History wars are raging in East Asia

Historians in the News
tags: textbooks, East Asia

... On winning by a landslide, the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, set up a panel to rewrite textbooks to make clear where there is lack of agreement on historical interpretation—“a backdoor way of limiting references to Japanese aggression”, says Daniel Sneider, at Stanford University, who studies Asia’s textbook battles. The panel also says it wants to get rid of Japan’s “neighbouring-country clause”—a sort of self-denying ordinance which instructs historians to take into account the sentiments of neighbours (meaning China and South Korea) when writing textbooks. To increase political control over education, the government wants to put mayors in charge of local school districts and it has ordered one district to switch to a textbook that the government prefers. Such actions fulfil a long-held ambition: Mr Abe belongs to a parliamentary group that has worked for years to limit historical references to Japanese wartime atrocities.

Neighbouring countries reacted with predictable outrage. When Japan proposed teaching that the Senkaku islands are part of its territory, China (which claims them as the Diaoyu islands and is challenging Japanese control) urged Japan to “respect historical facts” (which happen not to confirm the Chinese claim). When Japan decided to teach that Takeshima belongs to Japan, South Korea, which controls the group of islets and calls them Dokdo, called this “false history [which] plants enmity and seeds of conflict”. China and South Korea are livid about Japan’s scrapping the neighbouring-country clause.

The debate about history raging in Japan is echoed in South Korea and Taiwan. Last year, the National Institute of Korean History (NIKH), a state-run body which oversees the compilation of the country’s history textbooks, approved for publication a new high-school textbook written by “new right” scholars, who are sympathetic to the achievements of South Korea’s military dictatorships. The ruling party has also proposed that all schools should be required to use a single state-approved textbook rather than (as now) be able to choose among private publishers’ texts, subject to NIKH approval. As in Japan, such a move would extend political control over textbook use...

Read entire article at The Economist

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