Historiography of The Nanking Massacre - Japanese History Textbooks

Japanese History Textbooks

See also: Japanese history textbook controversies

In 1965, Japanese-language textbook author Saburō Ienaga sued the Ministry of Education, claiming that the government was unconstitutionally forcing him to alter the contents of his textbook, violating his right to freedom of expression. This case was ultimately decided in the author's favor in 1997.

The way in which the subject is taught in Japanese schools became the center of controversy in the Japanese textbook controversies of 1982 and 1986. The Nanking Massacre "was still absent from elementary school textbooks junior high school textbooks such as those published by Nihon shoseki and Kyōiku Shuppan in 1975, for instance, mentioned that forty-two thousand Chinese civilians, including women and children, were killed during the Massacre." Two other textbooks mentioned the massacre but the four other textbooks in use in Japan did not mention it all. By 1978 the Ministry of Education was able to remove the numbers killed out of all text books in use.

In 1982, the Ministry of Education embarked on a campaign to reframe the presentation of the history of World War II in history textbooks. History textbooks were reworded to describe the Sino-Japanese War as "advancing in and out of China" instead of "aggression" which was deemed to be a more pejorative term. The Nanjing Massacre was characterized as a minor incident which was sparked by the frustration of Japanese soldiers at meeting strong resistance from the Chinese Army. These moves sparked strong protests from other Asian countries.

In the 1990s, the stance of the Japanese government began to change as three consecutive prime ministers sought reconciliation with other Asian countries by acknowledging Japan's responsibility for the war.

Immediately after taking office in 1993, Hosokawa Morihiro, prime minister of the first non-Liberal Democratic Party government, characterized Japan's expansion through Asia in the 1930s and '40s as an "aggressive war." Hosokawa's two successors, Hata Tsutomu and Murayama Tomiichi made similar statements. For example, Murayama Tomiichi expressed "deep remorse" for Japan's colonial rule and aggression.

During this period, officially endorsed school textbooks were rewritten to reflect this changed perspective on Japan's responsibility for the war. For example, of the seven history books approved in 1997 for use in junior high schools, six cited a figure of 200,000 as the number of people killed by the Japanese military during the capture of Nanking; four of those books also mentioned the higher Chinese estimate of 300,000 casualties.

Besides total denial, another line of Japanese thought insisted that the scale of the Nanjing Massacre had been exaggerated by the Chinese. This view was expounded by Ikuhiko Hata in his book "Nanjing Incident". Hata asserted that the number of victims in the Massacre was between 38,000-42,000. He argued that only Chinese POWs and civilians, and not Chinese soldiers killed in action on the battlefield, should be counted as victims of the massacre.

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