Thursday, 3 July 2014

Teaching history: Textbook cases, Chapter 10

Nguồn tin:

IN EAST ASIA history textbooks are barometers of nationalism, and arguments over them are proxies for disputes between states. So it is hardly surprising—at a time when territorial disagreements are breaking out all round the South China Sea and East China Sea—that the region is seeing a new chapter in a long-running argument over how history is taught. This time, though, the bickering has spread beyond Japan and China, its usual homes. And, in addition to their international implications, the textbook disputes have taken on a strong domestic character.

The new round begins in Japan—inevitably since Japan’s imperial aggression leading to its defeat in 1945 has long provided the starting point for disputes. In its manifesto for the election of December 2012 the Liberal Democratic Party promised to restore “patriotic” values to education and called current textbooks “ideologically prejudiced expressions based on self-torturing views of history.” Many academics and teachers were disturbed.

On winning by a landslide, the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, set up a panel to rewrite textbooks to make clear where there is lack of agreement on historical interpretation—“a backdoor way of limiting references to Japanese aggression”, says Daniel Sneider, at Stanford University, who studies Asia’s textbook battles. The panel also says it wants to get rid of Japan’s “neighbouring-country clause”—a sort of self-denying ordinance which instructs historians to take into account the sentiments of neighbours (meaning China and South Korea) when writing textbooks. To increase political control over education, the government wants to put mayors in charge of local school districts and it has ordered one district to switch to a textbook that the government prefers. Such actions fulfil a long-held ambition: Mr Abe belongs to a parliamentary group that has worked for years to limit historical references to Japanese wartime atrocities.

Neighbouring countries reacted with predictable outrage. When Japan proposed teaching that the Senkaku islands are part of its territory, China (which claims them as the Diaoyu islands and is challenging Japanese control) urged Japan to “respect historical facts” (which happen not to confirm the Chinese claim). When Japan decided to teach that Takeshima belongs to Japan, South Korea, which controls the group of islets and calls them Dokdo, called this “false history [which] plants enmity and seeds of conflict”. China and South Korea are livid about Japan’s scrapping the neighbouring-country clause.

The debate about history raging in Japan is echoed in South Korea and Taiwan. Last year, the National Institute of Korean History (NIKH), a state-run body which oversees the compilation of the country’s history textbooks, approved for publication a new high-school textbook written by “new right” scholars, who are sympathetic to the achievements of South Korea’s military dictatorships. The ruling party has also proposed that all schools should be required to use a single state-approved textbook rather than (as now) be able to choose among private publishers’ texts, subject to NIKH approval. As in Japan, such a move would extend political control over textbook use.

In Taiwan the education ministry also announced new guidelines for high-school textbooks this year. They are due to come into effect in August 2015 (as in Korea, Taiwanese textbooks must conform to guidelines). The government claims its changes merely bring the books into line with international norms and correct inaccurate and nostalgic views of Japanese rule (Taiwan was a Japanese colony for 50 years, until 1945). They would, for example, replace the neutral term “Japanese rule” with “Japanese colonial rule”.

Such actions are changing the character of Asia’s textbook wars. Traditionally, they have been seen through a foreign-policy lens. China’s campaign to teach patriotism at school, for example, downplays or conceals the class struggles, famine and violence of the Mao era in favour of presenting the country as a victim of foreign aggression. Such a narrative supports its leaders’ claim that China is merely resuming its proper place in the world. In a similar vein, Japan’s education minister, Hakubun Shimomura, says his government is revising history-teaching manuals so children can learn “properly” about national territory and can understand that there is no real dispute over the Senkaku islands (as they are Japanese).

But the new textbook wars also have a domestic flavour. They are disputes within countries as well as between them. The proposals in Japan reflect a tussle over education: the ruling party says its wants to end 60 years of “left-wing control” over schools. And to complicate matters in South Korea, some new-right scholars are actually sympathetic to Japan’s colonial rule in Korea, a view the government cannot possibly be seen to be condoning.

Efforts by the conservative government of Park Geun-hye to rewrite textbooks in South Korea have triggered a political backlash. In regional elections in early June, 13 of the 17 superintendents of education up for grabs were won by “progressives”—a remarkable result considering this group won only six seats in the previous election, in 2010. They declared that if the government goes ahead with its plan for a single approved textbook (the decision is due this month), they would write an alternative and promote that—a threat which has to be taken seriously since superintendents control big education budgets. The backlash is part of a broader battle between conservatives and South Korea’s democracy movement, a group which helped end military rule (imposed by Ms Park’s father, the late Park Chung-hee). Now that the fight against dictatorship has been won, the movement has turned its attention to historical matters.

In Taiwan there has been a comparable backlash against the government’s textbook proposals, in this case led by the main opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party. Opposition-controlled counties and cities are refusing to abide by the new high-school guidelines. In Taiwan, though, the domestic debate also has an international flavour because China and Japan also feature in island politics.

Mainlanders from China who fled to Taiwan as the Communists defeated the Kuomintang (KMT) in 1949 tend to think history books should concentrate mostly on Chinese history; some loathe Japan for the same reasons that people in China and South Korea do. In contrast, some descendants of people who lived on Taiwan before 1949—especially those who support independence—are ambivalent about Japanese rule. Some respect Japan for having modernised the island, while Japanese repression seemed a tea party compared to the KMT’s “white terror” from the late 1940s, in which tens of thousands of Taiwanese were killed. The opposition and sympathetic academics want textbooks to write less about China and more about the island’s aboriginal groups and about its colonial history under the Dutch and Japanese. Newspapers that support closer ties with China accuse these people of glossing over Japanese atrocities.

Around East Asia, more sensible academics and policymakers recognise the risks of inflaming nationalist sentiment among schoolchildren. In China, where the practice is embedded, one scholar says that, given his country’s hyper-nationalist and xenophobic textbooks, he fears students growing up “drinking wolves’ milk”. To quieten down the howling, countries set up panels of academics to discuss the controversies. Japan and South Korea did so in 2002; China and Japan followed suit in 2006. The impulse is not dead: South Korea’s president recently proposed that her country, China and Japan write a joint textbook on the history of North-East Asia. But four years ago Chinese and Japanese professors abandoned attempts to come up with a unified interpretation of the past, and the recent spats are likely to make cross-country academic panels even less effective. And the new textbook conflicts are proxies for domestic political battles as much as for international rivalry.

In a few decades Asia’s textbooks wars will doubtless themselves become subjects for the history books. On current form, it seems unlikely that the disputants will then be able to agree on how to describe what was going on.

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