Chinese leaders have repeatedly insisted upon the contemporary relevance of the ‘War of Resistance to Japan’ (1937–1945). However, the content of the official history of the war and the lessons drawn from it have changed dramatically from 1949 through 2010. This paper begins by reviewing theories of collective remembrance and then covers four historical periods: China's ‘benevolent amnesia’ on Japan's wartime atrocities before 1982; China's patriotic education campaign from the mid-1980s; the rise of history activism in China in the late 1990s; and the post-2005 reversal in official rhetoric on Japan and the wartime past. It concludes that, while the party-state retains an impressive capacity to shape the narratives of critical periods of modern Chinese history, Chinese leaders are likely to find themselves increasingly constrained by domestic forces and by external events beyond their control.
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