Asia’s War on History
If you weren’t already aware, there is a war going on at this very moment. It’s a war over history and how it is retold. The main protagonist, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has mobilised a vast army of writers and propagandists to hijack post World War Two (WW2) history and retell it in a light that will serve the CPC going forward. In China, all modern history going back as far as the 1830s and the first Colonial Wars fall under the remit of propaganda departments, not historians.
The CPC carefully guards recent Chinese history making sure every aspect serves its narrative of a glorious Communist Party triumphing in the face of adversity against a multitude of foreign and internal aggressors. If you live in China, as I do, not accepting this creed of history will have you labeled as a traitor to the Chinese nation. This line of thought is succinctly demonstrated in the current democracy battles taking place in Hong Kong, where behind the scenes shadowy, CPC stalwarts demand that any future leader of the international city must first, love China, Which in such a politically charged climate everyone knows to mean, any candidate must accept a historical and current world view as dictated by CPC propaganda.
It is however, not uncommon in the least for dictatorships to want to control the history of their peons, but what makes this ‘history war’ more pertinent is that the CPC is now actively seeking to usurp the history of the West. In democratic nations history can rarely become a complete propaganda tool of governments. Fortunately in the West, history develops organically and any student of the subject is free to read and write as broadly as they wish and come to their own conclusions. This all-comers approach to history may have the benefit of compiling information that is rich in variety and context, but it can leave it vulnerable to the more aggressive, state sponsored history that is now coming out of China. For other than in the minds of those that wish to care, there are no appointed guardians or crafters of Western history.
This is not the first time the CPC propaganda machine has hijacked history. Another example of this arises in the Colonial Wars fought between Britain and China during the 1800s. The CPC has taken this history and made it into an entire propaganda tool for its very existence, erstwhile in the main, British historians and citizens care little about such wars and care not whether the history has been misconstrued or not. Meaning, even though Britain was a principle protagonists in these important historical events, the tempo of the Opium Wars belongs to China. Britons have long since given up caring whether the wars are accurately portrayed or not, but not so in China. In China, the CPC narrative of what took place makes up a significant part of their national psyche and now has the power to mobilise millions of people to act, or even go to war if need be.
With the history of British Colonialism in China thoroughly under the control of the CPC propaganda machine the net is now being widened to include WW2. In today’s world, the generally accepted history of WW2 doesn’t serve the current Chinese leadership’s goals, as the CPC played almost no part in the crafting of the modern world-order that has endured for nearly seventy years. For the modern day CPC leadership there are uncomfortable truths that fly in direct contradiction to the image they now wish to portray as an heir to the Chinese civilisation and benign leader and protector of the global status-quo. These contradictions become glaring when considering the CPC’s ongoing and bitter rivalry with Japan. Hence the mobilisation of the CPC’s powerful propaganda aparatus to rewrite, obscure and hijack history once again. This is the hidden premise when senior editor for the China Daily, Ding Gang writes, “We can consider how we can depict that period of history in a way that the whole world could accept.”
The central theme that CPC propagandists are now pushing is that it is Japan that threatens the long preserved stability in Asia due to a revival of right-wing militarism and new, naval expansionist desires in the seas that surround China. The propaganda wishes to portray China as both the victim and the only saviour for Asia from another impending wave of Japanese nationalism and military expansion. This line of thought is an easy sell in China as citizens have been brought up on an aggressive diet of anti-Japanese sentiment since pre-school. However, in such a globalised world, it is no longer enough to goose-step the Chinese masses into a war-frenzy over ‘Little Japan’, instead the historical perceptions of other nations need to be altered too in order to create a mass-line: with the primary function of the propaganda to drive wedges between Japan and any would-be allies. The CPC propagandists are now in overdrive reminding anyone who cares to listen about Japan’s past wartime atrocities and how they are in flagrant violation of agreements like the Potsdam Declaration.
Certainly, no credible commentator could refute that Japan’s militarism didn’t bring calamity to Asia during WW2 and especially China. On top of this, no one could reasonably suggest that the CPC and Japan will ever see their shared history eye-to-eye. However WW2 and Japanese militarism came to a decisive end in 1945 and since then Japan has played more than a constructive role in creating the global order that we live in today. Not so the Communist Party of China. Therefore, if CPC propaganda implores us to asses modern Japan through the lens of its past deeds, then we must also hold China and its ruling party to that same rigid standard. So how does Japan and the CPC match-up in creating the world we find ourselves in today?
After WW2, a broken and occupied Japan was forced to constructively engage with the new world order, orbiting around the newly created United Nations. In this post-war environment Japan, just like modern China, was allowed to rise once again to become a great industrial nation, to the point that by the 1980s, the West was in fear that Japan would become the most powerful economy in the world. During this time, Japan, despite its pacifist constitution was also allowed to build up a potent military force under the mantle of the Japanese Self Defence Force (JSDF). Since its creation the JSDF has been seriously shackled from engaging in offensive operations, but this takes nothing away from its lethal potential. During the Cold War Japan served as a stalwart ally against the USSR in the Pacific and has been widely recognised for decades as one of the most technically capable armies in the world. In fact, since WW2 the three most powerful navies have routinely been reported as the United States, Japan and Britain. The point being that the modern JSDF packs no more of a punch today than it did in the previous decades since the end of the war. As Japan began to reach its zenith of power there was never any hint that it would try to change the status-quo it had been forced into and carve out another sphere of influence in the vein of its imperial past. Since WW2, Japan has been allowed to rise to become the world’s second largest economy, decline and then meander through a twenty-year economic malaise. Neither in its ascension, its decline or its economic stagnation were there ever signs that Japan wanted to get back on its imperial horse and impose itself militarily upon the people of Asia. It’s only now when the CPC propaganda machine is in full overdrive, maximising its long tentacles into Western media organisations and academia, that we hear such things as, Japan wishes to challenge the peaceful, global order, or Japan is breaking wartime agreements that ensure peace in Asia.
With such accusations in mind, let’s now look at the CPC and contemplate how they fair in recent global history. For if we are to believe the barrage of propaganda that is coming out of China, a country’s actions are heavily influenced by its past deeds, or as in the case of Japan, once an imperialist, fascist aggressor, always an imperialist, fascist aggressor. So, let’s apply this same logic to the Chinese Communists Party. The first thing that is startlingly obvious is that the CPC took no meaningful part in either the fighting of WW2 or any post-war agreements to make a lasting peace. Outside of CPC controlled China, it is widely accepted that the communist armies acted only as skirmish armies harassing the occupying Japanese armies deep within the Chinese hinterlands, while it was the Nationalist Chinese Army and of course the Allies that took the real fight to Imperial Japan and ultimately defeated it. This is why you see Chiang Kai Shek, leader of the Chinese Nationalist Armies, sitting at the same table as Churchill and Roosevelt. Certainly, there’s no imaginable or plausible history that would have had Mao or Zhou Enlai sitting at the same table as the Allies in Cairo and helping to draft an end to the Asian War and the ultimate defeat of Japan. On top of this, even though Chiang Kai Shek was eventually defeated by the CPC, it doesn’t mean that the CPC can then cherry pick the agreements to which Chiang was party-to with his allies. The CPC, is not the rightful heir of any war time declarations which Chiang signed, such as the Potsdam. If this is the case, the CPC can also pick-up the substantial debts that Chiang incurred fighting the Japanese and which allowed him to mingle with the diplomatic heavyweights of the day. This of course will not happen, as the CPC would decry that these substantial debts were in fact just more shackles of colonialism being caste upon the people of China. But again it is whimsical to believe that the CPC would even have survived the WW2 if the colonial countries hadn’t brought their full force to bear upon Imperial Japan. For it is without doubt that the system that destroyed Imperial Japan and removed it from the Chinese Mainland was not a communist utopia of peasant soldiers but capitalism and democracy mobilising their very powerful war machines to reduce Japan to rubble.
Based upon these very elementary historical facts the pertinent question is then what did the CPC do once peace in Asia had been restored? Did it become a stalwart defender of Asian peace and a builder of trust and stability as it now tries to portray itself? No, it did the exact opposite and went to war with the newly created United Nations over Korea. China remains one of the only sovereign countries that fought a war with the United Nations and to this day, this war is celebrated as a great victory in Chinese military culture. By a communist slight-of-hand the CPC portrays this war as yet another victory over colonialism and the evergreen, capitalist bogeyman the United States. But the Korean War was never a war between the US and China or colonialism. It was a war between China representing global communism and the United Nations representing a new global order based upon democratic, liberal values and the newly signed United Nations Charter.
On top of this one of the primary missions of the CPC has always been to overthrow capitalism in a global, red-revolution and install socialism. This thought may have conveniently been dropped from most external CPC literature and speeches, but their support for any and every regime that is in direct opposition to liberal, democratic values is proof that behind the scenes it’s business as usual. The CPC may be working hard to portray Japan as the global bogeyman, but it’s China that across-the-board actively supports regimes that are in direct contravention of global norms as dictated by the UN Charter, such as Syria, Iran, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Myanmar (maybe not now), Sudan, Cambodia, Cuba and Maoists in Nepal and northern India. Even today, after the UN carried out an independent report on the human rights violations in North Korea the CPC categorically ruled out sanctioning the hermit kingdom in any way. Effectively hobbling the UN in its principal duty as a defender of basic rights for people of the world. It is this philosophy that underpins agreements like the Potsdam Declaration, which articulated an unstoppable intent to free the people of Asia from tyranny. It was never about subjugating or containing Japan.
The CPC also wishes to remind everyone who will listen that it was Japan that invaded many Asian countries during WW2, but since the destruction of Imperial Japan, who has Japan invaded or attacked? Obviously the answer is zero. To be fair Japan does have long-standing island disputes with Russia, South Korea and of course China. However these disputes are unlikely to start wars with Korea or Russia. It’s only the dispute with China and specifically the dispute over the uninhabited rocks making up the Diaoyutai/Senkakus islands that have the potential for kinetic war.
Conversely, since the end of WW2 and the creation of the new global order who has CPC invaded or fought with other than the previously mentioned United Nations? Well as far as occupying other’s land, Tibet and Xinjiang are the most obvious. Countries may openly acknowledge that Tibet and Xinjiang are now part of China, but the reality is that the significant proportions of Tibetans and Uighurs believe they live in an occupied land and would break free from China if it were possible. At this moment, decades after their effective liberations, these two provinces remain in de-facto, military lockdown. On top of these very obvious occupations China has had border wars with Taiwan, India, Vietnam and Russia. With the later almost going nuclear, twice! Hardly a track record of peace and harmony for the region.
Detractors may argue that China’s record of war pales into insignificance when compared to the US and its allies, but this isn’t about the US and/or other democracies. Democracies are not adverse to war and don’t hide this fact behind erroneous ideas of peace and harmony. Democracies are propped up through the threat of war. If one thinks this is wrong and objects to this style of rule then fine, but that’s a different argument. The issue being discussed here is since the ending of WW2, which country Japan or China, has been the more credible keeper of peace and the status-quo? Clearly China loses unequivocally on this point, with at least five significant military skirmishes since WW2 with its neighbours to Japan’s zero, with more border disputes festering in open-sight. The Philippines now stands as the most obvious country to run afoul of CPC’s cantankerous ways and the US Defence treaty is the only thing preventing the Philippines from suffering a severe mauling at the hands of the increasingly itchy PLA Navy. Japan may have invaded and brought calamity upon the Philippines in 1941, but in 2014, The Philippines fears China, not Japan and it’s a no-brainer for most Filipinos that their future fortunes, as an independent, sovereign nation lies within the protection of their old enemies, Japan and the United States, and not with new China.
In answer to this CPC could argue that China is a big country that inherited many problems created by other meddling countries and based on shear size alone, it’s fractious relationships with its neighbours over the years are minor in the grand scheme of things. Yet even if we were to allow such arbitrary airbrushing of important history to pass, the CPC still stands bare as serial dismantler of accepted global norms. In the last thirty years the ringing of tills from workshop China may have drown out the revolutionary zeal, but it wasn’t too long ago, just 48years (Japanese Imperialism was quashed 69years ago), that the CPC launched an unrelenting attack upon Asian culture. The CPC may not want anyone to talk too much about the Great Cultural Revolution any more, but today it is more important than ever, especially when we are being asked to choose who should ‘lead Asia’ and define its history. For if we were perusing the CVs of potential Asian leaders, it would quickly become apparent that those in charge of China today were all party to the systematic destruction of thousands of years of their own culture. While the rest of the world was wondering whether to smoke marijuana and chilling out to The Beatles or The Beach Boys, the 1960s Chinese generation, that which now rules China today, was actively destroying their own culture under the vague mantle of achieving socialism with Chinese Characteristics. That’s the very same slogan that Xi Jinping reiterates every time he’s put in front of a microphone these days such as, we must move towards democracy under the guidance of socialism with Chinese characteristics. The PLA needs to modernise, guided by socialism with Chinese characteristics. The Chinese economy needs to reform taking into account socialism with Chinese Characteristics. It is the same tried and tested formula that brought the world two of the 20th century’s greatest calamities, The Great Leap Forward, up to 30million dead and The Great Cultural Revolution, upwards of 400,000 dead and thousands of years of culture destroyed. This indefinable term, socialism with Chinese characteristicsis in fact a euphemism for absolute power of the CPC and a license to do whatever it takes to maintain control. It’s indefinability and vagueness is why it suited Mao when he created the calamities of the fifties, sixties and seventies. Why it served Deng Xiaoping when he cracked down on protestors in the eighties and why it suits Xi Jinping’s uncertain China today. The CPC has not changed. Cities may have been built and the wealth available to China may have increased but the leaders are still singing from the same socialism with Chinese characteristics songbook.
So, when we hear from the CPC propaganda machine that Japanese prime minister Abe, who’s an elected official on a limited, four year term, is the product of a right-wing upbringing and so this bodes doom for the rest of Asia, well we need to frankly assess the pedigree of the system that created Xi Jinping too. For it is highly likely that a future Asia, lead by Xi Jinping’s CPC, will do exactly what it says on the tin or, justify more power abuse under the obscure mantle of socialism with Chinese characteristics. The evidence for this is all around us and highlighted succinctly in the battle over history.
Today the people of Asia find themselves at a critical juncture, with CPC controlled China demanding that democratic Japan fully face-up to its war time history and stop visiting the Yasakuni Shrine, ‘honour’ war time agreements and face-up to its dishonorable past. Yet, the same CPC, controlled media that demands such submissiveness from an independent sovereign state can’t acknowledge its own, very real and vicious history. And this is why Asia finds itself in a bitter war over history, which may eventually be the prelude to a real war. For, it is a little known fact that in the recent past, scholars and academics from both Japan and China sat down with each other and drafted up a shared history that could be taught both in China and Japan. However, this ‘shared’ history lies on a shelf somewhere collecting dust. Why would such a needed and valuable collaboration be mothballed? Is it because Japanese right-wingers still refuse to accept their WW2 atrocities? No, it’s because CPC left-wingers find the sections on China too sensitive to publish on the Mainland. And so the battle of who controls Asia’s history will continue with little regard for compromise, truth or facts. History is now a strategic weapon with little room for compromise, and he who can control it may one day control Asia.
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