Japan from the inside out

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.

4 Responses to “Askew on Nanjing”

  1. tomojiro said

    There is another interesting article from David Askew about Ishikawa Tatsuzo, who wrote a novel about the Nanjing incident (“Ikiteiru Heitai”).

  2. ponta said

    Click to access 14.03-23askew.pdf

    The International Committee for the Nanking Safety
    Zone: David askewpdf

  3. Cristobal said

    “and the Japanese have to sort out their complex relationship with the United States (which includes revising a constitution the Americans wrote for them).”

    I have to take some issue with this comment here. The creation of the Japanese postwar constitution is not as simple as you describe it. The Americans, while their influence was certainly present, did not just make it appear out of thin air.

    Take a look at the following book:

    “The Birth of Japan’s Postwar Constitution,” by Koseki Shoichi (translated by Ray A. Moore)

    It is older, but it is still valid. It was given several favorable reviews, most notably by John Dower. It sheds some light and takes a different look at Japan’s Constitution.

  4. izanami said

    Thanks for bringing up the essay here. The content of the essay is superb, but is unfortunately somewhat spoiled by his “politically correct” comment added at the preface as well as the conclusion, IMHO.

    It was a nice way to say, in essence, that special treatment is required for a special-ed kid. However the kid has never grown or improved, but rather has further degenerated due to the education given at home. What should the teachers do?

    I understand one should not counter hate (education) with hate. But, at the same time, if there is an inmate serving indefinitely without any pardon granted for his model behavior behind bars, for a “first-degree” crime due to a decision made by a “fishy” court, and any challenge to the decision is deemed to be “inflammatory,” what other choice does he have but to stay in his cell forever? If he’s going to be free, he’ll have to hurt someone’s feeling in the process.

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