Tiananmen spectacle, historical revisionism

In a massive display of military might, Beijing held its official "Commemoration of the Seventieth Anniversary of Victory of the Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and World Anti-Fascist War" Sept. 3. Thousands of troops and weaponry including four ballistic missiles filed past the reviewing stand overlooking Tiananmen Square, as warplanes flew in formation overhead. The most prominent foreign leader joining Xi Jinping on the reviewing stand was of course Vladimir Putin. Also in attendance was wanted war criminal Omar al-Bashir. The spectacle came with an announcement that China will be cutting the troop-strength of the 2.3-million-strong People's Liberation Army by 300,000, but this will be concomitant with a big push in modernization of weaponry. (Sinosphere, Global Times, Thinking Taiwan) But perhaps the most unseemly thing about the affair was the politicization of history, and efforts to assure that only the official version was heard…

In the lead-up to the celebration, an activist in Chongqing, who is known for giving public speeches demanding recognition of the contributions of China's Kuomintang government in the Sino-Japanese War, was discretely "disappeared." The 65-year-old Han Liang, whose father had been a KMT officer, had also been arrested earlier this year after he gave a speech on a Chongqing street honoring Hu Yaobang, the pro-reform Communist Party official whose death triggered the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement in 1989. Security officials later admitted that Han had been detained in late August and was serving a 15-day detention for "picking quarrels and provoking disputes." (Epoch Times, Sept. 1; Hong Kong Free Press, Aug. 31) (Chongqing, significantly, was the wartime capital of the KMT government, or Republic of China, after it was forced to flee Nanjing.)

Chinese bloggers (to their credit) are meanwhile ridiculing posters for a new major historical drama flick on the 1943 Cairo Conference, produced by a company with ties to the PLA and opening in theaters across China just in time for the commemoration spectacle. Posters for the film, entitled The Cairo Declaration, feature a big portrait of Mao Zedong—who did not, in fact, attend the conference. In 1943, Mao was in Shaanxi province leading the de facto communist state established there, which arguably played a greater role in defeating the Japanese than the "officlal" RoC government. But it was RoC president Chiang Kai-shek who went to Cairo to meet with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in November of that year. Bloggers have apparently been digitally altering images of the poster to replace Mao's face with their own, or with cute kittens, or anime robots or Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. Accounts are not clear on whether these bloggers are actually within the People's Republic or in the Chinese diaspora. Accounts are similarly unclear on whether the action of the movie completely rewrites history by actually placing Mao in Cairo. (Shanghaiist, Aug. 17)

The Beijing spectacle of course sparked controversy in Taiwan, where the KMT is now the ruling partry and still considers the island the exiled seat of the RoC. The KMT increasingly views the Chinese Communist Party as a partner rather than rival, as the two formations agree that Taiwan is part of China and seek closer integration—as opposed to the Taiwanese opposition, which increasingly leans toward a pro-independence position. In a nod towards integration, Beijing did invite KMT veterans of the Sino-Japanese War to march in a contingent at the spectacle. The Taipei government officially called on KMT vets not to attend. But former KMT chairman Lien Chan did attend—ostensibly over the protests of his own party leadership. When he returned, opposition protesters gave him a big, angry welcome at Taipei's airport. 

Last month, Taiwan's President Ma Yingjeou asserted that it was KMT forces who won the war, and accused Beijing of distorting history. And Hsia Li-yan, minister of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, noted that China still has more than 1,400 missiles pointed at the island and said the military parade "makes Taiwan very uncomfortable with this situation." He added that China's leaders "have never denounced [sic] the use of force against us." Still, you have to wonder how much of this was for show, and whether the KMT leadership didn't privately approve of Lien's visit. (China Post, Sept. 5; Focus Taiwan, Sept. 4; Focus Taiwan, Sept. 3; Asia Times, Sept. 1; Straits Times, Taipei Times, Aug. 29)

Another in attendance was South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who also made use of her trip to attend a ceremony in Shanghai marking the opening of an historical monument at the building used by Korea's provisional government during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula—certainly an unsubtle message to Tokyo. (China News Service)

There's a few frustrating ironies to this whole affair. One is that there actually is a good case to be made that the Communists were more instrumental than the KMT in the defeat of Japan. It isn't just official PRC histories that portray it that way. Barbara Tuchman in her classic Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 also paints Chiang and the RoC government as waging a half-hearted war effort, hoping that the Japanese and Communists would exhaust each other and allow the KMT to reconsolidate power over all China after the war. So Beijing's propagandists are hurting their own case by engaging in such blatant revisionism as placing Mao at Cairo.

A more disturbing irony is that all this comes as Japan is engaging its own ugly, blatant and denialist revisionism about its role in World War II—aimed at lubricating its current drive towards remilitarization. Beijing's embrace of the revisionism game just contributes to the cynical intellectual climate—and makes a return to actual war in East Asia (whether sought or unsought) more likely.

  1. International ugliness around Beijing military spectacle

    Just catching up on some of the ugliness that surrounded the Beijing military parade. With the independence-sympathetic opposition party ahead in the polls for the upcoming presidential race back home in Taiwain, Lien Chan iindiscretely told his Beijing hosts: "We shall develop cross-Straits ties on the common political foundations of the 1992 Consensus and opposition to 'Taiwan independence'." (Quotation marks as given by China Daily, Sept. 2) The 1992 Consensus is the Beijing-Taipei agreement acknowledging that the Chinese mainland and Taiwan belong to the same China. If the DPP's front-runner Tsai Ing-wen really becomes Taiwan's first woman president next year, Taipei could abandon the 1992 Consensus. The DPP is currently considering a proposal to drop its nominal pro-independence position. But Xi himself has warned that the "cornerstone" of cross-Strait ties would be "shaken" if Taiwan does not accept the "political foundation" of the 1992 Consensus. (Order from Chaos blog, Sept. 21; Want China Times, Sept. 19; NYT, Sept. 11)

    South Korea is meanwhile demanding that Japan's Sankei Shimbun newspaper retract and delete an online column that likens President Park Geun-hye to a Korean queen who was assassinated by Japanese agents. Queen Min, the last consort of Korea's Joseon Dynasty, was slain in a palace raid in 1895, when Japanese domination of Korea was consolidating. The analogy seems to be that Park was cozying up to China by attending the Beijing parade much as Queen Min sought closer relations with Russia to counter Japanese power in Korea. It is hard to read this as anything other than a death threat. (Japan Times, Sept. 2) 

    Finally, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon dismissed official Japanese protests of his attendance of the Beijing parade. The protests, of course, sparked official criticisms from China, in the usual tit-for-tat. The Japanese statement said the UN should remain "neutral" on the commemoration of what is known in China as the People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. (UPI, AFP, Sept. 1) Such talk shows Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's "apology" over Japan's role in World War II (half-hearted as it was; see NYT, Aug. 14) in a very hypocritical light.

    The notion that there should be any "neutrality" on the question of Japan's wartime aggression is terrifying testament to how thoroughly the revisionism has been mainstreamed in Japan, and embraced by the country's rulers. Still, the fact that Ban Ki-moon was sharing a platform in Beijing with wanted war criminal Omar Bashir is a case of what we could call "bad facts"…

  2. Taiwanese protest Xi-Ma lovefest

    Protesters rallied in Taipei as President Ma Yingjeou met in Singapore with Xi Jinping—the first-ever face-to-face meeting of the leaders of the RoC and PRC, carefully scripted to avoid the formalities of a meeting of heads of state (as neither recognizes the other as such). Three more Taiwanese activists flew to Singapore to protest the meeting but were stopped by authorities at the airport. (New Bloom, Nov. 7)

    The Taiwanese leftist pro-independence journal New Bloom wrote of the meeting:

    Xi’s endless lovebombing of "brotherly kinship" across the strait is yet another rehashing of nationalist propaganda… This is of course, expected. What is sharply lacking is any mentioning of socialism or internationalist perspectives, or even a shred of critique of capitalist developement. Granted that the "Communist Party" Xi now leads is merely a club of billionaires wearing the husk of Maoism that died long ago.

    Just as socialism was completely absent from Xi’s remarks, any mention of "Taiwan" or even "Republic of China" were no where to be seen in Ma's opening statement…

    This gathering may have been packaged by some to be a landmark of peace and progress, but the working class on both sides of the strait should interpret the Ma-Xi meeting as nothing but a congress of people who work against them. Only with a robust socialist revolutionary program and the leadership of the working class can we liberate ourselves from the hands of these people who do nothing but demanding [sic] your service to their nationalism.

    A very refreshing neither/nor perspective that those in the West (on the left and right) who view China in a Cold War time-warp could do well to be informed by.