Askew on Nanjing
Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 17, 2007
YOU CAN’T TELL THE PLAYERS without a scorecard, and if what you’re following is the debate on the Nanjing Massacre, particularly in Japan, here is the scorecard: The Nanjing Incident: Recent Research and Trends, a paper written by Prof. David Askew.
One will not find a better overview of the debate anywhere. It is, in short, superb. I recommend reading the entire piece. (It also incidentally exposes the absence of credibility of those who claim the Japanese are not trying to come to terms with their role in the war.) Thanks to reader Tomojiro for bringing up Askew in the Comments section.
If I were to have any quibble with Askew, I would suggest that he has gone only half-way with this particular point:
(T)oo many Japanese researchers in particular are either completely ignorant of, or do not care about, the fact that Nanjing for better or for worse has become a central plank in the construction of the modern self-identity of the Chinese. To discuss Nanjing is to threaten this self-identity. Once aware of this fact, all who participate in the debate need to show some sensitivity to it. I am not arguing that the Chinese orthodoxy needs to be accepted without question because the feelings of so many will be hurt if it is questioned. Indeed, I strongly believe that human beings have to come to terms with the “real” past and accept it, and that it is more dangerous (at least in the long term) to found national identity on a lie than to discover the truth and live with it.
I might also suggest: Too many in East Asia, not to mention the West, are just as unaware, or ignorant of, the efforts Japanese are also making to create their own identity in the modern world. This debate is part of those efforts. In some ways, these efforts demand more of the Japanese: they function in a free-market democracy with freedom of speech, while China remains an oligarchy. Many in the West hold the Japanese to a higher standard, and at the same time they have to sort out their complex relationship with the United States (which includes revising a constitution the Americans wrote for them).
But as I said, that is only a minor quibble. The time it takes to read the paper will be well spent.