Shared history textbook written by scholars from Japan, China, South Korea

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Saturday, May 28, 2005

A new history textbook for middle schools has been written by a committee of 54 scholars from Japan, China, and South Korea. It is believed to be the first time these nations have worked together to produce a common history.

Work began in March 2002 in the Chinese city of Nanjing. Eleven committee meetings were needed to work through the more controversial parts.

Chinese authorities have complained in recent years about Japanese history textbooks, and anti-Japanese movements took place in China last month. They argue that the textbooks whitewash Japan's historical record of war aggression in the past century. The new 249-page textbook devotes more than 60 pages to discussion of Japan's invasion of Korea and China in World War II, and wartime atrocities committed by the Japanese.

Some of the more controversial subjects include:

  • The Nanjing Massacre or "Rape of Nanking", the looting, rape, and mass killings committed by the Japanese in Nanjing, China.
  • The Korean fight for independence
  • Forced suicide in Okinawa
  • The Japanese army's use of "comfort women", mostly Koreans who claim they were forced to serve as sex slaves in brothels run by the military
  • Unit 731, one of several secret military medical units that researched biological warfare using human beings as experimental subjects, killing at least 3,000 of them.

This subject matter, called "dark history" by some, has been addressed by various Japanese history textbooks in the past decades. How the textbooks address or fail to address these subjects continues to be controversial both within and outside of Japan.

Starting in 1965, educator and dissident Ienaga Saburo brought three lawsuits against the constitutionality of the Japanese Ministry of Education approval process. For about 30 years, Saburo's lawsuits against government censorship continued, enjoying the support of thousands of Japanese educators and winning partial success.

Japanese schools have their choice of textbooks approved by the Ministry of Education. One controversial revisionist textbook was rejected in 2002 by almost all school districts in Japan.

In a ceremony on Thursday to celebrate the publication of the new textbook in South Korea, President Roh Moo-hyun said, "History is a window to the future. When the peoples of Korea, China and Japan together have the correct perception of history, peace and coexistence of the Northeast Asian era can be realized."

The common history book, titled "History to Open the Future", is available in the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean languages. The scholars have urged Japanese middle schools to adopt the textbook.