14 November 2019
PLA soldiers rehearse for a special parade to be held in Beijing next month to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II. Photo: Internet
PLA soldiers rehearse for a special parade to be held in Beijing next month to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II. Photo: Internet

Why Beijing’s bid to edit Sino-Japan war history will backfire

Beijing has been stepping up a propaganda offensive as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of China’s victory in the Sino-Japanese War.

The centerpiece of the celebrations will be a massive military parade along Chang’an Avenue, where several PLA weapons will be on display for the first time.

The celebrations unfortunately don’t come at a particularly good time for the country, which is grappling with an economic slowdown, a stock market crash and the deadly Tianjin blasts.

Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un threatened to spoil the party as he declared a quasi-state of war against the South. With Beijing is preoccupied with various issues at home, Kim perhaps saw an opportunity.

But three days of negotiations saw Kim agreeing to cool off tensions on the Korean border, with economic sweeteners from Beijing likely playing a part in making him change his stance.

If Beijing chose to remain on the sidelines amid exchange of artillery fire between two Koreas, South Korean leader Park Geun-hye might have opted out of her planned trip to Beijing next month for the World War II commemorative event.

That would have been humiliating for Chinese President Xi Jinping, as without Park’s shoulder-to-shoulder appearance at Tiananmen, Beijing would have nothing to convince its people and the world that China’s victory over Japan 70 years ago was a vital milestone in the World War.

With many Western leaders deciding not to grace the Beijing parade, Park’s attendance was deemed crucial in the eyes of Beijing.

Rewriting the past

Beijing has long abandoned the old Communist dogma, replacing the political ideology with extreme nationalism.

The ruling regime now wants to rewrite the past to gloss over facts and hoodwink people that the Communist Party and its Red Army were the leading lights during the eight years of war with Japan during 1937-1945.

“The mainstay in China’s resistance to Japanese invasion”: that’s how Beijing calls itself in its propaganda and history textbooks.

Not surprisingly, this has annoyed senior Kuomintang members, including Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou and Hau Pei-tsun — a former Taiwan premier and defense minister who participated in several key battles like the Canton Operation — who feel that Beijing is trying to appropriate the battle honors from the KMT.

Hau told BBC in an interview that the Communist Party’s contribution to the war against Japan was only “5 percent”. Ma also stressed that Beijing’s attitude was unacceptable.

One proof worth mentioning is Cairo Declaration, a film produced by the Chinese state-run August First Film Studio and which has been dubbed by some observers as a “propaganda epic”.

A movie poster portrays Mao as the Chinese representative to the 1943 summit with Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, although it was Kuomintang’s top commander Chiang Kai-shek who actually attended it. Ma said the movie was “a laughing stock”.

Now Beijing’s move has effectively pushed Taiwan further. The party’s role in the war is indeed Beijing’s Achilles heel: people will question the Communist Party’s authority and its propaganda if they know the truth that Kuomintang and the army of the Republic of China were the principal force in defending the Chinese soil.

Taiwan perspectives

People in any society that is made up of various races and immigrants, and which has been under various rulers, are bound to develop mixed, vague feelings about their ethnical and national identities.

Taiwan is an example of this, as is Hong Kong.

Over the past four centuries, Taiwan has been ruled in succession by warlords loyal to the Ming dynasty, colonizers from the Netherlands, Qing dynasty, Japan and Kuomintang. One result of Taiwan’s twisted history is that its population is mixed up in terms of blood and ancestral bonds.

Japan ruled Taiwan for 50 years, after the island was ceded by the Qing dynasty, from 1895 to 1945 and the Han people from the mainland gained their dominance only after Japan’s surrender.

These facts explain Taiwan’s mixed and diversified historic perspectives, especially their people’s subtle but complex feelings toward China and Japan.

Taiwan’s own role in the Sino-Japanese War is now the latest controversy.

Kuomintang, which has been constantly labeled by the opposition as a non-indigenous and external political force, insists that Taiwan, being the territory of the Republic of China, is beyond question a part of the war against Japanese invaders.

Yet, nativists think just the opposite. They argue that Taiwan was under Japanese sovereignty back then and hence there’s no need for the island to commemorate China’s victory over Japan, which has nothing to do with Taiwan.

Former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui is a firm advocate of the latter.

Lee described himself as “Japanese” in a recent essay carried in a Japanese magazine and noted that “since Taiwan and Japan belonged to one country back then, there was no such thing as a war against Japan in Taiwan”.

Kuomintang has slammed the remarks from its former chairman. Lee had been stripped of his party membership in 2001.

Beijing’s attempts to edit history of the Sino-Japanese War to its own advantage have in turn renewed debates on Taiwan’s position during that period of time.

As it played only minor part in defending the Chinese soil in the World War, what Beijing is doing today is to belittle Kuomintang’s might and main role in the war 70 years ago.

With such a strategy, Beijing has not only alienated the Kuomintang, it has also lent a hand to those harboring pro-Taiwan independence thoughts.

There is a price to pay if you are not honest about history.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 27.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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The flag of the Republic of China is seen flying at a ceremony in Taipei in honor of the martyrs of the Sino-Japanese War. Photo: Epoch Times

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou attends a national memorial ceremony. Photo:

Taiwan nationals in Hong Kong wave flags of the Republic of China at Sun Yat-sen Park in Tuen Mun. Photo: HK & Macau Taiwanese Association

Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal