The legacy of war


There are plenty of physical legacies of war on Jeju although they’re not always easy to spot. Here’s another tunnel dating from the occupation by the Japanese, this time from inside looking outwards rather than the other way round.

Sadly, the emotional legacies are more damaging. The BBC news published an article recently – – in which it explores the reasons. One of the interesting themes in the article echoes something that a Japanese friend said to me before I came to Jeju: Schoolchildren in China, South Korea and Japan are all taught different versions of history.

I’ll pick out some comments of the article that reflect this, although I’m unable to verify the accuracy of the statements. One Chinese writer for the state-owned People’s Daily is quoted as saying that none of Japan’s 25 apologies to China have been covered by the Chinese media, and neither has the £21.8bn of aid that China has received from Japan over the years. The article also claims that, since 1989, the Chinese Communist Party has promoted nationalism within China by breeding “hatred against the most recent invader and aggressor”, i.e. Japan. The article also refers to China’s “patriotic education” policy.

China doesn’t have a monopoly on such things, of course. There have been strong feelings in South Korea recently about how history books approved for use in schools here describe the war; some people claim that the history books whitewash events that show Japanese brutality. The reason? I was told that it’s in the financial interests of some prominent Koreans not to rock the boat with Japan.

Add to that some of the statements that come from the right-wing politicians and public figures in Japan (“the comfort women system that the Japanese army employed during the Second World War was a necessary one”, “the 1937 Nanjing Massacre in China by Japanese troops never happened” – that sort of thing), and it all creates a legacy of distrust and recrimination.

On that basis, you shouldn’t believe what you read in the newspapers or history books; history is a tool used by the powerful to manipulate the “laobaixing” (Chinese for “old 100 names”, i.e. the average man in the street) in order to achieve their own political or financial objectives.

3 thoughts on “The legacy of war

  1. I’m surprised about not rocking the boat with Japan – isn’t South Korea the reason most Japanese electronic &car (and doubtless other) companies on the wane?

    Do you think political point-scoring is worse over there compared to in Euope – false rivalries with France, Germany etc??#

    • You’re right, I think – the success of South Korean companies is at the expense of Japanese companies.

      There’s no doubt that there’s real bitterness between China, South Korea and Japan (not to mention Taiwan, Philippines, etc.). I don’t think any problems in Western Europe will result in armed conflict but I feel there are a number of reasons to wonder about how stable the situation is here – historical tensions, China flexing it’s muscles with it’s increased power on the world stage, the unpredictability of North Korea. I’ll see if I can get some action shots if it gets exciting!

  2. I can quite believe that China has chosen to create its own version of the truth – our experience when we were there was that they wanted to control the way that the recent history of Tibet was presented.

    It also reminds me of the book I am reading at the moment – The Better Angels of our Nature by Stephen Pinker. He points out that much of the Bible, for example, is horrifically violent, but we barely notice. We judge past violence in a very different way to how we judge violence around us today.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s