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The aims of China’s ‘commemoration days’

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo

Chinese President Xi Jinping, second row from front, forth from left, sings the national anthem at a National People’s Congress in Beijing in March.

By Masahiko Takekoshi / Yomiuri Shimbun China General Bureau ChiefSept. 3 is a special date for China. It is set as a day to commemorate its “victory” in the so-called Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. People might remember a military parade that took place on Sept. 3, 2015, to mark its 70th anniversary. It was the first such event conducted on a date other than the Oct. 1 national day, which commemorates the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

People frequently ask me why Sept. 3 was chosen as China’s victory celebration day. The end of World War II was formalized on Sept. 2, 1945, when Japan signed the instrument of surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri.

The government at that time — the Republic of China — designated the following day as its national holiday.

The People’s Republic of China, which was founded in 1949, initially set Aug. 15 as the date for its victory in the war of resistance against Japan. The date was changed to Sept. 3 in 1951, and in 2014, the current administration of President Xi Jinping designated that date as its official commemoration day, using the latest name.

This summer marks the 80th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in July 1937, which triggered the Sino-Japanese War. I recently visited the Museum of the War of Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression near the bridge.

The museum was packed with crowds of visitors, including students on summer break and groups of parents and their children.

This year, China has promoted a movement to integrate an interpretation of the period of China’s war against Japan in the textbooks of elementary, junior high and high schools. Previously, the period of the war against Japan had been seen as eight years long beginning with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. But under the movement, the period is interpreted as 14 years, beginning with the Liutiaohu Incident in September 1931, which led to the Manchurian Incident.

But after the Liutiaohu Incident, the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) basically did not resist the Japanese. Instead, the party prioritized its victory in a civil war against the Communist Party of China. It is said the Communist Party also did not work as the main force to fight against the Japanese.

However, China’s state media and other entities offer the explanation that about 300,000 volunteer soldiers from the northeast part of the country and other groups fought the war under “the leadership of the Communist Party.”

Therefore, under their interpretation, extending the period of China’s war against Japan by six years is neither a sudden decision nor an alteration. They say that the change is to “reflect historical facts more authentically than before.”

The Communist Party has relied on its “achievements” in leading the nation to victory in the war of resistance against Japan for the legitimacy of its power. It seems that the party believes the longer the war of resistance against Japan is seen to have been, the stronger the party’s authority becomes.

It is true that the Kuomintang and the Communist Party suspended their civil war in 1937 and jointly fought the Imperial Japanese Army. But the main force on the Chinese side was Kuomintang’s military, while the Communist Party fought as guerrillas. There is deep skepticism as to whether the Communist Party was the main force in the war against Japan.

The Xi administration has officially designated several other commemoration days in addition to Sept. 3.

For example, Dec. 13, when the Imperial Japanese Army committed the Nanjing Incident, is a national day of mourning. April 24, when China succeeded in launching its first satellite, the Dong Fang Hong 1, is national space day. April 15, when Xi announced his new policy for ruling the nation, is national security education day.

Designating such special dates implies the Communist Party is emphasizing its legitimacy to rule and aims to boost its national prestige and tighten its grip on society to maintain one-party rule.

While the authority of socialism has been waning due to a diversification of values, raising a unifying force is an especially vital task for the Communist Party.

At the museum, one boy wrote down his impressions: “My mind was shaken as I learned of the party’s long and dauntless fights. Under General Secretary Xi, we must achieve China’s dream of the great revitalization of the nation as soon as possible.”

This must be a model answer for the Communist Party.

If the boy wrote this of his own volition, it is chilling to think about the educational impact of the campaigns that have been implemented by the Xi administration.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 3, 2017)Speech

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