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Settling the Other Holocaust

Elaine Wan

During Chinese President Jiang Zemin's visit to Japan, many historical issues have resurfaced in the Pacific. Jiang's trip is the first time a Chinese head of state has visited Japan since World War II. In his trip to the rural north of Japan this week, Jiang encouraged the Japanese to remind their youth of the pain inflicted upon the Chinese in the Holocaust of Asia during World War II. His speech, however, was answered with anti-Chinese slogans and shouts to kick him off Japanese soil.

About sixty years ago, our world was plagued by massive genocide in an event we now learn in school as the Holocaust. Jews were widely persecuted in Europe, and across the Pacific the Chinese were similarly slaughtered in concentration camps. After the war, Germany offered the Jewish community a public apology. And last June the Swiss Bank offered a settlement totaling $1 billion to compensate for the losses of Holocaust victims when banks failed to return their assets after World War II. Hatred and violence towards certain ethnic groups still exist, but, by promoting cultural diversity, society has been able to make some amends.

Chinese and Japanese relations, however, still suffer from grudges that have remained in the two cultures for the last six decades. Although Germany has offered compensation for its acts during World War II, Japan still refuses to offer a full written apology to the descendants of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese massacred in six weeks by Japanese troops in the Rape of Nanking in 1937. There are few textbooks or documentaries that actually expose the horrors of the war on Chinese soil. Until recently, the legacy of World War II had been silently passed from generation to generation and talked of as a painful past that should not be made known publicly. Many people did not realize that exposing the wounds of the past can also help heal them.

Many Chinese women known as "comfort women," who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese, are now beginning to tell their stories because for years they had thought it would be shameful for their family. Chinese textbooks accounting the wartime massacre have often been denounced by the Japanese as one-sided and inaccurate. The Rape of Nanking is rarely studied or even noted in world history. Some Chinese scholars are themselves reluctant to study this historical event, because it also brings focus to China's civil war and disunity, which allowed the barbarity of Japan in the war to escape scrutiny.

The issue of Japanese war crimes has disappeared from the world's agenda. China alone has been left to press Japan for an apology, but some Chinese politicians have not encouraged public discussion or historical analysis of the war. They are concerned that they will tarnish relations with Japan, an important trading partner. News broadcasters like CNN side with Japan and criticize China for "playing on Japan's war guilt to secure soft loans and investment." If Japan has not made any financial or any outright compensation to date, how are the Chinese supposed to retrieve their losses? Are the Chinese supposed to keep silent, as they have done so for all these years? Tensions between the Chinese and Japanese will be left unresolved and will continue to increase.

Jiang's tour of Japan included a visit to the northern city of Sendai, where the revered Chinese revolutionary author, Lu Xun, studied under the Japanese mentor Genkuro Fujino in 1906. There were many Japanese protesters shouting anti-Chinese slogans during Jiang's speech. The relationship between Lu Xun and his Japanese mentor is analogous to a relationship that may possibly happen between China and Japan. These two nations can possibly learn from each other, trade, and exchange ideas, as they once did during the Tang dynasty.

Relations between China and Japan have not been well since World War II. In the midst of the unstable Asian economic market, strife between the two nations has become more tense. A written apology from Japan is needed in order for history to finally be properly settled, for mutual strife to be resolved, and for the new generation of Chinese and Japanese to start a new relationship.

Many issues are currently plaguing China, including campaigns to end China's jurisdiction over Taiwan and Tibet. Chinese unity is needed to procure any statement of regret from the Japanese for their actions in Nanking. Although the Chinese disagree on China's political direction, the Chinese should unite to show that they can come together and make known forcefully all the pain and violence that was brought upon them.