrusted by the history of the past century the Party has made the biggest sacrifices and contribution in the struggle to "put an end to the past humiliation." Therefore, the Party is "the firmest and most thoroughgoing patriot." The CCP has claimed legitimacy through a portrayal of itself as the history agency that restored national unity and independence. The central myth of the Party and also the "theory" that has been used to explain how the world works for the Chinese people is this statement: Only the Communist Party can save China; only the Party can develop and rejuvenate China. Since history tells us that "backwardness incurs beatings by others," the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation thus has become the unswerving goal and grand mission of the Party.

And although the national-humiliation discourse certainly is propaganda in today's China, it is more: it has a large and sympathetic audience. For the Chinese people, the foreign invasions, the military defeats, the unequal treaties and all the details of invaders' atrocities during the "100 years of national humiliation" are not merely a recounting of national history. They learn these sad stories from their parents or grandparents, from school textbooks and from media, films, novels and posters in their daily life. The discourse of national humiliation is the key to understand the contemporary Chinese psyche of nationalism.

With this the current CCP leaders are the educators, the manipulators, but at the same time, are also the believers of their new ideology.

But there is also an inconsistency between the regime’s current foreign policy and its longstanding domestic propaganda. On one hand, a cooperative relationship with the Western countries and a professional, open and active diplomacy will serve China’s national interests; but on the other hand, artificially creating an enemy image and willful political usage of history and memory are still important strategies for the regime to increase internal cohesion. Along these lines, Gerrit Gong writes that China’s ‘‘overreliance on history to provide national legitimization could challenge the ability of any Chinese government to satisfy its own people or to engage easily internationally.’’ (11)

In today’s school text books, the emphasis now is put on the international and ethnic conflict between China and for example Japan, rather than the internal and class conflict between the CCP and KMT as was the case with earlier school text books. This "China as victim" in nationalist discourse, with for example a focus on Japanese brutality and Chinese misery during the war, is not without results as can be seen on the anti-Japanese protests today.

It is perhaps safe to assume that in the future, no matter how difficult it might seem, parts of past history could be re-written by both countries.

Germany and France, foes in World War II as well as in several wars in the past launched a common textbook project explaining their own conflicts. It is one of the most meaningful peace initiatives launched in Europe in the last 60 years, actually a few decades in which most of the continent has enjoyed its longest period of peace in its history.

When seen from a Japanese perspective, the Japanese assertion about the legality and legitimacy of the possession of the Senkaku islands dates back to January 1895, when the Meji government had made a cabinet decision to include the islands into Japanese territories. This was three months before the singing of the Shimonoseki Treaty in April of the same year, the Japanese argument goes, which ended the Sino-Japanese War and made Taiwan a colony of Japan. The Senkaku islands, therefore, were legally not part of the territories that Japan agreed to give up by accepting the Potsdam Declaration in 1945, according to the Japanese government. (12) All the more, these islands have been the private property of Japanese citizens for more than a century, with an interruption of twenty-six years from 1945 to 1971 when the United States occupied the Senkaku as part of the Okinawa Archipelago. At one point, there were as many as two hundred residents on the islands, engaging in fishing and working for canning factories. (13) After the end of the Cold War, mutual relations between Japan and China started to follow a rapid downward spiral. In September 2012, amid quickly worsening relations with China over the islands dispute, the Japanese government decided to terminate the lease agreement of the Senkaku Islands that had been in effect since 2002, purchasing them from the Japanese owner. The purpose was to prevent Shintaro Ishihara, then governor of Tokyo, from buying the islands. The government did so in the hope of maintaining the status quo, by continuing to control the islands and Japan’s relationship with China in a restrained manner. (14)

Initially, Tokyo was optimistic and believed that Beijing would correctly assess the spirit of its gesture. But this assumption turned out to be seriously wrong. China started to propagate the Japanese “nationalization” of the islands as a grave breach of the status quo. Although the decision-making process of the Chinese move is opaque, its meanings and implications are clear. Now, the “Senkaku/ Diaoyu” dispute is not only a bilateral problem between Japan and China, but is indicative of a paradigm clash over preferred regional orders. In the eyes of the Japanese, if China were to succeed in grabbing the islands, it would be tantamount to the relalization of the new model of major power relations with the United States, since such an eventuality would mean that the United States should stay away from the conflict and Japan should give in to China.


1) During the middle ages the disputed islands were said to belong to a "tributary state" that was controlled by the Chinese emperor. But the country continued to lose power after the Opium War. It then lost the island of Formosa (Taiwan) and was forced to recognize Korea as an independent nation, Japan claims it discovered the islands in 1884 when a Japanese businessman, Tatsushiro Koga, who wanted to cultivate the soil on the islands, wanted to lease the land. But the Okinawa government and the home ministry denied the businessman such a contract for a few years because they weren't certain if the islands belonged to Japan or China and because they didn't want to raise Chinese suspicions. Chinese scholars point to this among other things to argue that Japan didn't have authority over the islands. Koga was however given rights to cultivate the land of four of the islands in 1896 and is said to have done so till the 1920s. His son is said to have bought the islands soon after his death. To build its case on sovereignty over the islands Japan also points to the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki, in which China agreed to cede Taiwan to Japan along with it all the islands that belonged to Taiwan. However, the treaty didn't mention the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands by name which doesn't help clarify matters. China insists that they were then a part of Taiwan and that Japan relinquished sovereignty over them along with Taiwan in the aftermath of World War II. As indicated above, neither China nor Taiwan protested Japan’s administration of the islands until after the discovery of hydrocarbon deposits – initially believed to include large amounts of oil - in 1968.  The re-emergence of the dispute coincides too with the Okinawa Reversion in 1972, under the terms of which the US handed back administrative rights to Okinawa prefecture, including the disputed islands.  The US then as now takes no position on the sovereignty status of the islands, though as Japan maintains administrative control, they are considered subject to the US-Japan Security Treaty.  Japan and China normalized relations in 1972, while the dispute caused friction in the subsequent peace treaty negotiations, it was eventually shelved allowing for the signing of the 1978 peace treaty.  The dispute awoke from its dormant state in 1990, and since then has gradually moved from the periphery to the center of Sino-Japanese relations. These subsequent developments have caused the islands’ symbolic value to increase. Source for the above is Martin Lohmeyer's thesis, "The Diaoyu-Senkaku Islands Dispute: Questions of Sovereignty and Suggestions for Resolving the Dispute" and Paul O’Shea, SOVEREIGNTY AND THE SENKAKU/DIAOYU TERRITORIAL DISPUTE, 2012.

2) Peter Hays Gries,. China’s New Nationalism: Pride, Politics, and Diplomacy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004, p. 46

3) Apart from the other cited literature see also Jonathan Unger [Ed.], Using the Past to Serve the Present: Historiography and Politics in Contemporary China, 1993.

4) See Kevin Avruch and Zheng Wang, "Culture, Apology, and International Negotiation: The Case ofthe Sino-U.S. "Spy Plane" Crisis," International Negotiation 10: 337-353, 2005; Gries, Peter Hays and Kaiping Peng (2002). "Culture Clash? Apologies East and West." Journal of Contemporary China, 11,30,173-178; Albert Yee, (2004). "Semantic Ambiguity and Joint Deflections in the Hainan Negotiations," China: An International Journal, 2, 1:53-82.

5) ‘‘Mo Wang Guochi’’ [Never Forget Our National Humiliation], Beijing: Haiyan Chubanshe (Haiyan Press), 2002.

6) ‘‘China Boosts ‘Red Tourism’ in Revolutionary Bases,’’ Xinhua News Agency, February 22, 2005;

7) Chunghee Sarah Soh, interpreting South Korea's National Furor over Japanese History Textbooks." American Asian Review. Winter 2003. Vol.2l, Iss. 4; 145-179.

8) Hamada, "Constructing A National Memory: A Comparative Analysis of Middle-School History Textbooks from Japan and the PRC," American Asian Review, Winter 2003. Vol.21, Iss. 4; 109-145.

9) WSJ, China Shuts Down Outspoken Publication, January 25, 2006 9:13 a.m.

10) Zakaria, Fareed. May 30, 2005.The Virtue of Learning Vices. Newsweek, U.S. edition.

11) Gerrit W. Gong ed. 2001. Memory and History in East and Southeast Asia. Washington, D.C.: The CSIS Press, 2001, p.42.

12) “Japanese Territory: Senkaku Islands,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan, April 13, 2016, http:// region/ asia-paci/ senkaku/.

13) Ibid.

14) Tsuyoshi Sunohara, Anto: Senkaku Kokuyu-ka [Secret battle: Nationalization of the Senkakus] (Tokyo: Shincho-sha, 2013).


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