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Remember History, Not Hatred: Collective Remembrance of China's War of Resistance to Japan*


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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3 Wen, J. (2007). Speech by Premier Wen Jiabao of the State Council of the People's Republic of China at the Japanese Diet (12 April), [accessed 23 December, 2010].

4 Putnam, R. (1988). Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games, International Organization, 42, 427460.

5 Gillis, J. (1996). Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity, Princeton University Press, Princeton, p. 5

6 Ibid., p. 5, italics in original.

7 See: Halbwachs, M. (1992). On Collective Memory (trans. and ed., Coser, Lewis A.), University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

8 Yang, G. and Yue, M. (2005). Introduction: Gilded-Age Memories of the Cultural Revolution, The China Review 5:2, 1.

9 Winter, J. and Sivan, M. (1996). War and Remembrance in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 6.

10 Ashplant, T. G., Dawson, G. and Roper, M. (2000). The Politics of War Memory and Commemoration, Routledge, London, p. 20.

11 Ibid., pp. 16–17.

12 Ibid., p. 8.

13 Dawson, G. and West, B. (1984). ‘Our Finest Hour? The Popular Memory of World War Two and the Struggle over National Identity’, in Hurd, G.National Fictions: World War Two in British Films and Television, Routledge, London, p. 11.

14 Hobsbawm, E. (1992). ‘Mass-producing Traditions: Europe, 1870–1914’ in Hobsbawm, E.The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 307.

15 Yang, G. (2005). Days of Old Are Not Puffs of Smoke: Three Hypotheses on Collective Memories of the Cultural Revolution, The China Review, 5:2, 1341.

16 MacKinnon, S. (2008). Wuhan, 1938: War, Refugees, and the Making of Modern China, University of California Press, Berkeley, California.

17 The latter phrase is from a plaque at the September 18 History Museum in Shenyang; the former, from an interview with a Chinese historian in Shenyang, both in 2001.

18 Gluck, C. (2007). ‘Operations of Memory: ‘Comfort Women’ and the World’ in Jager, S. and Mitter, R.Ruptured Histories: War, Memory and the Post-Cold War in Asia, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, pp. 4777.

19 Waldron, A. (1996). China's New Remembering of World War II: The Case of Zhang Zizhong, Modern Asian Studies 30:4, 945978. See also: Mitter, R. (2000). Behind the Scenes at the Museum: Nationalism, History and Memory in the Beijing War of Resistance Museum, 1987–1997, The China Quarterly, 161, 279293; Zhao, S. (1998). A State-led Nationalism: The Patriotic Education Campaign in Post-Tiananmen China, Communist and Post-Communist Studies 31:3, 287302; Wang, Z. (2008). National Humiliation, History Education, and the Politics of Historical Memory: Patriotic Education Campaign in China, International Studies Quarterly, 52, 783806.

20 Reilly, J. (2011). Strong Society, Smart State: The Rise of Public Opinion in China's Japan Policy, Columbia University Press, New York.

21 Kai-shek, C. (1945). Statements and Speeches by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, 3; cited in: Yoshida, T. (2006). The Making of the ‘Rape of Nanking:’ History and Memory in Japan, China, and the United States, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

22 Yoshida, The Making of the ‘Rape of Nanking’, p. 67.

23 Quoted in: Kikuichirô, Y. (1955). Hoshutô kara mita shin Chûgoku. Yomiuri shimbunsha, p. 130.

24 Iriye, A. (1992). China and Japan in the Global Setting, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p. 114.

25 Yang, D. (2002). ‘Mirror for the Future or the History Card? Understanding the “History Problem”’, in Söderberg, M.Chinese-Japanese Relations in the Twenty-first Century, Routledge, London; Gries, P. H. (2004). China's New Nationalism: Pride, Politics, and Diplomacy, University of California Press, Berkeley, pp. 6986.

26 Bo, C. (1960). Genggao di juqi Mao Zedong sixiang hongqi, wei chuangzuo gengduo genghao de geming junshi ticai yinpian er nuli [Lifting higher the red flag of Mao Zedong's thoughts, striving to produce more and better revolutionary military movies], Dianying Yishu (August), pp. 5–6; cited in He, Y. (2007). Remembering and Forgetting the War: Elite Mythmaking, Mass Reaction, and Sino-Japanese Relations, 1950–2006, History and Memory, 19:2, 69.

27 Yang, D. (1999). Convergence or Divergence? Recent Historical Writings on the Rape of Nanjing, The American Historical Review, 104:3, 858.

28 He, Remembering and Forgetting, p. 49.

29 Ibid., p. 50.

30 Minutes of the Tanaka-Zhou talk are online at: [Accessed 23 December, 2010].

31 He, Remembering and Forgetting, p. 57.

32 Aiguo Zhuyi Jiaoyu Shishi Gangyao [Outline on the Implementation of Education in Patriotism] (1994). Government Printing Office, Beijing.

33 Personal visit to Shenyang (August 2001).

34 Mitter, Behind the Scenes, p. 290.

35 Zhongguo xiandai lishi: jiaoshi zhidao [Modern Chinese history: a teacher's guide] (2002). People's Education Press, Beijing.

36 Mochizuki, M. (2003). ‘Terms of Engagement: The U.S.-Japan Alliance and the Rise of China’ in Krauss, E.Beyond Bilateralism: U.S.-Japan Relations in the New Asia-Pacific, Stanford University Press, Palo Alto, California, p. 103.

37 Reilly, J. (2004). China's History Activists and the War of Resistance Against Japan: History in the Making, Asian Survey 19:2, 276294.

38 Midgal, J. (2001). State in Society: Studying How States and Societies Transform and Constitute Each Other. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 2234.

39 Hevia, J. (2007). ‘Remembering the Century of Humiliation: The Yuanming Gardens and Dagu Forts Museums’ in Jager, S. and Mitter, R.Ruptured Histories: War, Memory and the Post-Cold War in Asia, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p. 197.

40 Cong, W. (2005). Renda diaobiao huhu yigao guige jinian kangzhang shenli 60 zhounian [NPC Representative Calls for Greater Official Commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of War Victory], Beijing qingnian bao [Beijing Youth Times] (8 March).

41 These were coordinated by the 9/18 War Research Association of Beijing, in collaboration with the China 9–18 and Patriots Alliance websites. See: China refuses to back events marking anniversary of Japanese aggression, Kyodo News Services (15 September, 2004).

42 Zhengxie weiyuan jianyi meinian Nanjing datushari juxing guojia gongji [Consultative Committee Representative Proposes a National Day of Commemoration on the Date of the Nanjing Massacre], Xinjing bao (New Beijing Times) (10 March, 2005).

43 Available at: [Accessed 23 December, 2010].

44 Han, X. 2003: Wangluo minzuzhuyi faren [2003: Internet Nationalism Explodes and Endures], Guoji xianfeng daobao (International Herald Tribune, Beijing) (19 September).

45 Shen T. (n.d.) Shilun dangdai zhongguo wangluo minzuzhuyi jiqi dui zhongri guanxi de yingxiang: yi aiguozhe tongmengwang wei li [Contemporary Chinese internet nationalism and its impact on Sino-Japanese relations: A case study of the ‘Patriot Alliance’], Unpublished m.s.

46 Hirsch, M. (1996). Past Lives: Postmemories in Exile, Poetics Today 17:4, 649.

47 The website is: Aiguozhe tongmeng wang [Alliance of Patriots] at [accessed 23 December, 2010]. The link to the sign-on campaign is no longer available.

48 Yu, V. (2003). Abandoned war-era gas claims its first victim; China lodges a protest with Japan over the father's death 18 days after accident, South China Morning Post (23 August).

49 Yanhui, C. (2005). Dalian riqi yuangong bagong shijian diaocha [Research on the Incident of Strikes by Workers at Japanese Firms in Dalian] Fenghuang Zhoukan (Phoenix Weekly), (December), pp. 28–32.

50 Lewu, P. (2005). 1000 Wan qianming de quanliucheng [The Complete Process of Gaining Ten Million Signatures] Nanfang Zhoumou (Southern Weekend) (31 March), available at: [Accessed 23 December, 2010].

51 Onishi, N. (2005). Tokyo Protests Anti-Japan Rallies in China, The New York Times (11 April).

52 French, H. (2005). China Allows More Protests in Shanghai Against Japan, The New York Times (14 April).

53 China Labor Bulletin (2005). Striking Shenzhen Workers at Japanese-owned Wal-Mart Supplier Firm Demand Right to Unionize, available at: [Accessed 23 December 2010].

54 Reilly, J. (2009). The Rebirth of Minjian Waijiao: China's Popular Diplomacy toward Japan, Japan Policy Research Institute Working Paper (115), [Accessed 23 December, 2010].

55 Interview with Japan expert who was asked to give such talks (Beijing, 17 April, 2008).

56 Wen jiabao yu anbei pusan shouxiang huitan jiu weilai zhongri guanxi fazhan tichu wuge yijian [Wen Jiaobao Meets Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, Puts Forth Five Suggestions for the Future Development of Sino-Japanese Relations] Renmin Ribao (9 October, 2006), p. 1.

57 Wen, Speech by Premier Wen Jiabao.

58 Premier Wen Jiabao's Masterly Visit to Japan, Chosun Ilbo (16 April, 2007).

59 French, H. (2007). Letter from China: Wen reveals himself as a new kind of Chinese leader, International Herald Tribune (19 April).

60 Hu, J. (2008). Zai riben tadaotian daxue de yanjiang [Speech at Waseda University] Renmin Ribao [People's Daily] (9 May), p. 2.

61 Qian, X. (2007). Presentation at Beijing-Tokyo Forum (Beijing, 28 August).

62 Original information was taken from Chinese television programmes, clips of which had been posted on the internet, but which are not longer available. ‘CCTV Evening News’ (12 April 2007) CCTV News.

63 Original information was taken from Chinese television programmes, clips of which had been posted on the internet, but which are not longer available. ‘CCTV News Special Broadcast’ (26 December 2007) CCTV News.

64 Original information was taken from Chinese television programmes, clips of which had been posted on the internet, but which are not longer available. ‘CCTV News Special Broadcast’ (27 December 2007) CCTV News.

65 Original information was taken from Chinese television programmes, clips of which had been posted on the internet, but which are not longer available. The video of the interview with Nakasone was broadcast on the programme ‘Interviews’ (1 April 2007) CCTV 4.

66 Original information was taken from Chinese television programmes, clips of which had been posted on the internet, but which are not longer available. ‘Interviews’ (3 April 2007) CCTV 4.

67 Ding, L. (2007). Chaoyue ‘zuo’ ‘you’ kan riben [Surpassing ‘right’ and ‘left’ in viewing Japan], Huanqiu shibao [Global Times] (6 April).

68 Riben bacheng minzhong yuan youngfang zhanzheng [Eighty percent of Japanese people wish to forever forgo war], Huanqiu shibao [Global Times] (6 April 2007).

69 Xin, G. (2007). Zhongri guanxi shi erzhi de daguo guanxi? [Are China-Japan relations youthful great power relations], Huanqiu shibao [Global Times] (11 April).

70 Original information was taken from Chinese television programmes, clips of which had been posted on the internet, but which are not longer available. CCTV-2 (11 May 2008).

71 Lu, N. (2008). ‘Yiri weishi’ zutui zhongguo gaige [‘Japan as a teacher’ helps push forward China's reforms] Xinjing Bao [Beijing News] (7 May).

72 Available at: [Accessed 11 January 2011].

73 Available at: [Accessed 23 December, 2010].

74 Zhao, L. (2009). Zhuiji mofan gongchangyuan Zhang Xu [Remembering model Party member Zhang Xu] (25 March).–03/25/content_16056634.htm, available at: [Accessed 23 December, 2010].

75 Zhu, X. (2006). Ting laobalu chenxifu jiang geming gushi [Listening to revolutionary stories from old 8th route army member Chen Xifu] (25 December), available at:–12/25/content_1535862.htm [Accessed 23 December, 2010].

76 Huang, M. (2009). Yong bulixiu de xinsi jun lao zhanshi [An old solider from the new number four who will never retire] Dajiang wanbao (Great River Evening News) (23 March), available at: [Accessed 23 December, 2010].

77 Jinian zhongguo kangri zhanzheng shengli 62 zhounian laobing zhuiyi Zeng Rongsui [Commemorating the 62 anniversary of victory in the War of Resistance to Japan with the memories of old soldier Zeng Rongsui] (15 August 2008), available at: [Accessed 11 January 2011].

78 Liu, L. (2007). Kangri mingjiang Li Youbang taibei guju pai [War of Resistance famous general Li Youbang's ancestral home in Taibei] (10 December). [Accessed 11 January 2011].

79 [Accessed 11 January 2011].

80 Huang, L. (2009). Qingmingji: qingshan shunzhonggu zhanzheng kongjun qiaozi [Qingming offerings: looking for heroes’ remains in the blue mountain: distinguished airman, son of Guilin from the war of resistance] Guilin Wanbao [Guilin Evening News] (31 March), available at:–31/48396.html [Accessed 23 December, 2010].

81 Personal visit to the museum (8 April, 2009).

82 Jiaoyubu Yaoqiu zhongxiao xuexiao jihe kangri zhanzheng peiyu minzujingshen [Education Ministry Requires Middle and Elementary Schools to Combine the study of The War of Resistance to Japan with Patriotic Education] (4 March, 2005), available at:–03-25/21395465972s.shtml [Accessed 23 December, 2010].

83 Buxiu de yingxiong [A hero who has not withered] (28 August, 2006), available at: [Accessed 23 December, 2010].

84 Li, G. (2007). Kangzhan laobing Ji Lin 16sui toushen junyin rudui [An old solider of the war of resistance threw his body into the military camp at 16 years old] Haikou Wanbao [Haikou Evening News] (27 July), available at: [Accessed 23 December, 2010].

85 Fan, J. (2007). Riben qinhua laobing xiezui shandong taian kangri lieshi lingyuan [An old invading Japanese soldier apologies for crimes at a cemetery for heroes from the war of resistance in Taian, Shandong] (11 November), available at: [Accessed 11 January 2011].

86 Xiong, Y. (2006). Yide baoyuan: henan nongmin sandai shouyang riben shangbing 47 zai [Returning evil with good: three generations of Henan farmers care for an injured Japanese soldier for 47 years] Zhengzhou Wanbao [Zhengzhou Evening News] (10 August), available at: [Accessed 23 December, 2010].

88 A Hero Who Has not Withered (see footnote 83).

89 ‘Jidong kangzhan jinianguan jicheng kaiguan’ [The opening of Jidong's war of resistance memorial hall] (29 September 2007), available at: [Accessed 23 December, 2010]; Shanxi xiangningxian kangzhan jinianguan zhuanmen jinian guomindan shibing [Xianning county of Shanxi province opens a memorial hall specifically to commemorate Nationalist Party soldiers] (20 September 2007), available at: [Accessed 23 December, 2010].

90 Beijing jiaozhuanghu didao zhan yizhi jinianguan xinguan luocheng kaifang [The opening ceremony for the memorial hall for Beijing jiaozhuanghu tunnel relics] (13 August 2005), available at:–08/13/content_3348520.htm [Accessed 23 December, 2010].

91 Personal visit to the museum (8 April, 2009).

92 For the previous points, see: Cao, P. (2006). Fansi, qianyi [Regrets and apologies], Renmin Ribao [People's Daily], (17 August).

93 Wang, L. (2006). Xiaoquan canbai chengmouti jiaodianzhong hanfan yingling shijie guanzhu, riben yinglai mingan yitian [Koizumi's visit becomes a focus point, China and South Korea opposition makes the world pay attention, Japan should be sensitive for one day] Huaqiu shibao [Global Times], (15 August).

94 Xiaoquan cunyiliang de jinshen shijie [Koizumi Junichiro's spirit world], Huanqiu shibao [Global Times], (16 August, 2006).

95 Lei, Z. (2006). Jingxi riben ba canbai dang chouma [Beware of Japan using the visit as a bargaining chip], Huanqiu shibao [Global Times], (15 August).

96 Przystup, J. (2007). Japan-China Relations: New Year, Old Problems, Hope for Wen, Comparative Connections, 9:1, 4.

97 Abe Shinzo's Double Talk, Washington Post (24 March, 2007).

98 Denial Reopens Wounds of Japan's ex-sex slaves, New York Times (8 March, 2007).

99 Jiang, A. (2007). Zhengzhijia qing jingyan zhenxing [Politicians, please speak and act with caution], Renmin Ribao [People's Daily], (10 March).

100 Wu, G. (2007). Riben zhongshen chengren ‘Heyetanyua’ lichang [Japan reaffirms the stance of the ‘Muruyama statement’], Renmin Ribao [People's Daily], (13 March).

101 Original information was taken from Chinese television programmes, clips of which had been posted on the internet, but which are not longer available. “Evening News” (9 March 2007) CCTV-News.

102 Fanshen lishi, riben weihe bi deguo nan? [Why is expressing regret for the past more difficult for Japan than Germany], Huanqiu shibao [Global Times], (27 March, 2007).

103 Xu, L. (2007). Fenghuang weishi junshi pinglunyuan kaijiang yingjin kuai zhengli weianfu zhuanmen dan'an [Phoenix TV military affairs commentator declares that the special records on the comfort women should be quickly organized], Nanfang Dushibao [Southern Metropolitan Times], (10 March); Meiguo: riben ying ‘tanbai’ renzui [US: Japan should ‘forthrightly’ admit its crimes], Nanfang Dushibao [Southern Metropolitan Times], (28 March, 2007).

104 Wang, B. (2007). ‘Yong jinian qukaikuo weilai’ [Use commemorations to open the future] Renmin Ribao [People's Daily], (13 December).

105 Zeng Qinghong huijian riben zimindang qiang ganshizhang [Zeng Qinghong meets the previous secretary-general of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party] Renmin Ribao [People's Daily], (13 December, 2007).

106 For the official warnings, see: Przystup, J. (2007). Japan-China Relations: Wen in Japan: Ice Melting But. . ., Comparative Connections 9:2, 136.

107 The distribution was: Beijing Youth News: 2; Global Times: 5; Southern Metropolitan News: 16; Beijing News: 8; Xinmin Evening News: 7.

108 70 Nian buneng wangqu de jinian [Unforgettable 70 year-old memories], Beijing Qingnian Bao (Beijing Youth Times), (13 December, 2007).

109 Yu, Q. (2007). Shijie renqing lishi zhenxiang riben xu yongyu peihe jiean [The world directly faces the truth of history but needs Japan's cooperation to close the case], Huanqiu Shibao [Global Times], (13 December).

110 Lu, X. (2007). Shoushao baonian Nanjing datusha: foshan liuzhong xuesheng zili Nanjing datusha zhuti shouchabiao [Random survey report on Nanjing Massacre: a spontaneous survey conducted by the middle school students at Foshan number 6 middle school], Nanfang Dushibao [Southern Metropolitan News], (14 December). See also: Callahan, W. (2006). History, Identity, and Security: Producing and Consuming Nationalism in China, Critical Asian Studies 38:2, 179208.

111 Interview with journalist in Beijing (9 April, 2007).

* A fellowship with the China's War with Japan programme at Oxford University supported the research and writing of this paper. I am also grateful to David Goodman, Yinan He, Rana Mitter, Aaron Moore, Daniela Stockmann, and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments and suggestions. The conference where this paper was presented was organized by the China's War with Japan programme at Oxford University, funded by the Leverhulme Trust ( [accessed 21 December, 2010]).

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