KO BUNYU’S DEFINING HISTORY Entire translation
By HUANG WENXIONG,
A macroscopic analysis of the differences among the histories of East Asian nations: Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea
By KO BUNYU
Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact ©
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1: DEFINING HISTORY
1. Perceptions vs. facts
2. A strict definition of “perception”
3. Using perception and self-preservation to create a common denominator
4. Historical accounts endure when events attract interest
5. Different cultures have different attitudes toward history
6. The role of the self in historical perception
7. Why comparison is necessary to find meaning
8. The deeds of people influenced by historical perception
9. How geopolitics affects historical events
10. Historical theory and historical perception
CHAPTER 2: PRINCIPLES OF CHINESE CIVILIZATION
1. Yellow River Civilization: the main source of Chinese culture
2. Beyond nations to the world
3. The significance of war as the essence of Chinese civilization
4. The logically flawed political theory behind dynastic revolution
5. Common characteristics of people and subjects
6. Comparison of “national civilizations” with other modern nations
CHAPTER 3: THE BRUTAL HISTORY OF CHINESE WARFARE
1. Chinese warfare in ancient times
2. Early Chinese “monuments”
3. Ho Jing initiates a massacre in Nanjing
4. Tang dynasty: the golden age of cannibalism
5. Warfare in the Ming dynasty
6. Qing dynasty and the Chinese civilization
7. China after the Xinhai Revolution
CHAPTER 4: JAPANESE HISTORY: PROGRESS WITHOUT MURDER
1. Japan viewed from an archeological perspective
2. The Jinshin War: Major conflict arising from imperial succession dispute
3. Taking of life anathema to Japanese culture
4. Defining bushido
5. No tradition of cannibalism in Japan
CHAPTER 5: EMPEROR SYSTEM PAVES WAY FOR PEACEFUL PROGRESS IN JAPAN
1. Japan’s first emperors
2. Japan’s emperors in the Middle Ages
3. Emperors during the Edo era
4. Emperor helps surmount crisis in last days of Shogunate
5. The Meiji Renovation: A grand achievement
6. The Charter Oath and the Meiji Constitution
7. Strange explications of the current Constitution
CHAPTER 6: HOW JAPAN CAN WIN THE HISTORY WARS INSTIGATED BY CHINA
1. Why Japan must not lose the history wars
2. Acquire the ability to develop a broad historical perspective
3. Efforts to win the history wars begin at home
4. Utilize the UN and other international organizations
5. Resolve territorial disputes at the UN
6. Appeal for an end to history wars
7. Beyond history wars
A multitude of factors color our historical perceptions. Some of them are nationality, ethnicity, culture, religion, and our best interests. Furthermore, the historical perceptions of individuals and groups may change, influenced by world trends or the passage of time.
In Japan there has been dissent over perceptions of postwar history. The same is true of Taiwan, whose government approves history textbooks. The revision of history textbooks has given rise to unrest. For instance, in the 1990s a group of mainland Chinese launched an attack at a public event intended to explain the reasons for revising Taiwan’s history textbooks. When Lee Teng-hui was president of Taiwan (1988-2000), the principal of a middle school that employed mainland Chinese refused to adopt a new civics textbook.
Japan’s high school students pour all their energy into preparations for college entrance examinations. But in 2014-15 the attention of Taiwanese university students was drawn to the publication of pro-PRC history textbooks. Their reaction was to form the Sunflower Movement, whose advocates occupied the Legislative Yuan; high school students soon followed their example.
Postwar North and South Korea share the same history, culture, ethnicity, and language. Nevertheless, each nation has conflicting interpretations and perceptions of Korean history, from the Kingdom of Goryeo (918-1392) to the Kingdom of Joseon (1392-1897). The most extreme manifestation of the conflict is both nations’ refusal to recognize the other’s existence, despite the fact that both are members of the United Nations. The Japanese government, too, has been browbeaten into refusing to recognize North Korea, instead accepting the South’s unrealistic claim that the North Korea is part of South Korea! And of course there is disagreement among political parties in South Korea over historical fact, historical interpretation, and historical perception. North Korea sympathizers and conservatives are polar opposites.
One of the more famous disputes pits Korea against the PRC over Goguryeo (37 BC-668 AD), namely, which country’s history it belongs in.
Opposition over the historical perception of China (both the PRC and Taiwan) has been raging from several thousands of years. Now that we have entered into the modern era, there is opposition not only between the CPC (Communist Party of China) and the Chinese Nationalist Party of Taiwan, but also within the CPC about how the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) is to be characterized. CPC factions finally agreed upon “decade of turbulence.” Historical evaluations of Mao Zedong are currently evenly divided between positive and negative.
Shitong (Historical Perspectives) compiled by Liu Siji between 708 and 710, recognizes both the Northern and Southern dynasties as legitimate. However, in Zizhi tongjian (Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government), published in 1084, historian Sima Guang affords legitimacy only to the Southern Dynasty. The fifth Qing emperor, Yongzheng, who reigned between 1723 and 1735, wrote Dayi juemilu (A Record of Rightness To Dispel Confusion). Yongzheng describes the Manchu conquest of China as morally legitimate.
Did China disappear from the world map during the Yuan and Qing dynasties? Chinese intellectuals are at odds over the answer to this question. Even in the 20th century, both Sun Yat-sen, considered the father of the revolution, and Zhang Binlin, who devised Zhonghua Minguo, the Chinese name of the Republic of China, commented that China had twice been a lost kingdom.
Incidentally, the East Indians and the Chinese hold historical perceptions that are diametrically opposite. Indians view history as a phenomenon marking the passage of time. They believe that humans should focus on the most essential, basic matters (such as religion, because it examines the meaning of life and death). The Chinese may go on and on about the correct historical perception, but Indians take no interest; they really don’t care. Indians and Pakistanis are of the same ethnicity, but they have embraced different religions. Each nation goes its own way. Indians do not view Sri Lanka as part of India, or inseparable from India; nor do they seek consolidation with Sri Lanka.
Then do the Chinese truly have a passion for history? Not in the least. They prefer the famous novel Sanguozhi yanyi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms) to the more historically accurate Sanguozhi (Records of the Three Kingdoms). Even historians, with the exception of those specializing in the Six Dynasties (220-589), do not read Sanguozhi. On the other hand, Mao Zedong read and reread Sanguohi yanyi. He was looking for ideas that would help him win political battles.
Postwar history education in Japan was heavily influenced by the Comintern historical perception (whose goal was social revolution) from Russia, and the Tokyo-Trials historical perception from the US. In the 1980s the Chinese historical perception came to the fore. I believe that the Comintern and Tokyo-Trials historical perceptions are things of the past. However, the demands from Korea and China for Japan to embrace an “accurate” historical perception are very much alive.
Since I was a recipient of the traditional Taiwanese history-education curriculum from the fifth grade through high school, I was not brainwashed by the Comintern or Tokyo- Trials historical perceptions. I did grow up under the influence of the Chinese historical perception. But most Taiwanese view the postwar ROC system as an imported overseas Chinese kingdom. Citizens of Taiwan and the PRC do not share an identity. Moreover, they disagree about almost everything; to use Mao’s words, “conflict and contradiction / antagonistic contradiction].” Therefore, the Taiwanese historical perception is anti-PRC. .
How should we define the Chinese historical perception? In simple terms, it originated from distinctions made between Chinese and foreigners in Chunqiu dayi (Exegesis of the Spring and Autumn Annals), and “revere the emperor, but expel foreigners,” as stated in the Chunqiu (Spring and Autumn Annals). It is also the emperor-centric position adopted by Shiji. It is legitimacy, as cited in Zizhi tongjian, and the Sino-barbarian dichotomy strongly advocated by the three great Neo-Confucian scholars Zhu Xi, Wang Yangming, and Wang Fuzhi. And it is tianzhu (punishment from heaven), the term used to justify the massacre of barbarians, i.e., non-Chinese tribes.
Among Taiwanese who were brainwashed by the Chinese mindset and Chinese historical perceptions are many people whose minds the Chinese still control. But there are more than a few who oppose the Chinese: people with clear eyes, whose outlook includes the world’s past, present, and future. I am one of them.
Pressed by the PRC and Korea, the Japanese government put on a series of performances after World War II, shows of remorse and apologies. They were politics, not history.
How do we perceive history? In arriving at a value judgement by deciding whether a perception is or is not accurate, we must consider how close it is to historical fact. But there is no need to be intimidated by the likes of remorseful political acts.
Positive freedom — the freedom to adopt one’s own historical perception, and negative freedom — freedom from being coerced to adopt a particular historical perception, are mainstream values in a liberalistic society. A liberalistic nation or regime is founded on the recognition of that freedom, which does not exist in a totalitarian state.
Therefore, what the PRC means by the “correct historical perception” is the historical perception of a totalitarian state, which does not allow for diversity or pluralism regarding opinions or perceptions. Simply to admit or recognize that not only goes against Japan’s national polity and system of government, but also violates Japan’s Constitution (Article 20: Freedom of religion; Article 21: Freedom of expression).
The only conclusion we can reach in an evaluation of modern Japanese history, after the analysis and examination of history that most closely approaches historical fact, is that Japan’s most serious crime was losing the war. At least that is the perception that I and other Taiwanese of my generation, for the most part, share.
To the best of my knowledge, after the Manchurian Incident (1931), only Matsuoka Yosuke, in a speech delivered at the League of Nations, portrayed Japan as a victim. If we expand the scale of history objectively, and broaden the span of historical time, we discover that in the modern era Japan’s contribution to the global community has been immense, so immense that it is impossible to exaggerate when describing it.
In this book I shall reexamine modern Japanese history in the context of historical fact. My goal is to equip readers with historical insight and eliminate the curse of the totalitarian historical perception.
I have written a great many history books, but consider this one to be the culmination of all my works. I dedicate it to my readers.
CHAPTER 1: DEFINING HISTORY
1. Perceptions vs. facts
The word history is on occasion defined as “the truth about past events.” That definition is then extended to “past events as they actually occurred.” Going by that assumption, we might conclude that history exists in the realm of objective reality, and is unbiased, impartial, immutable, and precise.
But a closer examination reveals that this definition does not reflect the meaning of the word history as we use it. A more accurate description would be “past events as we perceive them.” In other words, when we speak of history we are talking about past events created (or recreated) by human perception. So history is not past events as they actually occurred. We enter into various debates about past events, but we must remember that we are discussing past events as we perceive them, not as they actually happened.
I beg your indulgence as I rephrase my argument. Readers of this book have at your command a wide variety of fragmented knowledge pertaining to history: Japanese history, Chinese history, Korean history, world history, the history of biology, the history of the Earth, the history of the universe. The first definition of history I offered, i.e., past events as they actually occurred, colors every bit of that fragmented knowledge. But again, history is not past events as they actually occurred. It is simply history being made real by our perceptions.
But is it acceptable to perceive history arbitrarily, in any way that pleases us? Of course not. Historical fact must take precedence. Perceptions must be subordinate to the truth of past events.
When a controversy arises over an event in history, the argument that is closest to the past event in question must prevail. The conclusion must never be in favor of the argument farthest from the past event in question. Hence, history may consist of human perceptions, but it is clearly restricted by past events.
However, when we look at history as the actions of human beings beginning with the dawn of civilization, we must bear in mind that history is not those deeds as they happened, but as we perceive them.
Therefore, the meaning of the word as we most commonly use it is perceived past events. When we compare perceptions with past events as they actually happened, there are bound to be aberrations and biases.
China’s first official history was Records of the Grand Historian, compiled by Sima Qian; its main focus is “Basic Annals” (chronicles of periods and dynasties). Huangdi (the Yellow Emperor), the four-eyed, many-faced emperor considered the first ruler of China, and the horned Yandi (the Flame Emperor) were legendary figures. In fact, the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors, China’s earliest rulers, were all mythological. But nevertheless, they are included in China’s history. We see the same phenomenon in early Japanese historical works like Records of Ancient Matters and Chronicles of Japan, which begin with creation mythology and then transition to human rulers. As far as historical perception is concerned, both chronicles adhere more closely to historical fact than their Chinese counterparts.
In Records of the Grand Historian, the account of the Chu-Han Contention (206-202 BC) written by Sima Qian’s father is believed to closely approximate historical fact because of his close connection to Emperor Wu of Han (141-87 BC). But all this means is that we are being informed of historical information that resembles historical fact, nothing more.
It is quite difficult to arrive at an accurate perception of history.
2. A strict definition of “perception”
Now we must construct a strict definition of perception, as in “perceived past events.”
Since my specialty is Western economic history, in graduate school I made use of primary sources written in German and French, as well as English. For that reason, I am able to read a wide range of books. But there is clearly a limit to how many languages one can master. All one need do is master the Japanese language. Japan is a translation superpower; mastery of that language enables us to read each and every classic and masterpiece ever written, because they have all been translated into Japanese. I studied German, but did not master it. Nevertheless, in Japan I have access to the works of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. The exponential growth of the internet has given us access to many outstanding works, but not every classic or masterpiece has been translated into every language. But to read a wide selection of them, all we need do is master Japanese. Japan’s translators have been rendering huge numbers of works into Japanese since the Meiji era (1868-1912).
Yi Kwang-su has been characterized as the father of modern Korean literature. He was an ardent nationalist and author of the Declaration of (Korean) Independence delivered at a rally in Tokyo on February 8, 1919. Yi wrote the following about the Japanese language:
The Japanese language incorporates the remarkable Japanese spirit. Japanese writing absorbs all the world’s cultures. Therefore, when we are learning the Japanese language, we are learning about the Japanese spirit and, at the same time, acquiring the key to the repository of the world’s cultures.
I decided to read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in the original German.
Kant writes that things per se are unknowable. We perceive things with a combination of sensibility and logic. Carrying this idea further, we look at things in the context of an accumulation of past experiences. In other words, we are not looking at things as entireties; we are observing portions of things and encoding them. We then combine those codes, decide what a thing is, and form a perception. Things never become perceptions. Only the subjectivity of the perceiver creates perceptions of things. Fragmentary codes derived from things combine with past experiences to form perceptions.
Of course it is entirely possible to identify a thing and distinguish it from another thing, no matter how fragmentary the code we are using. Therefore, a conversation among multiple humans about a specific “thing” can take place without any confusion. The code at the basis of each person’s perception may vary significantly from that of the others. But the conversation is viable because each person understands exactly what thing is being discussed.
Returning to historical matters, a past event captured by a historical record is only a perceived past event. It is possible to use history to identify a past event, but it is not the same as that past event.
The fact that humans cannot perceive a thing per se is essentially a problem of perception. When we speak of historical perceptions, we cannot place too much emphasis on the fact that history exists as human perception.
When we stray from the perception of things per se and enter into a world where words are predominant, history pulls apart from past events and becomes nonsense. When that happens, we lose patience and complain that we hear nothing but unconvincing, hackneyed political comments and clichés, and demands for more numerical evidence. In Taiwan, too, an increasing number of people from all segments of society are demanding such evidence. Perhaps this is a worldwide phenomenon. Numerical evidence is valued as convincing and objective (because it is considered mathematical).
But we cannot rely even on numbers emanating from the Chinese world, whose inhabitants are addicted to hyperbole. For instance, historical accounts that mention lives claimed by a famine or epidemic offer only approximate numbers, like “the majority of inhabitants ” and “eight or nine out of 10.” Most numerical evidence is based on rumors.
Ethnicity and social climate are also very influential. The nations and inhabitants of the Chinese cultural sphere, to which I often refer, lie, brag, and double-cross; they separate words from facts before they use them. Postwar China’s biggest propaganda coup was the Nanking “massacre.” At one point the Chinese maintained that the massacre had claimed a million victims. The CPC later made a party decision in which it settled on “at least 300,000 victims.”
The number of Koreans “abducted by the Japanese” during World War II was once estimated at “at least 8 million.” The number of Korean military prostitutes was claimed to be 200,000, without the benefit of any proof whatsoever.
The basic number from which the planned economies of socialism arise is the population. Without a grasp of its population, no nation can pass muster as a scientific socialist state. But here in socialist China there is a consistent gap of 200 million between the lowest and highest population figures supplied by the PRC’s various administrative departments. The best estimates the Chinese can provide are “somewhere between 1.3 billion and 1.5 billion.” In the 1980s, when Zhao Ziyang was prime minister, he visited Japan. Asked by a reporter about the population of China, Zhao replied, “Tian xiao de” (Only heaven knows). Post-20th-century China does not have a monopoly on this phenomenon, of course. In the 19th century, during the Qing dynasty, the Chinese referred to China as “a land of more than 400 states” with a population of 400 million. Even then administrative departments didn’t agree on the population, with differences of 100 million between the lowest and highest figures provided.
Four hundred years ago the Japanese were aware of the amount of arable land in Japan, thanks to the land survey ordered by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the 16th century. But not until a land survey was done in the 1990s did the PRC discover that unregistered rice fields accounted for 40% of China’s arable land. Such vagaries give us much food for thought, and cause us to wonder whether the Chinese are capable of an accurate historical perception. And of course that is one of the limitations on having an accurate perception of history in Chinese states.
The lack of precise or complete historical truths makes it impossible to form historical perceptions. Since the dawning of the modern era in the 16th century gave rise to the disciplines of evidentiary scholarship (kaozheng) and authentication studies (bianweixue), scholars have been exposing fake sutras and falsified history.
3. Using perception and self-preservation to create a common denominator
If it is impossible to perceive a thing per se, and a perception is something perceived by means of a unilateral act, what does that say about the perceiver? We must consider carefully what the relationship between the perceiver and the perception tells us. Human beings are living creatures, and therefore self-preservation is inseparable from their perceptions.
Why is death such a sad event? Why do we fear it? Regardless of our reasons, death fills us with sadness and fear.
We humans gather together, and discuss past events according to our perceptions of them. We speak of perceiving past events, but the particular aspect of that past event on which we focus when we perceive is largely dependent on the object of our perception.
Past events perceived by humans are often related to death, because death is a perception we all have in common. In that sense history is very human.
Nineteenth-century German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey shed a great deal of light on this problem through spiritual science, or science of the mind. According to Dilthey, self-preservation is the source of human spiritual activity, and spiritual activity is a phenomenon that all humans experience.
Electromagnetic waves that we see as light are within the range of perceptions shared by human beings. Red electromagnetic waves look red to anyone and everyone. In our minds we all have the same impression of the color red.
Some animals can see light that humans cannot see. We humans do not know how those animals see that light. Artists create their work knowing it will be appreciated by other humans through shared sensibilities.
In other words, we may define history as looking at the past to form a perception, but this is not a perception formed from the observation of a subject, the way natural scientists observe nature. We are perceiving our shared commonality as humans, while we are, at the same time, significantly constrained by self-preservation, i.e, the impulse to survive.
If we are going to refer to the science that stems from human commonality as spiritual science, history and historiography are both spiritual sciences. Dilthey was right.
4. Historical accounts endure when events attract interest
Historical accounts may be long or short, or absent, depending on the amount of interest in a particular event. Here are some examples.
According to Japanese Thought: Preserve Our Legacy, renowned folklorist Yanagita Kunio (1875-1962) made the following observation in Methods for Studying Rural Life, a very useful reference work for historians and historiographers.
There was only one peasant revolt during the 300-year-long Tokugawa reign (1600-1868). In some villages there were no such uprisings. There is no doubt that they were significant events, but that was not reason enough for accounts of them to be recorded.
If it had been necessary for magistrates and other officials in affected villages to issue reports to their superiors about actions they took during the revolt, they would have done so. But all they would be conveying to posterity were the disturbances that arose and the agitation of the people at the time. In hindsight, the passing of the more than 200 years of peace is more important to us than an uprising — an extraordinary event.
During that long, uneventful period there was no incentive for village officials to keep records and show them to a third party. Therefore, if we were to attempt to learn about the history of rural communities with only the benefit of extant chronicles, we would discover that the villages whose officials made the most strenuous efforts to maintain peace and but if we were to attempt to learn about the events of the past in a particular village, we would find that those communities whose officials made the most strenuous efforts to maintain peace and contentment have no written history. We might have gotten the impression that, during that era, rural Japan was a stage for an unending series of uprisings and natural disasters.
There is nothing more precious than the gift of a happy life. But historical accounts never contain records of peaceful times. In the vast majority of cases, what they describe is the damage caused by natural disasters and wars (human conflicts).
The same is true of the history lessons we are taught in schools. Textbooks are monopolized by accounts of events like wars and other violent incidents. Compared with China and Korea, Japan has experienced many fewer armed conflicts. Even when they have arisen, they have been small in scale. But a glance at any history textbook will give you the impression that Japan has been involved in war after war all throughout its history.
When I was a student, I spent a great deal of time learning the dates of wars and personal names. I often heard scholars and students lamenting the fact that all they did was learn who killed whom.
For the most part, historical accounts describe incidents, natural disasters, and accidents, not peaceful or prosperous eras. Typical of them are the Spring and Autumn Annals compiled by Confucius, the Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government, the Continuation of the Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government, and the Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government of the Ming dynasty (1873?). There are many accounts of natural disasters in the “Treatise on the Five Elements” included in most of the official dynastic histories, and “Strange Events” in Comprehensive Investigations Based on Literary and Documentary Sources) (1319).
Bai Yang, who translated Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government into modern Chinese, wrote that China has never had a year with no war. He based his conclusion on the lists of wars in that work. Additionally, accounts of Chinese cannibalism can be found in historical works. They are included not only in Comprehensive Mirror, but also in official histories. For instance, special mention is made of instances of cannibalism in the “Book of Heavenly Bodies” and “Treatise on Astronomy; they are described as abnormal phenomena like natural disasters.
Some of these accounts are bound to be exaggerations. For instance, according to the history of the Liang dynasty in Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government, after General Hou Jing, who lived during the Northern and Southern dynasties (420-589), perpetrated the Nanking massacre (548-550), the Han people residing in the Sanwu region (Jiangnan) were sold into slavery in Northern dynasties (420-589) territory, where every one of them died. However, in the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) dynasties, there were nobles whose ancestors flourished in the Southern dynasties, such as the Jin dynasty (265-420), as well as nobles of Han Chinese descent (the Sui and Tang dynasties were a coalition of nobles).
5. Different cultures have different attitudes toward history
Now I’d like to discuss ways in which our cultures determine our attitudes toward history.
Is historical perception a life-and-death matter over which we must spill blood? Let’s have a look at India. Indians are not as interested in history as those surrounded by Chinese civilization. The reason for this difference is that Indians view history as simply a phenomenon in the passage of time, one that soon evaporates. Indians place more importance on fundamental problems — delving into the meaning of life (or death), for instance — problems that involve religion, thought, or philosophy. Therefore, it is not surprising that they are less interested in history than the Chinese.
Why, then, do the Chinese have such a keen interest in history? One of the main reasons seems to lie in their use of hanzi, or Chinese characters. The earliest hanzi can be traced to the Yellow River basin, where they started out as pictographs. They are also ideographs, which means that they symbolize ideas. They are not phonetic units, so no close relationship between characters and language has developed.
The writing style used for inscriptions engraved on bronze vessels or stone monuments and classical texts written with wooden or bamboo instruments is different than that used to produce Confucian texts in the Hundred Schools of Thought, written in the Warring States period (475-221 BC). What today is called classical Chinese writing style is that of the Hundred Schools of Thought (including the Analects of Confucius). That style became classical Chinese, and the hanzi cultural sphere has held sway over East Asia for more than 2,000 years. Some say that classical Chinese literary style was the vernacular of the Warring States period, but they are wrong. Inhabitants of Chu (present-day Hubei and Hunan) spoke the Chu language, which differed from Han Chinese. The inhabitants of Wu and Yue spoke the Wu and Yue languages, respectively.
The point I wish to make is that hanzi became tools, or conceptual symbols that enabled members of a multi-ethnic society to express themselves and communicate with each other. In specific regions hanzi became associated with specific words. They took on specific meanings, and functioned as a writing system.
Language (words and their meanings) used at the emperor’s court was joined to hanzi that would be comprehensible to his subjects. In historiographical terms, each character possessed a meaning that was shared by everyone in the empire, and another meaning that connected it to the indigenous language. As time went on, the unification and cooperation of inhabitants of the Chinese cultural sphere made it possible for pronunciations and meanings used by the emperor’s court to be shared by everyone.
Of the 5,000-8,000 or possibly more languages used today, Japanese is one of those with the fewest syllables. It has no complex combinations other than consonants and vowels. But classical Chinese is based on one concept for each syllable. Even when two-syllable words come into use, they can be separated. There is no distinction between singular and plural, as there is in European languages. There are no cases, nor are their rules requiring indicators for past, present or future tenses.
Han Chinese is a written language that is used for communication among people speaking different languages.
Ancient Chinese civilization originated near the Yellow River. Recent archeological research reveals that in ancient times there was a Ba-Shu civilization on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. There was also a Yi civilization along the Huai River, a tributary of the Yangtze, and there were other civilizations as well.
In ancient times China was a composite culture comprising many ethnic groups and civilizations. And though we do not have conclusive proof that they existed, records have the Xia people founding the Xia dynasty (ca. 2070 – ca. 1600 BC), the Yin founding the Yin (or Shang) dynasty (1600 – 1046 BC), and the Zhou founding the Zhou dynasty (1046 – 256 BC). All three originally had close relationships with nomads, and eventually settled on the plains, where they engaged in agriculture.
In 770 BC, when the Spring and Autumn period dawned, a powerful state called Qin came onto the scene. Its inhabitants were non-Chinese peoples who were referred to as “Western warlike people.” Some scholars think they originated in Persia. As China became unified, the Qin too were assimilated into the hanzi civilization, and began using the characters as a means of communication.
Toward the end of the Spring and Autumn period, the Wu were conquered by the Yue, then the Yue were conquered by the Chu. The conquered peoples (Wu, Yue, and Chu) joined the Chinese civilization that arose near the Yangtze River. During that time hanzi were used for disparate languages, and eventually the pronunciation and meanings of the court language gained currency. Central government officials (guan) were posted to other regions, where they continued to speak their own language. Regional officials (li) who spoke the court language would translate what the guan said into the regional language. The Japanese term for government officials, kanri, is a combination of the characters for guan and li.
During that era war followed war, and since the conflicts had such a drastic effect on people’s lives, they were recorded. Eventually a new tradition developed: when a new dynasty was established, it took charge of compiling the history of the preceding, vanquished dynasty.
As hanzi became ingrained in the Chinese civilization, records were kept at every opportunity. The Chinese became obsessive about the past, and fell into an ultraconservative, mindset that considered the ancient times the best times and the ancient ways the best ways. Even today non-Han Chinese who speak different languages and use different writing systems are forced to assimilate by learning and using the Chinese language. Partly because the Jurchen peoples of Manchu ruled the Chinese world for nearly 300 years, the Chinese Communist Party has obliterated their language and writing systems. Reports have it that only one in 100,000 Manchus can speak Manchurian today.
Because the farmers who lived on the plains near the Yellow River would not have wanted to expand into a region where farming was difficult, they never moved northward to the grassy plains. On the contrary, fearing that the Northern peoples would rob or attack them, they built the Great Wall to a height that horses could clear. But against all odds, tribes known as the Five Barbarians (whose numbers included the Xiongnu, the Khitan, the Jurchen, the Mongols, and other tribes considered primitive or uncivilized) all breached the Great Wall, conquered the farmers, and established a dynasty on the plains.
The tribes who controlled the farmers spoke three language families: Ural-Altaic (mainly Tungusic, Mongolian and Turkish). They did so at different times, but all of them scaled the Great Wall and proceeded southward, and became the mainstay of the hanzi civilization. Some of the farmers were chased toward the south, where they absorbed the Yue people, or drove them away. Some of the Yue people moved further south, entering into Southeast Asia, or were chased into mountainous areas or highlands. Most of the inhabitants of present-day Vietnam, Thailand, and Myanmar are the descendants of peoples who once lived in China. The Thais and Burmese rejected the hanzi culture and instead, were influenced by the Indian civilization.
Therefore, when one speaks of the Chinese people, we are talking about an amorphous creature. The Chinese are an amalgamation of various peoples who were subjected to war after war, and during the time when war was the norm, they used hanzi to communicate with each other and to keep records. As they assimilated, they began taking an active part into the Chinese culture.
The Japanese, too, seem to enjoy history. Perhaps the reason they do is that the Japanese civilization took shape alongside its Chinese counterpart, and was significantly influenced by it. Emperor Tenmu ordered the compilation of the Chronicles of Japan, which was completed in 720. The work is clearly modeled after Chinese dynastic histories. But there is another important reason: due to the influence of Shinto, there is a strong predilection for revering one’s ancestors. Both cultures have a liking for history, but for different reasons.
Chronicles such as Spring and Autumn Annals, Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government, as well as what are referred to collectively as the Twenty-Four Histories, official histories like Records of the Grand Historian being one of them, are historical accounts that outline the historical perceptions of a people and their nation with a focus on history.
There is a wealth of historical accounts in the Chinese cultural sphere. But the word history in its current meaning comes from the Japanese word rekishi, which the Japanese created from Chinese characters. Its meaning is not the same as the word used in China. Inhabitants of the Chinese culture have the words li (reki in Japanese) and shi, but the words put together and construed as an objective view of history based on historical fact are an import from Japan. In other words, the hanzi civilization records a great many historical accounts, but it has never sat back and thought philosophically about the meaning of history.
6. The role of the self in historical perception
If history and historical perception are human acts motivated by self-preservation, when we contemplate the meaning of history, we must confirm most of them with the realization that historical perception is directed toward the self.
Historical perception can be focused on the history of living organisms, of the Earth, or of natural science. But the sort of history about which we ask, “Exactly what is history?” is the perception of past events relating to humans. Furthermore, in the great majority of cases, whether the topic at hand is an individual or a nation, the focus is the self, in other words, the historical perception of oneself as an individual, or one’s own nation.
Why do we place such emphasis on the historical perception of the self? The answer is that because this is history based on self-preservation, our historical perceptions confirm our pasts, establish our identities, and decide upon our future direction.
If this is a self-centered historical perception motivated by self-preservation, we must be aware that every person’s historical perception is colored or biased by selfishness and self interest. We must recognize the fact that with self-oriented historical perception, it is normal to be greatly influenced by differences or biases stemming from subjectivity and egotism.
When egotism comes into play, it is not uncommon for us, in our historical perceptions, to tend to maximize past events of which we are proud, and to minimize those that make us feel inferior.
Of course, if we are thinking about our futures, it is sometimes necessary to maximize negative events we might prefer to deny. If we fail to do that, we will not have learned from history. But normally we prefer to emphasize our strong points and overlook our weak points.
If we believe that it is necessary to emphasize aspects of ourselves that are positive and affirmative in order to shape a healthy personality (for survival), we must recognize in a positive manner that distortions arise from a self-centered, subjective historical perception.
Since a subjective historical perception can engender even more aberrations or biases, we cannot speak favorably of such a perception. But since it is a historical perception, a self-awareness for the purpose of survival, we see that humans must be tolerant of deviations that arise from subjectivity.
Even if we are discussing not personal history, but a nation’s history, the citizens of the nation in question must perceive its history patriotically. The Chinese historical perception is a mass of egotistical superiority. It is, after all, the product of Chinese thought. The notion of stubbornly forcing “correct historical perceptions” on others is, unmistakably, Chinese thought. That is fine for those who live in China, but it is wrong to force the Chinese historical perception (i.e., the “correct historical perception”) on other ethnicities or nationalities to the point where their own patriotism is threatened.
7. Why comparison is necessary to find meaning
Most historical perceptions are self-oriented, but most perceptions of self derive meaning from comparisons with others. It is important to consider this when contemplating the meaning of history.
A historical perception intended to establish an identity must involve a perception of one’s own characteristics in the past. Those characteristics typically come to the surface when we make comparisons with those of others.
Let us look not at individuals, but at national units. What kind of characteristics would you ascribe to your country? As mentioned earlier, Japanese history textbooks contain accounts of a great many conflicts: rebellions, disturbances of various kinds, and battles. If we focus on them, we are left with the impression that Japan has had nothing but conflicts. Comparing Japanese history with Chinese and Korean history, we realize that Japanese conflicts have been far fewer in number, and much smaller in scale. Japan has had a calm history. If there hadn’t been any conflicts in China or Korea, only peace and serenity, we would have had to conclude that Japan has had a conflict-ridden history, even if we omit none of the events in its past.
It is likely that the decisive Battle of Sekigahara, waged at a crossroads in Japanese history, involved 150,000 combatants (70,000 in the Eastern army and 80,000 in the Western army). The forces were equivalent to the number of White Wolf (Bai Lang) bandits, gangs of marauders who stormed through North China in 1913-14, in the early days of the Republic of China. In Chinese history the famous Battle of Red Cliffs (208-9), which determined the fate of the Three Kingdoms, and the Battle of Fei River (383), which determined the fate of the Northern and Southern dynasties, each involved one million men on the north side alone. In the civil war during the Republic of China era, the Central Plains War, which pitted Yan Xishan’s Peking government against Chiang Kai-shek’s Nanjing government, a total of 1.5 million men were mobilized. Several million men fought in the three strategic battles waged during the post-WWII Chinese civil war. Warriors fulfilled the principal roles in Japan’s conflicts; common people were sometimes present, but mainly as onlookers from a safe distance. Chinese wars were rough-and-tumble affairs, involving every single citizen. With fewer combatants, casualties in Japan were fewer as well.
If we study Japanese history in a vacuum, i.e., without comparing it with the history of other nations, we cannot describe its characteristics or peculiarities. We might conclude, after a desultory glance, that Japanese history has been a never-ending series of wars.
But globalization has progressed, and we are expected to examine Japan through a global lens. Japan’s failure to use a comparative approach in history education is a serious shortcoming that must be corrected.
Lu Xun (1881-1936), who is considered the father of modern Chinese literature, often said, “Unless we make comparisons, we cannot distinguish the good from the bad.” Relentless boasting about one’s own nation is bound to produce an ignorant citizenry.
Today we are seeing new comparative academic disciplines crop up. We have not only comparative literature, but also comparative music, comparative culture, and comparative civilization. Why should history, and history alone, be shielded from comparison.
We find different national traits in different cultural; ethnic customs differ also by region. Nations must make an effort to grasp those differences. The philosophy of totalitarianism embraced by the Chinese states requires everyone to be in agreement, and every decision to be unanimous. Accordingly, the state insists that all textbooks be approved by it or the ruling party. This is what they call a correct historical perception, which they force on not only their own people and nation, but also on other people and other nations, in a display of extreme rudeness.
Admitting that there are as many opinions as there are people is the starting point of the most fundamental thought. It is the point at which Japanese and Chinese thought diverge on the subject of historical perception. The starting point begins with the question “Do we seek harmony or sameness?”
The difference between Japan and China lies in whether we choose to tolerate pluralism and diversity, or insist on worldwide uniformity.
Early in the Edo period a Japanese military strategist and Confucian scholar named Yamaka Soko (1622-1685) wrote a book entitled Actual Facts about the Central Realm, in which he compared Chinese and Japanese history. In it he maintains that China was never stable because of its emperor-ordained revolutions. Japan, on the other hand had no such revolutions, and with its unbroken line of emperors, Japan was the real Middle Kingdom. A comparison of the two cultures will help us understand, immediately, that because of its revolutions, China’s cultural evolution stagnated, and many of its people suffered greatly. Then we will be able to describe the characteristics of Japan’s history.
Now I would like to address the flaws in Japanese history education. From my viewpoint as a Taiwanese looking in from the outside, they are obvious.
According to the current Curriculum Guidelines for middle schools, the goal of Japanese history education at that level is to deepen affection for Japan’s history and by doing so, foster in the students an awareness of themselves as Japanese by informing them about major trends in Japanese history in the context of world history, familiarizing them with the characteristics of each historical era and, their horizons now broadened, having them think about Japan’s traditions and culture. The goals prescribed by the guidelines seem very appropriate.
But in their actual studies the students engage in no activities designed to teach them the characteristics of Japanese traditions. Nor are there provisions for activities intended to deepen affection for their nation’s history. Educators are encouraged to show their students how to express themselves and to participate in active learning, but they are not told how to motivate them in that direction. As a result, students are acquiring information about history, but they are not learning its distinctive characteristics because no comparisons are made. Therefore, the goals of history education, i.e., learning the true nature of their country, are not being achieved. I often hear that when students of other nations are boasting about their countries, the Japanese students find themselves unable to emulate them. This is the result of flaws in Japanese history education. I have also been told that Japanese students are completely unable to describe the role of the Japanese emperor.
8. The deeds of people influenced by historical perception
Historical perception has a strong connection with the formation of our identities, and a significant influence on our historical activities. These then become important elements in the formation of a nation’s historical characteristics. I would like to illustrate this argument by citing an example in which I compare Chinese and Japanese history.
Early in the middle ages there lived a priest named Jien (1155-1225). He was the son of senior regent Fujiwara no Tadamichi. In 1220 Jien produced the first political commentary to appear in Japan, a book entitled Jottings of a Fool.
Jien wrote that in studying Chinese history, he had noticed that all dynasties had a certain lifespan, and that every dynasty led by an emperor was destined to crumble. But Japan’s dynasties did not perish.
The Hogen and Heiji rebellions inspired Jien to write Jottings of a Fool. Here is some background about the Hogen Rebellion: Emperor Sutoku, Japan’s 75th emperor, assumed the throne at the age of five. When he was 23, Sutoku was forced to abdicate and yield the throne to Emperor Konoe (1139-1155), who was then three years of age. When Konoe died at the age of 17, Sutoku was hoping to return to the throne or to have his son, Crown Prince Shigehito, crowned emperor. Sutoku’s hopes were dashed, however, when his younger brother Goshirakawa was installed as emperor. The disappointed Sutoku did something unimaginable in Japan: he raised an army and attempted a coup d’état. But the coup failed and Sutoku was exiled to Sanuki (present-day Kagawa prefecture). This political crisis gave rise to conflict between the Taira and the Minamoto, which in turn gave rise to the Kamakura Shogunate, established in 1192 and ruled by the Minamoto.
Jien thought that reason had prevailed at that time, that the dynasty beginning with the Yamato Court had a finite life span and was vulnerable.
But at about the same time, in 1221, the Jokyu Rebellion erupted. Emperor Gotoba raised an army to overthrow the Kamakura Shogunate, believing that Hojo Yoshitoki was a tyrant. The Shogunate forces emerged victorious, but the Shogunate did not destroy the Court. It dethroned Emperor Chukyo, installed a new emperor, and exiled three retired emperors to a distant backwater.
Here we have unprecedented events: a person who ranks below the Emperor, but who received the rank of Shogun from the Emperor, exiles an emperor (the person with the highest authority) and even higher-ranking persons (retired emperors). They could have meant the ruin of the imperial. However the Regent Shogun, Hojo Yoshitoki, realized that he had received his political power to control politics from the Court, and made no attempt to destroy it. If he had, it is easy to imagine the repercussions. Armies would have been raised to defend the Court. No movements resembling the Chinese and Korean dynastic revolutions (decreed by Heaven when the current emperor is found to lack moral virtue) ever took shape in Japan.
During the battle, there was a particularly Japanese aspect in the comportment of the combatants on both sides.
Regent Shogun Hojo Yoshitoki appointed his son Yasutoki commander in chief of the forces destined to battle the Court army. In response to a question from Yasutoki, Yoshitoki replied that if the Court army displayed the emperor’s flag, and retired emperors were leading attack troops, he would remove his helmet, cut his bowstrings, make gestures of profound respect, and entrust his fate to the retired emperor. Otherwise, if attacked, he would risk his life and fight until his 1,000 men were reduced to one.
The historical perception that results from an examination of Japan’s history shows us that at that historic moment, the Kamakura Shogunate’s warriors behaved as they did because they had great respect for the Court, unlike the soldiers of China and Korea. That respect became a Japanese tradition and exerted influence on the actions of subsequent rulers.
When a cultural climate persists for a long time, history and tradition are formed, and it becomes very difficult to change those traditions.
In a different sense, tradition was also strong in China, the land of dynastic revolution (dynastic cycles). The Chinese refer to political reform as “revision of the law.” Since the first Qin emperor unified China in 221 BC, not one revision of the law has been successful. Even more famous reforms, like the New Policies of Wang Anshi (1021-86) in the Song dynasty (960-1299), and the Hundred Days’ Reform (1898), ultimately foundered.
Even when the Chinese empire met its end with the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, the Republic of China made an effort to create a nation-state, which backfired and instead resulted in an unprecedented civil war. The Peoples’ Republic of China, established after the Chinese Civil War, about 20 years later, launched the disastrous Cultural Revolution (the decade of turbulence) in 1966.
As the 20th century dawned, China made the transition from an empire to a republic, and then a people’s republic. The nation’s structure and regime had changed in so many ways, but the outcome was not good.
There was no more emperor, no more ruler with a heavenly mandate. Since the Chinese had lost the gods that had dwelled in their minds, they became uneasy and rudderless. For that reason the Republic’s first president, Yuan Shikai, revived the imperial system for a time. He reinstalled the last emperor of the Qing dynasty, Puyi, as emperor in Manchuria. China is not the only nation where this happened. Even after the French Revolution, the storms of the Ancien Régime continued to rage. PRC President Xi Jinping is reviving Maoism because he feels the need to respond to the concerns of the people who feel unsettled in the absence of an emperor.
From time immemorial Japan has had a long line of emperors, all blood relations; they have become both history and tradition. Even though some powerful men came to the fore (Fujiwara, Minamoto, Hojo, Ashikaga, Oda, and Tokugawa), they were unable to effect a revision of the law. The most they could accomplish was to effect a division of authority between the Emperor and the Shogun. Therein lies the power of history and tradition, which stemmed from the unbroken line of emperors.
9. How geopolitics affects historical events
However, there are other factors beside history and tradition that affect important historical events. We must keep the influence of geopolitics in mind.
When we look at a nation’s history, we realize that geopolitical influence is a decisive factor.
Surrounded by water as it is, Japan is one nation with geopolitical conditions that make it nearly impossible for a foreign invasion to succeed. When a nation is landlocked, invader can easily enter it, even though it is at peace and has no wish to wage war. If an armed group or bellicose nation rises up and attacks, the victim nation becomes a war zone. That was certainly the case with China and the Korean peninsula. The northern part of Korea bordered China, and the remainder of it was surrounded by water. Therefore, Korea was not nearly as likely to be invaded by a foreign enemy as the inland areas of China. That is why Korea had far fewer dynasties than China. Korea had only three unified dynasties: Silla (57BC-935AD), Goryeo (918-1392), and Joseon (1392-1897). Moreover, the transition from Silla to Goryeo did not involve a military conquest by Goryeo. Instead, Silla yielded. Only Joseon toppled the preceding dynasty through military force and established a new one, effecting a change of dynasty. Therefore, Korean history could not proceed the way Japanese history did, i.e., without any dynasty change.
A close examination of the history of the Korean peninsula reveals that in the 14th century, Goryeo General Yi Seong-gye (1335-1408) was faced with an imminent invasion by the Ming, who had destroyed the Yuan dynasty and become a rising force in China. But when Yi realized he had no hope of defeating the Ming forces, he turned back and surrendered the Goryeo capital, toppled the Goryeo dynasty and established Joseon in 1392. The Goryeo dynasty enjoyed a great deal of support from the Korean people. If Yi, who was only a general, had effected his coup d’état in Japan, an armed force would have risen up to aid Goryeo, and the coup would have been aborted. But Yi’s reality was different: waiting in the wings were the powerful Ming forces, who had just established a new dynasty. Even if Yi had raised an army to defend Goryeo, he would certainly have been defeated. The Koreans had no choice but to let Yi do as he pleased. There was a precedent: Silla’s collaboration with the Tang dynasty (618-907), resulting in the unification of Silla in 676. In other words, the Koreans succeeded by using foreign armed forces. This historical perception tells us that Yi could not have acted as the Japanese warriors did. When General Yi overthrew Goryeo, many soldiers were angry with him, but they were helpless. Geopolitical conditions facilitated the invasion of foreign forces, and prevented justice from prevailing.
Even the name “Joseon” was received from Ming Emperor Hongwu. Yi Seong-gye had asked him to name the new dynasty, Joseon, a tributary state.
Here geopolitical conditions were the deciding factors. The people of Korea were not enthusiastic about a dynasty created by military force. Political power was destroying the Korean culture, which could not evolve naturally, only diminish.
In Korea under the Goryeo dynasty, the Buddhist culture blossomed. Buddhism, valued so highly by the Goryeo dynasty, did not sit well with the Yi (Joseon) dynasty, which opposed and suppressed it. Consequently, Buddhism was banished from Korea, leaving a huge void in Korean culture.
When Silla unified the Korean peninsula in 676, Buddhism was more entrenched in Korea than in Japan. Not long before the unification of Silla, a priest named Wonhyo (617-686) went to China, and decided he wanted to study Buddhism, and set out on a journey. At one point he was living in a mountain cave. In the middle of the night, Wonhyo awakened, thirsty. He reached for a bowl of water, and drank from it, marveling at its wonderful taste. The next morning when he awakened, he discovered that the bowl that he had drunk from was actually a skull. A wave of nausea overcame him, but then in a flash he realized that everything in this world depends on one’s perspective. When he discovered that the water that had tasted so delicious the night before was contained in a skull, he felt sick. Wonhyo grasped the nature of Buddhist enlightenment, i.e., that everything depends on one’s perspective, in that moment. Realizing that he didn’t need to go to China to learn Buddhism, he returned to Silla, where he continued his studies.
Buddhism and Buddhist culture had flourished in Silla and Goryeo, but during the Joseon dynasty temples were destroyed, priests were driven away, and Buddhism disappeared. The Joseon dynasty converted Buddhist temples to Daoist structures. Instead of Buddha, the Koreans worshipped the Ming emperors, Sun Wukong (the Monkey King), Zhu Bajie (a character in Journey to the West). The disappearance of Buddhism must be described as a loss to the cultures of North and South Korea.
What would have happened if Yi Seong-gye’s coup had not involved the destruction of the Goryeo dynasty, but the establishment of a shogunate, like that in Japan, under the emperor of the Goryeo dynasty, and he had continued to hold the reins of power?
After the Joseon dynasty was established, it killed the last Goryeo king, and though it promised to provide a safe island where the royal family, then in hiding, could live in peace, it lured them out, sunk the boat they were sailing in, and killed every last one.
The Korean geopolitical situation made it possible for General Yi to effect a typical change of dynasty.
Even the Great Wall could not stop the southward advance of the northern nomads or hunter-gatherers. During the Six Dynasties period (220/222-589), which succeeded the Han dynasty, the Five Barbarians drove the Han Chinese farmers southward into the territory of the Baiyue. Nearly 2,000 years before that nomads had established several dynasties within the Chinese sphere. And about 1,000 years earlier the Song and Ming dynasties had tried to revive China, but were defeated by the Yuan (Mongolians) and Qing (Manchurians). Han-Chinese China essentially disappeared from the map of history in Eastern Eurasia and the Far East.
For several thousand years, beginning in Confucius’ time, the Chinese made a clear distinction between themselves and barbarians, whom they considered no better than beasts. But in fact, the Han were not able to assume a dominant role in the Chinese world. After the Han and Jin dynasties, barbarians continued to control China and East Asia. The Han Chinese were their subjects.
Xi Jinping repeatedly makes pronouncements about the Chinese people’s dream of a great revival. Perhaps he is hoping that the third time will be the charm (the Song and Ming dynasties being the first and second times, respectively).
Will the dream of great revival enable the Chinese to extricate themselves from the laws of history or the snare of the history of Chinese civilization? Geopolitical destiny will surely become a factor here.
10. Historical theory and historical perception
In this chapter I have stated that historical perception is not the perception of a past event, but something that reflects the circumstances of the perception, and is therefore vulnerable to bias and discrepancy. Furthermore, historical perception of the self contributes to the formation of identity (self-perception). Therefore, it is colored by self-love, and thus bias and discrepancy.
That makes us likely to conclude that historical perception is nonsense and completely arbitrary. But that is not the case. We are simply restricted by past events.
On the basis of what I have written thus far, I would now like to pursue historical thory and historical perception.
If historiography’s role is to highlight events that took place in the past, then historians must collect resources pertaining to those events. But for events that are now part of the past, it is often difficult to find resources or proof in sufficient quantity to enable us to arrive at a judgement. We need an explanation of exactly what happened in the past. In that case, historians must use their imaginations to fill in the blanks left by the lack of evidence and resources. The portion left to the imagination will result in a wide variety of visions. We call these historical opinions or theories.
Some scholars are of the opinion that in the absence of evidence and resources, historians should maintain silence. But when the topic at hand is a historically significant incident, that will not suffice. For historically important incidents, even when proof and resources are absent, the imagination must be enlisted to provide explanations.
Here is an example from Japanese history.
Before dawn on June 2, 1582 the Honnoji Incident occurred. There are no resources available to us that would reveal the state of mind of Akechi Mitsuhide, the instigator of the incident. But the history of Japan would have been different if this incident had not occurred, and Oda Nobunaga had not been killed. Toyotomi Hideyoshi would never have been ruler of Japan, and there would have been no Tokugawa Shogunate.
In that case, we want accurate information about Akechi Mitsuhide’s motivations. But there are very few historical records that could serve as proof.
Some scholars believe that Mitsuhide started the revolt to protect the Court. It is very important to have evidence to support this opinion, but there are no sources that state this specifically. At first Nobunaga made lavish contributions to the Court, and demonstrated his allegiance to it. But ultimately, he did not seek a government appointment from the emperor. Also, he pressed Emperor Ogimachi to abdicate, and interfered in the naming of the next era. His personality was unusual for a Japanese. He could be cruel, and like Chinese emperors, tended to resolve disputes with military force.
This may be why Mitsuhide, who venerated the imperial household, risked everything to accomplish a coup d’état.
Even so, it is very strange that the ever-cautious Nobunaga allowed himself to be present, defenseless, at Honnoji.
To discover what was on Mitsuhide’s mind, we must backtrack to March 1582, when the successful assault on the Takeda forces in Koshu (present-day Yamanashi prefecture) took place. After the battle, in front of a great many warriors, Nobunaga shoved Mitsuhide’s head against a railing and shouted invective at him. Also on May 15, Mitsuhide was rebuked while in charge of entertaining Tokugawa Ieyasu, and was ordered to go with reinforcements to aid the lower-ranking Hideyoshi at Bishu Takamatsu. At that time, Mitsuhide may have recalled a two-year-old incident in Nobunaga cruelly banished Sakuma Nobumori (1528-82), who had served the Oda for a long time.
Shouldn’t Nobunaga have considered the possibility of rebellion on the part of Mitsuhide? And if he did not, we would certainly like to know why.
It is possible that Nobunaga was more concerned about entertaining Ieyasu than about anything else. Now that Takeda was dead, Ieyasu might have thought that Nobunaga wouldn’t need him anymore. To prove that wasn’t the case, Nobunaga invited Ieyasu for an evening of entertainment, but Ieyasu might have felt uneasy and feared for his life. If Nobunaga guessed what Ieyasu was thinking, Nobunaga would have to convince Ieyasu that entertainment was his only objective. But that wouldn’t be possible with ordinary entertainment, since Ieyasu was the suspicious type. For that purpose he assigned Mitsuhide to entertain Ieyasu, and he rebuked Mitsuhide, intentionally, in Ieyasu’s presence. Then Ieyasu could believe that Nobunaga really intended to entertain him. That would mean that Nobunaga, preoccupied with Ieyasu, didn’t realize that Mitsuhide might have had a change of heart.
No matter how curious we might be about the Honnoji Incident, there are many aspects of the event that we cannot know. If we don’t use our imaginations to flesh out the story, we cannot come up with a full description of the incident. Therefore, it is up to us to apply our imaginations historically. But everyone imagines differently. We end up competing for the scenario that imagines an event that is closest to historical fact. Those differences in imagination give birth to historical theory.
But historical theory isn’t a matter of letting our imaginations run wild. We are constrained by the past, and must compete with each other to arrive at a conclusion that most closely reflects the past event as it occurred.
Next we have historical perception, meaning not a perception seeking the truth about individual historical facts, but a comprehensive opinion that we construct, which includes specific points of view, when we synopsize history. When I say “specific points of view,” it doesn’t seem that I am speaking objectively. But we are inserting subjectivity to arrive at an entirety.
Since historical perceptions are formed subjectively, it is acceptable to synopsize history in a patriotic manner when the perception of one’s own nation’s history is involved. If we are discussing the perception of our personal histories, it is acceptable to view them arbitrarily. In other words, we may create a synopsis of history that has subjective aspects, to a certain extent. But we are constrained by the truth of history. Some historians, when confronted with something that is not historical fact, and shown evidence proving that it is not, will insist to the bitter end that it is a historical theory and that it is true. What those people claim is theory or historical perception is neither, at least in the context of historiography. And we cannot call them historians.
Once again, since we view history from a special historical perception, historians must not believe that historical facts that do not exist, or that it is all right to demonstrate only those historical facts that match a special historical perception. Historical perception is constrained by past events, and historical perceptions to which we do not apply such boundaries is not an allowable historical perception, but one that must be discarded.
I often hear the term “materialistic historical perception” when historical perceptions are under discussion. This is a historical perception that uses materialism as defined by Karl Marx as a benchmark. But though looking at history with materialism as a gauge may be tolerated, often facts about past events are distorted, or disregarded; this means that it is a warped view, and an unacceptably biased historical perception.
In Japan there is an IMTFE historical perception. This is an attempt to synopsize Japanese history to agree with the judgment handed down at the Tokyo Trials. But the proceedings were forced on a defeated nation by the victors; it was not a fair trial and the resulting historical perception must be scrapped.
Additionally there is the “masochistic historical perception.” Since history should by rights be intended to form one’s identity, the practice of looking at one’s own history from a masochistic viewpoint must be eliminated.
Among historical perceptions, there is a type whereby someone maintains that his historical perception is accurate, and infallible. Needless to say, the Chinese historical perception falls into this category. This is Chinese historical perception, which has its roots in Chinese thought. It is the one and only correct historical perception — all others are erroneous. Within the Chinese sphere we hear these claims made in all seriousness, but we must ask how many lives this historical perception has ruined. A historical perception, normally, must be free, and premised on diversity. The Chinese historical perception must be discarded.
Chinese history as recorded is riddled with errors and, in many cases, spurious. Not until the Qing dynasty was historical research done in earnest, but after that a great many historical facts were uncovered.
The Book of Documents, one of the Five Classics and considered to be the oldest, was the subject of controversy: which was authentic, the new-text version or the old-text version, both dating from the Han dynasty? Finally, during the Qing dynasty, the old-text version was exposed as a fabrication on the part of Kong Anguo, a descendant of Confucius.
Several schools of thought formed, each arguing its position concerning the Chinese classics, and the discipline of authentication studies began to blossom.
Chinese history per se was created from monstrous lies. Without the knowledge afforded by historical research and authentication studies, we would not be able to show what is true and what is false. According to Zhang Zhidong’s Words of Youxuan, if we insist upon knowing what is true and what is not, then we must throw away half of the Chinese classics.
There are so many false theories, false sutras, and false historical accounts because Chinese culture is intended to deceive; it is based on a culture of deception. Even today we hear former Prime Minister Zhu Rongji lamenting, “Everything is false. The only genuine article is the swindler.”
Therefore, about the historical perception of the “correct historical perception” in the eyes of the Chinese, I say reverse perception, reverse hearing, reverse reading.” This is decidedly not my idea of a paradoxical rhetoric. Those lies are disseminated for a purpose. The Chinese create countless fake histories with a political motive. Such fake histories must be exposed if we are to know the truth and avoid being deceived.
CHAPTER 2: PRINCIPLES OF CHINESE CIVILIZATION
1. Yellow River Civilization: the main source of Chinese culture
We can safely say that the region referred to as the central plains, near the middle and upper reaches of the Yellow River, was the cradle of Chinese civilization. Agriculture flourished on the banks of that mighty river, and a community — a nation, for all intents and purposes — arose under a powerful ruler. That ancient civilization had much in common with the three other ancient cultures: the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Indus Valley civilizations.
In those four civilizations a great many people, the majority of them farmers, lived under an orderly system of government. Three of them eventually vanished, conquered by younger civilizations; no traces of them remain. Only the Yellow River civilization persisted, evolving into its present form, the Chinese civilization. The main reason for its survival is conflicts with mounted nomads to the north, who plagued the Chinese civilization from the time of its birth. There was constant warfare between the farmers and the nomads, who were seasoned, powerful warriors. During that process the Chinese civilization swallowed up other civilizations, for instance, older ones like its predecessor, the Yangtze River civilization. It continued to expand until it became the Chinese civilization of today. In that sense, it was different from the other three ancient civilizations.
The mounted nomads to the north were relentless in their attacks on the farmers, who referred to them as barbarians. The barbarians were skillful warriors, partly because of the advantage their horses gave them. The farmers suffered defeat after defeat until guns and cannons were invented and became available to them, but they were not annihilated. The nomads covered a wide range of territory, and carried their culture with them. But since they had no fixed abodes, they could not create a great civilization. Agriculture, however, enabled its practitioners to create a strong civilization and to form a massive community with a sizable population. In other words, they built a nation governed by leaders who routinely conducted politics. A writing system was created out of the need for various types of records, such as tax rolls, to support a large nation. We know that the hanzi devised by the dwellers of the Yellow River basin can be traced back to inscriptions on tortoise shells used in divinations. But like the writing systems used by the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations, hanzi started out as pictographs, and later evolved into ideographs. The Mesopotamian and Egyptian writing systems vanished, for the most part; subsequent civilizations adopted some aspects of them when they created phonograms. An examination of hanzi reveals that characters for auspicious concepts like beauty (美) and good (善) include the characters for sheep (羊). One might conclude that such a phenomenon has its origins in interchanges between the farmers and herders, i.e., nomads. But it was the farmers who conceived hanzi as a tool for record keeping. The Yellow River civilization differs from its three counterparts in that hanzi are still used today, and bear witness to the continuity of that civilization. There were many other farming communities in areas near the Yellow River civilization. When one civilization won wars, and its sphere of influence expanded, hanzi were the only means of communication between speakers of different language families. They became ideographs and a means of communication.
2. Beyond nations to the world
The evolution of the Yellow River civilization was different than that of the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Indus Valley civilizations. In the regions where they arose, newer civilizations appeared. Eventually peoples who shared the same religion, language, and lifestyle formed communities called nations, each governed by a ruler. These nations established boundaries, and while going about their separate ways, coexisted with other nations outside their borders. This new world order allowed for a reduction in the number of wars. But the concept of the nation was absent from the Chinese civilization, whose roots were in the Yellow River civilization, and which, therefore, recognized no borders. Instead, the Chinese lived their lives in a borderless world, or realm, governed by an emperor, whose realm expanded or shrank, depending on his power.
In an empire whose size depends on its ruler’s might, the notion of national borders does not arise. The Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Indus Valley civilizations, all of them very large, appeared in specific regions where there was abundant arable land. There were no comparable civilizations in the vicinity of any of those three, so it is likely that there was no need to establish borders. Eventually those civilizations declined and disappeared. They were succeeded by new, more advanced civilizations in territory not far away from their predecessors. However, in the case of the Chinese or Yellow River civilization, and only that civilization in borderless, seemingly infinite territory, never declined, persisting even to this day. Since it, like the other ancient civilizations, had no borders, it was an exception in a world of national civilizations that coexisted peacefully with each other. A closer look at history tells us that the [first] nation to be formally and legally established was Germany, via the Peace of Westphalia concluded in 1648 at the end of the Thirty Years’ War. That treaty also recognized the independence of Switzerland and the Netherlands.
Today all nations have definite boundaries, inside which their citizens reside. The PRC, the bearer of the Chinese civilization, was forced to establish borders to appease the international community. But in Chinese minds the Chinese realm includes all territory China is capable of controlling through its power. National borders may exist, but they could expand if the “emperor” acquires more power. According to this concept, the emperor rules the entire world and all people.
Present-day China is governed by a one-party (the CPC, or Communist Party of China) system; there is no longer a single ruler who controls the nation. But if the CPC, which supplanted the emperor, becomes stronger, China’s territory will expand, as will the number of subjects ruled, just as occurred in the era of emperors. The socialist cosmopolitan notions of world revolution, liberation of the human race, and the abolition of the state have the same roots, as well as connections to the concept of yixing geming, or dynastic change. This philosophy has endured since the Yellow River civilization, and we can expect modern China to expand. The CPC, which flatters itself with the notion that the Chinese civilization depends on it; the essence of this philosophy has not changed an iota since the days of the Yellow River civilization.
According to Confucian arguments a righteous man of virtue is ordained by heaven, becomes the ruler, and governs the world’s inhabitants. But China’s rulers are neither righteous nor virtuous. The founding rulers, for the most part, used military force to gain their positions. Even those who were described as enlightened or wise rulers, for instance, Taizong (626-649) of the Tang dynasty and Yongle (1402-1424) of the Ming dynasty, killed blood relatives and close friends during their quest for power and the throne. The truth is that only cold-blooded, brutal individuals could become emperors.
Mao Zedong once said, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” His words add ammunition to the view that China is a nation born of war. If it were not for war, the PRC would not exist.
Let us take a moment to consider the connection between the teachings of Confucianism as they affect those who support the Chinese civilization, and the concept of “world.” According to the teachings of Confucianism, humans want to live peacefully under the rule of an emperor (son of heaven). Conceptually, Confucianism is a peace-loving way of life.
But Confucianism under imperialism does not address the barbarians who live on the perimeter of the huge Chinese civilization. Under imperialism Confucian teachings considered the beginnings of the Yellow River civilization the ideal age, since there were few conflicts, and religion and rule were one. The emphasis was on li (custom, reason, rite, mores). Such a teaching made perfect sense in a peaceful world. But everyone outside the Chinese world was considered a barbarian, and barbarians were not qualified to enjoy the ideals of Confucianism. The Chinese and the barbarians were completely separate, and the killing or wounding of barbarians was acceptable behavior.
From the viewpoint of members of the huge Chinese civilization, there was no need to respect the lives of the barbarians outside their world. Confucian scholar Wang Fuzhi, who lived near the end of the Ming dynasty, said that the barbarians were no better than beasts, to whom humanity and justice did not apply. Any Chinese who killed them would not be committing an inhuman act, and any Chinese who betrayed them would not be guilty of misanthropy or injustice. Since the Chinese were subject to attacks from the bellicose mounted nomads, they were almost constantly in a state of war. Of course, they would kill the barbarians if the necessity of doing so presented itself. Genocide against barbarians was justified as divine punishment according to Neo-Confucian doctrine. In other words, the Chinese would kill the immoral barbarians in the name of heaven.
As the founder of Confucianism, Confucius is regarded as a holy man. Nevertheless, he is reputed to have enjoyed the taste of human flesh. I cannot state with certainty that he engaged in this practice, but if he did, and if the human flesh he ate was that of barbarians, that is not inconsistent with his teachings, since he viewed barbarians as beasts. There are many accounts in official histories of Chinese officials eating barbarian flesh. History of the Southern Dynasties (completed between 643 and 659), the Book of Liang (completed in 635), and “An Account of the Wa (Japanese)” (completed between 280 and 297) all contain numerous accounts that tell us how delicious Japanese flesh is.
It seems that Confucius himself was quite fond of hai, or salted and fermented meat. We are not certain that it was human flesh he was eating, but in his time cannibalism was widespread. Confucius enjoyed hai until the body of his beloved disciple Zilu, after he was killed, dismembered, and pickled, was sent to him.
Confucianism began in the 5th century BC with Confucius and Mencius. It then went through several phases, including the Neo-Confucianist Zhu Xi school in the 12th century. Between the 15th and 16th centuries Neo-Confucianism experienced a renaissance in the form of a school referred to as Yangmingism, after Yang Ming. But throughout its evolution, the philosophy continued to condone the killing of barbarians. This is the doctrine of tianzhu, or divine punishment. I find it interesting that a Chinese philosophy that had such a strong influence on the Japanese would be premised on such a doctrine.
3. The significance of war as the essence of Chinese civilization
When a strong animal captures a weak animal, and kills and eats it, there are no recriminations — no talk of justice or injustice. No matter how cleverly deceitful the method used to capture the prey, we usually praise the predator for its cleverness, rather than accusing it of being evil or unjust.
Most animals do not kill others of the same spices. But there are some that kill and even eat others of their kind. There are even some that kill and eat their own offspring. If such behavior is instinctive, it is not evil or unfair.
Humans, however, do not eat other humans, under normal circumstances at least, and the murder of other humans, at least those living in the same community, is considered evil and criminal.
Problems arise when murders occur between groups of people. Suppose that a group that has no food left lives near another group that has some food. The group with no food will attack the group with food in order to survive, steal its food and, if necessary, kill members of the other group. In other words, the two groups battle each other. This is called war.
Human civilizations have two choices: they can endeavor to prevent war to the extent possible, or they can simply go about their business without making any attempt to suppress war.
When people form states, determine borders, and live in those states, they have established what I call national civilizations. These national civilizations, or nations, tend to refrain from waging war. But when people live in a civilization whose ruler is determined by the outcome of a war, the conflicts are not fought for the sake of the nation, but to enable the victor, one individual, to become the ruler (or emperor). Therefore, the wars are interminable.
Since we expect nations to coexist, controls govern wars fought by nations, such as attempts to avoid war or to keep casualties at a minimum. These controls take the form of laws and regulations, which both the weak and the strong must obey.
But in a civilization involving an emperor and his realm, the strong (or rather, the victorious) can behave as they wish. The law of the jungle applies, and since wars are intended to establish a ruler, any method of war is tolerated, and the conflicts become increasingly brutal.
Since the defeated have lost all physical means of resistance, the victors can kill them all if they please. For instance, during the Warring States period (480-221 BC) the Zhao were defeated by the Qin. More than 400,000 Zhao soldiers who had surrendered to the Qin were buried alive by Qin General Bai Qi. After the Qin took control, during the “great disorder under heaven” toward the end of the Qin period, 240,000 Qin soldiers were buried alive by Xiang Yu at Xin’an. A civilization that does not have a system in place to suppress wars must resort to any means that will enable it to emerge victorious. If that method promises to be successful, no matter how cruel it may be, it must be used to slaughter the enemy. To achieve victory, any and every means is permissible. This is the same logic that prevails in nature. There is no such thing as justice or injustice.
When wars are frequent, communities lose the ability to ensure that justice is done. In China approximately 2,500 years ago, a man named Sun Zi wrote a work entitled the Art of War. In the beginning of the book the following sentence appears: “Soldiers must deceive their enemies.” What he meant is, “Since we must wage wars to survive, ordinary morals fall by the wayside.”
For instance, take siege warfare: when an army surrounded a fortress in China, the soldiers and civilizations surrendered when they ran out of food. Unless the victors had an ample supply of food, they would massacre all defeated survivors by burying them alive, or by other means. Massacres have been perpetrated frequently in Chinese history in imperial capitals, such as the Nanjing massacre, several massacres in Chang’an (the last occurring in 949), and the Luoyang massacre (311). When they occur, the victims are not able to resist, so they must resign themselves to being killed. Inside a fortress under siege, the defeated cannot surrender when their food supply is exhausted. They kill their weakest (the elderly, women, and children) and eat them. Among 1,008 accounts of cannibalism in historical documents, 236 pertain to fortresses under siege.
When you have farmers who have a supply of food stored away, and to their north, mounted nomad barbarians, and those barbarians instigate wars, justice has nothing to do with those wars. Any means that will lead to victory is used, and wars become increasingly vicious.
To survive, victims of defeat attack another group of farmers. They use whatever tactics they need to win, and each war is crueler than the last. The region in which the violence rages grows wider and wider as time goes by.
We can summarize by saying that the Chinese civilization, the Yellow River civilization that developed in the plains on the middle and lower reaches of the yellow River, was constantly under attack by mounted nomads from the north. Even as war followed war, the area occupied by agricultural regions of China continued to expand throughout the entire continent.
If we were to define rulers as those who could muster an army and wage war, then as their military strength increased, so did the number of their subjects. The more powerful they became, the more their territory expanded.
A bird’s-eye view of the history of Western civilization shows that the new civilizations that arose after the fall of the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Indus Valley civilizations established nations. Although there were many exceptions, those nations were formed by people with a common religion, ethnicity, and language. The rights of the citizens of those nations were recognized, the right to be treated justly and the right to be treated fairly — these rights could not be violated by any authority. It became a nation’s mission to protect its citizens’ lives and property. Nations recognized each other’s sovereignty and autonomy. Then international law, whereby all nations, strong and weak, would abide, came into being. Attempts were made to suppress warfare, and the number of war casualties decreased. Because war is cruel and inhuman, national civilizations that made efforts to prevent it became part of a coalition within which multiple nations coexisted.
Through the ages nations have taken many forms: city-states, feudal states, and nation-states. In China we had the Seven Warring States, the Sixteen Kingdoms, and the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. But for a period of about 2,000 years, after the Han or ethnic Chinese had been driven out of their homeland, the central plains, the leading roles in Chinese dynasties were taken by barbarians, who sought control of the world —the entire world.
European civilizations developed under Roman law, which is rooted in the recognition that all humans have rights. The Peace of Westphalia was concluded in 1648 to put an end to a long war. The treaty afforded rights in the form of sovereignty to all signatory nations, whether large or small. Relationships among nations were now governed by international law, and it became possible to avoid wars. Now national civilization, the ideal form of human civilization, began to take shape.
Since the advent of the nation-state era, national civilization became the main trend in the modern world. But only the Chinese civilization stands out as an exception in this the 21st century, with no nation, no people, and no borders. The biggest difference between the national civilization and the Chinese realm, or tianxia, is that in the relationship between a nation and its people there are legally defined rights and responsibilities. Systems are in place to solicit the will of the people. International law governs relations between nations. These aspects are nowhere to be found in the Chinese civilization.
4. The logically flawed political theory behind dynastic revolution
In the Chinese civilization, the individual who unites the world is the ruler, the emperor, who brings order to his realm and enriches the lives of his subjects. Therefore, ideologically, the emperor is the most virtuous individual, who brings happiness to everyone in his realm. But to become the ruler, the emperor must win a war and become a conqueror. War is his only instrument for advancement, but he cannot win wars if he is truly a virtuous man. He must renounce virtuous behavior, resort to deceit, and become a brutal conqueror who uses military force. During a war he may end up killing blood relatives or members of the same tribe.
Danger is a constant companion of war, and a ruler fighting a war is always in its midst. Looking back at Chinese history, we see that there have been approximately 200 emperors, but one-third of them did not die a natural death. Furthermore, on the Korean peninsula (part of the same civilization), even fewer kings died a natural death — about half of them met a violent end. Surrounded by so much danger, a future ruler must tread an evil path. A dynastic revolution by a ruler could never be defined as a political theory that benefits the human race.
Dynastic revolution is said to occur when one ruler falls from virtue, and a new ruler comes onto the scene and displaces him. Thus is virtuous politics restored. The new ruler has been awarded the mandate of heaven. A ruler who competes with his rivals and emerges victorious is called a virtuous man, and the true ordained son of heaven. This is a political theory put forward by Mencius, who lived between the 5th and 4th centuries BC. When Mencius attempted to establish a world that was peaceful and stable according to the precepts of Confucianism, China already had a history of power changing hands via military might. He therefore accepted that tradition, and out of necessity, formulated the political theory of dynastic revolution. It is possible to concede that dynastic revolution as a political theory was unavoidable.
Dynastic revolution is premised on the notion that every dynasty will eventually collapse. This proved to be a truth of the Chinese civilization, and was thus an inevitable political theory. But according to this theory, anyone who was able to win a war through any means could become the ruler. Therefore, wars became increasingly brutal.
Zhu Wen (852-912), who conquered the Tang and established the Liang dynasty, was originally a member of a pack of bandits led by Huang Chao (who is honored today as the hero of an agrarian rebellion at a museum dedicated to him). Zhu, under orders from Huang, fomented the Huang Chao rebellion. But when Huang Chao’s position vis à vis the imperial army looked precarious, Zhu betrayed Huang and joined the imperial forces, who subdued Huang. For his heroics Zhu was given the name Zhu Quanzhong. Ultimately he conquered the Tang and founded the Liang dynasty.
Neither Liu Bang, founder of the Han dynasty, nor Zhu Yuanzhang, founder of the Ming dynasty, could read or write; reportedly they were drunkards who loitered in the streets. Both of them were fortunate enough to become emperor, but they ousted men who had fought bravely under them, and killed many innocent people. Zhu Yuanzhang stands out for murdering not only one clan of meritorious retainers, but also other residents of the same village, for a total of approximately 50,000 innocent people.
In a dynastic revolution, the strongest person wins, and when he does he is allowed to do whatever he wants to the people he conquers. Until the next ruler wins a war and is installed, the people undergo unspeakable suffering, and since the new ruler has achieved his position through military might, they also incur terrible risks due to the arbitrary behavior of the victors. It is pertinent to note that this principle persists in today’s China under one-party rule.
The dynastic-revolution concept has its limits. After six dynasties, the Chinese world experienced approximately 2,000 years of barbarian rule, including the Five Barbarians era in the 4th and 5th centuries. The Chinese continued to evoke dynastic revolution, even when they were conquered by the likes of Mongolians (Yuan dynasty) and Manchurians (Qing dynasty). What are we to make of a political theory that brings nothing but misery to the human race?
5. Common characteristics of the people and subjects
In the Chinese civilization, what characteristics do the people, the subjects under the sway of the emperor, acquire?
According to the political principle called dynastic revolution, an individual who has become emperor by emerging victorious from a war has no time to consider the wellbeing of his subjects. If necessary, the ruler will kill as many people as possible at the drop of a hat in order to triumph in war. The people are of no use to him in his battle with his current enemy. Therefore he ignores them, kills them without compunction when the need arises, or lets them die.
Even when the ruler is virtuous and his realm is at peace, his subjects become displaced persons because of famine or pestilence, and chaos ensues. Moreover, since anyone who wins a war can become ruler, someone who aspires to become emperor will foment a war amidst the turmoil of famine and pestilence.
As scholar Liang Qichao (1873-1929) said, the people, subjects, are victims whose destiny is to be slaughtered. Even in present-day China, there are no citizens in the true sense of the word. Looking back at history, the people have no connection with their country. Their purpose is simply sacrificial.
In geopolitical terms, even though the Chinese had the Great Wall, they could not stem the southward advance of the nomads. The Yangtze River served as a natural defense in the south. It was difficult to ford, but it could not stop the northern nomads from advancing southward. Towards the end of the Han dynasty, there were already barbarians working as foreign laborers in the Han Chinese homeland. After the Three Kingdoms era (184/220-280), the farmers in the Central plains were half barbarians, and half Han Chinese. By the time of the Sixteen Kingdoms there were more barbarians than Chinese on the Central plains. The Sui and Tang emperors were Turkish (proto-Mongols and Göktürks). When the Song dynasty came into being roughly 1,000 years ago, north of the Yangtze the Liao dynasty arose, founded by the Khitan Mongols, then the Jin dynasty, founded by the Tungusic Jurchen, and in the northwest the Sogdians founded the Western Xia dynasty. The Mongol Yuan dynasty crossed the Yangtze River and appropriated land south of the Yangtze. The Jurchen Manchus controlled the expanded Chinese realm, the continent, for nearly 300 years. From the time of the Sixteen Kingdoms for about 2,000 years, until the beginning of the 20th century, barbarians ruled China.
The Chinese on the Central plains bearing the Yellow River civilization were driven further and further south by the nomads for about 2,000 years, and ended up south of the Yangtze River.
Whether the force driving them was natural disasters, geopolitical or ecological problems, or war, when the people were displaced and social order collapsed, someone came forward to become the new leader, whether he was qualified or not. He didn’t need to consider the wellbeing of his subjects, he just needed to triumph in war. His people, his subjects, were totally abandoned by their rulers.
As Liang Qichao said, the people living in the Chinese civilization were meant to be sacrifice, and could be killed by their so-called ruler at any time. Viewed in this light, the Chinese of today are survivors who have had the good fortune to escape being slaughtered.
What sort of personalities do we find in people who have survived horrible situations? Throughout the history of their civilization, the Chinese cannot say that they have been obedient and peace-loving. But once a system is in place, they want to be obedient. Or they want to be slaves. For details about their desire to be slaves, please consult my book Arrogant China: Résumé of a Nightmare.
Eminent writer Lu Xun (1881-1936), who is considered the father of modern Chinese literature, and who was even more blunt than I, divides Chinese history into two eras: (1) when the Chinese were trying to become slaves but failed, and (2) when the Chinese became slaves for a time and were satisfied with their lot.
Within the Chinese civilization the Han Chinese were in the majority, but in general they accepted being controlled by the less numerous barbarians for decades, generations, even centuries. The Chinese adapted and pandered to them, whether bandits or barbarians. This is probably the characteristics people, subjects, acquire as they seek to minimize wars and other conflicts.
When one is confronted with an enemy who is far superior, it is foolish to lose one’s life fighting an unwinnable war; it makes more sense to surrender as quickly as possible. When the superior Mongol armies came down from the upper reaches of the Yangtze River onto the land south of the Yangtze, Southern Song soldiers and civilians alike gave them an enthusiastic welcome. When the Manchu and Mongol Eight-Banner armies entered Beijing and Nanjing, all the officials (both civil and military), as well as civilians welcomed them wholeheartedly, even affixing yellow signs to their houses saying “We pledge obedience to the great Qing empire,” and burning incense. It is safe to assume that the Chinese surrender when the enemy seems unstoppable.
At the end of the Ming dynasty patriot Huang Daozhou (1585-1646), who turned against his Manchurian ruler and attempted to restore the Ming dynasty, was an anti-Manchurian activist, and a hero for having tried to protect the Ming dynasty established by Han Chinese. When his attempt at resistance failed and he was arrested and taken away, the villagers were welcoming the New Year in a celebratory mood, dressed in their finery. When Huang was being led away, people who had a short time ago been Ming subjects asked who the prisoner was. They were told that he was a criminal because he had rebelled against the ruler. As soon as they heard that, the villagers formed a crowd and began cursing Huang and throwing stones at him — their hero!
Members of the Chinese civilization, which had evolved from the Yellow River civilization and was built by farmers, always thought of their non-Chinese neighbors as barbarians. They made a clear distinction between themselves, the civilized, and the barbarians. The Chinese placed themselves at the center of a concentric circle surrounded by Eastern, Southern, and Western barbarians. Even though they built the Great Wall to the north, for more than 2,000 years, the Han Chinese on the central plains were driven away and ruled by Mongols (Yuan dynasty) and Manchus (Qing dynasty), both barbarian tribes. And even though they were treated like slaves in a barbarian colony, they were delighted with their lot. This means, in Lu Xun’s terms, that they were content to be slaves for a while, and that being slaves made them feel somewhat safe. “I would rather be the Taiping’s dogs than an ordinary man in turbulent times.”
The one desire of people who have lived through violent times is to avoid a cruel fate; this is called “clear wisdom and self-preservation” (mingzhe baoshen). Then, when disaster befalls someone else, they take pleasure. The mentality of rejoicing at someone else’s misfortune is expressed by xingzai yuehuo in Chinese (rejoicing in another’s misery).
When people belonging to a tribe whose members have been brutally murdered have an opportunity to kill, they use the same methods or even more brutal ones.
Recently the Japan Society for History Textbook Reform issued a pamphlet entitled the “Tongzhou Massacre.” On July 29, 1937 hundreds of Japanese were murdered in Tongzhou, China. The murderers were, in addition to members of the Peace Preservation Corps, Chinese students, who were not soldiers but members of a training unit; they eagerly participated in the massacre. Photographs of acts of genocide on the part of Han Chinese against Mongols, Tibetans, and Uighurs are often exposed to the international community. The Tongzhou massacre was only one of many such acts in Chinese history. To the Chinese happiness means wealth, offspring, and longevity; the most sought-after desire in life is a hundred sons and a thousand grandsons (baize qiansun). Even today the killing of an entire family group (mie men) happens often. Historical examples show that attacks on non-Chinese peoples has involved cutting off men’s testicles and tearing out women’s uteruses. This shows determination on the part of the Chinese to eradicate foreign tribes, even to the extent of ensuring that they have no descendants. Famous victims of castration include Sima Qian, the father of Chinese historiography, and Zheng He, a Muslim member of the Semu tribe, who is even today revered in China.
Sun Yatsen often said that the Chinese love peace, but Mao Zedong was speaking his mind when he boasted, “That’s a lie. They love war, as do I.”
One often hears Chinese say things like, “Unlike militaristic countries, we are a nation of letters, so it is correct to describe us as peace-loving people.” But in most of the countries populated by Chinese, you will see a great many scenes in programs, even programs depicting daily life, where characters, both men and women, are yelling, “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot! Punch him! Get him! Kill him!” That is why tourists and businesspeople from Japan ask if there aren’t better, less violent, less frightening programs.
More than 2,000 years ago when the Qin and Han dynasties united the Chinese world, the balance between the people and Nature was already beginning to collapse. In those days the population in one county on the south bank of the Yellow River exceeded one million. The area was so crowded that the average density per square kilometer was, in some counties, more than 700 people. Then Nature struck back abruptly, bringing famine, which became the cause of social strife.
In the later Han dynasty, when the Yellow Turban rebellion broke out, and into the Three Kingdoms era, social strife in the central plains worsened to the extent that there were mountains of bleached human bones, but no signs of human habitation. Reports have it that in the Three Kingdoms era, the population dwindled to one-eighth of what it had been in prosperous times. The central plains became a depopulated area, and the hardy nomads from the north and the outskirts of the plains went to live there. By the Jin dynasty, the population there was 50% Han and 50% barbarians.
Driven off by nomads, the original inhabitants of the central plains fled southward, crossed the Yangtze, and then moved further south. Today they can be found everywhere on Earth. Those who went southward and then dispersed all over the world did not know how to coexist with Nature. They not only exhausted natural resources, but also dug up underground resources, depleted marine resources like fish and sea turtles, and tore red coral from the ocean floor, never considering the consequences.
In a society where war was an everyday event, the Chinese knew they might meet a tragic fate at any moment. They sensed that they must grab whatever rewards they could right away. Since they always risked suffering an untimely death, and lived constantly in fear, they felt they had to take whatever they could as soon as an opportunity presented itself, and that was their goal in life.
Realizing that they might meet death at any moment, they soon became thugs, hoping to rise to a powerful position in society. Today’s Chinese are overbearing and make no effort to conform to standards that the world demands because their “strongman” characteristics have come to the fore. Lu Xun said, “The subjects of a tyrant are usually more tyrannical than the ruler himself. The subjects of a despot hope that someone else will be his victims; when that happens, they will stand by and watch with amusement. Brutality, the suffering of others becomes the bystanders’ pleasure and consolation. Their strength lies in avoiding an unpleasant fate, and only that.” Books and commentary with titles like “The Chinese Are Annoyed,” “The Chinese Will Be Angry,” and “China Is Strong and Will Call the Shots from Now On” bear witness to that mentality.
One would expect the Communist Chinese government, the current national authority, to encourage its citizens to exercise more restraint, it too is in strongman mode.
Still, I would like to believe that the Chinese character has taken shape for historical reasons, and has no connection with biological DNA.
Extrapolating from the shared characteristics of the Chinese, let us take a look at how Chinese soldiers behaved during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Since the concept of nationhood is absent in China, there is no concept of citizenship, either. And there is no patriotism, at least in principle. Carrying this argument to the extreme, we can say that they were acquiescing to powers mightier than they. There was nothing for them to defend for someone else’s sake, so they did not approach their training with any enthusiasm. They risked their lives, but not of their own volition. Conversely, they became violent when in a position of strength. Therefore, armies needed blocking units, which forced retreating soldiers back into the war zone. Without those anti-retreat troops, every man would have fled.
During combat, when the enemy was even the slightest bit ahead, Chinese soldiers would flee, or surrender.
Conversely, if their side seemed to be winning, they would fight furiously. When victory seemed close at hand, they would launch a violent offensive.
In the early days of the war, Japan’s General Staff Office issued a pamphlet entitled “Attributes of the Chinese Soldier.” It reported that Chinese soldiers were self-centered, irresponsible, and lethargic.
However, they would fight fearlessly and powerfully when (1) they had something to gain, for instance, prize money or the opportunity to loot, (2) when they assumed the enemy soldier to be weak, and (3) when they found themselves in a death trap.
The pamphlet goes on to say that Chinese soldiers were susceptible to mob psychology and to false rumors, and would desert when their situation became unfavorable. Officers would sometimes abandon their subordinates and go into hiding. When Nanjing fell in 1937, Tang Shengzhi, commander of the Chinese forces, abandoned his subordinates and fled the city; he is a typical example of such behavior. Prior to the battle, Gen. Chiang Kai-shek and his wife promised to defend the city to their death, but they were one of the first to evacuate; General Commander He Yingqin was not far behind them.
After Japan lost the war and there was no longer a Japanese presence in China, the Guomindang and Communist armies fought each other. But when the Communists appeared to be slightly ahead thanks to help from the USSR, Guomindang troops started going over to the Communist side; this is another good example of such behavior.
But what about the Chinese military personnel of today? Now that the CPC is in control, there are no more civil wars. There are national boundaries, and the nation has more or less taken shape. All the criteria for instilling patriotism have been met. Therefore, one would presume that Chinese soldiers are patriots. The truth is that when they think they are in a strong position, they are proud and patriotic. But in essence, they are the same as they were centuries ago. The PLA (People’s Liberation Army) is not a force entrusted with the nation’s welfare, but the CPC’s private army. Therefore, we shouldn’t expect much patriotism. The PLA’s PKO troops in South Sudan in 2016 panicked when approached by throngs of refugees. Instead of taking action to protect them, they sprayed them with tear gas and abandoned their stations, becoming the laughingstock of the world.
6. Comparison of Chinese national civilization with those of other modern nations
Earlier when I mentioned national civilizations created by the Western world, I wrote that the ancient Roman civilization established a legal concept called “rights.” The Romans were the first to establish the rule of law and to afford rights to all citizens. Every Roman enjoyed equal rights, and their right to live was guaranteed.
Soon Roman law became the law of nations, all humans were afforded rights, nations guaranteed the right to live to all their citizens.
On the foundation laid by those rights, people who shared the same religion, language, and ethnicity, i.e., people who got along well together. They built nations, determined borders, and derived value from coexisting in peace; they had created national civilizations.
The first national domains were determined by the Peace of Westphalia, treaties concluded after the Thirty Years’ War in 1648. The treaties recognized the independence of the Dutch Republic from Spain, as well as the independence of Switzerland. International law took on greater importance, and war came to be considered an extension of diplomacy (meaning subservient to politics). When the 20th century dawned, treaties governing the conduct of war on land were signed, and wars were ended when the outcome was clear. As a result, the number of casualties diminished considerably. The reality was, however, not always like that. For instance, during World War II, the Allies violated international law in countless ways. The US, which had become the main force of the Allies, the victors, did not claim that it could do anything it pleased. Instead, the Allies presented a farce in the form of the International Military Tribune for the Far East, the rationalization for which was the necessity of obeying the law, an argument that was consistent with the logic of national civilization.
Even for victors in war, the logic of civilization remained, i.e., they recognized the rights of the citizens of the defeated nations, believed that people should be able to live in peace, and that war should be prevented. Rights and the rule of law are important elements of human civilization.
China is the only national civilization that remains stuck to the ruler-and-ruled type of civilization, which has prevailed since the Yellow River civilization. When the 20th century began, the Xinhai Revolution erupted (1911), and China attempted to create a nation-state, but instead descended into unprecedented chaos. First it was an empire, then a republic, then a people’s republic. But even as a people’s republic, the regime of Mao Zedong differed greatly from that of Deng Xiaoping (1978-1989) and his successors. Why did the state structure change so many times? Because China was the world, not a nation. Attempts to transform a world into a nation resulted only in chaos.
Again, let us compare Western civilization, which established modern nations, with the current Chinese civilization.
Modern Western nation-states are, in principle, agglomerations of special cultures, which share a religion, language and customs. Another name for this agglomeration is “nation.” A nation is based on the common principles that define its role: protecting the people’s lives and property. From the 20th century on, the common concept is that nations must cooperate and coexist. In other words, in Western civilization people form nations, and have created national civilizations in which they live in peace and prosperity.
To that end, in a nation decisions are made about what form politics should take. For instance, such decisions might concern the separation of administrative, legislative, and judicial powers. The people’s consensus is sought. The purpose of these decisions is to ensure that a nation’s power does not cause it to behave irresponsibly, and that all citizens benefit from the principles of democracy.
The result was civilizations that refrain from engaging in warfare.
Rome’s contribution to this sort of national civilization was enormous. Roman law was conceived of at first as the basis for freedom and rights to be enjoyed by citizens of the city of Rome. Soon this became the law of nations to be enjoyed by all people. In other words, even those who were ruled by the Roman army were afforded freedom and rights.
Rome had a history of frequent warfare. The Romans destroyed many states and civilizations, and enslaved people who surrendered to them.
But Emperor Julius Caesar was unlike China’s emperors, who achieved their status only through military might. His enthronement was not the direct result of military victory, but of being recommended by the Senate. Some Roman emperors, like Nero, used their power to further their own designs, but the emperorship was not a status one achieved through military might alone.
This tradition discouraged emperors from arbitrarily starting wars. The emperor’s subjects, i.e., Roman citizens, were not permitted to instigate warfare for the purpose of becoming emperor.
It is not likely that this view of nationhood existed during the age of Mesopotamia and Egyptian civilization. Those civilizations were probably similar to the Yellow River civilization. When they flourished, there were no other competing civilizations in their vicinity. Therefore, there was no need for national boundaries. Since ancient, large civilizations were born together with religions, their leaders, at least in the early days, were probably also religious leaders. For that reason, in the early days the people could not have fulfilled purely sacrificial roles, as they did in later years, when there was a ruler and his subjects. Even in the Yellow River civilization in the age of legend and mythology, there was a cooperative relationship between the ruler and his people, and not much difference between that civilization and others.
But once the ancient civilizations perished, Western civilizations, influenced by the Greek and Roman civilizations, developed rapidly due to the universality of human culture. The Roman civilization contributed significantly to the formation of nations.
The fact that the Romans devised rights as they pertain to the formation of a nation is particularly important. In any harmonious community, the concepts of justice and fairness emerge, and there is order in the community that benefits those who live there. It is impressive that people crystallized those concepts into the word “rights,” and made them an essential part of our nations. But rights as a legal concept did not exist in Mesopotamia or Egypt.
Hammurabi’s Code (ca. 1745 BC) is considered to be the oldest code of law. It apparently mentioned freedom, but not rights. As I mentioned in my Foreword, Japan is a translation superpower. Iijima Osamu’s translation of Hammurabi’s Code was published (by Tairyusha) in 1997.
Hammurabi’s Code is famous for “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” But it does not touch upon the concept of rights. Even the ancient Greek civilization, which made a huge contribution to today’s human civilization, had no word for rights. The concept of rights, which proved to be an invaluable legacy to the human race, was a product of the Roman civilization.
Etymologically, the word “rights” includes both the right hand, a symbol of power, and means both the image of power that is the right hand, and another meaning of right, i.e., moral. Rights should of course be granted, but they are not guaranteed unless the guarantor has the power to enforce them; the existence of power is a prerequisite. They are not assured, nor can they be assured in the absence of power. The community, in this case the nation, acts as the wellspring of the guarantee of power.
According to the philosophy behind Roman law, laws are not made, they are discovered. Laws are not arbitrarily enacted, but evolve as justice is discovered. The legacy of Roman law looms large in human history. In medieval Europe, Christianity was a midwife at the birth of natural law.
Rights are protected by power; the notion that it is a nation’s duty to provide that power is one that emerged as a basic concept of nationhood. This concept renewed the relationship between the ruler and his subjects, and brought forth the idea that a nation’s first duty was to protect the lives and property of its people. The right of the various nations to govern was recognized, and that right became sovereignty.
But the relationship between nations is in principle a disorderly one. At times the interests of nations will collide, and they must go to war to arrive at a solution. But war is not fought on behalf of a ruler, but to settle a dispute between nations. In that case, the intent is to stop the expansion of wars that will increase the number of meaningless deaths in both nations. This is where attempts to suppress wars come into play.
In ancient times wars between groups belonging to different religions or different cultures sometimes resulted in the civilization of the defeated being destroyed, and its people becoming the slaves of the victors. But in modern times the necessity of cooperation between nations was recognized, and international law came into being. That law was applied to warfare, and efforts were made to reduce warfare to a minimum. When wars did break out, combat ceased once the outcome became clear, and efforts were made to avoid further casualties.
World War II, in which atomic bombs were dropped, and civilians were targeted in air raids, did not fit this pattern (efforts to reduce casualties). Even though the outcome was obvious, the slaughter of a great number of civilians in the Tokyo air raids, and the dropping of an atomic bond when surrender was imminent fit another pattern: any and all actions are permitted in order to win, and the more powerful forces may do as they please. This was a reversion to the ruler-and-his-subjects philosophy. It was nearly a limitless war, a primitive war between the ruler and the world.
Wars are contests of physical strength. The defeated have no methods to resist physically. Even in objective cases where losers cannot resist even if the winners kill every one of them, when national civilizations wage limited wars, they limit the type of war activity that they engage in, and attempt to reduce the number of casualties to a minimum. They clearly wish to steer mankind in the right direction.
But primitive warfare did not come to an end in the 20th century. Looking back, we see that along with 21st-century human civilization, built on freedom and rights, the ancient Yellow River civilization (now the Chinese civilization) also persists. There the law of the jungle has morphed into political law.
China did have an opportunity to extricate itself from the Yellow-River-civilization-turned-Chinese-civilization, and quietly become part of the civilization built by the Western nations.
Professor Sugihara Seishiro explains this quite clearly in his book, Now Is the Time for the Democratic Party of Japan to Make Its Presence Known, published in 2005, right before the election that gave birth to a Democratic Party administration. The watershed was June 4, 1989, the date of the Tienanmen Square protests.
Mao Zedong died, and after the PRC had been adrift for more than 10 years, Deng Xiaoping took up the reins of power, and moved forward boldly with a campaign of economic openness. In 1979 Deng introduced a market economy and took resolute action toward economic reforms. But, as Sugihara states, at that point what China needed was not economic reforms, but political reform that would incorporate the will of the people into politics. Even if it would be difficult to introduce democratic elections into national or regional politics immediately, a good beginning would be having the people vote for representatives who would form a national body of public officials equivalent to a parliament. That would pave the way for democratic elections. But Deng ousted CPC General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, who was trying to guide China more or less in that direction. On June 4, 1989 Deng declared martial law, sanctioning tanks to run over and kill students demanding democracy.
About the Tiananmen Square Incident, Deng Xiaoping said, “If I yield, the PRC will cease to exist.” The truth is that despite Deng’s pronouncements about the PRC, behind his suppression of the anti-government demonstration was his desire to protect the Deng family interests. Behind the demands of the students and citizens who gathered in front of Tiananmen, though couched under demands for democracy, was a movement opposing his first son Deng Pufang’s monopoly interests in the Kanghua Gongsi and corruption (called Down with Nepotism and Corruption!).
If Deng had not declared martial law, but moved in the direction of democratization, the PRC might have been able to extricate itself from the chaos resulting from territorial expansion, and eradicate corruption. A market economy normally goes hand in hand with democratic politics. At that time nations with better national civilizations would have had to admit China into the market-economy sphere, once they had verified that the Chinese were headed toward a democratic political system. Zhao Ziyang might have accomplished that.
An examination of the Tiananmen Incident shows that more than the Chinese people, the CPC government was being affected by the Chinese civilization and Chinese thought.
If China had moved toward the goals of Zhao Ziyang, it might not have become “ugly China.” Deng Xiaoping’s sins were grievous. The nations of the free world that forgave him are also to blame. Deng was the wealthiest man in socialist history. After his death, his family’s power and interests were destroyed by the Shanghai clique. But the Deng clan gathered up assets equivalent to 10 trillion yen, fled to Australia. I understand that his granddaughter (second son’s daughter) has obtained American citizensh
CHAPTER 3: THE BRUTAL HISTORY OF CHINESE WARFARE
1. Chinese warfare in ancient times
The Chinese civilization, whose source was the Yellow River civilization, placed no restrictions whatsoever on warfare. The farmers who cultivated the central plains, an area blessed with fertile soil, were the victims of frequent attacks by mounted nomads, who were seasoned warriors; no sooner had one war ended than the next began. As time passed and competition for resources mounted, warfare intensified, eventually extending from the central plains to all of China.
In this chapter I will demonstrate exactly how brutal and abhorrent Chinese warfare and similar upheavals were in ancient times, referring to historical records.
We are told through legends that when the Chinese civilization dawned, there were eight rulers (three sovereigns and five emperors). The years during which three of the five emperors (Yao, Shun, and Yu) ruled were a sort of golden age. Taming the waters of the Yellow River to prevent flooding was a monumental task, which was inherited from the Yao by the Shun, and then from the Shun by the Yun. After the Yu came the Xia dynasty. During the reign of Jie, the 17th Xia ruler, the Shang ruler Tang wrested the throne away from Jie, and founded the Shang dynasty. Then, during the reign of Zhou, the 30th Shang ruler, the Wu overthrew the Shang, initiating the Zhou dynasty, a little before 1000 BC. The years between 770 BC, when the Zhou moved their capital to Luoyi, and 403 BC are referred to as the Spring and Autumn period. The following era, which lasted until 221 BC, when China was united under the Qin, is known as the Warring States period.
The Spring and Autumn period saw frequent warfare, but the conflicts were neither as frequent or violent as those of later years. During the Warring States period there was academic and political freedom (the Hundred Schools of Thought flourished during that age). But after all, this was China, the land of warfare. During the 367-year Spring and Autumn period, the major powers clashed 448 times. Wars became even more frequent during the Warring States period, and also larger in scale. There were 222 major battles, and countless skirmishes.
I would like to present some accounts of events that occurred while there was still an aesthetic consciousness with respect to the means of waging war. The famous Battle of Hongshui was fought in 638 BC during the Spring and Autumn period. After Duke Huan of Qi died, Duke Xiang of Song declared himself the leader of China’s city-states. Because the Song had defeated the state of Zheng, they ended up waging war with Cheng, the ruler of Chu, then a powerful state.
The Chu and Song forces faced off on either side of the Hongshui River. The Song army realized they were at a disadvantage when they saw how numerous their adversaries were. The Chu army began to ford the river. Mu Yi, one of the chief Song retainers, offered a suggestion: “Why not launch a surprise attack before they set up their camp?” But Duke Xiang demurred, replying, “A virtuous leader does not engage in such ungentlemanly behavior.” After the Chu forces crossed the river, they soundly defeated the Song. Duke Xiang was hit by an arrow, and later died from his injury. Subsequently the Chinese came to use the phrase Song Chu zhi ren (Song-Chu benevolence) to mean misplaced compassion. There is no mention of a similar situation in Chinese history thereafter. But it demonstrates that entering into a battle imbued with the spirit of fair play was once considered aesthetically pleasing.
In 341 BC, during the Warring States period (476-221 BC), two of the seven states, Wei and Qi, collided; Qi won a decisive victory in the Battle of Maling. One year later Qin forces attacked the weakened Wei. Shang Yang, one of the highest-ranking Qin retainers, sent a letter to Wei General Gongzi Mao, with whom Shang was on friendly terms. In it he wrote that he was reluctant to fight against an old acquaintance; he wanted to conclude a peace treaty and withdraw his troops. Gongzi Mao rejoiced at this proposal, since his forces had just suffered a defeat and were not yet ready to fight again. He went off to the banquet where the negotiations were to be held in good spirits. But when he arrived, armed soldiers attacked Gongzi Mao, and took him prisoner. The Wei had suffered yet another defeat.
The state of Chu was in turn manipulated by the Qin. Its ruler, Huai, was tricked by Qin political maneuvers; the Chu fell victim to the Qin. In 299 BC Huai was again lured out by the Qin. They took Huai prisoner while he was on his way to meet them. One of the chief Chu retainers, Qu Yuan, told King Huai time and time again that the Qin were not to be trusted. But his warnings fell on deaf ears, and Qu was demoted. Despairing of the fate of Chu, Qu Yuan drowned himself. Mao Zedong was a native of Chu (present-day Hunan province). When Tanaka Kakuei was prime minister of Japan and went to China on a state visit, Mao presented him with a copy of Qu Yuan’s Songs of Chu. When consulted to comment on the significance of that gift, Japan’s China specialists had nothing to say. After the Republic of China was established, Hunan was, for a time, the headquarters of the federalist movement. It even produced a provincial constitution. Mao Zedong was opposed to the idea of China as one huge nation. At one point he advocated dividing China into 27 separate, independent states. Mao spent his youth, in fact most of his career, living in the Zhongnanhai district of Beijing, but never mastered the language spoken there. When looking at China, it is important to take the Chu territory (Hunan) into account. After the defeat of the Chu, the Qin dynasty began, and its first emperor, Shi Huang, united all of China for the first time in 221 BC. In that dynasty warfare was more brutal and even more depraved.
2. Early Chinese “monuments”
Now I would like to comment on two types of “monuments.” Both involved cruelty, and both were intended to glorify the military prowess of the victor. One, called jingguan, was erected by piling up the corpses of defeated soldiers on both sides of a road, and covering them with soil. These monuments were referred to as pyramids or wujun.
This custom had come into being in ancient times. The founding of China began with wars waged by the legendary Huang Di, or the Yellow Emperor, to subdue the barbarians. China’s first incarnation was that of a warring nation. War became a normal state of affairs during the reigns of legendary rulers Yao and Shun. Therefore, to instill fighting spirit as well as with the courage to kill others, and even to enjoy killing, the custom of putting the corpses of the vanquished on display seems to have become part of war. In 597 BC the southern barbarian Chu army scored a major victory over the Jin of the central plains. On that occasion Chu statesman Fan Dang made a suggestion: “I believe that we must build a monument with the enemy’s corpses to convey this brilliant military achievement to our descendants.” The Chu ruler responded, “Long ago, when the corpses of men who had committed profoundly evil deeds were used to erect them, such monuments served as a warning. However, the men who died in this battle gave their lives defending their country. How could we possibly dishonor them by using their bodies for a monument?” The ruler then ordered proper burials for the fallen Jin soldiers. The Chu ruler’s compassion calls to mind China in the ancient days. But on the other hand, this account also tells us that corpse monuments were being built with some frequency.
The word keng (坑), meaning hole, appears frequently in Records of the Grand Historian. One account tells us that when the Qin ruler Shi Huang attacked Handan, where he had spent his childhood, he killed men who had once bullied him by throwing them into a hole and covering them with earth. In other words, he buried them alive. Another account says that Shi Huang buried more than 460 Confucian scholars. Still another mentions that Qin warlord Xiang Yu buried troops defending Xiangcheng alive, and did the same with more than 200,000 Qin prisoners of war at Xin’an.
The Book of Han states that when Wang Mang, the first ruler of Eastern Han, seized power from the Han dynasty, he buried Liu Xin, Zhai Yi, Zhao Ming, Huo Hong and all their relatives alive because they had opposed him. The same work contains an imperial rescript issued by Wang Mang stating that the corpses of his victims were used to build a jingguan measuring 18 x 18 meters.
Burying someone alive is a dastardly deed. As I mentioned in Chapter 2, there was an all-out war between the Qin and the Zhao in 260 BC, during the Warring States period. The Battle of Changping resulted in the surrender of more than 400,000 Zhao soldiers. At a loss as to what to do with so many prisoners of war, Qin General Bai Qi ordered all of them to be buried alive in one night. The Qin had obviously brought warfare to a new level of brutality.
Long, drawn-out siege warfare pushed the cruelty level up another notch. One account describes a fortress under siege during the Warring States period. Its inhabitants were reduced to crushing human bones and using them for fuel, and exchanging their children for those of another family, and cooking and eating them.
Another account describes what happened during the Battle of Suiyang, when the Chu army surrounded Suiyang, the Song capital, and during the Battle of Jinyang, when the Zhi, Han, and Wei armies surrounded Jinyang, the Jin capital.
In September 594 BC the Chu ruler’s soldiers surrounded Suiyang. Even in May of the following year, the siege showed no signs of letting up. The inhabitants of the capital were desperate because their food supplies had been exhausted. Hua Yuan, the highest Song official, held a clandestine meeting with the Chu General Zi Fan. Subsequently, Zi Fan reported on the meeting to King Zhuang. The king asked, “What is the situation inside the city?” Zi Fan replied, “They are crushing bones to use for fuel, and cooking and eating each other’s children.” The king told him that his own forces had only two days’ worth of food left, and announced that since Hua Yuan had told the truth, he would discontinue the siege, and order his soldiers to withdraw. This act on the part of the Chu soldiers is one of the heroic deeds of ancient China, and is certainly more benevolent than warfare that followed.
Between 454 and 453 BC, the armies of Zhi, Han, and Wei besieged Jinyang (present-day Taiyuan in Shanxi province) for more than a year in an attempt to eradicate the Zhao. The attacking armies diverted water from the Fen River into the Zhao’s Jinyang fortress, flooding it until only 2 meters of the fortress stood above water. Inside the fortress people were exchanging children and eating them. All of the Zhao retainers had become alienated, and little respect remained for Xiangzi, the Zhao commander. The fearful Xiangzi dispatched Zhang Mangtan, his leading statesman, in the middle of the night, instructing him to communicate with the Han and Wei. The three states conspired to destroy the Zhi, and divide up Zhi territory. Since the Zhao retainers were considering turning against their leader, and Xiangzi was fearful, this must been one of the earliest incidences of cannibalism in wartime.
3. Ho Jing initiates a massacre in Nanjing
There was very little civil strife during the Han dynasty, and consequently few sieges. Historical works like Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government contain many accounts of cannibalism resulting from famine that can be traced to natural disasters. However, there are not many records of cannibalism prompted by sieges. Noteworthy among them are (1) the siege of Wancheng, which took place in 23 BC during the transition from the decline and fall of Wang Mang to the establishment of the Eastern Han dynasty by Guangwu Liu Xu, (2) hostilities in Chang’an from 23 to 25, (3) the siege of Jicheng in 27, (4) more hostilities in Chang’an in 194 during the transition from the Eastern Han to the Three Kingdoms period, (5) the Battle of Yongqiu in 196, and (6) the Battle of Haixi in the same year. Almost every instance of cannibalism took place during a battle that signaled the end of one dynasty and the beginning of another. In his masterpiece Critical Essays, Wang Chong (27-ca. 100), the Han dynasty’s foremost political analyst, wrote: “Those who are defeated in war become cannibals.” From his comment we can deduce that cannibalism was a phenomenon that accompanied every conflict.
But even during the Han dynasty there were exceptions, depending on which side emerged victorious from a siege. In 35 BC Guangwu Liu Xiu launched an offensive against the kingdom of Shu. Then, in 36 Eastern Han General Zang Gong attacked Chengdu (in Shu) with a huge army. Shu ruler Gongsun Shu, personally commanding forces numbering several tens of thousands, quickly won three battles. However, his men were exhausted, not having been able to spare the time to eat, and the gates of their fortress were breached by the Eastern Han army. Desperate fighting continued within the fortress. After Gongsun Shu was killed in action, General Yan Cen surrendered.
In wars like this cannibalism was rampant. Another heroic deed concerns a man who, in a crisis, served the flesh of his wife and children to a guest. Romance of the Three Kingdoms includes the story of how Liu Bei Xuande, ruler of Shu, paid a visit to the home of Liu An, a hunter with the same surname. Despite the fact that Liu An was poor, he treated Liu Bei to a magnificent meal, including meat dishes. The next morning when Liu Bei departed, he happened to notice the corpse of the hunter’s wife in the kitchen.
Another account from the Eastern Han dynasty (146) tells how Zang Hong sacrificed his wife and concubines. As governor of the Eastern Commandery, he was entrusted with defending Dongwuyong (present-day Yongqiu). One day he was surrounded by the men loyal to warlord Yuan Shao. Soon his food supplies were exhausted and, since he knew he could not expect reinforcements, he prepared himself for the inevitable: death. First he told his subordinates to escape. But his officers and officials wouldn’t budge; they just stood there and wept. Soon they had no food left. Zang Hong killed his favorite concubine, and fed her flesh to his soldiers, all of whom collapsed in tears and could not look Zang Hong in the eye. Until the enemy took the fortress, 7,000-8,000 men and women died, their bodies in a heap. Not one person betrayed Zang Hong. Since in his case the degree of cannibalism was relatively minor, his story was told and his cannibalism forgiven, since it was motivated by loyalty. Still, wars in China were unceasing, and Zang Hong was soon forgotten.
Now let us have a look at cannibalism connected with famine and war from the Eastern Han dynasty through the Three Kingdoms period. The Eastern Han capital was Luoyang (today in northwestern Henan province), which along with Xi’an (Chang’an) was one of China’s most famous ancient capitals, known as a source of brilliant tacticians. During the Zhou dynasties Luoyang’s name became Luoyi. During the Eastern Han dynasty the capital, Luoyang, was visited by severe famines in 109 and 155, resulting in cannibalism. Toward the end of Eastern Han the fortresses at Luoyang and Chang’an were destroyed by warfare and cannibalism. During the Three Kingdoms period, both the Wei and the Western Jin rebuilt the Luoyang fortress. But in June 311 Liu Yao and Wang Mi attacked and conquered Luoyang. Emperor Huai, the Jin ruler, was in a daze for several days, not knowing what to do. The famine within the fortress was severe, and the people inside the fortress began killing and eating each other, while the farmers desperately sought an escape route. Eight or nine out of every 10 people died.
Thus the massacre of the people inside a fortress is part of China’s war culture. China’s cities are surrounded by fortress walls. If a city is captured by an enemy, the people inside the walls are trapped, and become victims of looting and murder. Now I would like to describe a massacre that took place in Nanjing, shortly before the Sui and Tang dynasties commenced, during the Liang dynasty (502-587).
Nanjing, the Liang capital (called Jiankang at the time), was the scene of the Hou Jing Rebellion in 548. Hou Jing began his military career at a Northern Wei garrison. Later he was in service to Northern Wei General Erzhu Rong. When Gao Huan of Eastern Wei came into power, Hou was quick to ingratiate himself. When Gao Huan died, Hou turned against the Eastern Wei, took command of a local army and surrendered to Liang Emperor Wu (502-549). But when it looked as though a north-south peace treaty would be concluded between the Liang and Eastern Wei, the uneasy Hou Jing turned against Emperor Wu, raised an army, advanced toward the capital, Jiankang (Nanjing), in 548, and conquered Jiankang in 549. Emperor Wu was imprisoned and starved to death. Then a three-year-long massacre commenced.
Nanjing’s walls were built of stone and bricks. In the Jin dynasty during the Three Kingdoms period, the city had double walls, but by the Southern Liang dynasty it had triple walls. When Emperor Wu ruled, the population was greater than one million. The Liang empire was a Buddhist state, and Jiankang was home to many Buddhist temples, as well as 100,000 priests and nuns. According to the Book of Liang, during Emperor Wu’s reign an important memorial service was held at Changyu temple. It attracted several hundred thousand men and women, an unprecedented number, and inspired the following lines in a famous poem written by late Tang dynasty poet Du Mu:
Southern Dynasty temples,
Four hundred eighty or more,
Towers and terraces
Wreathed in misty rain.
But the Hou Jing Rebellion in 548 shattered the dream of prosperity for Jiankang, when Hou Jing turned against Emperor Wu. What ensued was the Nanjing Massacre.
An account in the “Liang” section of Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government dated 548 tells us that after having exhausted the food supplies in the Changping storehouses in Shitou (another name for Nanjing), the soldiers did not have enough to eat. Hou Jing unleashed his soldiers on the city; they stole the people’s food, valuables, and kidnapped women and children. Soon the price of rice soared to 80,000 qian per 1.5 kilograms, and the people resorted to cannibalism. As a result, five or six out of every 10 persons were killed or starved to death.
The same account states that on the day of the attack there were more than 100,000 civilians and over 20,000 soldiers in the city. But as the assault continued, eight or nine out of 10 people died, and in the end fewer than 4,000 persons remained in the city. The survivors were all emaciated. Corpses littered the streets, and fluids from the decomposing bodies flowed into moats that had been carefully planted with pagoda trees and willows.
When the Liang established their capital at Jiankang, there were 280,000 households in the city. After the rebellion, the roads were impassable. Even though cannibalism ran rampant for several months, many starved to death. Only about one or two out of every hundred survived. For years on end Jiangnan suffered droughts and locust plagues. The situation in Jiangzhou and Yangzhou was even worse. The people drifted from place to place, wandering through mountain valleys and wading through rivers. They picked and ate grass, nuts, and water chestnuts. Strewn everywhere were the corpses of those who had starved to death, which covered the fields. For miles on end one might not encounter another live human. There were mountains of bleached bones.
4. Tang dynasty: the golden age of cannibalism
Reports from Japanese missions to China during the Sui and Tang dynasties give the impression that China was a magnificent place. But those dynasties also represent the golden age of cannibalism in China. The time frame begins in the 8th century, after the An Lushan Rebellion (755) toward the end of the reign of Emperor Xuanzong, who is so well known in Japan.
We know that cannibalism was widespread then from historical records concerning cannibalism practiced by the occupants of fortresses under siege, one-third of which date from this same period. This was also the time when human flesh and internal organs came to be viewed as having curative powers. Human flesh was sold openly at markets, and humans were captured, killed, and eaten. Toward the end of the Tang dynasty the rebel Huang Chao (835-884) established a great many human-flesh processing factories called chongzhaizhai, as well as a branch of his army (zaishawu) whose soldiers were responsible for the husbandry and slaughter of humans being raised for their meat. They would make enormous quantities of yanshi (salted corpse) by extracting the internal organs, packing them in salt, and drying them in the sun. The resulting preparation was fed to the soldiers. In the fluctuating situation that pitted the barbarians against the Chinese, it was rations for the soldiers that caused problems for the farmers. (Nor was the problem resolved in the modern era.)
In 759 General Shi Siming, An Lushan’s bosom friend, led an army of elite soldiers from Fanyang to Weizhou, which they attacked and conquered; Shi proclaimed himself the Great Yan Wang. Then the government forces launched a counterattack, surrounding the fortress. They then proceeded to flood the city.
The inhabitants of the city began exchanging children and eating them. Si Chaoyi turned against his father, Shi Siming, and surrounded Siming’s base, Fanyang fortress. As a result, several thousand people inside the fortress died over several days. For hundreds of miles around the defeated Luoyang, cannibalism was rife. Every village and town in the area was in ruins.
A century later, in April 881, Huang Chao’s troops slaughtered the citizens of Chang’an. For several consecutive years thereafter, cannibalism was prevalent in Chang’an. Furthermore, the city became a trading post offering the flesh of both government and rebel soldiers. Additionally, the entire area around the capital came to serve as hunting grounds where both government and rebel troops preyed on civilians. Huang Chao’s troops reportedly established special redoubts they referred to as “grinding and polishing forts” in which they ate the flesh of several thousand civilians each day.
A look at records from the late Tang dynasty tells us that during the five years between 887 and 891, even looking only at Tang records in the Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government, soldiers preyed on civilians.
1. When food supplies ran out in June 887 inside the Yangzhou fortress, and the woodcutters’ paths ended, the soldiers from Xuanzhou began to eat the flesh of civilians.
2. In February 888 Li Hanzhi’s unit neglected their duties. Instead they looted, appropriating money and goods. They also captured civilians and served their flesh as food.
3. In July 891 warlord Sun Ru burned all the houses in Yangzhou. They ambushed men in the prime of life, as well as women and girls, crossed the Yangzi River, then killed the old and weak and ate them.
Dynastic historical accounts that describe soldiers preying on civilians show a sudden increase in the Sui and Tang dynasties and thereafter, but the ethos was at least as strong in the Yuan dynasty and thereafter.
The cannibalism culture, which blossomed during the five dynasties that followed Sui and Tang (Later Liang, Later Tang, Later Jin, Later Han, and Later Zhou) soon became the model for China’s dynasties. Subsequent cannibalism during siege warfare followed the same pattern as those eras.
Japan adopted many aspects of Sui and Tang culture, such as Buddhism and ritsuryo, a legal system based on Confucianism. However, the latter days of the Tang dynasty, when Japanese missions to China ceased, represented the golden age of the Chinese cannibalism culture.
After the Tang dynasty ended, and during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, the military established a new department called zaishawu. It was reportedly charged with the husbandry, slaughter and serving of higher mammals, or primates. An official record that deals with the zaishawu can be found in the section of the Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government dealing with the Later Liang Emperor Taizu in about 909. At that time Yan warlord Liu Shouguang had surrounded Cangzhou. Inside the fortress provisions had been consumed. Civilians were eating clay, and troops were eating the civilians. “Lugun separated the men from the women, and the weak from the strong, raised them in the same way as other livestock, and killed them and served their flesh to the soldiers; this was a zaishawu.”
Incidentally, Later Liang Emperor Taizu was a subordinate of Huang Chao, the one who started the rebellion against the weakened Tang dynasty during its last days. Still, when Huang Chao’s prospects looked dim, Taizu went over to the government army. He received the name Zhu Quanzhong from the 18th Tang emperor, then toppled the Tang and began the Later Liang dynasty.
Another noteworthy aspect of Chinese military history is the fact that the Chinese often chose cannibalism, which required little effort and instilled fear into the hearts of the enemy, rather than attacking a fortress, which was a huge effort. They often chose cannibalism as a means of achieving their strategic objectives.
In 963 during the Northern Song dynasty, when Song troops, seeking to conquer China, were advancing southward to Hunan, the cannibalism strategy of Li Chuyun, dispatched to lead them, was obvious. When the Song army reached Aoshan fortress, the enemy abandoned the city and fled; many enemy soldiers were captured. Chuyun ordered his men to kill several dozen corpulent soldiers, whose flesh they ate. They tattooed young, strong prisoners of war and ordered them to act as the vanguard and enter the fortress at Langzhou. As soon as they entered, the rumor spread immediately that all prisoners of war had been eaten. The residents of Langzhou were terrified, and proceeded to burn the fortress to the ground and flee.
Emperor Taizu, crowned by his subordinates, founded the Song dynasty. However, he protected the young emperor of the Later Zhou dynasty, the last of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms that had served him, and his family. Taizu named his younger brother as his successor.
For a Chinese emperor, Taizu was a gentle soul, but it is noteworthy that the cannibalism strategy was enabled him to unite China in the Song dynasty.
5. Warfare in the Ming dynasty
After the Song dynasty the Chinese began using gunpowder and artillery. Siege warfare underwent a significant change as far as strategy and tactics were concerned. The Mongols’ main weapons in their assaults on fortresses were ladders and traction trebuchets introduced from Western Asia. Methods of attack had changed, but warfare remained relentlessly brutal.
In 1275 the intrepid Yuan General Ba Yan surrounded Changzhou. He then ordered Wang Liangchen, who had submitted to him, to round up some people outside the city to bring soil and build a stronghold. However, whenever a crew came with soil, they were buried in the soil. Additionally, Ba Yan killed people and extracted oil from their fat, which he used to lubricate the cannons used to attack the fortress.
In terms of ethnic policy, of all China’s dynasties, Ming was the one that most favored the Han Chinese. For instance, barbarian languages, costume, surnames, and customs were strictly forbidden; agriculture was encouraged, but commerce was suppressed. Politically, the Ming established a rigid autocracy. The emperor had supreme authority. Officials were under strict supervision, and to facilitate a politics of fear, a secret military agency was established called the Embroidered-Uniform Guard, as well as the Eastern Depot, an agency operated by eunuchs designed to spy on all officials.
Most of the siege warfare involving cannibalism during the Yuan and Ming dynasties was waged at transitional junctions. Cannibalism fueled by natural disasters and famine also came into the picture and, along with siege warfare, hastened the collapse of those dynasties.
Cannibalism was practiced by starving people for 11 years due to a terrible famine that extended for 21 years between 1342 and 1362 toward the end of the Yuan dynasty. However, cannibalism resulting from siege warfare also took place during the late Yuan rebellions. There was the Red Turban Rebellion, instigated by the White Lotus sect of Buddhism in which farmers and refugees placed their hopes, and whose mission was toppling the Yuan dynasty. That in turn engendered the Yellow Turban Rebellion, fomented by Zhang Shicheng, Chen Youliang, and Zhu Yuanzhang, who established the Ming dynasty. There were instances of cannibalism associated with siege warfare in Huai’an (1355-57), Xinzhou (1359), Anfeng (1363), and Qingyang (1369).
6. Qing dynasty and the Chinese civilization
The Manchu population numbered no more than several hundred thousand. Nevertheless, the Manchus managed to control the Chinese, who outnumbered them exponentially for nearly 300 years, a feat unprecedented in Chinese history. Not only did the Qing empire established by the Manchus embrace the political legacy of the Ming empire, it also embraced the several-thousand-year-old Chinese cultural legacy, and built upon it. With the exception of its last years, the Qing dynasty was an exceedingly stable, comfortable age, and one in which the Chinese lived more contently than any other. It was not an accident that the 300-year Manchu rule went so smoothly. Throughout its 2,000-year history, China had far more foolish rulers than wise ones. But of the 12 Qing emperors, with the exception of child Emperor Xuantong (Puyi), who was forced to abdicate, not one was witless or imprudent. That can be explained by the fact that the Qing did away with primogeniture in the succession of imperial power, and instituted a system whereby the most competent and virtuous individual was chosen. Thus the Qing were able to avoid the intrigue instigated by maternal relatives and eunuchs.
Ever since the Han Chinese civilization arose on the lower reaches of the Yellow River, it had continually been expanding southward. But by the end of the Ming dynasty, that expansion had reached its limits. Socioeconomic development had stalled and was heading straight for ruin. Through his entry into the capital, Li Zicheng had effectively put an end to the Ming dynasty. Then the Ming General Wu Sangui, who had fought against the Qing forces mustered by the Jurchens, surrendered to the Qing, buried Li Zicheng’s Shun dynasty by welcoming the Qing, marking the advent of the Qing empire.
The Manchus of the Qing dynasty expanded the territory of China like never before. Chinese territory now extended far beyond the northern defensive line provided by the Great Wall, solving the problem of possible incursions from the north. It was in the Qing dynasty that the Chinese moved beyond the Great Wall and entered Manchuria. They also migrated to Xinjiang in East Turkestan, as well as the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau in southwestern China, and to Southeast Asia. The population of China surged from several tens of millions to several hundred million.
The vast territory of present-today China is the legacy of the Qing dynasty. It not only put the finishing touches on the Chinese empire, but also on the Chinese culture. Every aspect of today’s culture, thought, and art was perfected during the Qing dynasty.
But when the 19th century dawned, Western Europe, with its huge warships and cannons, shook the very foundation of the Qing empire. In the face of such a threat, China’s massive city walls were useless.
In the waning days of the Qing dynasty the Taiping Rebellion, led by Hong Xiuquan, erupted. This uprising, which resulted in the loss of some 50 million lives, began in 1851 with a revolt in the village of Jintian in Guangxi province. In 1853 the revel army occupied Nanjing and declared it the capital of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, renaming it Tianjing (heavenly capital). For 15 years the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom launched expedition after expedition, wreaking havoc throughout much of China.
In June 1861 the Xiang Army, formed to quell the Taiping Rebellion and led by Zeng Guofan, surrounded a Taiping Army that had holed up in the walled city of Anqing on the coast of the Yangzi River. At that point Zeng, through the British Consulate in Shanghai, asked the Qing court to keep foreign merchant ships from using the Yangzi. According to an account in History of the Qing Dynasty pertaining to Hong Xiuquan, the guards at the fortress, who were near starvation, began leaving it and surrendering. Those who remained inside survived by eating human flesh.
In The Ever-Victorious Army, Andrew Wilson wrote the following:
In November 1861 Nganking [Anqing] fell, after having been defended heroically for three years by Yeh Yun-lai, On entering, the people were found dead in the streets by hundreds. They had been reduced to the last extremity; for human flesh had been sold as their food at 40 cash per catty, or one penny per pound; and it is worthy of note that, almost at the same time, the Imperialists besieged in Hangchow were reduced to the same dreadful extremity.
This is an important record, emanating as it did from a Western writer.
Before the Xiang Army surrounded Nanjing, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom had already been weakened by sudden internecine strife. In January 1864 Zeng Guoquan, Zeng Guofan’s youngest brother, led the 50,000-strong Xiang Army to Nanjing, which it attacked and surrounded.
As the days passed, the food supply within the city walls began to dwindle. Grass was the last substance Zeng Guoquan ingested before he died. On July 19, more than half a year after the Xiang Army surrounded Nanjing, explosives were used to breach the walls in nine locations. The Xiang Army rushed into the city. For a month its men rampaged, killing, raping, setting fires, and looting. They used tanks to remove their plunder from the city. For a time Nanjing was the scene of a massacre perpetrated by the Xiang Army, the 19th-century Nanjing massacre. In his diary Zhao Liewen, one of Zeng Guofan’s right hand men, who had been assigned to observe Guoquan, Zeng’s younger brother, described in detail the Nanjing massacre perpetrated by the Xiang Army.
With the advent of the 20th century, there was a shift in the main weapons of warfare to cannons and machine guns. Since firepower and mobility often determined the outcome of a battle, the usefulness of mammoth fortified cities declined, and siege warfare became a thing of the past. The traditional Chinese cannibalism strategy ended, for all intents and purposes, with the Taiping Rebellion, the 14-year period over which the uprising raged (it ended in 1864) marking the greatest civil war in human history.
During the rebellion, which comprised more than one massacre, the population of China, estimated at approximately 400 million, shrank by one-fifth. In Japan at that time, China was described as the land of 400 million people and more than 400 provinces.
7. China after the Xinhai Revolution
Having been sobered by the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, Empress Dowager Cixi set China on the path toward a constitutional monarchy, having in 1908 promised her subjects a constitution and a parliament by 1918.
But it was already too late. When Cixi died that same year, a rebellious mood had permeated all of China. Inspired by the Wuchang Uprising on October 10, 1912, 14 out of China’s 22 provinces declared independence. This was what came to be known as the Xinhai Revolution.
The newly formed Revolutionary Army selected Sun Yatsen as its interim president in Nanjing on January 1, 1912, and proclaimed the establishment of the Republic of China. Yuan Shikai, prime minister of the Qing dynasty, was supposed to react to these events by leading a campaign to suppress the rebels. However, he negotiated with the revolutionary government in Nanjing, convinced the last Qing Emperor Xuantong (Puyi) to abdicate, and assumed the office of interim president instead of Sun Yatsen, and then president in the following year. However, Yuan died in 1916, and Sun in 1925, leaving these words behind: “The revolution is not yet successful.”
Ever since the Republic of China’s government in Beijing was defeated by the National Revolutionary Army, the Nationalist government in Nanjing came to be recognized by the rest of the world as the government representing China. However, the truth is that the struggle for control of China continued, and after Sun Yatsen’s death, the militarist factions of the Nationalist Party began establishing governments willy-nilly, and the conflict continued. After World War II ended, the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) led by Mao Zedong gained supremacy, and in 1949 the People’s Republic of China was established. The Nationalist government inherited by Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan.
The Xinhai Revolution can be credited with extricating China from its traditional system whereby power was concentrated in the emperor, and enabling China to adopt a national civilization like that of Western nations. However, the armed conflicts that subsequently erupted were exactly the same as traditional power struggles in the Chinese civilization; to prevail, any means could be used. Given that any means could be used, although the revolutions were supposedly intended to benefit the Chinese people, absolutely no consideration was given to their welfare.
Looking back at ancient history, we see that warlord Xiang Yu of Chu was taken in by Liu Bang’s scheme involving “Chu songs on all sides” (Han soldiers sang Chu songs to demoralize Xiang’s men; convinced Xiang that his homeland had been captured). Xiang Yu fled straight south to the Wu River. Lamenting that he could not face the village headman east of the river, he committed suicide. But the extraordinary Sun Yatsen was entirely the opposite. Even though his revolutions kept ending in failure, he established a military government in Guangzhou in his home province, three times, and even perpetrated a massacre there. Why did he do that? The answer is that unlike powerful warlords, Sun did not have an army. To launch a government in his native Guangzhou, he needed an army. So he borrowed armed men from northern armies, and drafted outlaws and welcomed them to Guangzhou. They were called guest soldiers. Once they set foot in Guangzhou, they occupied every facility that made money, like the railroads. Then they locked horns with the Guangdong region’s commercial, engineering, and agricultural defense units, Sun Yatsen’s forces squabbled with the commercial unit over state-of-the-art weapons needed to launch a government. The result was a massacre. No one cared about protecting the lives of the people.
One of the evils of the Nationalist Army that no one can explain away was the Yellow River flood of 1938. To halt the advance of Japanese troops, the Nationalists destroyed dikes on the Yellow River, thus creating an artificial flood. As a result, between 10 and 12 million Chinese were affected, and 890,000 lost their lives.
The PLA ultimately prevailed; there may be some who believe that they valued the lives of Chinese citizens, but they were no different from the warlords.
On the morning of January 10, 1927, the PLA occupied the city of Guangdong. They committed every imaginable offense, acting as if civilian residents were an opposing army, setting fires, looting, raping, and killing. On the morning of January 13, however, another army counterattacked, and eradicated the PLA troops. The residents’ hatred for the PLA and the atrocities they committed ran deep. They slaughtered more than 2,500 PLA soldiers, including women soldiers. They committed terrible acts, too, such as exposing the genitals of female soldiers, sometimes penetrating them with sticks. Such brutal scenes were photographed by Japanese residents of Guangdong. The photographs are included in Higashinakano Shudo’s The Front Line of research on the Nanking “Massacre.”
Warfare between the Nationalists and the PLA worsened after World War II ended. Noteworthy is the encircling operation initiated by the PLA at Changchun, where the Nationalists had taken over. It lasted for 150 days, between May 23 and October 19, 1948.
Civilians tried to escape, but PLA soldiers forced them to turn back. They were determined to starve the Nationalists to death.
According to PLA reports, 150,000 people did starve to death. Since China had entered the modern era, there were probably no blatant acts of cannibalism. Still, when one realizes that 150,000 died, there must have been some instances.
Estimates have it that after the PRC was established, in a three-year period at the beginning of the 1960s during the Great Leap Forward, tens of millions of Chinese starved to death. An examination of memoirs and other records reveals that there were many instances of cannibalism involving several villages.
During the chaos that was the Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966, there were so many rumors circulating about cannibalism that we must assume that some of them were true, especially given the many instances of cannibalism in wartime. This writer provides a detailed description of a case of mass cannibalism in the latter half of the 20th century, quotes from CPC officials’ cannibalism diaries, and an account of a middle-school principal who was killed and eaten by his students during the Chinese civil war in Zheng Yi’s Scarlet Memorial: Tales of Cannibalism in Modern China.
The Chinese Communist government has been aggressively broadcasting its claim that in 1937, when the Japanese attacked Nanjing, they unlawfully murdered civilians in what they call the Nanjing massacre. Needless to say, this claim is baseless. But in 1949 when the PLA entered Nanjing, its troops went on a rampage that targeted the wealthy, killing, raping, and looting. There have been many Nanjing massacres over the years, but the most recent one was perpetrated by the PLA.
Nationalist oppression of the Taiwanese is another instance of unlawful murder of civilians that must be mentioned. When Japan surrendered to the Allies after World War II, the Nationalist Army was to enter Taiwan and take over its administration, according to the first order issued by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. But on February 28, 1947, there were clashes with the Taiwanese, who had previously been Japanese citizens, and a massacre ensued with the approval of Chiang Kai-shek, who was still on the mainland at that time.
Within the short space of two weeks, the Nationalists murdered or executed some 30,000 Taiwanese. These were all unlawful killings or executions of civilians by their new government; this could not have happened under Japanese rule. Two hundred fishermen from Okinawa also lost their lives, caught up in the indiscriminate, gratuitous slaughter spree.
CHAPTER 4: JAPANESE HISTORY: PROGRESS WITHOUT MURDER
1. Japan viewed from an archeological perspective
I have no intention of addressing the question of how and when the Japanese settled on these islands in this book. Textbooks inform us that the Jomon period commenced approximately 16,000 years ago. The pottery of that era (Jomon ware) is markedly different from pottery crafted by the agricultural people of the succeeding culture (the Yayoi culture). For a time that difference led scholars to suspect that the Jomon people were not the ancestors of the Japanese of today. However, thanks to advancements in archaeology, we now know that the Jomon people were the forebears of subsequent cultures and of the present-day Japanese. That being the case, we must look to the Jomon culture for the roots of the Japanese people and of Japanese civilization.
According to the edition of the New History Textbook (compiled and edited by the Japanese Society for Textbook Reform) currently in use, when we look at Japan from an altitude of 10,000 meters, we see that it is surrounded by water. In geopolitical terms, Japan’s location puts it in the best possible position for resisting foreign invasions. We also notice that Japan is covered with dense forests. The Jomon people hunted wild boars and deer. They fished, and engaged in small-scale agriculture as well. They may have formed communities or villages; if so, the villages must have been far apart. There was nothing for them to fight over, so they did not wage wars, probably because the communities were so scattered.
Through recent archeological advances we know that the Jomon people kept dogs, which they used in hunting. They bonded with their dogs; they never killed them. In fact, they grieved for the dogs when they died.
People who live in the world of ice (Siberia, for instance) use dogs to pull their sleds. When the sled dogs die, they eat them. Perhaps the Siberians’ environment tolerates such behavior, but in comparison, the Jomon people seem to have been gentle souls. They were radically different from the Koreans and the people of Guangdong, who are so fond of dog meat.
Eventually the cultivation of rice was introduced into Japan, and agriculture began to flourish. Such progress propelled the unification of Japan behind the Yamato court. The rice-growing culture harvested and stored its crops. Wars were bound to break out over stockpiled food. Pottery from the Yayoi period was decorated with images of warriors, and from them we know that there were wars then. But such conflicts were far smaller in scale and much less brutal than battles fought in China at that time. Moreover, there were no instances of great numbers of people being buried alive, as in China during the Shang dynasty.
In China a writing system had been invented, and when a ruler died, xunzang (the ritual suicide of his wives, retainers and servants so they could accompany him in the afterlife) was practiced. The Chinese crafted and used bronze and iron vessels. All these articles were used in warfare. But the Japanese did not yet have access to tank-like vehicles drawn by four horses, nor to crossbows made of bronze, which were more accurate than ordinary bows.
Here I would like to cite an example from Japanese mythology: the story of the transfer of the land of Izumo. Amaterasu (goddess of the sun and earth) requested the transfer of Izumo, then ruled by Okuninushi, a descendant of Susanoo. Okuninushi asked her to build a great shrine at Izumo, which would serve as his home, and to worship him there. Amaterasu honored his request and the transfer was consummated. Not a drop of blood was spilled. The shrine mentioned in the myth is Izumo Taisha, and we learned only recently that the shrine described in Japanese mythology was indeed built (see the section pertaining to Emperor Jinmu’s eastern migration in Chapter 3 of the Chronicles of Japan). There you will find no mention of the massacre or annihilation of defeated soldiers. On the contrary, Emperor Jinmu took the daughter of the head of a powerful clan who had surrendered to him as his wife. Jinmu was tireless in his efforts to effect reconciliation with those he had defeated. Once the Yamato court was established and Buddhism, with its taboo against killing, came to Japan, the Japanese were even more loath to take the lives of other humans.
Buddhism is a philosophy and a religion that spread throughout East Asia in ancient times. It prohibits murder precisely because one of its tenets is that all living creatures are entitled to live life to its fullest. With its emphasis on the contemplation of the past and the future, Buddhism would continue to have an extremely powerful influence on the Japanese, augmenting the Shinto culture created by farmers.
2. The Jinshin War: Major conflict arising from imperial succession disputes
In 608, when Prince Shotoku dispatched the third mission to Sui China, there was debate over what language to use to convey the Japanese emperor’s title. The consensus was that the appellation used in China (huangdi) would not be appropriate. On the other hand, it would be equally inappropriate to describe the Japanese emperor as “king,” since that would make him subordinate to the Chinese ruler. Then someone hit upon tenno, or “celestial sovereign.” In Chinese the word (tianhuang) is used to describe the highest-ranking Daoist deities or, specifically, the North Star, around which all stars rotate.
By using the word tenno, the Japanese were being courteous to the Sui court and to the Tang court, which followed it, as well. But they were also demonstrating that the Japanese ruler had attained a status equal to that of the Chinese emperor, and that there was another realm beyond that of the Chinese world.
Now I would like to draw readers’ attention to Prince Shotoku’s 17-Article Constitution, which exemplifies the mindset of a nation’s ruler. Even today it represents the fundamental principles by which the Japanese live. Article 1 contains a prime example:
Harmony should be valued and quarrels should be avoided.
Article 17, the final article, reads in part:
Decisions on important matters should not be made by one person alone.
This is the underlying principle of the Japanese respect for discussions and consultations.
Article 2 offers the following instructions:
The three treasures, which are Buddha, the (Buddhist) Law and the (Buddhist) Priesthood, should be given sincere reverence, for they are the final refuge of all living things.
Prince Shotoku designated Buddhism, which has served through the ages as a solid foundation for the Japanese spirit, as Japan’s second national religion.
Blessed with a natural barrier that enabled them to live their lives without the constant fear of being invaded by a foreign power (China, in this case), the Japanese succeeded in creating a new, separate world. All the conditions necessary for the establishment of a nation whose citizens could live in peace and prosper, should those governing them so desire, were satisfied.
China, on the other hand, was always at risk. Not even the most gifted ruler, not even the ideal relationship between ruler and subjects, could protect the Chinese from invasions and possible annihilation. They could build a glorious nation, but that nation would always be vulnerable to attack by a military force from outside.
But the Japanese did not need to worry about a foreign invasion, and could instead focus on forging the ideal relationship between a nation and its people.
The Jinshin War erupted in 672, not long after the death of Emperor Tenji. It was triggered by a dispute over Emperor Tenji’s successor between Prince Oama, his younger brother, and Prince Otomo, his son. Since neither side would give way, victory in war seemed to be the only possible solution. This was the first armed conflict in Japan that resulted from an imperial-succession controversy among blood relatives. In China, such wars were often blood baths involving several tens of thousands of combatants.
The Xuanwu Gate Incident (626) resulted in the enthronement of Li Shimin as the second emperor (Emperor Taizong) of the Tang dynasty. Li killed his older brother (the crown prince), his younger brother Li Yuanji, and every member of their families, for a total of tens of thousands of victims. After his father, Emperor Gaozu, relinquished the throne, Li became the wisest ruler in Chinese history, but until he grasped the reins of power firmly in his hands, he was fighting a war originating from a vicious family dispute.
Japan’s Jinshin War was a large-scale conflict over imperial succession. But compared with Chinese conflicts with similar causes, it was a minor clash, and far less brutal.
On June 24 Prince Oama fled from Yoshino, where he had been living the secluded life of a priest. On July 23, Prince Otomo committed ritual suicide after having been defeated in battle. The war had lasted exactly one month. According to Chronicles of Japan, Prince Oama’s warriors numbered 23,000 (20,000 from Owari and 3,000 from Mino). However, judging from population estimates, he probably had fewer than 10,000 men under his command. If Prince Otomo’s army was about the same size, there were 20,000 combatants at most. Moreover, the great majority of them were farmers. The general commanding Prince Oama’s forces, Otomo no Fukei, issued a warning: The mission of these soldiers is not to kill farmers, but to kill evildoers. Therefore, do not kill at random. This was an official notice prohibiting the killing of farmers. The Jinshin War was small in scope, and it was likely that there were not many casualties. Prince Oama had already embraced Buddhism, and therefore was averse to killing others. Even so, in previous eras there was no precedent for brutal wars, such as the ones waged in China. Perhaps for that reason, after the death of Prince Otomo, the victors treated the defeated mercifully. Eight people were held accountable and executed, and an unspecified number of persons were exiled. No one else was punished.
3. Taking of life anathema to Japanese culture
In 673 Prince Oama was installed as Emperor Tenmu. He proceeded to have the Great Treasury of Sutras copied at Kawahara Temple. In 680, when his wife (later Empress Jito) became ill, Tenmu prayed for her recovery, promising to build Yakushi Temple if his prayer was answered. Emperor Tenmu also announced that the Omi code, which had already been enacted, would be further refined. This became the Asuka Kiyomihara Code, which took effect during the reign of Empress Jito. One of the provisions of this collection of laws was the termination of the current appellation of Japan, Wa, and its replacement with Nippon. Furthermore, work began on a compilation of Japanese history; the fruits of these labors were Japan’s first histories, Records of Ancient Matters and Chronicles of Japan.
In any case, the Jinshin War was fought to resolve a dispute over imperial succession, but it was small in scale. Apparently Prince Oama modeled his strategy after that of the Han Emperor Gaozu, who ruled from 256 to 195 BC. He did not, however, adopt Gaozu’s brutal methods. The fact that once the outcome of the war was clear, there were no additional killings for the purpose of revenge, set a precedent that would be observed in the future. Previous conflicts involved no needless brutality, but even in the Jinshin conflict, a furiously waged war, there was no cruelty for the sake of cruelty.
Any discussion of the Japanese aversion to killing must mention the ban on eating meat issued by Emperor Tenmu in 675. That imperial order prohibited the consumption of the flesh of cattle, horses, dogs, monkeys, and chickens. The reason for the ban on monkeys was their close resemblance to humans. Chickens were included because roosters’ crows tell humans what time it is. The prohibition against eating cattle and horses (because they help farmers by working in the fields) was limited to the growing season. In 676 Emperor Tenmu issued the Animal Release Order, which states that birds and fish are to be released into the wild. Together with the ban on eating meat, it adhered to Buddhist teachings, which stress kindness to animals.
Later, prohibitions against killing were issued several times, as late as the Kamakura era (1185-1333), when one was ordered by the Kamakura Shogunate. The Tokugawa Shogunate issued them as well. Among them were the noteworthy Edicts on Compassion for Living Things decreed by Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. Here I would like to emphasize the fact that even as late as the Edo period, which falls into Japan’s modern era, the Tokugawa Shogunate issued an order banning the killing of cattle and horses, and another prohibiting the consumption of meat. Cattle and horses were included because they served humans. This prohibition was adhered to strictly during the Edo period, aided by Buddhist precepts honored by the common people. Today the Japanese eat beef and other meat without any hesitation. But it was not until the Meiji period and Westernization policies instituted then that they begin eating meat. In 1871 Emperor Meiji set an example by eating beef, and the Japanese were advised to improve their health by emulating this Western world.
However, the multitude of orders and decrees prohibiting the consumption of meat suggest that these prohibitions were not observed to the letter.
The warriors who emerged in the late Heian period (794-1185) were professional combatants who had to be prepared to kill, and resolutely so, when necessary. Therefore, refusing to eat meat for fear of descending into a Buddhist hell would have been a mark against their honor. So they steeled themselves and ate it.
Common people too also ate meat, using such excuses as “animals caught in traps weren’t killed by humans, so it’s all right to eat them.” Furthermore, there were no prohibitions against consuming fish or shellfish, as they were important sources of protein in the Edo period.
It is important to emphasize the fact that so many prohibitions against killing were issued in Japan because the Japanese had an aversion to killing humans.
4. Defining Bushido
Now I would like to examine Bushido, the moral code of Japanese warriors, or samurai, to shed some more light on Japanese history, which progressed without killing.
Samurai came onto the scene during the Heian period, when the power of the imperial court weakened. Privately owned parcels of land increased in number (in spite of the fact that shouldn’t have been any private holdings). The self-proclaimed owners were forced to protect their property. Military groups were formed, which aligned themselves with specific nobles. The result was the formation of two large groups of warriors, the Minamoto and the Taira.
Through the 15th and 16th centuries (the Age of Warring States), and in the Edo period, when the government created a social order (with samurai at the top, followed by farmers, artisans, and merchants), the samurai headed the social order.
A detailed description can be found in Bushido: The Soul of Japan, written by Nitobe Inazo and published in 1899. In its preface, Nitobe tells us that the distinguished jurist Emile de Laveleye once asked him if religious instruction was given in Japanese schools. When Nitobe responded in the negative, de Laveleye said, “No religion! How do you impart moral education?” Nitobe was at a loss for an answer right then, but after giving the question a great deal of thought, he realized that the teaching of Bushido, which took place in the home, was the Japanese form of moral education. He then proceeded to write the aforementioned book.
Some of the virtues of Bushido, according to Nitobe, are:
1. Rectitude or justice (gi)
Refrain from dishonorable deeds.
2. Courage (yu)
Retain your self-possession even in the presence of danger or death.
3. Benevolence or compassion (jin)
Use your strength to help others.
4. Politeness (rei)
Avoid disrespectful behavior.
5. Veracity and sincerity (makoto)
Abandon thoughts of personal gain
6. Honor (meiyo)
Take pride in doing what is just.
7. The duty of loyalty (chugi)
Be loyal to the bitter end when such loyalty is deserved.
These virtues resemble aspects of chivalry, which arose in Europe in the 9th century, and was observed through 15th century. It was developed by knights and other military men and constituted a way of life, though not codified, for them to follow. In that chivalry stressed sacrificing the welfare of individuals for a greater good, refraining from cowardly behavior, and respecting justice, it had much in common with Bushido.
In Korea, for a short time in the 7th century, during the Unified Silla dynasty (668-935), groups of young men called Hwarang, or Flowering Knights, were active. The Hwarang did not spring up spontaneously, but were selected by the Korean court. They do not hold up to comparison with Japanese samurai, but it was an honor to be chosen as a Hwarang. They were warriors who despised cowardice, and took pride in their ability to demonstrate strength and compassion.
In other words, both samurai and knights had chosen an occupation that involved participating in warfare. But both also had adopted a value system whereby they avoided meaningless conflicts and needless killing.
Yamamoto Tsunetomo, a samurai from Saga who lived during the Edo period, wrote Hagakure (In the shadow of leaves), which was destined for great acclaim. In it he wrote, “Bushido is the way of death.” By that he meant that a samurai must obey any and all orders issued by his master, no matter how unreasonable they may seem. If his master orders him to die, he must obey right then and there. Such conduct smacks of stoicism, but this is a principle by which samurai lived. When they followed the precepts of Bushido to the letter, they were able to conquer all their lowly desires and live as ideal samurai.
Therefore, even when samurai took their own lives to take responsibility for some infringement, they were not dispatched (for instance, decapitated) by someone else, but they retained their honor by committing ritual suicide (seppuku). Apparently there is a tremendous difference in the fear and pain that accompany death when one is killed by someone else or by one’s own hand. And that represented pride and honor for samurai. The samurai of the Edo period who adhered to the principles of Bushido did not indulge in showy luxuries. They had great compassion for the common people in their charge, and made great efforts to insure that the common people were safe and contented. Led by such distinguished warriors, the Edo period persisted for 260 years. It was followed by the Meiji Renovation, and with the declaration that all social classes were equal, Japan became a modern nation. Bushido then became, at least to some extent, the national character.
For that reason, there was no need to offer religious instruction per se in Japanese schools, just as Nitobe explained. It is because of Bushido that the Japanese are honest, brave, and kind.
Even in the Greater East Asian War (which includes World War II), the Japanese drew upon the spirit of Bushido.
I believe that if the Japanese were pitted against any army, and the two sides had similar equipment, the Japanese would prevail. In battles waged during the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese fought with all their might. They were subjected to harsh criticism to the effect that the rank and file were quite capable, but the higher the rank, the more ineffective the officer. It’s true that there may have been a few incompetent officers, but I am confident that Japanese officers were generally capable and honorable.
There is a saying that goes, “The cherry among flowers, the samurai among men.” Cherry blossoms open suddenly and fall just as quickly. Samurai of ancient times gave their lives for their masters. Ever since Japan opened up to the rest of the world the basic Japanese moral principle of patriotism has been held in high respect. Though some may disagree, when soldiers vowed to die for the Emperor, they were not spouting ideology, they were expressing a basic Japanese moral principle. The Japanese had so few resources, and as they approached the Battle of Leyte Gulf, they realized that to strike a severe blow against the US, and perhaps gain some leverage in peace talks, their only recourse was suicide attacks. The Japanese military took that drastic step.
The Japanese have every reason to be proud of their patriotic martyrdom, with its basis in Bushido; it is a respected national characteristic. For that very reason, it is of the utmost importance that accounts of suicide squads and those Japanese who chose death before surrender be passed on to future generations.
Now I’d like to discuss the view that Bushido would never have come into being if Japan had not been at peace, which may seem, at first glance, contrary to conventional wisdom. But the fact is that while samurai kept Japan at peace, a spiral turning in a favorable direction was at work, and Bushido became even stronger in a peaceful society. If the spiral had been broken from outside and a great number of people were killed unjustly, it would soon have disappeared. One need only look at the tragedy of the Hwarang on the Korean peninsula. There the threat of foreign invasion was constant, the spiral was cut, and Bushido never came into being. Objective conditions differed between Japan and Korea where Bushido was concerned.
Since warfare was the objective of the samurai, a casual glimpse makes one think that the existence of samurai and warfare were two faces of the same coin. In that case, then one could conclude that the mere existence of samurai was harmful to peace because they destroyed peace and caused wars. But this was a simplistic conclusion.
While samurai needed to be strong, they were also required to be kind. Since they were able to kill, when Bushido, which restrains them from killing meaninglessly, was born, the objective of the samurai became maintaining and preserving peace. The two Chinese characters used to write bushi or “warrior” are 武士. The right-hand side of the first character (戈) means “halberd,” and the left side (止) means “stop.” The word formed when we combine these two components and then follow them with the character for “man” means “someone who stops wars.” My aversion to Chinese characters notwithstanding, I believe these two characters express the raison d’être of the samurai quite eloquently.
But from a Chinese perspective, the characters for bushi seem quite incongruous. In Chinese the second character means “scholar-official.” The Japanese notion of the dual path of cultural and martial arts is totally alien to the Chinese. A man of letters and a man of the sword are considered two separate beings, and since the Song dynasty, the Chinese political structure has given precedence to men of letters.
To elaborate a little more, suppose a man knows that he will eventually be going into battle and that he may be killed. He would, normally, be terrified. For a warrior the first hurdle to overcome is the conquest of that fear. In other words, a warrior must begin by acquiring the self-control to overcome the fear that his survival instinct gives rise to. He must accomplish that by controlling his will to live, which is the most important aspect of the human spirit. If he manages to succeed, he deserves to be proud of himself.
He must be kind to the weak, and never torment them. He must not kill recklessly, and he must also be prepared to die when a great cause is presented to him. He is able, ultimately, to become an ideal human being, an ideal member of society, when he is able to conquer his fear of death. Therefore, as Nitobe Inazo wrote, samurai do not need to undergo moral education by means of religious instruction, because Bushido provides the moral path to tread.
Compared with Westerners, or with Muslims or East Indians, East Asians are less religious. Views on life and death differ by ethnicity. Bushido, like religions, tells you to contemplate death and to always be aware of death, but besides that, samurai also seek aesthetics as a “practice” that transcends religion; Bushido is superior to religion, and even to the standards of good and evil.
Earlier I mentioned how warriors and peace form a spiral, and I would like to mention it again. Warriors are prepared to engage in battles of all sorts at any time. But for such warriors to emerge in society, that society must be largely free of war. If not warriors will not emerge. If warriors must conquer their fear of death, and take pride in doing that, then society must admire and value them.
In societies where unjust deaths are a matter of course, there is no latitude that will permit the luxury of admiring the proud warrior. When the will to live is denied and humans are casually killed, humans cannot be faulted for doing whatever is necessary to survive. Even if in their midst there are kind people who do not kill and who are kind to the weak, society does not have the leisure to appreciate such behavior.
In China where the people are sacrificial lambs, caught up in someone else’s battles and casually killed, samurai warriors will definitely not appear. The good spiral between warriors and peace will never form.
In a battle arena of a Japanese war, warriors fulfill the leading roles. Farmers, artisans, and merchants are something like spectators, as at a sporting event. The civil wars fought in China during the modern age, where every member of the population was forced to participate, were entirely different. That is why, in Japanese wars, warriors or soldiers play the leading roles; Japanese wars are sporting and fair play prevails.
The fact that warriors and knights appeared in Japan and the Western world is proof that at those times society was orderly, and that unjust killings were not common practice. The fact that warriors appeared in Japan means that the Japanese had built a peaceful society.
The presence of warriors created peace, and peace encouraged the appearance of more warriors. In other words, the spiral of justice functions. If a foreign people were to invade Japan and war broke out, with cruel deaths being the rule rather than the exception, Bushido would disappear. But since Japan is surrounded by water and was provided with a natural barrier, there were no foreign invasions, and Bushido advanced by leaps and bounds. Japan became a peaceful nation with few wars.
Of course, even in Japan there was an Age of Warring States (1467-1603) during which there was continuous warfare, beginning with the Onin War in 1467, similar to the Spring and Autumn period in China (771-476 BC).
But warfare in Japan differed from that in China in that it did not involve the common people or farmers. Historians indicate that when warrior leaders went into a battle, they believed that the gods would not favor them if they behaved unjustly. They did not kill needlessly. Unlike the Chinese, they did not mow people down for no reason.
Battle methodology during the Age of Warring States closely resembled that employed during the Spring and Autumn period. But even so, in Japan warriors were the leaders, and civilians did not get caught up in the fighting. It was different from China, where the entire state was in utter chaos. Though battles were fought during the Age of Warring States, it was not truly an era of warfare.
When battles were fought in Japan, farmers became spectators; they knew that they would not be harmed. At the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, toward the end of the Age of Warring States, farmers reportedly took their boxed lunches up to spots high in the mountains from which they could safely enjoy the proceedings. In Japan, once the outcome of a battle was determined, and the leaders of the losing side had committed seppuku or otherwise acknowledged their defeat, there was no massacre of the men who had served under them or of farmers living in the losing domain. One exception was Oda Nobunaga. He reacted to Akechi Mitsuhide’s revolt (just before Nobunaga had achieved control of all Japan) by disemboweling himself. Nobunaga had also burned temples on Mt. Hiei in 1571 and killed priests on Mt. Koya. He refused to allow opponents to surrender, and massacred them. But his methods made him an exception in Japan. He must have adopted Chinese methods of warfare. Perhaps he thought he needed to emulate the Chinese since he was a commander during the Age of Warring States. He seems to have been dispassionate about his actions.
In 1572 after Nobunaga defeated Odani Castle, he drank sake from the defeated Azai Nagamasa’s skull. This act also had a Chinese precedent. Furthermore, in the Battle of Nagashino in 1575, Oda lined riflemen who were to shoot at Takeda Katsuyori’s men in three rows, and ordered each row to shoot and then reload, in succession. This way there was someone shooting at all times as long as the barrage lasted. I believe that this particular story was invented after the fact. But if true, it too has a Chinese precedent. The first Qin emperor lined soldiers armed with bows that took a long time to load and had them shoot in succession.
Additionally, Nobunaga’s economic warfare should be taken into account. Textbooks mention his emphasis on economics, particularly commercial activity such as free markets and open guilds.
He may have been inspired by conflicts that took place during the Yuan dynasty, which also waged commercial warfare.
If the cruel methods of waging war that Nobunaga employed had become common practice, a great number of people would have been killed unjustly. It would have become impossible to predict death, and Bushido would not have developed. However, Nobunaga disappeared from the scene before that could happen.
5. No tradition of cannibalism in Japan
My intent for this chapter was to elucidate on Japan’s history and how its annals contain very few accounts of killing. Now I would like to address cannibalism.
A scrupulous examination of any nation’s history will reveal instances of cannibalism. But China is the only nation where wars gave rise to cannibalism, which became ingrained — part of the culture. In other nations cannibalism had one cause: famine.
The Marxist economist Kawakami Hajime (1879-1946) produced a book entitled Agricultural Administration. In it he refers to a travel journal kept by a physician named Tachibana Nankei, who was travelling in western Japan toward the end of the Edo period, during the Great Tenmei Famine. Tachibana recounted a story told him by a pilgrim he encountered on the road. The pilgrim stopped at a certain house where he discovered an old man and his daughter who were starving, just barely alive. His heart went out to them, and he offered them his own food, but they wouldn’t accept it. The old man told him that even if he ate it he would still have no food on the following day. Accepting the pilgrim’s kind offer would only prolong their agony.
In Tachibana’s journal kept during his travels in east Japan, he mentions someone in Tsugaru who resorted to cannibalism, eating even his own child.
Therefore, there have been instances of cannibalism in Japan. Kawakami’s book relays an account of someone in 14th-century England who killed and ate his own child to fend off death from starvation. And I have heard that during the Greater East Asian War, Japanese soldiers lost in the jungles of the Pacific islands and Southeast Asia ate the flesh of dead soldiers. Such tales cannot be completely dismissed. But all of them differ greatly from the Chinese tradition of cannibalism becoming so entrenched that it became part of the culture; its practice could be triggered by even the slightest sign of famine.
As I wrote in Chapter 2. I doubt that Confucius, who taught the precepts of Confucianism, ever ate human flesh, but I think that people he knew were certainly part of the cannibalism culture. Even today, illegal organ transplants are being done without a second thought.
My conclusion: Japan’s history tells the story of a culture that flourished without killing.
CHAPTER 5: EMPEROR SYSTEM PAVES WAY FOR PEACEFUL PROGRESS IN JAPAN
1. Japan’s first emperors
From the time that the Japanese people were first unified by the Yamato Court up to the present day, a single dynasty of emperors has reigned over Japan. By contrast, China has been ruled by many successive royal families. The fact that Japan has only had one Imperial House contributed greatly to its historical development and the happiness of its people. This is something that I, as a Taiwanese man observing Japan from the outside, am able to understand better than the Japanese themselves do.
When the monk Chonen of Japan’s Todai-ji Temple visited China in the late-tenth century, he mentioned to Emperor Taizong of the Song dynasty that an unbroken line of emperors had reigned over Japan since the earliest times. Emperor Taizong was struck with admiration for Japan’s stable imperial succession, lamenting that this had been achieved on a mere “barbarian island”. On the other hand, Japanese monks who visited China during the late-Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties took one look at China’s dreary landscapes, devoid of temples or forests, and lamented having ever come to study there.
In fact, Emperor Taizong was suspected of having murdered his elder brother Taizu. He is also said to have killed more than ten thousand people and the entire family of the crown prince. Naturally, familicide within the royal family was certainly not limited to the Song dynasty. About two hundred people have been crowned as emperors in China’s successive dynasties, but only one third of them died natural deaths. History was even more unkind to Korea’s kings. About half of the kings belonging to Korea’s Silla and Koryo dynasties were killed, often by members of their own families. According to Confucian philosophy, a man of great virtue would become emperor of all the peoples of the realm on the authority of the “mandate of heaven”, but should his dynasty lose virtue, the mandate would pass to another person. In China, this is known as the principle of “dynastic revolution”. Nonetheless, even China’s most virtuous rulers oversaw considerable bloodshed, slaughtering not only their brothers’ families, but also, in the case of Han Emperor Wudi, his sons, or, in the case of Tang Empress Zetian, her brothers, sisters, and children. Even Tang Emperor Taizong, reputed to be one of China’s wisest rulers, ascended to the throne by launching a bloody coup d’état in 626 at Xuanwu Gate and executing tens of thousands of people, including his elder brother Crown Prince Yin, his younger brother Prince Qin, and their entire families.
As I explained in Chapter 3, it appeared to be a law of Chinese history that no new emperor could be crowned without massacring much of his own family and countless common people. For example, the emperors of the Liu Song dynasty fought among themselves so much and engineered so many mass murders of their own family members in Nanjing that eventually there was no one left to ascend the throne and the dynasty ceased to exist.
Of course, this is not to say that the succession to Japan’s imperial throne has always gone smoothly either. In ancient Japan, the Yamato Court was for a time in danger of collapse when Emperor Buretsu failed to produce an heir. Ultimately, a fifth generation grandson of Emperor Ojin, who reigned over two hundred years earlier, stepped forward to claim the throne as Emperor Keitai and preserved the imperial lineage.
Sushun, the thirty-second emperor, came to power in 587 following a violent clash between two rival clans that saw the Soga clan, led by Soga no Umako, defeat and exterminate the Mononobe clan. Sushun himself soon came into conflict with Soga no Umako, who had Sushun assassinated by one of Sushun’s own vassals. Thus, it is true that even in Japan an emperor has been killed by his vassal, though Emperor Sushun’s death was the only case of this occurring.
As the power of the Soga clan grew, it seemed increasingly likely that they would usurp the imperial throne for themselves and, in the style of the Chinese, found a new dynasty. However, Prince Naka no Oe, later known as Emperor Tenji, and Nakatomi no Kamatari, the founder of the Fujiwara clan, formed an alliance and slew Soga no Iruka in the Imperial Palace in the year 645. This event, referred to as the Isshi Incident, averted the possibility of a “dynastic revolution” in Japan.
In spite of the Isshi Incident, the next phase of Japanese history would see the emperors gradually give up de-facto political control.
The emperors of ancient times served as both chief priests of the Shinto faith and leaders of the Japanese government. However, as state functions became more and more complex, the emperors began to disengage from day-to-day government administration and lost de-facto political power. Between the eighth century and the tenth century, real power was held by the Fujiwara clan. A closer examination of the period reveals that many reigning emperors passed the throne to their heirs as soon as possible and became retired emperors (daijo tenno). The few political functions that the reigning emperor still had left were actually exercised by the retired emperor, further diminishing the de-facto political power of the imperial throne. Many young children received the title of emperor in name only.
2. Japan’s emperors in the Middle Ages
In 1192, Minamoto Yoritomo established the Kamakura shogunate, under which samurai warlords working outside the Imperial Court wielded de-facto political control.
In 1333, Emperor Go-Daigo seized power, but this imperial restoration, known as the Kemmu Restoration, proved short-lived. The samurai Ashikaga Takauji rebelled against Go-Daigo, overthrew his government, and installed another emperor in 1336. There were now two men on the imperial throne, the emperor of the Northern Court selected by Ashikaga Takauji and the emperor of the Southern Court aligned with Go-Daigo.
After a brief period of civil war, the Southern Court was absorbed into the Northern Court and disappeared. The modern Imperial House descends from the lineage of the Northern Court. Still, the fact that the Imperial House was for a time split into two rival branches is a problematic point for Japan’s “unbroken line of emperors” that we cannot simply disregard.
By the time of Japan’s Warring States period, the Imperial House was threatened with extinction, having lost not only its power, but most of its wealth as well. The man who saved the emperors from financial ruin through his generous contributions was the greatest warrior of the era, Oda Nobunaga. And yet, as I wrote in Chapter 4, Nobunaga had been influenced by the Chinese historical theory of “dynastic revolution”, and he was uncertain about what he would do with the imperial institution in the end. As I noted, Nobunaga refused to accept the court ranks that the Emperor tried to offer him. He also urged Emperor Ogimachi to abdicate and pressured him to change the era name that the Imperial Court had selected. There was a real risk that he might abolish the Imperial Court entirely. Though this is largely speculation, as I mentioned in Chapter 1, Akechi Mitsuhide may have been motivated to rebel against Oda Nobunaga to protect the Imperial House. It seems reasonable to say that this was at least one factor behind his revolt.
Judging from how he waged his wars, Nobunaga must also have adapted his battlefield tactics from Chinese models. Once he had seized absolute power in Japan, could Nobunaga have proceeded to abolish the Imperial Court and remove the Emperor? To me, it seems almost unfathomable. Almost unfathomable, but not entirely so.
Nonetheless, I can safely say that, even if Nobunaga had removed the Emperor, he could not have taken the title of emperor himself. Though he may have had the power to destroy the emperors, he could never have become emperor. The imperial institution carried the weight of over a thousand years of history within it, which, I can say with confidence, no amount of military might could ever have erased.
Even if Nobunaga had used force of arms to wipe out the imperial institution that is so intimately linked to even Japan’s earliest legends, he surely could never have occupied the Chrysanthemum Throne and called himself “Emperor”. History is not to be trifled with, for it carries within it the totality of the human experience.
3. Emperors during the Edo era
Japan’s next rulers were the Tokugawa shoguns, who had unified the country through strength of arms and dominated the political system with an iron fist. Though they often forcibly meddled in the affairs of the Imperial Court, including their unilateral imposition of the Laws for Court Nobles, they never tried to abolish the Imperial House. If they had wanted to abolish it, they certainly wielded the military might to have done so. In that case, why did the emperors survive? The living ought to bear a sense of responsibility to future generations, and I believe that Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, being keenly aware of the history that lay behind the imperial institution, most likely also understood that.
Nevertheless, the Imperial Court maintained only a meager existence under the stifling hegemony of the Tokugawa shoguns. In such circumstances, what societal purpose was left for the Imperial Court to fill? Myself excluded, foreigners observing Japan from abroad often reflexively view the Imperial Court as just a senseless waste of money, and even a fair number of Japanese people would say the same thing.
Was it true that the emperors of the Edo period who discreetly occupied the Imperial Palace in Kyoto lived out their lives for no real purpose? This thought must surely have crossed the minds of even the emperors themselves.
What, on closer consideration, were the emperors actually able to do without real political power? The answer is that they dutifully performed the religious rites passed down through the imperial line, and prayed for the peace and happiness of the people of Japan.
Under the Tokugawa shogunate, the only societal purpose of the Imperial House was thus to offer prayers for the peace and happiness of the people. And yet, precisely because the shoguns had been ceremonially granted the authority to govern Japan from the emperor, they were unable to disregard the wishes of the people and rule arbitrarily. Officially, the leaders of the Tokugawa shogunate held only the imperial title of seii tai shogun, meaning “barbarian-subduing great general”, and for this reason it was impossible for them to become despots and exercise power tyrannically as the Chinese emperors did.
In 1779, as the reigning Emperor Go-Momozono lay dying without a male heir to succeed him, he hastily adopted the sixth son of Prince Kanin Sukehito, Prince Sachi, who later took the name Tomohito. Tomohito ascended to the throne the following year as Emperor Kokaku at nine years of age, but, just a few years later, Japan was gripped by the Great Tenmei Famine lasting from 1782 to 1787. The desperate masses began to congregate around the Imperial Palace and pray for relief. They gave up on the Tokugawa authorities, who had turned a blind eye to their plight, and instead came to throw money offerings over the palace gate and beg the Emperor for help. What was at first just a few passersby became, within ten days, an enormous crowd of 70,000 surrounding the entire palace. Emperor Kokaku was so moved to witness this that he personally asked the governor of Kyoto to distribute aid to the people, and made sure that his request was carried out.
This was the first time since the formation of the Tokugawa shogunate that an emperor had intervened in the shogun’s domestic political jurisdiction. Moreover, what made the event so consequential was that the shogunate did obey the Emperor’s wishes.
Komei, the 121st emperor, reigned from 1846 to 1867 and was the father of Emperor Meiji. The years that elapsed between his ascension to the throne at age sixteen and death at age thirty-six encapsulated the momentous fifteen-year period between the arrival of Commodore Perry’s fleet at Uraga in 1853 and the death knell of the Tokugawa shogunate just before the Meiji Renovation. This was truly Japan’s time of trials. Deep within the recesses of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, Emperor Komei endured great loneliness and composed poems like the following ones.
The ships of foreign lands
Haunt my soul that desires only
That my subjects may live in peace.
This spring I forsook
Even the smell of flowers and chirping of birds
For the sake of my subjects.
Without knowing the will of the deities
It pains my foolish heart
To sit upon this great throne.
Through these poems, we see that the Emperor’s mind was always preoccupied with Japan’s territorial integrity and the wellbeing of its people. However, because he was a firm advocate of “expelling the barbarians” and opposed to opening Japan to foreign influence, there have been rumors that he was secretly poisoned. Still, no one can doubt the sincerity of his heartfelt commitment to the needs of his subjects and the fate of his country. None of his thoughts or actions betrayed a hint of the selfish motivations that dominate the hearts of so many ordinary people.
4. Emperor helps surmount crisis in last days of Shogunate
Under the aegis of the emperors, who reigned in an unbroken line since the country’s foundation, how did Japan manage to overcome the unprecedented national crisis confronting it between the downfall of the Tokugawa shogunate and the subsequent Meiji period?
The conflict that broke out in the final years of the Edo period was, to put it in plain terms, a power struggle between the Tokugawa shogunate and the domains of Choshu and Satsuma that had been shunned by the shoguns since their defeat at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. If Choshu and Satsuma had rebelled against the Tokugawa with the intention of forming their own shogunate, the struggle would definitely have been a far bloodier affair, not unlike a Chinese-style “dynastic revolution” fought for control of the shogunate. However, Satsuma and Choshu always affirmed that their objective was not to establish a shogunate, but rather to restore power to the Imperial Court. The leaders of the Tokugawa shogunate thus found it easier to surrender to the Emperor than to their inferiors, the rebel domains of Choshu and Satsuma.
In 1868, the forces of the shogunate and the Satsuma-Choshu alliance clashed at Toba-Fushimi in Kyoto. Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun, was aware that his army was at least equal to those of his enemies, and yet he lost heart the moment that he saw them hold aloft the golden Imperial Standard. Though not yet willing to admit defeat, he immediately fled Osaka with his closest subordinates such as Matsudaira Katamori and returned to Edo in order to avert further loss of life. Some Japanese people have seen Yoshinobu’s desertion of his own men and retreat to Edo as a cowardly act, but this sentiment may be unfair. If Yoshinobu had remained where he was, the fighting would inevitably have continued, but his bold withdrawal from Osaka Castle prevented that. Therefore, Japan was able to overcome one of its greatest crises thanks to the prestige of its Imperial House, the venerable Yamato Court.
After this, the army of Japan’s new Meiji Government attacked the northeastern domains, initiating the so-called Boshin War, which did produce many casualties. However, apart from that, the dramatic political revolution known as the Meiji Renovation was achieved largely without bloodshed.
Even if France and Great Britain had wanted to intervene, the speed of the transition permitted them no such opportunity. Yoshinobu was offered military support by the French minister, but he refused.
The inescapable conclusion is that Japan only survived this national crisis thanks to the existence of the Imperial House. The fact that the emperors have existed since the earliest times carries great value. I was born in Taiwan, but I cannot overstate the global significance of Japan’s imperial institution, which is truly enviable from the perspective of China or Korea. Even Chinese President Xi Jinping sought to elevate his stature as he rose to power in China by receiving an audience with the Emperor of Japan. This palpably demonstrates how globally respected, and how truly unparalleled among nations, is the Imperial House of Japan.
5. The Meiji Restoration: A grand achievement
And so, Japan handed power back to the emperors with minimal violence and established a centralized government. To make the government’s new direction clear, it had to officially return the land and people to the authority of the emperors. Under the old Tokugawa shogunate, Japan was divided into domains, and local feudal lords ruled both the land and people of these domains as their personal fiefs. What was needed was a restoration of the system of “emperor’s land, emperor’s people” that had first been instituted under the Taika Reforms of 645.
To achieve this, the Meiji Government declared, in the name of the Emperor, the abolition of the domains. In 1871, all the domains were abolished and replaced by prefectures responsible for local administration. Due to this reform, all of Japan’s samurai, who earned their salaries from the lords of the domains, were put out of work. The samurai were Japan’s warrior class, who during the Edo period openly wore their swords at their sides. They were a force to be reckoned with and, one would think, ought to have rebelled rather than accept the new order. And yet, they did not rebel. This was partly because the reform had been carried out in the name of the Emperor, and Japanese society had been long inculcated with the notion that submission to the emperor was a virtue. It was also partly because the now unemployed samurai accepted that the reform was necessary to make Japan stronger and, as warriors, they felt that it was their duty to die for the sake of a greater cause. One might call this the triumph of the spirit of self-sacrifice.
New History Textbook, which was compiled by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform and used in middle schools between 2012 and 2016, contains the account of William Elliot Griffis, an American citizen who was working in Fukui at the time. According to New History Textbook, “When the news arrived from Tokyo that the domains had been abolished, there was uproar and a great deal of anger from the now unemployed samurai of the domain. And yet, even amidst this tumult, several of Griffis’ samurai students at the local domain school enthusiastically told him that, ‘Now Japan will take a position among the nations like your country and England.’”
The samurai of Japan, who had held all the positions of power in the shogunate, accepted the new reforms at the cost of their own careers and livelihoods, and agreed to go quietly into the night to ensure the success of the Meiji Renovation. Japan should rightly be proud of this remarkable accomplishment, which was unlike any the world has ever seen.
However, it was only possible thanks to the authority of the emperors and the bushido spirit of the samurai.
Next, let’s turn to the subject of the Meiji Constitution, promulgated in the year 1889.
A constitution, needless to say, outlines the nation’s fundamental character. A society must already have accumulated a common repository of national wisdom and developed national institutions before a constitution can be drawn up and enacted. If it does not yet have such an accumulation of experiences, the rashly enacted constitution will end up having no effect.
As is well known, the Meiji Constitution was the first constitution promulgated in Asia.
First of all, what is a nation? The modern nations that arose within Western civilization have delineated national borders and came into being for the purpose of preserving and promoting the safety and happiness of the citizens living within those borders. These nations, both large and small, all enjoy the same right of “sovereignty”. As such, sovereignty within the international community means recognition of a society’s achievement of nationhood. Fellow nations respect each other’s sovereignty and ultimately aspire for the happiness of all human beings. In other words, nations are man-made creations that are constructed at certain stages of history. I referred to this stage as “national civilization” in Chapter 2 where I discussed how the people of Western civilization came to organize themselves into nations.
Since the dawn of history, the protective barrier of the sea has provided Japan with its own natural border, behind which the people lived their lives in peace. They grew into their own community, naturally fulfilling the prerequisites to become a “nation” and entering the stage of national civilization.
In the West, communities that usually had common languages and religions formed nations guaranteeing the rights and liberties of their citizens, often with a king as their head of state embodying the nation’s sovereignty.
There were also nations like France and the United States that did away with the monarchy and, arguing that the nation’s sovereignty lied with the people, elected a politician such as a president as their head of state. Nations can come in diverse forms, but in all cases they have defined borders and exist to preserve and improve the peace and prosperity of citizens residing within those borders.
Japan has had a national border and a government committed to the safety and happiness of its people since the dawn of its history. Therefore, it would be fair to say that Japan had already effectively realized nationhood long before the Meiji Renovation.
In summary, Japan did not become a realm within the orbit of Chinese civilization, or tianxia, as the Chinese referred to their governing philosophy. Rather, Japan developed a unique form of national civilization. As a general rule, a multiplicity of nations coexist within each modern civilization. Nonetheless, as Samuel Huntington noted in his book The Clash of Civilizations, Japan is unusual in being a civilization represented by only a single nation.
6. The Charter Oath and the Meiji Constitution
In response to Tokugawa Yoshinobu’s announcement that political power would be transferred to the Imperial Court, the Emperor released the Decree for the Restoration of Imperial Rule on January 3, 1868 (December 9, 1867, under the old calendar). On September 8, 1868, the era name in use in Japan changed from Keio to Meiji, marking the start of the Meiji period. During this time, the Charter Oath was released. It was on March 14, 1868, that Emperor Meiji gathered the court nobles, feudal lords, and government officials to the Kyoto Imperial Palace’s Hall of State Ceremonies for the swearing ceremony. On behalf of the Emperor, Senior Councilor and Vice President Sanjo Sanetomi read aloud before the deities all five articles of the Charter Oath, starting with “Deliberative assemblies shall be widely established and all matters decided by open discussion.” All the Emperor’s vassals, with the Emperor himself standing before them, swore to the deities to support the new government. However, this was not an order issued by the Emperor to his vassals. The Emperor also took the same oath to the deities as a demonstration of solidarity between sovereign and subject.
The Charter Oath
• Deliberative assemblies shall be widely established and all matters decided by open discussion.
• All classes, high and low, shall be united in vigorously carrying out the administration of affairs of state.
• The common people, no less than the civil and military officials, shall all be allowed to pursue their own calling so that there may be no discontent.
• Evil customs of the past shall be broken off and everything based upon the just laws of Nature.
• Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundation of imperial rule.
After swearing the oath, the Emperor passed down an imperial rescript declaring that, “We will lay down the government’s policies and forge a path that shall safeguard all people.” In this manner, the Meiji Government made clear that the objective of its policies would be “a path that shall safeguard all people.”
In other words, by proclaiming this as its nation-building goal, the Meiji Government showed that Japan was already endowed with the conditions for nationhood on a conceptual level. It would be fair to say that the Meiji Constitution did nothing more than express this fait accompli on paper. For this reason, the process of enacting the constitution proved no great national trial for Japan.
Indeed, the concept that the nation exists for the betterment of the people and citizenry was already recorded in one of Japan’s oldest works of history, The Chronicles of Japan, which includes a famous story about Emperor Nintoku. According to The Chronicles of Japan, Emperor Nintoku noticed that smoke was no longer rising from residences and became concerned that the people might be too poor to cook their food. In response, he decided to cease collecting taxes for three years. Three years later, he ascended a nearby hill and, seeing once more the smoke rising from the ovens of private homes, he remarked, “The deities permit an emperor to rule solely for the sake of the common people. Therefore, it is the emperors who serve as the foundation of the people.”
Emperor Nintoku may have said this while recalling the legends of China’s old emperors of virtue, but, at least from the time that the country was unified under Qin Shi Huang Di, China had never actually had an emperor like that. It would be no exaggeration to say that none of China’s emperors since Qin Shi Huang Di attempted any achievement beyond personal self-gain through force of arms. Chinese people have themselves referred to their political system as a “family-owned realm” (jiatianxia), which derives from the concept of tianxia and appears to be synonymous with the “patrimonial bureaucracy” of which Max Weber spoke.
Regardless, Japan did learn new ideas through contact with the national civilizations of the West. Japan had not previously conceived of people as having individual rights and liberties. Moreover, the concept of parliamentary politics, that the direction of the nation was to be determined through discussion in an open assembly, did not exist in Japan until the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate.
On the other hand, Japan had already naturally evolved the institution of constitutional monarchy, which in the kingdoms of the West was only achieved through a long, hard-fought historical process. In a constitutional monarchy, monarchs “reign but do not rule”, meaning that they do not participate in national decision-making and thus are never responsible for misrule. In Western monarchies, the notion that the monarch bore no political responsibility was established at least in theory, if not always in reality.
And yet, the idea of constitutional monarchy was already influencing Japanese politics during the Heian period (794-1185) and was put into practice under the shogunate founded at the start of the Kamakura period.
I stated earlier that the idea of establishing a national parliament was entirely absent in Japan until the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate. Still, it is worth pointing out that the final article of Prince Shotoku’s Seventeen Article Constitution, which was written in 604, is, “Decisions on important matters should not be made by one person alone.” Making decisions on the basis of dialogue with the people is the principle behind parliamentary politics. One could also go back even further and make the argument that the Divine Assembly convoked during the Age of the Gods was the origin of Japanese democracy.
The Meiji Constitution, officially titled the Constitution of the Great Japanese Empire, was promulgated on February 11, 1889.
Article 1 of the Meiji Constitution reads, “The Great Empire of Japan shall be reigned over by a line of emperors unbroken for ages eternal.” Inoue Kowashi, who was involved in drafting the constitution in May, 1887, decided to use the Japanese word shirasu to mean “reigned”. His intention was to make Article 1 an assertion of imperial sovereignty over Japan. Inoue submitted the draft to Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi, who ultimately decided to replace the word shirasu with tochi prior to the promulgation of the constitution. Although the word tochi can mean “to rule” in Japanese, Inoue explained its intended connotations in the following excerpt from Goin Sonko, a posthumously published collection of his writings.
“In ancient times, what word did we use in Japan to refer to the notion of governing the lands and peoples of our country? In the ancient history text, Records of Ancient Matters, it is written that Takemikazuchi was sent by the deities to confront Okuninushi, and he told him, ‘Okuninushi, the lands that you rule are to be given to the child of Amaterasu as the land over which he should reign! What do you say to this?’ In ancient times, we utilized the verbs ‘rule’ (ushihaku) and ‘reign’ (shirasu) in reference to the relationship between the sovereign and his lands and subjects. In that case, isn’t there a distinction to be made between ‘ruling’ on the one hand and ‘reigning’ on the other? I believe that there is a stark difference between the ‘rule’ of Okuninushi and the ‘reign’ of Amaterasu’s child. If we follow the interpretation of Motoori Norinaga, the word ‘rule’ is entirely equivalent to the European occupare or the Chinese fuyou yanyou, which mean wielding total control. The conduct of a powerful clan emulates the style of Okuninushi, who regarded the land and people as his own personal property. The proper emperor, who achieves glorious ascendency over our country, is one who reigns rather than rules.”
Remarkably, the Western principle of monarchs who “reign but do not rule” can be found in reference to the emperors of Japan within the ancient myths about the inception of the Yamato Court.
Partly for this reason, there was no resistance whatsoever to this principle being enshrined in the Meiji Constitution. Both the Emperor and his subjects were able to accept as natural the idea of “reigning but not ruling”.
Because Japan had already fulfilled the prerequisites of nationhood by this point in time, the Meiji Constitution was in many ways just a formalization of the preexisting situation. No further effort was necessary but to officially recognize Japan as what it had long been, a nation.
This is testament to the greatness of the long reign of the Japanese Imperial House. It is also an important reason why Japan’s history ought to be carefully observed by all the peoples of the world.
7. Strange explications of the current Constitution
While we are on the subject of the constitutions, let’s also examine Japan’s current constitution. Its Article 1 stipulates that, “The emperor shall be the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power.”
This text has been unashamedly interpreted to mean that the emperor is a symbol of the state, but is not Japan’s head of state. This is a serious problem. It is apparent even to a Taiwanese man like myself that this is an absurd interpretation with no grounding in Japanese history. Of what could the emperor be a symbol outside the context of the nation’s history? The emperor is neither a representative of a certain political party nor of a certain social class. Rather, he is the representative of the citizenry as a whole, and therefore the representative of the nation. Does that not make him Japan’s head of state? Taking a historical perspective, the emperor was the country’s sovereign, and should that not still be the case in Japan’s current constitution that was officially ratified under the amending procedure of the Meiji Constitution? I have heard, though I have not researched the matter in detail, that even General Douglas MacArthur, who imposed the present constitution on Japan, regarded the emperor as Japan’s head of state.
Given that the present constitution was pushed through the very amendment process contained within the Meiji Constitution, why do Japan’s legal scholars and others involved with Japanese law refuse to uphold the interpretation used in the Meiji Constitution based on the historic position of the emperors? This bizarre analysis needs to be called out for what it is. What could the legal establishment, from Japan’s legal scholars on down, possibly be thinking? This made-in-Japan interpretation is making the Japanese constitution even worse than it already is.
Even though Japan lost the war with the United States, why must Japanese people continue to do harm to their own country by inventing a constitutional interpretation beyond what MacArthur himself envisaged?
According to Article 4, paragraph 1, of Japan’s present constitution, “The emperor shall perform only such acts in matters of state as are provided for in this constitution and he shall not have powers related to government.” However, this article appears to be essentially no different than the contents of the Meiji Constitution. Is it not the basic definition of a constitutional monarchy?
That is to say, the constitutional monarchy, under which the emperor is not involved in actual political decision-making, was at the very heart of the constitutional law put in place by the Meiji Constitution.
According to the Meiji Constitution, “The Great Empire of Japan shall be reigned over by a line of emperors unbroken for ages eternal.” In Japan, this text has caused some confusion owing to the fact that it uses the word tochi, which tends to mean “to rule”. Nonetheless, tochi in this case stands for the older Japanese verb shirasu, meaning “to reign”. The clear intention of the Meiji Constitution was to enshrine the principle of monarchs who “reign but do not rule”.
In consideration of these facts, a “head of state” and a “symbol” are just two sides of the same coin. One might say that Japan’s constitution has itself proved that the emperor cannot be a “symbol” without also being a “head of state”. And yet, the Japanese legal establishment seems to insist on reading the constitution in a manner so wrongheaded that even the US occupation army did not expect it.
Concerning the right of collective self-defense, successive Director-Generals of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, which provides legal advice to the government, have thoughtlessly clung to the peculiar interpretation that Japan retains the inherent right of collective self-defense, but cannot constitutionally exercise it. They have consistently maintained this deluded notion of Japan “retaining but being unable to exercise” the right of collective self-defense, despite that this problem puts the country’s very security at stake. In light of this, should we really say that the Director-Generals of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau serve the Japanese government?
In order to do away with such ridiculous interpretations, it should ultimately be our elected government that decides how it will interpret the constitution, without relying on the bureaucracy. The problem is that Japanese society is still suffering the consequences of the War Guilt Information Program, the propaganda operation undertaken by the US Army during its occupation of Japan to indoctrinate the Japanese people with the idea that they needed to atone for the war.
Nevertheless, the continuing impact of the War Guilt Information Program over the past sixty-five years is no longer the fault of the occupation, which ended in 1952. Rather, it is the fault of Japanese people. The occupation army withdrew to the United States sixty-five years ago, and the Japanese people have since then been masters of their own destiny.
In regards to World War II, it has been said that Japan lost, but not every Japanese person lost out. It is those that profited from Japan’s defeat who have assumed the US Army’s role of instilling war guilt and who have attempted to portray Japanese history with a deliberately masochistic slant. Most of the beneficiaries of the defeat, who embraced the War Guilt Information Program and perpetuated its influence after the withdrawal of the US Army, are bureaucrats, scholars, and journalists who did not fight in the war and know nothing of the bushido spirit. They have slandered Japan time and again, and, by doing so, they are not only damaging their own country, but are also causing great trouble for Japan’s neighbors.
Over the course of their existence, which stretches back to the Age of the Gods, the emperors of Japan certainly have experienced a fair share of crises, albeit nowhere near as bloody as the history of the Chinese emperors. Nevertheless, each generation of Japan’s forbearers did their part to overcome these crises and strived to preserve the imperial lineage. Because of that, the Imperial House of Japan today stands out as by far the world’s oldest dynasty.
As I described in Chapter 4, the preservation of this dynasty has been an inestimable boon to Japan’s development. I believe that I have sufficiently explained how the Imperial House mitigated warfare in Japan and thus guided the nation through its long history with relatively little bloodshed. However, I would like to discuss one more pertinent topic that can be easily pinpointed as a historical phenomenon, namely religious culture.
When the Choson dynasty seized control of the Korean Peninsula, it launched a mass suppression of Buddhism, a religion that had been cherished by the Korean people for over a thousand years between the Three Kingdoms Period and the end of the Koryo dynasty. Buddhism was completely extirpated from Korean society. Until then, Buddhism was regarded as one of Korea’s most precious spiritual pillars, but all that was wiped out in a stroke by the violent persecution campaign engineered by the Choson dynasty. The Korean people had no power to oppose the force of arms that was brought to bear against them.
In thirteenth century Japan, the Jodo and Nichiren schools were born amidst a flowering of popular Buddhist movements in the style of the Tendai school headquartered on Mount Hiei. This was not the product of any policy of force, but came from the natural growth of the faith itself within Japan. By contrast, as I recounted in Chapter 1, Yi Song-gye overthrew the Koryo dynasty in the Korean Peninsula in the fourteenth century with the military support of Ming China. China bestowed Korea with the name “Choson” and, in return, Korea revered the Ming Emperors as deities.
The Chinese people were also devoted to Buddhism, delving into the innermost secrets of the faith. And yet, in 664, Emperor Taiwu of Northern Wei charged Buddhist monks with depravity as a pretext to wreck havoc on the growing religion. Temples and pagodas were demolished, and monks were banished. The persecution was an imperial order backed with military might, and no one dared resist it.
Furthermore, the Liang dynasty was founded in 502 in the southern half of China by Emperor Wu, an ardent disciple of the Buddhist faith. Regardless, he was repeatedly betrayed by the devious Ho Jing and his dynasty destroyed.
In Japan, Buddhism flourished around the city of Nara since the time of Prince Shotoku, and it did come under criticism for a time. Nevertheless, at no point were any of Nara’s temples or Buddhist statues razed. Japan’s capital was transferred to Kyoto by Emperor Kammu, Buddhist devotees set up a new headquarters on Mount Hiei, and the old Buddhism of Nara was left unmolested. As Buddhism spread to the masses, the Japanese people never attempted to attack or destroy the country’s historic Buddhist temples by force, with the one exception of Oda Nobunaga.
After World War II, General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, did make efforts to Christianize Japan under the US occupation, but they went nowhere.
Today, the Japanese people still deeply treasure Buddhism. If Buddhism was as preponderant in the Korean Peninsula as it is in Japan, would the South and North Koreans be a more calm-tempered people than they are now? At the least, I doubt that they would be continually cursing Japan under the sway of primitive shamanistic social traits.
Thanks to the preservation of Japan’s imperial line, neither Buddhism, nor any other Japanese cultural trend, tried to wipe out what came before it. Instead, Japanese history has progressed by gently overlaying the new culture onto the old culture. When Japanese history is observed from the perspective of an outsider, the significance of this looks very clear. Just as Buddhism and Shinto fused together as one, I can see that the principle of “syncretism” has always been alive and well in Japan.
Japan has a great history, and if the Japanese people were to show more pride in it, they would help not only themselves. The Japanese people must do this for the sake of we Taiwanese as well, and for sensibly-minded people in Korea and China. In Japan, there is no shortage of corrupt individuals who despise their own country, and the work of these self-loathing Japanese hurts not only Japan. It is important to know that they are also hurting other countries. Those who realize what is going on in Japan should clearly identify who these self-loathing Japanese are, what they are doing, and what they have done, so that their malicious influence will be condemned by society.
In this chapter, I illustrated how fortunate Japan is to have been reigned over by the emperors and the many ways in which they have facilitated Japan’s development. However, I would like to close this chapter by noting that, regrettably, it is the Japanese people themselves who often fail to fully grasp this important reality.
CHAPTER 6: HOW JAPAN CAN WIN THE HISTORY WARS INSTIGATED BY CHINA
1. Why Japan must not lose the history wars
To conclude this book, I would like to consider what the history wars are really all about, and, from the perspective of a Taiwanese writer, encourage Japan to fight and win the battle for history.
I say this because, should Japan lose the history wars being waged by China and Korea, it will not be a detriment to Japan alone. In Taiwan as well, these history wars are no irrelevant matter. Taiwan is constantly being subjected to the poisonous influence of Chinese civilization, and the defeat of our neighbor Japan will only add to our woes. For Taiwan’s sake, I have good reason to want Japan to win.
On behalf of the world of today and of the future, we must reject the totalitarian theory of history euphemistically referred to as a “correct historical perception”. Defending positive and negative freedom of history is absolutely essential to protect a society where liberty of values is practiced and diversity is tolerated. Therefore, we absolutely cannot afford to allow any totalitarian-inspired view of history, whether from the communist left or fascist right, to prevail.
As I made clear in the preceding chapters, Japan is a nation with an inherently beautiful history that its people can take pride in before the whole world. For building such an advanced and non-violent culture, Japan has become the moral leader of the world. Thus, if Japan were vanquished in the history wars instigated by China and Korea and decayed into irrelevance, it would have dire consequences for the rest of the planet.
Although Japan was right next door to the civilization of China, which never had any claim to being a moral leader, the Japanese people were protected by the natural barrier of the sea and managed early on to forge a nation not unlike the national civilizations of the West. Between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the white peoples of the West colonized Asia and Africa and extended their dominion across the globe. Only Japan tenaciously held onto its independence, liberated the colonized peoples of Asia, and sought to create a world united by the principle of racial equality.
In spite of the fact that Japanese history was a model for human development, China and Korea now treat Japan with contempt and have senselessly made it the target of their history wars. This is not solely Japan’s problem, but rather, is a problem for the entire world.
What does the phrase “history war” mean? A history war is when one nation dwells on the events of another nation’s history in order to denounce and demean it, often followed by a demand for “repentance and apology”, or sometimes reparations.
It is important to remember that the outcome of a history war cannot alter the past. What can be altered is the future. Even if some facts of the past are worthy of censure, continually opening old wounds in the present day is a different matter. Denouncing historical incidents of the distant past serves no purpose unless one is using it as a means to resolve a problem of the present day. Without a problem of current interest, dragging up old history is just denunciation for the sake of denunciation, and that does no good to either the countries denouncing or the countries being denounced.
Often, the reason why China chastises Japan is because the Communist Party of China, which today maintains an iron grip on China, wants to dampen the pent-up distrust and dissatisfaction that the Chinese people feel towards their own government. The Communist Party’s strategy is to create a hated external enemy out of another country and direct popular anger towards it, which has proven to be very effective in distracting the people from the true source of their resentment.
Because the communists founded their regime at the end of a long, bloody power struggle, it does not bother their consciences to tell lies any more than it did the emperors of China. The notion of “might makes right” is the basis of Chinese civilization, so it is all too natural for the Communist Party to distort or fabricate history as it suits its interests.
In 2015, China pressured UNESCO to include in its Memory of the World Register certain historical documents that were said to be related to the so-called “Nanjing Massacre”, an alleged massacre undertaken in 1937 of 300,000 Chinese citizens by Japanese soldiers occupying the city. Nonetheless, China did not even publicly release the documents. Because the “Nanjing Massacre” was a fabrication from the outset and the documents in question surely had nothing to do with it, China could not have disclosed them even after registration. China simply disregarded these obvious problems and had the documents registered by force. In Chinese civilization, “might makes right”, and consequently China is actively testing the theory that the strong can do whatever they like. China fills its history books with lies and, in accordance with the nature of Chinese civilization, shows no hint of shame in repeating these lies again and again. China’s vision of history is, in the end, pure fiction.
In the case of Korea, there is the matter of the forced recruitment of comfort women. In 1982, a man named Yoshida Seiji falsely claimed to have worked with Japanese authorities on Korea’s Cheju Island who were rounding up young Korean women and forcing them into brothels. Yoshida’s “testimony” was published in the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun.
This would have been a crime worthy of denunciation, had it been true. In fact, a field survey conducted on Cheju Island by the historian Hata Ikuhiko ten years later in 1992 exposed Yoshida’s story as a total fabrication.
And yet, even after the truth was revealed, the fury of the Korean people did not diminish. Private groups installed a statue of a comfort woman in front of the Japanese embassy in South Korea with a plaque insisting that over 200,000 Koreans were sexually enslaved by the Japanese. Not limiting themselves to Korea, they have even been erecting comfort women statues worldwide at sites in Australia and the United States.
It is true that the Japanese military utilized the services of brothels called “comfort stations” where comfort women, including Korean women, worked. However, the wages of the comfort women were very high, and since plenty of people applied willingly, there was no need for the Japanese to kidnap or forcibly recruit anyone. It is also a fact that the Japanese military became involved in the operation of the comfort stations, but it did so in positive ways, such as providing health inspections to the comfort women. Such stations were identical to those that the Korean government itself has established in Korea during and since the Korean War for use by American soldiers.
The outrage in Korea began before it was known that Yoshida Seiji’s tale of having hunted down and abducted Korean women was a lie. In that case, why did this anger not cool after the facts were discovered?
This reaction is indicative of the Korean people’s perspective on their history, or what I call, “fantasy history”. Korea is located some distance from the Yellow River, the focal point of Chinese civilization, and borders on continental Asia along only one of the peninsula’s four sides. Korea was not endlessly attacked from all quarters the way that the territories surrounding the heart of China were, and, to that extent, invasions of Korea were relatively few. Still, Korea did suffer tragedies as a result of its connection to continental Asia where political control was hotly contested. Korea had no means of defending itself against any enemy forces descending from the continent. It also meant that Korea became addicted to having Chinese troops put down internal upheaval. Korea’s unification by the state of Silla in the seventh century was facilitated by the armed forces of Tang China. The foundation of the Choson dynasty in the fourteenth century was likewise backed by military aid from Ming China. In the nineteenth century, the Choson dynasty easily crushed a budding, Korean-led reform movement, not with its own army, but with the army of a foreign power, Qing China.
It is not surprising, in consideration of their past history, that the Korean people feel a deep-seated bitterness. The Koreans may not have experienced as much sheer brutality as China did throughout its history, but, time and time again, the great things their people ought to have been destined for never materialized. From this was born Korea’s “culture of resentment” (han in Korean).
Korea never managed to sit at the center of Chinese civilization and call the shots, as the Mongols and Manchus did. Instead, Korea was continually ordered to submit to each successive dynasty that rose to power in mainland China. The bitterness felt by the Korean people manifested itself as the culture of resentment, which in turn produced “fantasy history”. The fantasizing of the Korean people, that is to say their vain expectations of how things ought to be, morphed into their view of their own nation’s history.
In this context, the comfort women statues are a form of “Japan bashing” intended to affirm Korea’s moral superiority. The Korean people endured a long succession of unfulfilled dreams while their country languished in servitude to China. Because of these many centuries of pent-up resentment, Korea lashes out at Japan whenever Japan shows signs of weakness.
As I noted earlier, denunciation of the “Nanjing Massacre” is carried out in China primarily to bolster the Communist Party’s grip on power. By contrast, the political system in South Korea is more or less democratic, and it is not necessarily the case that the South Korean government has been proactively denouncing Japan for its own profit. The Korean people bash Japan through the mass media as an outlet for their own frustrated desires. Though the government often rides the anti-Japan wave in the hopes of currying favor with the mob, it is the people who take the initiative.
To what extent has this harmed South Korea’s own interests? How much damage is being done to tourism alone? In addition to North Korea, the authoritarian regime in China represents a growing threat to South Korea, and I should not need to elaborate on how critical it is for South Korea to cooperate with Japan on these matters.
The South Korean government ought to always be serving the function of tempering the passions of its people. In spite of Korea’s culture of resentment, or rather because of it, the government should be providing its citizens with enough benevolent guidance to prevent this resentment from being directed abroad. When Korea’s political leaders exploit popular emotion to court popularity, they are doing damage to their own country and are thus committing truly unpatriotic deeds. From the outset, denunciation of the imaginary “forced recruitment” of comfort women and the subsequent false description of the comfort women as “sex slaves” has debased the Korean people. When the government also joins in, the people are debased even further. For this reason, Korea’s leaders are themselves guilty of anti-Korean acts in the true sense of the term.
2. Acquire the ability to develop a broad historical perspective
When I consider how history should be scrutinized and discussed, I have long argued against various “theories of history”.
A theory of history is a means to interpret historical events. What I have come to acutely understand is how often such historical theories fail to look at history from a broad perspective, which in turn is the main cause of dogmatic and biased interpretations of events. Theories of history tend to miss the big picture because they are constructed from preconceived ideas before the truth has been seriously examined.
For example, the Chinese Foreign Ministry brazenly insists that China is the only nation to have never invaded a foreign country.
If we limit ourselves to examining the events immediately prior to the modern era, the world was in the process of being swallowed up by aggressively expansionist imperialist powers. Russia continued its advance eastward from around the time of the Age of Discovery, crossing the Bering Strait and reaching Alaska. Later, Russia plunged southwards from Siberia, threatening first China and then Japan. Upon gaining independence from Great Britain, the United States also expanded its territory, advancing westward from the Atlantic coast, crossing the Pacific Ocean, and finally seizing the Philippines from Spain. After the Iberian nations of Spain and Portugal took to the seas, the Netherlands followed them. The next imperial powers to step forward, Great Britain and France, established colonies on all five continents and along all seven seas. Even the Manchurian people founded the Great Qing Empire, which spent two hundred years over the course of six imperial reigns conquering a realm three times the size of Ming China. After subduing China, the Manchus annihilated the Dzungar Khanate and even annexed Tibet and the Western Regions. Judging from these facts alone, how can one say that China has never invaded another country?
The old motto of Qing China’s Eight Banner Army was, “With 10,000 men, no foe can stand against us!” Regardless, there were essential geopolitical and ecological reasons, and certainly contemporary factors such as the international power dynamics of that period, that rendered China incapable of launching further invasions. The rise of the world powers in the wake of the West’s Age of Discovery was one historical trend that thwarted China’s attempts at expansion.
How shall we define the word “invasion”? The notion that China was invaded by the great powers, including Japan and Great Britain, is well established in the so-called “correct historical perception” espoused by China. However, my interpretation is the exact opposite. According to the Chinese division of the world into the ruler and his realm (tianzi and tianxia), the sixty years of wars that took place between the Opium War, the First Sino-Japanese War, and the Boxer Rebellion were not invasions of China by the great powers, but rather were failed “punitive expeditions” initiated by the Qing emperors against the “western barbarians” and “eastern barbarians”. The Qianlong Emperor, who ruled China for sixty years in the eighteenth century, proudly called himself the “Old Man of the Great Ten” for having achieved victory in wars launched against external foes of ten different regions. However, just one year after he passed the throne to the Jiaqing Emperor and became a retired emperor, the White Lotus Rebellion broke out and ushered in a full 180 years of civil war and turmoil that did not cease until the end of the Cultural Revolution in the twentieth century. During this period, one fifth of the Chinese population lost their lives in the Taiping Rebellion and armed bands of Han Chinese slaughtered ninety percent of China’s Muslims in a genocide known as the “Muslim purge” (xihui). China sunk even further into civil war during the Republican period. Amidst the prevailing chaos, the great powers struggled to abandon the killing fields of China as a lost cause.
History does not look the same from every angle. Because history is a series of incidents linked through a chain of cause and effect, what is necessary is to grasp the big picture. Japan’s postwar politicians make the mistake of missing the big picture every time that they refer to Japan’s decisions leading to World War II as “a certain period in the not too distant past”. Unless we view history by expanding the scale of space and extending the span of time, we will end up missing the forest for the trees. If we lose sight of the bigger picture, we cannot understand history in an accurate way.
As I already described, the Silla and Koryo dynasties that ruled the Korean Peninsula were riven by bloody infighting, and only about half of their kings died natural deaths. The situation deteriorated further during the subsequent Choson dynasty when this infighting extended outside the imperial palace to political factions, known as pungtang in Korean, whose endless feuds divided the whole country.
Conversely, the most stable and peaceful era of Korean history was the so-called “Thirty Years of Japanese Imperial Rule” following the annexation of Korea by Japan. If we include the time immediately prior to the annexation, when Korea was under the guidance of the Japanese Governor General, we could call it the “Forty Years of Japanese Imperial Rule”. During these decades, Korean society achieved an unprecedented degree of stability. After the annexation, Korea also shared in the benefits of the wave of modernization, including Westernization and industrialism, that had occurred in Japan thanks to Japan’s “ultrastable” imperial line, unbroken since the Age of the Gods.
Nonetheless, the struggle between the political factions of the Korean Peninsula spilled over into China, Manchuria, and Siberia where they continued fighting. After the end of World War II, the bloodshed in Korea carried on where it had left off, and, since the Korean War, South Korea has held presidential elections every five years to facilitate transfers of power similar to the Chinese principle of “dynastic revolution”.
By stepping back and looking at the big picture, we can conclude that the most important historical factor facilitating Korea’s transformation from a withering “hermit kingdom” to a modern nation was the era of “ultrastability” Korea enjoyed under Japan’s “imperial rule”.
We can see the same phenomenon in Chinese history as well. As I explained above, civil wars and disturbances have dragged on ceaselessly across most of China’s modern history from the White Lotus Rebellion of the late-eighteenth century to the Cultural Revolution. I have proposed that the Second Sino-Japanese War, or “Eight Years’ War of Resistance” as it is called in China, was a moral and humanitarian intervention by Japan in China’s longstanding civil war. This argument derives from my perception of Chinese history viewed in broad, historical perspective, in other words from the time China’s era of internal conflict began in the late-eighteenth century. During this 180-year period of strife, the Taiping Rebellion alone, which is said to have been the largest civil war in human history, took the lives of one out of every five people in China. The Central Plains War alone, which was a dispute between factions of the Chinese Nationalist Party, resulted in the mobilization of 1.5 million men by the Beijing and Nanjing Governments. In the Nationalist Chinese Army alone, eight million soldiers were killed fighting the communists before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Accordingly, when we study modern history in broad perspective, the Japanese government’s “repentance and apology” for the events of “a certain period in the not too distant past” appears as little more than a performance for the cameras, and in this show the masochist plays opposite the sadist. However, because I believe that we must appreciate the big picture of history from a broad perspective, I have consistently urged others to seek the counterintuitive truth that is the opposite of what people see, read, and hear about the “correct historical perception” promoted by Korea and China.
There is absolutely no reason why Japan should either repent or apologize. From a different perspective, it is China and Korea that should repent for the internecine bloodletting that was perpetrated among their own people, and it is they also who should apologize to the Japanese, who desired only to put an end to the fighting. This is the reality I see when I examine history in broad perspective.
3. Efforts to win the history wars begin at home
The outbreak of the history wars exposed certain problems that were festering within the heart of Japanese society.
It was in 1982 that Yoshida Seiji fabricated his tale of having hunted down and sexually enslaved Korean women during World War II. If this story had instead emerged in the immediate aftermath of the war, everyone probably would have seen right through the ruse, as the conditions of the time would have still been fresh in their minds. However, by the 1980s, memories of Japanese rule over Korea had faded, and few could clearly remember how things were back then. This, in combination with the masochistic postwar education system, made the fiction plausible. If such a story were true, it would pang the hearts of the Japanese people.
Granted, there were some Japanese people who did not seem to have ever bought into the lie, but their objections were drowned out by the attacks of the mass media and their message was not allowed to circulate very far. However, the historian Hata Ikuhiko proved beyond any doubt in 1992 that Yoshida’s “testimony” was a hoax.
The real disaster was the response of the Japanese government. Even though Japan’s honor was being besmirched by baseless aspersions from other countries, it did not release any denial of the false claims or do anything else to defend Japan’s good name. The sacred duty of Japan’s government, one might think, is to call out such lies for what they are in order to protect Japan’s honor. Needless to say, the government agency that ought to have been fulfilling this duty was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When the officials at the Foreign Ministry realized, thanks to the work of Hata Ikuhiko, that Yoshida’s account was fictitious, why did they not immediately issue a statement to transmit the truth to the world?
And yet, the Foreign Ministry was not entirely silent on the issue. Next year, in 1993, it released the so-called “Kono Statement” on the comfort women problem. Though the statement contained no direct acknowledgement that the Japanese military had recruited comfort women by force, the then Chief Cabinet Secretary Kono Yohei made comments at the same time that effectively admitted to forced recruitment.
Moreover, in 1996 when the United Nations published the Coomaraswamy Report, which was clearly based on Yoshida Seiji’s story, the Foreign Ministry submitted a written rebuttal to the report, only to withdraw it soon after.
Why does the Japanese government not defend Japan’s honor? From the perspective of any foreign nation, including Taiwan, such a thing is virtually unbelievable. The Japanese government is the author of its own anti-Japanese policy.
What is even more mysterious, from the perspective of a Taiwanese person like myself, is the reaction of Japanese citizens at that time. Why did they not criticize the negligence of the Foreign Ministry on the floor of the Diet? Those Japanese who had awakened to their country’s problems lamented that Japan was still not free from the yoke of the War Guilt Information Program imposed by the postwar occupation seventy years ago. Why, then, did they themselves not strive to break free? The occupation forces had certainly been ingenious in their methods, but that argument rings hollow now that a full seventy years have elapsed. The Japanese people themselves have simply not risen to the challenge.
The Foreign Ministry is infected with masochism over Japan’s history, and its refusal to defend Japan’s honor influences the mass media and the formation of public opinion. Under the effect of this influence, the media and public also remain masochistic. Why do the Japanese people not criticize the Foreign Ministry for its masochistic predilections? This is a question of whether the chicken or the egg came first. Still, shouldn’t the people be furious when officials at the Foreign Ministry are so blatantly unwilling even to defend the honor of their own country? Though I have been repeating myself, it does seem that there are a fair number of people who are extremely upset with the comfort women disputes pushed by Korea. Why do they get angry at Korea, but not direct the brunt of their criticism towards their own abysmally negligent Foreign Ministry?
In addition, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has paid no attention to the actions of the Foreign Ministry. Why has the Liberal Democratic Party been standing idly by while the Foreign Ministry fails to carry out one of its essential functions? This is yet another big problem.
Furthermore, the comfort women issue is not a problem between Japan and Korea alone. It is having negative repercussions around the world. Depending on one’s point of view, Korea can also be considered a victim. If Japan had acted faster to disseminate accurate information and the Foreign Ministry had officially notified Korea early on that Yoshida Seiji’s story was a fabrication, it is possible that even the Korean people may have withheld some of their outrage.
Concerning the Kono Statement, thanks to the heroic efforts of Diet member Yamada Hiroshi, the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary at the time of the release of the Kono Statement, Ishihara Nobuo, was summoned to the Diet in 2014. According to Ishihara’s testimony, the Kono Statement was drafted at Korea’s request without corroborating evidence, and no documents proving forced recruitment were ever discovered in Japan. Though all these facts were already known by then, his testimony in the Diet constituted official acknowledgement that no forced recruitment of comfort women had occurred.
In that case, why are the Korean people unable to let go of the comfort women problem? Japanese people fail to understand this because they are ill-informed of the true nature of Korea’s culture and history. From the very beginning, when Tangun, Korea’s legendary founder, was born of a bear-woman, Korea has been a den of sexual slavery. It is important to know the fact that, even today, Koreans struggle with their national commitment to prostitution. Korea is a nation of sexual slavery, prostitution, famine, and refugees, and the ethos and behavior of those born in the Korean cultural climate resemble nothing else in this world. Far from understanding it, it would probably be difficult for Japanese people to even imagine it.
Not long after former Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Ishihara testified, the Asahi Shimbun, the newspaper that had printed Yoshida Seiji’s account, retracted the articles it had published relating to the comfort women. It appears that Ishihara’s words made their mark. It took the Asahi Shimbun thirty-two years to get to that retraction.
Taiwanese people like myself found it strange that the Asahi Shimbun did not retract its coverage on the comfort women much earlier, as its fraudulent nature had been obvious for quite some time. In the thirty-two years that elapsed before the retraction, the Asahi Shimbun’s reporting had already caused a diplomatic crisis and done incalculable harm to both Japan and Korea. All that can be said is that the Asahi Shimbun is a shoddy excuse of a newspaper that betrayed the people of Japan.
Why did Japanese citizens choose to ignore what the Asahi Shimbun was doing? The Asahi Shimbun is a private newspaper that exists only because its readers buy it. Consequently, why haven’t people just stopped purchasing such a dysfunctional paper? Naturally, the Asahi Shimbun did lose subscribers due to the damage that the recent retraction did to its credibility. This was to be expected of such a disreputable “newspaper”, but I suspect that anyone who still reads the Asahi Shimbun must surely be of low intellectual caliber.
The bigger problem lies with the Foreign Ministry. When Japan’s good name is being tarnished with invidious lies, the Foreign Ministry, an institution paid for with the tax dollars of Japanese citizens, opts to do nothing at all. Can the Japanese people be expected to forgive this? This is a flagrant act of betrayal against the citizens of Japan.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Why would the Japanese government, which is run with the tax dollars of Japanese citizens, not respond to information slanderous to Japan’s honor by presenting South Korea with the real facts of the case? Why did the Japanese people not descend on the Diet, the democratic chamber representing the citizenry of the nation, to excoriate this negligence? Finally, why did so many Japanese people who were angered by Korea’s exploitation of the comfort women problem to smear Japan not also vent this anger towards their own government and the Diet? The Japanese people themselves are also unmistakably guilty of negligence.
As I have repeatedly emphasized, if Japan is defeated in the history wars, it will not be a loss for the Japanese people alone. Rather, the whole world will suffer.
There is one final point on this subject that I must convey to the people of Japan. The man who first championed and aggravated the comfort women problem was himself Japanese. It was a Japanese person who popularized the term “sexual slavery” and persuaded the United Nations to denounce Japan. In the view of an outsider, the motivations of such a person seem inconceivable. Only a truly morally bankrupt man would so gleefully traumatize and inflict harm upon his own country. Why, then, do Japanese people ignore the subversion of their self-loathing compatriots? Shouldn’t they be brought before the public and exposed to criticism? They are the ones who are to blame for Korea losing its own senses and injuring its own best interests.
Of course, Japan’s interests are also being harmed, but it is not a matter of just Japan or even just two countries. In the end, it is the well-being of people throughout the world that is at stake.
The history wars against Japan were started by the United States and the Soviet Union in the wake of World War II, and it was only later that Korea and China joined. Nonetheless, the history wars that we say were waged by foreign countries on Japan actually appear more similar to a civil war that the Japanese people have fought among themselves for the past seventy years. This reality is best symbolized by the Diet’s war apology resolution, which was passed by devious means in 1995 on the fiftieth anniversary of World War II, as well as the subsequent Murayama Statement.
4. Utilize the UN and other international organizations
I have a suggestion on how we can resolve the politically charged problems of the “Nanjing Massacre” and the “comfort women”. No matter what others might think, I firmly believe that we should use the United Nations. Though the United Nations may have a bad reputation, Japan still pays ten percent of its operating budget, the largest share of any country apart from the United States. As long as Japan is contributing so much money, it would be a waste to not make the most of the UN in diplomatic disputes involving Japan.
Furthermore, there is no need to treat the “Nanjing Massacre” and the “comfort women” as diplomatic problems with China and Korea alone. Because Japan is being denounced internationally for events that never happened, Japan ought to explain the truth of the matter at the United Nations. The platform to do this is the General Assembly. Making the announcement at the General Assembly, before the eyes and ears of the world, will be very useful in getting the truth out to other countries. If Japan also explains in detail the real history of Chinese civilization before the General Assembly and how modern China is connected to Chinese civilization, it will serve as an effective defense in the history wars and will help to enlighten the rest of the world.
Apart from the UN, I also advocate that we utilize many other international groups, including meetings of the G7 and G20.
If Japan still gets no results, it should gather leading historians to discuss the historical facts on the floor of the UN in an academic manner with verifiable evidence. If the discussion cannot be held in the UN, the Japanese government should instead host an international academic conference.
Finally, the United Nations should propose an international treaty for the twenty-first century forbidding any country from using its public education system to instill hatred against another country.
Such an international treaty to ban anti-foreign education was already recommended in 2014 by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, the most well-known organization of the textbook reform movement. In any case, hateful, anti-foreign education is quite inimical to building a peaceful international community.
I believe that the aforementioned proposals are both meaningful and realistic. Moreover, even in the case of past incidents that are grounded in actual facts, it is still problematic to keep harping on about them in the twenty-first century. Even for real events, whether or not they are still worth condemning in the present day after so much time has passed is another matter. As a general rule, I advise that we urge others to stop denouncing past events once a certain amount of time has gone by.
5. Resolve territorial disputes at the UN
Because they are somewhat connected to the history wars, I would now like to touch upon Japan’s territorial disputes.
Japan is currently party to several territorial disputes. For example, China’s unilateral claim to the Senkaku Islands is a de-facto territorial dispute. Asserting that the Senkakus are an inherent part of Japan, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs argues that no territorial dispute with China exists. However, as long as the islands remain uninhabited, one can understand the basis of China’s claim to a certain extent. Even though the Senkakus are controlled by Japan, the Japanese government does not allow any weather observation stations, fisheries infrastructure, or defensive installations to be constructed on them for fear of provoking China. What is the sense in a policy of not provoking China over a territorial dispute that does not exist? Japan insists that there is no territorial dispute with China, while also adopting a timid policy that effectively provides grounds to China’s stated position. There have been repeated intrusions by Chinese state vessels into Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkakus. By piling up such violations as faits accomplis, China is making good progress in its plans to seize the Senkaku Islands.
The Senkaku Islands dispute also has grave implications for Taiwan, which is very worried that it might lead to armed clashes near its territory. Indeed, the whole world fears that Japan’s surrender of the Senkaku Islands under Chinese pressure will set a precedent that will embolden China to engage in further aggression. Therefore, the Senkaku Islands dispute is not just a problem between China and Japan. Japan must hold firm and stave off Chinese pressure for the sake of the rest of the world as well.
To deal with this problem, Japan can work through international organizations such as the United Nations. For the benefit of the rest of the world, Japan will explain to the United Nations that it has no intention of provoking any territorial dispute with China, and then will announce its plan to construct defensive installations on its territory of the Senkaku Islands. After winning the world’s sympathy, I think that Japan should go ahead and build the installations. There is no reason to consult with China on this decision. Even if Japan does consult with China, I do not expect anything could come of it. Under its stated international responsibility to not provoke a territorial dispute, Japan has to affirm its peaceful intentions as it assembles the defensive installations. Next, Japan should, if necessary, set up weather observation stations, fisheries infrastructure, and facilities to improve navigational safety. By following these steps, Japan will allay its territorial dispute with China and do a service to the world.
Now let’s consider Japan’s dispute with Korea over ownership of the Takeshima Islands. In January 1952, South Korean President Syngman Rhee took advantage of Japan’s powerlessness under the postwar military occupation to illegally and unilaterally capture the Takeshima Islands, which remain under Korean administration today. Political bungling at the end of the occupation prevented a resolution of the dispute at that time, but Japan still should have rectified the issue when the Japan-Korea Treaty on Basic Relations was signed in 1965. This was a treaty aiming to establish normal relations between Japan and South Korea, so there was no reason to not settle the Takeshima Islands dispute on that occasion. From the standpoint of fostering friendship and goodwill between Japan and Korea, it did no good to either side to simply leave a major territorial dispute outstanding. Thus, the Japanese government committed a grievous error in failing to have the Takeshima Islands returned to Japan in 1965. I suspect that this dispute will never be solved through only interminable dialogue with Korea, so Japan should instead use the United Nations. This is a task for the Japanese Foreign Ministry. Although Japan is sadly cursed to have a Foreign Ministry that is unable to act decisively at critical moments, that just means that we will have to chide it into action.
What about the dispute over the Northern Territories, or Kuril Islands as they are known in Russia? The Russian-controlled islands of Shikotan, Etorofu, Kunashiri, and Habomai are obviously inherent territories of Japan, as was confirmed by both sides in the 1855 Russo-Japanese Treaty of Amity. At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union illegally occupied the Northern Territories, which were subsequently inherited by Russia. Russia continues to illegally hold these Japanese islands to this day.
The very act of the Soviet Union having invaded Japan at the end of World War II was a serious crime under international law. On April 13, 1941, the two sides had signed the Japanese-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. Germany went to war with the Soviet Union not long after, on June 22. Because Japan had concluded the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in 1940, there was a very real possibility that Japan would join with its ally Germany and invade the Soviet Union. And yet, Japan stayed true to the non-aggression pact and ordered no attack on Soviet soil. As a result, the Soviet Union was able to redeploy its forces in the east, which had been bracing for combat with the Japanese, and used them to narrowly defeat the German onslaught. Admittedly, the Soviets did also benefit from a massive infusion of American military aid, but, even taking this into account, if the Japanese military had invaded Siberia, it is virtually beyond doubt that the Soviet Union would have lost the war with Germany.
The Japanese-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact came to an abrupt end on August 9, 1945, when the Soviet Union launched a surprise offensive against Japan. Even though Japan’s faithful adherence to this agreement had saved the Soviet Union from total destruction, the Soviets showed no scruples in flagrantly breaking it. This attack may have been the most insidious betrayal ever perpetrated by one nation against another in the course of the twentieth century. It is true that US President Franklin Roosevelt had asked Joseph Stalin at the Yalta Conference held in February of that year to have the Soviet Union attack Japan, and a secret deal to this effect was concluded. However, this deal was acknowledged by the United States as having no legal validity. Even if the United States had made it binding, the secret deal at Yalta would still have had no validity as far as the Soviet Union’s relations with Japan were concerned.
The Soviet Union surely owed some moral obligation to Japan for having honored the non-aggression pact. Even if the Soviet Union did have to declare war on Japan, it could have at least offered Japan a temporary truce, and invaded only if Japan had refused to accept it. In the end, the Soviet Union could not be bothered to make even a minimal show of honor.
Given that the Soviet Union’s sudden violation of the Japanese-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact and invasion of Japan was obviously a breach of international law, the Soviet Union must be held accountable for it no matter what deal it secretly arranged with the USA at Yalta.
Therefore, the Soviet Union attacked Japan and occupied the Northern Territories at the end of the war pursuant only to an informal promise he made to President Roosevelt. The Soviet Union was completely unjustified in perpetrating the most blatantly immoral treaty violation in twentieth century history. If Japan filed regular complaints about this wicked deed at the United Nations and persistently demanded the return of the islands, wouldn’t Russia eventually get overwhelmed and agree to give them back? In fact, Turkey also faces criticism over its history, but is more than willing to defend its country’s honor on the floor of the UN.
In summary, what Japan ought to do is bring up the illegitimacy of Russia’s occupation of the Northern Territories in the UN at every possible opportunity. Japan’s leaders could meet with President Putin a hundred times, but still get no closer to a settlement. Shelving the dispute and maintaining the status quo are only stopgap measures.
The United Nations, being one and the same as the Allied Powers of World War II, even now preserves in its charter the so-called “enemy clauses”, which label Japan and Germany as enemies of the UN. Moreover, the permanent seats on the UN Security Council are held by just five nations, the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, and China, who wield unrestricted veto power over all decisions. Any proposal can be shot down due to the opposition of just one of those countries. The UN has to be able to adapt in response to changing global conditions, but every reform proposal is vetoed by one of the permanent members of the Security Council. This means that the UN, a vital international organization, can never reform itself even though its institutions no longer function in a healthy manner.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that there is no solution. For example, the United States and the other leading countries that realize the need for change could withdraw from the UN and form a new UN based on their reform plans. There are many countries that should desert the current UN and join the new organization. Such a move might be supported by America’s new president, Donald Trump.
The United Nations has reached the stage where thoroughgoing reform has to be seriously examined.
6. Appeal for an end to history wars
How should humans approach history? Let me sum up my observations.
“History”, as the term is normally used, does not refer to objective facts about the past, but rather to the facts of the past as we perceive them. Because of this, history does usually contain bias and distortion, as I explained in more detail in Chapter 1. Everything has its own history and, inevitably, its own biases and distortions. We must be aware that these biases and distortions will be present.
To mature into happier and healthier people, humans need to develop their own historical self-perception, and we have to tolerate divergences between facts and perceptions.
Each individual person ought to be free to develop his or her own view of history. A person’s historical self-perception belongs to no one else and must never be imposed by another. Naturally, there are many cases where an individual’s historical perception is incomplete and benefits from hearing the thoughts of others with far better-considered ideas. In such instances, one’s own historical perception will be enriched and improved. However, this is not to say that any coercion is involved. Historical self-perception must ultimately be left solely to the individual’s own discretion. No other people can ever compel an individual to accept their historical perception. For this reason, it is intrinsically wrong to aggressively push one’s own historical perception and shrilly demean that of others. This is even truer in the case of fake history created with a political agenda stemming from resentment and bitterness. In other words, freedom of historical perception is the right of every person.
Considering this question at the level of nations, it is fundamentally distasteful to denounce another country’s history. Accordingly, the very worst thing one country can do to another is manufacture lies about the past to smear its reputation.
The interpersonal and international relationships of today are, of course, all generally built upon past events. Consequently, there will certainly be many occasions when we must bring up and discuss old history.
An example of this is the aforementioned territorial disputes. In the case of the dispute with Russia, we cannot bypass the process of investigating the historical context surrounding the Northern Territories. Therefore, a debate over historical perception is also inevitable. When it comes to the root causes of the Takeshima Islands dispute and the historical details of its unilateral seizure by Korea, a discussion of the facts of the past is likewise unavoidable. The same holds true of the Senkaku Islands dispute with China where the historical facts of the case and the discussion of historical perception is essential.
Nonetheless, it is not at all constructive in these disputes to simply dredge up matters of history for the purpose of aspersion and moralizing. It’s one thing to praise something in the past that might deserve praise. However, it can be quite a different thing to expressly single out for denunciation certain incidents from another country’s past, even if the incidents do deserve to be criticized. It seems that denunciation of another country’s history begins with an attempt to prove the superiority of one’s own history, but this is not the proper way that a sensible individual or a sensible nation should approach history. In its pure form, historical perception helps individuals and nations to grow in a healthy and fulfilling manner. Thus, it need not and ought not bring in the history of other countries and people for the sake of denunciation. To do so would be an unacceptable infringement on the freedom of historical perception that is the basic right of each individual.
Some may be of the opinion that denouncing the history of others to prove one’s own superiority is inescapable. It is, they may say, a natural human impulse that comes as an intrinsic facet of the production of history. And yet, another impulse that is natural to humanity is our moral aspiration to coexist harmoniously with one another. With reason, we can suppress our tribalistic instinct to achieve dominance over others by attacking their history, and then do away with the history wars.
China denounces Japan for the alleged massacre of 300,000 civilians by Japanese soldiers in the city of Nanjing in 1937, and Korea does the same for the alleged abduction and sexual enslavement by the Japanese military of 200,000 women.
The history wars instigated by both countries attest to the fact that history as a natural impulse is, because of this impulse, a tool to assert one’s own superiority by putting down others. However, China and Korea need to learn for themselves that they cannot prove their own virtue through doing evil to others. They ought to handle history rationally, and, if they do, there will be no more history wars.
The accusations made by China and Korea include much fake and fabricated history designed to stoke greater animosity against the Japanese people. Regardless, even if we closed our eyes to the truth and recognized all these accusations as historical fact, it would still be hard to see what is constructive about incessantly digging up the facts of the distant past as fodder for denouncing other countries today. That is not how history should be.
During ongoing political controversies, there will be situations in which we will inevitably have to discuss the history of other countries, but, by contrast, the waging of a history war is inexcusable. Briefly put, history wars between two countries are wholly negative and should never occur under any circumstances. I strongly reaffirm the points that I made in Chapter 1 concerning defining history in historiographical terms.
7. Beyond history wars
On May 27, 2016, an event took place that made us reflect seriously on the history wars. It was US President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima seventy-one years after the atomic bomb was dropped there.
The targeting of an unarmed civilian population with a nuclear weapon was an unforgiveable act. To pay his respects, Obama visited Hiroshima on the occasion of the G7 summit in Japan and laid a wreath in front of the memorial cenotaph, though he did not issue an apology. He also spoke with Japanese survivors of the blast.
The A-bomb survivors graciously welcomed Obama’s visit without demanding any apology. While understanding that circumstances in the United States made an apology from the president unfeasible, they nonetheless showed their appreciation for America’s gesture and gave Obama permission to place his wreath at the cenotaph.
I am not advocating that we gloss over the past. “Historical truth” ought to always be clarified as far as it can be. However, we must also admit that history will contain subjective elements, and thus “historical truth” may differ between Japan and the United States. What is significant is that the USA and Japan did not quibble over the differences or denounce one another, but rather respected their reciprocal differences while setting their eyes firmly towards the future and committing themselves to work hand-in-hand to forge a better tomorrow.
From Japan’s perspective, the United States committed an unforgiveable act worthy of the most severe condemnation, but no good could possibly have come from publicly denouncing it seventy years after the fact. This was true for both Japan and the United States. Instead, both the victims and the perpetrators decided to accept the errors of the past for what they were and mutually reconcile for the sake of the future.
President Obama left a paper crane that he folded himself at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. This tradition began with Sasaki Sadako, a schoolgirl who was hospitalized for radiation sickness, but continued to fold paper cranes until her death in 1955 at the age of twelve. The Children’s Peace Monument, a statue in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park that holds a paper crane aloft in its arms, was modelled on Sadako.
Her older brother Sasaki Masahiro is currently in the United States running a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the cause of peace and deepening historical understanding between Japan and the USA. He founded the organization with Clifton Truman Daniel, the grandson of Harry Truman, the president who ordered the atomic bombing of Japan.
The dropping of the atomic bombs has been truly difficult to forgive. And yet, neither side would gain anything of value from Japan’s leaders bitterly denouncing it until the end of time. No matter how terrible it may have been, once the event has long past, we have no choice but to eventually forgive so that there may be peace. Both sides should vow to do everything in their power to never allow such a tragedy to happen again. Once enough time has transpired, this is precisely what both the citizens of the country that perpetrated the bombing and the citizens of the country that endured the bombing must do.
President Obama’s state visit to Hiroshima did us a great service by showing us just how senseless history wars are.
It has already been over seventy years since Japan was defeated by the United States in a war that raged across the Pacific Ocean. The history wars over Japan have been characterized as wars against external foes, but, in some ways, it may be more accurate to call them, “The Seventy-Year Civil War for Japan’s History”. China and South Korea launched the war, but they could not have sustained it without the fuel constantly being provided by anti-Japanese forces inside Japan. It is the Japanese people themselves who are to blame for allowing these anti-Japanese elements to run rampant. For their own sake and for the sake of all the people of the world, the time has come for the Japanese to stop turning a blind eye to this problem.
Finally, I would like to mention two additional unseen topics in the history wars that I have often tried to call attention to in the last several decades.
The first topic has to do with Yasukuni Shrine. Under normal circumstances, the act of paying respect to Yasukuni Shrine, just like the formation of one’s historical perception, ought to be an entirely private matter of the heart and soul. At some point in time, somehow or other, it morphed into a political issue, and then a diplomatic problem. This is completely unacceptable. On top of that, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ inability to fulfil its function as a foreign ministry made the bad situation even worse.
The second topic relates to Japan’s culture and civilization, which was long characterized by its focus on the present and the future, rather than the past. Japan’s forward-looking attitude was symbolized by its traditional purification rites intended to free the soul of the burden of the past. However, the Japanese have ended up transforming unwittingly from a forward-looking people into a “backward-facing” people with an obsessive fixation on old history. This is yet more proof of the Japanese people’s inadequate self-awareness and lack of effort towards healthy self-development. Does this not all stem from the complacency and weakness of the people?
These two topics are linked to an unseen “spiritual defeat”. The Japanese people suffered a spiritual or cultural defeat at the end of World War II, and I fear that it may ultimately lead to Japan’s suicide as a nation. It seems to me that this “spiritual defeat” is what the Japanese people must truly repent for.