Reinterpreting the past

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Reinterpreting the past

On Sept. 3, the day of the parade commemorating the World War II victory, a movie titled “Cairo Declaration” opened in China nationwide. The title is inspired by the agreement upon the Cairo Conference, where Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek discussed the post-WWII order, with the consent of Joseph Stalin. But even before the movie was released, it was criticized for lacking basic historical knowledge. The poster of the film features the face of Mao Zedong, but it was Chiang Kai-shek who participated in the Cairo Declaration that confirmed the restoration of Northeast China and Taiwan.

It is a historical fact that the Chinese Communist Party fought against Japanese aggression. Zhu De’s Eighth Route Army won a series of victories against the Japanese forces with cleaver tactics. However, they were operations in the rear. It was the Kuomintang army that fought in the front, and the hero of anti-Japanese resistance on the continent was Chiang Kai-shek. While the role of the Communist Party shouldn’t be underestimated, the leading and supporting roles must not be confused.

Aside from this movie, a number of films about the war against Japan were released to celebrate the 70th anniversary. Televisions were ordered to stop airing entertainment programs and repeatedly presented historic films and related dramas. Bookstores displayed dozens of books on the topic. Official publications of the Chinese government suggest that China is reinterpreting the history of fighting against Japan. The project can be called “victory engineering.” If the focus had previously been on “anti-Japanese resistance,” it has now shifted to China’s contribution to the anti-fascist war.

An example is the frequent reference to the “main battlefield of the East.” Just like Europe, the main battlefield of the West, China was the main stage of the anti-fascist war, it suggests. At the Anti-Japanese War Memorial, a new graph was posted comparing China’s 14 years of anti-fascist war to America’s three years and nine months and the Soviet Union’s four years and two months. It is based on the interpretation that the local resistance inspired by the Sept. 18, 1931, incident began the anti-fascist war. “The Marco Polo Bridge Incident of 1937 was the beginning of the first large-scale anti-fascist war in the world,” it states. The claim deviates from the general understanding that WWII broke out due to Germany’s aggression toward Poland in 1939.

Whether it is the anti-Japanese fight or anti-fascist resistance, China emphasizes the Eighth Route Army and the New Fourth Army, which were affiliated with the Communist Party, rather than the Kuomintang. It leads to a conclusion that the Chinese people led by the Communist Party were the heroes who made critical contributions to victory by fighting and winning the most important battles in WWII. While historians would question the validity of this interpretation, one thing is clear: China is raising its voice alongside the Unites States and the Western world to share the honor of saving humanity from fascism in WWII, and the status of a leading player in world history.

*The author is the Beijing correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 8, Page 34


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