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.
This paper examines how and when apology by a defeated state is made. In order to analyze the incentive of apology, this article sheds light on the difference between Japan and Germany after the World War II.
2015 marked the 70th anniversary since the end of World War II. Many articles were written in Japan and abroad about how Japanese and German governments succeeded or failed in their efforts to reconcile with neighboring countries. Jennifer Lind (2008) analyzed that apologetic remembrance determines reconciliation, while Thomas U. Berger (2012) made it clear that “narrative” is the essence of apology. Both studies pointed to how a government and society narrate history of their own country as the determinant of reconciliation. However, these studies fell short of illuminating the incentive of apology.
This article seeks to answer how apologetic narrative emerges from the point of view of international politics and leadership. First, international politics determines how reconciliation is needed for a country or not. For example, as the occupied countries, Japan and Germany had to be in a good relationship with occupying powers. Furthermore, during the cold war, it was very important to have close ties within capitalistic countries. In Europe, there was also a movement for European integration, so the incentive for reconciliation with France was enormous for Germany. The reconciliation with Israel was also needed, because the Nazi-crime for Jewish people was seen as “crimes against humanity” and was criticized internationally.
Japan did not need reconciliation so much with China and Korea, which were divided into two countries after World War II. Both Chinese governments, Beijing and Taipei, wanted to be recognized as the “official” government of China, so it was not a good strategy for them to argue with Japan over the history problem. In addition, as South Korea was far behind North Korea economically, it also wanted Japanese investment first. So it is clear that international politics set the incentive to apologize.
Second, even if the incentive for reconciliation exists, political leadership is also necessary, especially when the narratives of government and society are not the same. Willy Brandt was hardly criticized when he got down on his knees in front of the monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1970. Yet he did not change his and government’s narrative, and criticism disappeared over time. On the other hand, Japan-South Korea relationship serves as the model for the lack of leadership on the narrative of apology.