China’s transition process in its manner of approaching the Anti-Japan War history (known as the Second Sino–Japanese War in China) in different stages is characterized by the following features. (1) From 1949 to 1978, “history” was understood to be Revolutionary history; the Anti-Japan War history was not accorded much importance and addressing historical facts was determined by political considerations. (2) From 1978 to 1989, even though the Anti-Japan War history received greater emphasis, it was mainly necessary to counter historical revisionist currents in Japan and work toward unification with Taiwan; further, all this while, China was committed to maintaining friendly relations with Japan. (3) The era of rocketing patriotism that began in 1989 witnessed a steady increase in the Chinese emphasis on the history of the Anti-Japan War; thus, currently, along with countering historical revisionism from Japan’s viewpoint, domestic political considerations, modifications to foreign policy, and a revised perception regarding the two countries’ relationship in the wake of China’s rise as a major world power are the main driving forces.
China’s approach to the history of the Anti-Japan War is not a simple historiographical problem; the fact that it is a general problem with a high degree of political sensitivity suggests that, for the reasons provided below, it is one that is fraught with side effects for the Chinese authorities. First, the close relation of the Anti-Japan War’s history to a more multifaceted history implies that the rise of interest in the former will not stop with the China–Japan relations but will highlight the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) history and its relations with the Kuomintang (KMT). On the other hand, the diversification and increased availability of sources of information indicates that information with a bearing on history can no longer be controlled as in the past. Thus, the expanding interest into historical problems associated with the anti-Japan war’s history suggests that the Chinese populace is gaining awareness regarding some historical facts avoided by the ruling authorities until now. Second, applying a “proper view of history,” which China had demanded from Japan, is certainly also being demanded from China. Thus, how China recognizes and responds to its own history has been questioned inside and outside the country.
Manifestation of these side effects is palpable in the China–Taiwan dispute regarding claims to leadership in the anti-Japanese war and the internal Chinese controversy about the authenticity of its “historical nihilism.” Considering the China–Japan interactions, China’s demand to take a “direct view of history” has not only spurred improvements in Japan’s historical awareness but also served to promote improvement in China’s own historical awareness.