History is to undergo a rewrite under a new order issued to Chinese schools by the country’s Ministry of Education. After years of debate, the span of the Second Sino-Japanese War, a brutal conflict that conservative estimates say killed over 1.7 million people, is to be extended from 1937-45 to 1931-45.
The new directive means that the conflict, often referred to in China as the Eight Years’ War of Resistance, will now include a series of localized clashes that raged in China’s northern territories leading up to the main war, thereby assuming a new name: the Fourteen Years’ War of Resistance.
“In accordance with the spirit of enacting the ‘Fourteen Years’ War of Resistance’ concept, the Ministry of Education demands that corrections be made in teaching materials of every level and in every subject,” read an internal government announcement time-stamped Jan. 3 but leaked to the media on Tuesday. Changes must be made to all material in time for the upcoming spring semester, the document continued.
Historians in China have long debated whether the localized conflicts in China’s north that began with the Japanese invasion on Sept. 18, 1931, should be included in the definition of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The difference in opinion has hinged on the fact that the conflicts between 1931 and 1937 were highly contained, and that neither China nor Japan was officially at war until 1937.
A spokesperson from the Second Department of Basic Education, the government body in charge of textbook review that authored the announcement, declined to comment when contacted by Sixth Tone. A member of staff was quoted Tuesday by The Beijing News as saying that the decision to change the definition of the war was made in October 2016 by leaders within the State Council, China’s cabinet.
The recent ruling is just an attempt to make people aware that China’s invasion by Japan began several years before the country was actually at war, believes Wang Jianlang, director of the Institute of Modern History at the China Academy of Social Sciences. “You shouldn’t read into it too much,” he told Sixth Tone. “It’s very normal for official changes to be brought about in textbooks.”
But not everyone has found the move as easy to stomach. “How could the time period for such an important historical incident be changed so suddenly?” asked one user under a post reporting the news on microblog platform Weibo. “Taiwan was occupied by the Japanese from 1895 — we should call it the 50 Years’ War of Resistance,” another user quipped.
Others, though, were glad to see the plight of those who suffered in northern China receive official recognition. “Finally, the six years of suffering for those in the northeast has been acknowledged,” wrote one Weibo user.
Yet a crucial question remains unanswered: what to do with the lyrics of “Without the Communist Party There’d Be No New China,” a widely known “red song” in which the Party is characterized as a man who “held on for eight years in the war of resistance.” The Chinese words for 14 and 8 — shisi and ba — differ by one syllable.
Additional reporting by Zhang Liping.
(Header image: A class of young students visits the Sept. 18 Historical Museum in Shenyang, Liaoning province, Sept. 18, 2009. Lin Muchu/VCG)