[Viewpoint]New history text can spark dialogue

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[Viewpoint]New history text can spark dialogue

Anyone older than the age of 70 probably remembers a Japanese song called “China Night.” Along with the song, they can probably remember the name of an actress, Ri Koran. “China Night” and Ri were loved by the people of the Manchukuo, a puppet state created by imperialist Japan.
Manchukuo, also known as the state of Manchuria, was launched on March 1, 1932, the year after the Kwantung Army of Japan staged the Mukden Incident, also known as the Manchurian Incident.
Director Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor,” an Academy Award-winning film from 1988, featured the life of Puyi, the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty of China. Puyi also served as emperor of Manchukuo. The state promoted its founding ideology as harmony among the five races of Korea, Japan, China, Mongolia and Russia.
Was it possible for a country built on weapons and lies to function properly? The answer was no. Manchukuo made Japan’s Shinto the national religion and the region officially worshiped Amateras-Ohmikami, the so-called ancestor of Japan’s imperial family. After the Pacific War broke out, Manchukuo began discriminating in its food rations to citizens. The Japanese were given white rice, while the Koreans were given half their rations in white rice and half in millet. The Chinese received only millet.
The foundation of Manchukuo was due to the violence of the Japanese military, just like what happened in colonized Korea. It was only natural that in August 1945, after Japan’s defeat, Manchukuo collapsed and Korea was liberated.
Currently in China, Manchukuo is not considered to have ever existed. Everything related to Manchukuo is labeled “pseudo.” It is called “pseudo-Manchukuo.” Puyi was not an emperor, but a “pseudo-emperor.”
What is extraordinary is that Manchukuo, particularly its capital city of Xinjing, was an advanced city at the time. Xinjing is today’s Changchun.
During the Manchukuo era, the urban planning and water supply and drainage system of Xinjing was the most advanced in Asia. Surprisingly, the city was even equipped with modernized Western-style toilets. Such facilities were, of course, nonexistent in China and Korea at the time. Even Japan’s cities only installed modern toilets in the 1960s.
According to Han Suk-jung, a history and sociology professor at Dong-A University who is an expert on Manchukuo, the state was called the “El Dorado of Asia” because it absorbed millions of people from Korea, Japan and China, particularly intellectuals.
A new literary genre called “Manchurian Romance” started, making “China Night” and Ri popular. On the other hand, the government of Manchukuo brutally executed people who resisted and provided massive manpower and goods as a supply base for the Sino-Japanese War. Notorious human biological experimentation also took place in Manchukuo. Professor Han said, “The country has two faces of modernism — violence and prosperity.”
With the publication of an alternative textbook about Korea’s modern history by the textbook forum, the long debate over Korea’s modernization under its colonial government has been renewed.
Two faces of Manchukuo existed in colonial Korea. In the 1950s, Manchuria was responsible for 33 percent of the factory production in China’s economy and more than 43 percent of the value brought by modernized transportation. In one sense, it gave China a version of modernization under the colonial government.
I do not agree with the extreme views that Korea’s time under Japan’s colonial rule had nothing to do with its modernization — or everything to do with it.
I find it troubling, however, to see the violence caused by the use of sensational language, such as the recent TV program titled “The New Right Textbook — A Korean-version of ‘Fusosha?’” (Fusosha is the Japanese publisher of a controversial history textbook that prompted outcries from Korea and Japan.)
With the new alternative textbook’s publication in Korea, historians should engage in an open discussion.
Let’s think about the example of Western-style toilets in Manchukuo. In Korean academia, various views exist. Some say there was no such toilet system, while others said it was a means to wrangle things from Koreans.
Some argued that Koreans were never taught how to manufacture Western-style toilets while others said Korea was able to advance its ability to produce cars and semi-conductors by learning how to create Western-style toilets.
When translated into money, the views vary widely, from a negative value to a high cost. (Personally, I think the price tag on the alternative textbook is too expensive.)
There is the philosophical term “thesis-antithesis-synthesis.” I hope academia will put their wisdom together to create another textbook in several years.

*The writer is the senior culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun

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