History Education and the Nanking Massacre

(Apple Daily)  History Education in the Jaws of a Tiger.  By Tsai Wei-chun (蔡蔚群).  (note: a history teacher at the Taipei First Girls High School) February 12, 2007.

[in translation]

Several days ago, a reporter interviewed me about the elimination of the 'Nanking massacre' from the new edition of high-school history textbooks.  Yesterday, the news came out with some sensationalistic headlines.  I was interviewed by several more reporters.  It was quite unexpected for our normally tranquil school community to experience such a commotion.

The questions were basically these kinds: Do you feel that the textbook should eliminate the narrative on the Nanking massacre? Will the elimination of the description of the Nanking massacre affect the historical memories of the students?  The logic behind these questions is: historical memory is related to history education, and history  education can strengthen or weaken historical memories.  To put it more explicitly, history education is linked to national self-identity.  My thoughts were quite the opposite: it is the political positions, the national self-identity and the popular feelings that are influencing history education, instead of history education changing political positions, national self-identity, popular feelings or historical memories.

Although everybody says that politics should not intervene in education, the fact is that everybody uses politics to influence history education.  The blues and the greens each have their historical viewpoints that they want to influence history education with.  Many citizens use their own beliefs about politics, nation and people to construct a "correct" history education  Even the history scholars put on a cloak of history professionalism (when they don't understand anything about history education) to conceal their own political positions and freely discuss the so-called history education and textbooks (in Europe and America, "history" and "history education" are two different academic fields).

During the course of teaching, the few lines in the textbook that describes the Nanking massacre might as well as not be there.  The teacher is usually pressed by the schedule and most of them can only just mention it briefly.  Even if the textbook does not have it, the teacher can design a related activity.  The only people who think that it makes a difference are politicians, scholars and citizens who have accepted a certain set of history and therefore this offends their "historical sentiments."

Are there history textbooks that are less subjected to intervention?  Let me give you an example: in England, there are all sorts of textbooks and the topics are chosen freely and not subjected to review.  One of the history textbooks is titled Holocaust (2003).  Through many Nazi documents, contemporary descriptions, news reports and recollections by massacre survivors in the 1930's, the textbook editors came up with many questions that they want the students to answer after reading the historical materials.  The headlines in the whole book are always followed by a question mark, and there are no single fixed correct answers to those questions.  The students go through this whole book on this one theme in order to enter this unfamiliar world.  That was how they come into grasp with the conditions of the past era and thereby reduce the prejudices that contemporary people necessarily have.  But not all English students get to read this book  Different classes can attempt to understand the "past" though various historical topics.  There are no compulsory topics that must be discussed.

Should the Nanking massacre be discussed?  If you want to discuss it, you should spend a lot of time on it and enter into the conditions in 1937.  If you don't want to talk about that, you can talk about the massacre that occurred when Zeng Guoquan intruded into the capital of the Celestial Kingdom and slaughtered just as many people.   You can talk about the forgotten Armenian genocide of 1915 in which one million people died.  Or you don't have to talk about any massacre at all.  To use the logic in the textbooks to talk about the Nanking massacre is even less effective than bedside tales, television drama series, movies or news reports.  So what if you want to talk about it?  And so what if you don't?  Even if you did, how will the students deal with the myriad of different descriptions of the Nanking massacre that exists in society?

Are we treating the Nanking massacre as a political symbol, or as a piece of history that needs to be seriously understood?  England's top history education scholar Peter Lee said: "History is useful in that it can change how we look at the world."  Whether the Nanking massacre is brought up is not the important point.  The issue is whether we have reached a conclusion already or we really want to understand the historical incident known as the Nanking massacre.

(UDN)  Here is a summary of the textual/pictorial descriptions of the Nanking massacre of the five different history textbooks.  The books either contain nothing; even if there is something, it is only several sentences in length.

(1) Text: The Japanese army wanted to damage the Chinese will to resist.  After occupying Nanking, they carried out the brutal Nanking massacre.  This action had the opposite effect because the Chinese people became more determined to resist.  Photograph: A Japanese newspaper clipping with the Japanese headline: "Competition to kill one hundred persons by sword."
(2) Text: The Japanese army occupied Nanking in December and it launched a massacre in which they brutally killed 300,000 citizens and prisoners of war.  This was a major atrocity in the modern history of warfare.  Photograph: A group of Japanese solders with cold and cruel expressions burying Nanking citizens alive.
(3) Text: After Japan took over Nanking, it carried an inhumane massacre of innocent Nanking citizens.  The total number of dead is still subject to debate, but the historical facts preserved in photographs and movies serve as evidence and it cannot be denied that ordinary citizens had been massacred.  Photograph: None.
(4) Text: None.  Photograph:  Same as book (1) above with an extended caption: On December 12, 1937, the correspondent from a Tokyo newspaper reported that two Japanese army officers engaged in a competition of killing people.  The scores were 105 and 106.  Since they didn't know who got to 100 first, they decided to repeat the competition the next day, with the target being increased to 150 persons.
(5) Text: None.  Photograph: None.