South Korea and Japan consider history textbook with China

Historians in the News

Reporting from Tokyo and Seoul - Several politicians in South Korea and Japan have begun exploring the possibility of a joint history textbook between their nations and China. But given the lingering differences over issues ranging from past wars to current territorial claims, the proposal faces numerous hurdles...

... "It is a leap that Japan started talking about this issue publicly," said Yang Mi-gang, who worked on a privately published Korea-Japan-China history book available in each of the countries.

The book, "History That Opens the Future," was written by several dozen scholars from China, South Korea and Japan in 2005, and revised in 2006.

"Writing a common textbook at the government level is daunting because all of those participating in this may act as if they were representatives from national [sports] teams," Yang said.

Zhixin Wang, an education professor at St. Thomas University near Osaka, Japan, participated from the Chinese side for the book Yang worked on.

"I think a joint history textbook might be a near-impossibility in the present climate," Wang said. "The countries will have to work out disputed claims over the islands of Senkaku [known as Diaoyutai in China] or the islands of Takeshima [known as Dokdo in South Korea]."

The territorial disputes are exacerbated by potentially rich undersea oil and gas fields.

Kimihiko Sato, a history professor at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, said obstacles between Japan and South Korea might be easier to resolve than those between Japan and China.

"One problem is Chinese scholars cannot freely state their opinions, and it's very difficult to formulate a unified view with them," Sato said.

The Japan-China Joint History Research Committee is a prime example. Formed by scholars in 2006, the panel held its third and most recent meeting in January 2008. A fourth meeting was set for last September, but the Chinese side abruptly canceled a day before the event.

Shinichi Kitaoka, a political science professor at the University of Tokyo, is the co-chair of the committee.

"The Chinese told us, 'We can't tell you the reason why we need to postpone,' " Kitaoka said.

Japan hopes the meeting can be rescheduled before year's end.

Son Seung-cheul, a history professor at Kangwon National University and a member of the South Korea-Japan committee, which began work in 2002, said that talks between China and Japan bogged down over differing views on the Nanking massacre.

In that atrocity, tens of thousands of Chinese civilians and soldiers in and around the city -- now known as Nanjing -- were raped and killed by the Imperial Japanese Army beginning in late 1937.

Son also noted that Germany and France's common textbook came decades after the nations began broad talks over their relations, with the first volume finally published in 2006. The Asian project could be similarly drawn out.

The best approach is to have projects at the private level, among scholars, and leave the government out of it, said Sato, the Tokyo professor...

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