By Elaine Dunn
Last fall, the Chinese government announced two new national holidays. Cause for celebration, right? Wrong. The two national holidays fall on Sept. 3 and December 13.
What is the significance of these two dates?
The Sept. 3 holiday is to be called Victory Day, a day to celebrate the 1945 success of Chinese resistance against Japanese aggression during the Second World War. Dec. 13 is the date picked to commemorate the victims of the Nanjing Massacre (aka Rape of Nanking) of 1937.
Why would Beijing introduce these two national holidays now, decades after the incidents? It’s understandable had they started commemorating either event when the feelings were still raw. But now? Many observers suspect some of the reasons being Beijing’s:
• Annoyance with Japan’s increasingly right-wing government
• Attempt to deflect attention from the slowing economy and increasing official corruption scandals, and,
• Ploy to turn up the heat on the Diaoyu Islands dispute with the Japanese.
This is not to say that there is no merit to either of the new holidays. Both the Chinese and South Koreans, a fellow victim of Imperial Japan, have long accused the Japanese of ‘whitewashing” their war history. The fact that generations of Japanese students know little of the atrocities committed by their ancestors irritates both of her Asian neighbors.
Since 2006, Japanese Prime Ministers have visited the infamous (and controversial) Yasukuni War Shrine, throwing salt onto an old wound. Yasukuni is where the souls of those who served Japan are honored. Among those are 1,068 who were convicted of war crimes by a post-World War II court. And, of these 1,068 are 14 who were directly linked to “crimes against peace” in China during WWII. In addition, since the present PM Shinzo Abe’s visit to the shrine late last year, several Japanese officials have made public statements alluding to the fact that the Nanjing Massacre “never happened.” This has given cause for the Chinese government to try and delegitimize and isolate Japan, an approach approved by and popular with South Korea.
Why does Abe visit the shrine amidst such international controversy? Partly because his own grandfather is enshrined there and partly because it plays well with his political base, especially the younger generation who appear quite ignorant of the nature of the war, which supports Chinese and South Korean claims that Japan’s history education takes a “historical revisionist” approach. To this younger generation of Japanese, Abe’s ambition to remilitarize Japan has stirred up nationalistic pride.
On the other hand, the Japanese are right to question China’s motives for inaugurating these two commemorative holidays more than 60 years after the war. However, a Japanese Cabinet minister said that the holidays are “a domestic matter for China, so the government declines to comment on it. Japan’s position on WWII has not changed a bit, and Japan has followed the path of peaceful nationhood since the end of the war, which has been highly commended by the international community.”
Whatever the intention is behind China’s two new holidays, this move serves as a reminder that despite ongoing diplomatic and trade relations between these two Asian nations, there is an underlying and, maybe overshadowing, distrust and dislike for each other.