David McNeill: Japan's History War ... On the anniversary of a major war crime, revisionist academics fuel a revival of nationalism

Roundup: Talking About History

Bunyu Ko's comic book Introduction to China is not for the fainthearted. In 300 graphic pages, it claims that the Chinese are incapable of democracy, practice cannibalism, and have the world's leading sex economy. In one sequence, famous political figures say the country is the source of most of Asia's contagious diseases. In another, illustrated with naked, spread-eagled women, China is said to have exported 600,000 "AIDS-infested" prostitutes.

Mr. Ko spends much of the quieter moments in the comic book developing an unusual historical narrative: that China, not Japan, was the aggressor in the Pacific war.

"The only good thing to come out of that country is its food," says Mr. Ko, a semiretired professor here at Takushoku University, where he teaches comparative culture.

The Taiwanese-born author is one of the more toxic figures in a burgeoning Japanese revisionist movement that encompasses academe, popular culture, and much of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The project that unites them is, in effect, a revisionist revolution: an attempt to overturn much of the accepted wisdom about what took place during imperial Japan's sweep across Asia in the 1930s and 40s.

If these academic revisionists have their way, the Nanjing massacre of 1937, in which thousands of Chinese civilians were killed by Japanese soldiers, and other notorious incidents from that era will vanish from Japanese history books, along with accounts that it was Japan that started a war of aggression in Asia. Tensions over the massacre are bound to sharpen as its 70th anniversary, in mid-December, draws near.

Disputed history, sex, and politics have long been grist for the mill of Japan's small army of comic-book artists, who regularly use the format, known as manga, to tackle taboo subjects or whitewash Japanese war crimes. Introduction to China goes a step further and blames the most brutal of these crimes, the Nanjing massacre, on the Chinese themselves.

"It is absolutely clear that Nanjing is a fabrication," says Nobukatsu Fujioka, who, like Mr. Ko, teaches at Takushoku. Mr. Fujioka also dismisses the extensive oral and documentary evidence of atrocities after Nanjing fell to the Japanese army in December 1937.

"The Chinese figure of 300,000 civilian deaths is nonsense," says Mr. Fujioka. "There was no massacre of civilians or illegal killings. Perhaps 15,000 Chinese soldiers died." Mr. Ko even suggests that Unit 731, an infamous biowarfare facility run by the Japanese army in northern China, was built to combat Chinese germ warfare....

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