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  • The Search for Reconciliation: Sino-Japanese and German-Polish Relations since World War II
  • Caroline Rose (bio)
The Search for Reconciliation: Sino-Japanese and German-Polish Relations since World War II. By Yinan He. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2009. xxi, 357 pages. $85.00.

September 2009 saw the landslide victory of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in the general election. Not lost on observers of Sino-Japanese relations is the fact that the new prime minister of Japan, Hatoyama Yukio, is the grandson of Hatoyama Ichirō, prime minister in the 1950s and a keen advocate of Sino-Japanese reconciliation. Under (the new) Prime Minister Hatoyama's stewardship, hopes are high that the relationship between China and Japan can move toward what Yinan He calls in her book "deep interstate reconciliation." However, as her study illustrates, tremendous efforts will be required on both sides in order to rectify the problems accumulated over the last 70 years in the form of a yawning gap in historical memory.

Developing a theory of national mythmaking, He sets out to disprove traditional realist thinking that "memories and myths are epiphenomenal, changing in accordance with the external environment" (p. 4). Rather, He argues that not only "international constraints, but also domestic political needs and societal context can shape the ways in which a nation remembers its past; once formed, historical memory can take on a life of its own" (p. 4). This is problematic since "national mythmaking … generates considerable memory divergence between nations and causes mistrust and mutual antipathy" (p. 9). Comparing the German-Polish case with that of China and Japan, but also touching upon other instances of bilateral reconciliation in the concluding chapter, He aims to demonstrate when interstate reconciliation is likely to occur and why it varies across cases (p. 5).

After setting out the methodological framework in chapter 1, the author then considers the German-Polish success case in the second chapter, but the bulk of the book focuses on the evolution of postwar Sino-Japanese relations and the emergence and ongoing impact of the history problem. She breaks down the various phases of reconciliation to the 1950s and 1960s ("Initial Isolation"), 1972–81 ("The Honeymoon Period"), the 1980s ("An Old Feud Comes Back"), and the 1990s onward ("Volatility and Downward Spiral"). [End Page 436] The first stage is described as a period of nonreconciliation, the second moved on to shallow reconciliation-rapprochement, the third regressed to shallow-reconciliation-friction, and the fourth stagnated at the same stage. Throughout the book, He guides us skillfully through the structural, psychological, social, and historical conditions that brought about the different phases of reconciliation. There is superb attention to detail, and her familiarity with extensive Chinese and Japanese sources provides a number of new insights into the vicissitudes of Chinese and Japanese diplomacy, particularly in the early postwar period.

He ably demonstrates that the origins of what has come to be known as the history problem in Sino-Japanese relations can be found in the early postwar period when, separated by cold war politics and enmeshed in domestic political concerns, both the Chinese and Japanese governments constructed "national myths to glorify or whitewash the wartime actions of their own nation while blaming others for causing the tragedy" (p. 122). In so doing, there emerged a quasi-convergence between Chinese and Japanese war memories (at least at the elite level) with the Chinese government taking the view that the culpability for Japanese militarism should lie in the hands of a militarist clique. Herein lay the root of the problem, since this contributed to the absolution of the Japanese people from war guilt and enabled Zhou Enlai to pursue his policy of People's Diplomacy in the interests of seeking normalization with Japan. At this stage, there were simply no serious or lengthy discussions between the two governments of the nature and extent of Japan's war responsibility and how that should be discharged. The subsequent emergence of national myths in both countries further compounded the problem. In the Chinese creation of its national myth, Japanese atrocities and Chinese suffering did not figure prominently. Rather, the emphasis was on "a triumphant narrative that could...


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