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February 12, 2010 in The China Beat


Copyright February 12, 2010. Used by permission.


1. China Beat team members Jeff Wasserstrom and Kate Merkel-Hess have a new piece at Foreign Policy discussing the recent joint report issued by the governments of China and Japan regarding the 1937-38 Rape of Nanking. In“Nanjing By the Numbers”, they argue that focusing on the continued controversy over the massacre’s death toll overlooks the greater significance of the report:

It would be too much to hope that any joint report over the causes and events of the Pacific War would reach accord on every issue. But as partisan as the debate on the Nanjing massacre has often seemed, a close reading of the new report shows that the divide in it over the number killed in that city is not exclusively a political standoff. Instead, it largely reflects scholarly concern over the reliability of the numbers — on both the Chinese and Japanese sides. And it would be unfortunate if the lack of agreement over death tolls obscured the significant new points of consensus.

The main points of agreement constitute a major step forward in Sino-Japanese relations. For years, there have been some historians in Japan moving toward a more moderate position on Nanjing, but there have also been periodic efforts by Japanese officials to sidestep or minimize the issue of Japanese culpability and misbehavior, their sentiments echoed by a small number of textbooks authorized for use in Japan’s classrooms. Japanese leaders have historically ignored pleas to acknowledge fully the extent to which Japan was responsible for Pacific War-era devastation and violence not just in China but also in Korea, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia. So, all in all, the report has much to recommend it.

For another analysis of the Rape of Nanking and its role in Sino-Japanese relations since 1945, see Mark Selden’s 2008 article in The Asis-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, “Japanese and American War Atrocities, Historical Memory and Reconciliation: World War II to Today.”