China revises starting date of war with Japan

BEIJING • China has ordered a nationwide revision to school textbooks to bring forward the starting date of the country's war with Japan by six years.

The second Sino-Japanese war will now be 14 years long, and not the eight years previously taught to schoolchildren in China, the Education Ministry said in a notice issued on Jan 3. It advised all departments to check their teaching materials and replace the term "eight-year war of resistance" with "14-year war of resistance".

The revision applies to universities and schools across the nation, all relevant disciplines, and textbooks for national and local curricula, the document said. Changes must be made to all material in time for the new semester which begins next month, it added.

The changes make the 1931 Mukden incident, an explosion near a Japanese-owned railway line in northern China that led to Japan's invasion and occupation of Manchuria, the starting point for the war, the People's Daily said.

Previously, the 1937 Marco Polo Bridge Incident, a battle between the Japanese army and Chinese forces near Beijing, had marked the beginning of the second Sino-Japanese war.

The first Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1894 and the Qing dynasty had to cede Taiwan to Japan after suffering a crushing defeat the following year.

The People's Daily reported that the new curriculum should fully reflect "the instrumental function of the Communist Party in the resistance against aggression" and that China was a main battlefield in the war against fascism.

The changes follow a memorandum issued by the ministry in January last year that called for improved "patriotic education" in schools, as part of President Xi Jinping's "Chinese dream" initiative to promote nationalism, reported South China Morning Post.

President Xi called on researchers to study events from 1931, as well as those after 1937, when China marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in 2015, reported Xinhua news agency. "We should refute with solid facts those arguments that try to distort, deny or whitewash the history of invasion," he said at that time.

Historians in China have long debated whether the localised conflicts in China's north that began with the Japanese invasion on Sept 18, 1931, should be included in the second Sino-Japanese war.

The difference in opinion has hinged on the fact that the conflicts between 1931 and 1937 were highly contained, and that neither China nor Japan was officially at war until 1937, reported Sixth Tone news website.

China has previously slammed Japan for rewriting Japanese textbooks to downplay the wartime brutalities of its soldiers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2017, with the headline 'China revises starting date of war with Japan'. Print Edition | Subscribe