Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Nanking Massacre Report from Whom? You Must Be Imagining Things.

A group of MPs from Japan's governing party is claiming the Chinese have exaggerated the number of people killed by Japanese troops in Nanking in 1937.


But the announcement by these lawmakers will make life difficult for Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a well-known conservative.

He will no doubt now be asked repeatedly whether he shares the views of this large contingent of his own party.

But watch for the response of the Chinese.

A measured response will signal that they are not prepared to allow history to dominate discussions between Beijing and Tokyo in the run up to this important anniversary. An angry one could signal trouble ahead.

Actually, the BBC article does a good job of summarizing the issue. What will, then, the response be? The key to the answer, actually, lies in the article itself.

Note that it is "China" on one side and "these lawmakers" and (elsewhere in the article) "some in Japan" on the other. The Chinese authorities know that we are a pluralist society. They understand the difference between the government and the political parties, and are even capable of making finer distinctions. That is why, for example, even in the darkest days they could let the Japanese side know that only the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and the Cabinet Chief need stay from Yasukuni and all would be forgiven.

Their cognitive powers extend to the LDP as well. As this report shows (read this, if you can read Japanese), on June 19, President Hu Jintao gave a fabulous reception for renowned nationalist and ex-prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and his mutual friendship delegation a fabulous welcome to Beijing, and the Chinese media gave the full monte to the event the following day. But then, why not, when the LDP website pretends that the report by the group of LDP lawmakers or indeed the group itself, doesn't even exist?

No need to watch for the response. It's already there, and it was totally predictable. Both administrations have their own reasons for making nice, and Mr. Abe has had some painful lessons on the need to curb his penchant for overexplaining. And it's a good thing for us.

Seriously, I don't have anything to add to the debate on the number of Chinese casualties or their nature. Instead, I'll focus on a number that I can actually wrap my mind around, and what it's trying to tell us.

One small episode in the Nanking Massacre (if a hundred lives is indeed a small number) is the Contest to kill 100 people using a sword. Mirroring the overall debate, it comes with its own claims of denial.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that it was all a sham. In fact, there is a good argument that fifty each is a technical impossibility. But if everybody in Japan at the time said it happened, and rejoiced in the event, then, for all practical purposes, did it not in fact happen? What then, does it say about the Japanese military, whose reputation denialists seek to resurrect? The media? The public? (In fact, this was but one vignette in a history of media complicity dating back most famously to their role in the rioting that followed the settlement of the 1904-05 war with Russia.)

The two army officers who allegedly conducted the contest were executed, also mirroring the fate of the army commander during the Nanking Massacre. If the two did not in fact commit the acts they were convicted of, that does not diminish in the least the fact that they died real deaths for a metaphorical truth, to atone for the sins of the collective.


Tim Footman said...

"... they died real deaths for a metaphorical truth..."

Bit like those pesky WMDs...

Jun Okumura said...

Hi, Tim. The big difference there being that Saddam Hussein did his own damnedest to keep the rest of the world convinced that he had those nuclear weapons despite his denials. In fact, I remember speculating before the attack that perhaps Saddam was only pretending that he was hiding something in order to hide his actual weakness. A friend of mine who had regular access to the national security authorities there thought it was a cool idea, and actually took the idea up with his contact at the White House, but the answer was interesting but unlikely. Ah, if they'd only listened to me. But when you've made up your mind…

Not to excuse the Bush administration, but everything that can be said about it, from planning (sort of) to implementation (if you can call it that), so I'll lay off here. And I do blame France and Russia for letting things get out of hand at the time. The irony is that, although Russia must be loving the high oil prices, over and beyond the embarrassment to their nemesis, France ended up with nothing but egg on its face for the oil-for-food scam.

Anonymous said...

Mangy, maybe. But neither of us will be able to find his compassion let alone passion. You must be a puppy for so blithely continuing to try.