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Reviewed by:
  • Toward a History beyond Borders: Contentious Issues in Sino-Japanese Relations Edited by Daqing Yang et al.
  • Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi (bio)
Toward a History beyond Borders: Contentious Issues in Sino-Japanese Relations. Edited by Daqing Yang, Jie Liu, Hiroshi Mitani, and Andrew Gordon. Harvard University Asia Center, Cambridge, Mass., 2012. xiv, 472 pages. $49.95.

This collection of historiographic essays is a treasure trove of scholarship—a must-read for specialists and students in both the China and Japan fields—first published in 2006 in Japanese and in Chinese translation under the editorship of Liu Jie, Mitani Hiroshi, and Daqing Yang. Yang and Gordon now provide a new introduction for this English edition. Its authors comprise nine Japanese and three Chinese, two of whom teach in Japan and one in the United States. All 13 chapters provide informative, thought-provoking analyses of disputed issues in modern East Asian history.

Three chapters assume a largely chronological, comprehensive framework. Motegi Toshio reviews relations between the Manchu-Qing Empire, Japan, the Ryukyu Kingdom, Yi Dynasty Korea, and Czarist Russia under the East Asian “suzerain-tributary system” from 1871 until just before the Japan-Qing War in 1894. Kawashima Shin proceeds through Qing monarchic reforms, the 1911 republican revolution, and the Twenty-one Demands of 1915; and Liu Jie examines cycles of antagonism between Japan and the Republic of China (ROC), mainly on the eve of the Manchurian Incident. Contributors of ten more chapters examine specific topics: Hattori Ryūji on the “Tanaka Memorial,” Higuchi Hidemi on Manzhouguo history, Daqing Yang on the Nanjing Atrocity, Liu Jie on Wang Jingwei, Mitani Hiroshi on the accreditation and content of Japanese textbooks, Ibaraki Satoshi on textbooks in Japan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Asano Toyomi on Japan’s colonial rule in Taiwan, Murai Ryūta on Yasukuni Shrine, Yang Zhihui on establishing relations between Japan and the PRC in the 1970s, and Kawashima Shin on political change, documentary research, and historical dialogue. Liu’s introduction and Mitani’s postscript to the original Japanese edition appear in English translation also.

The biggest omission in this book is a linchpin study of war crimes trials in the postwar ROC, PRC, and Japan. An analysis of popular views of the past gained from popular sources such as television, social media, manga, films, periodicals, and paperback books is also warranted, since few people learn most of what they “know” about history from school textbooks or scholarly publications. Given the targeted readership, a bibliography of Western-language scholarship would be welcome too.

My critique of this volume centers on its normative conception and its [End Page 420] execution in translation. In 2001 the original editors sought to outline divergent Sino-Japanese views of the past and to foster dialogue that would narrow the gaps. The English introduction of 2012 goes a step further. Yang and Gordon assume a role “in adjudicating historical narratives according to ethical norms” that “contribute to reconciliation among nations” (E, pp. 2–3).1 Thus, Mao Zedong’s narrative—that Japanese militarists victimized the common Japanese people as well as the Chinese—persuaded his reluctant compatriots to embrace friendship with Japan in the 1970s without reparations. But, the editors assert, Mao’s expedient narrative “was at best a superficial historical interpretation,” so they avow “the importance of grounding a politics of reconciliation on a firmer historical foundation,” especially since enshrining A-class war criminals at Yasukuni destroyed the goodwill that Mao achieved (E, p. 8). Their position seems to be that historians can and should “adjudicate” disputes about the past to help nations bury the hatchet and create a better world.

I disagree. A historian’s task is to study the past against scholarly standards, detached from activist agendas today, as accurately and fairly as is possible given the admittedly imperfect evidence. If conscientious efforts to that end have the unintended result of fostering Sino-Japanese enmity, so be it. The blame in both countries lies with groups who selectively misuse historians’ findings to score political points, and with people who accept only those findings that support what they want to believe. Yang and Gordon seemingly dismiss Rankean objectivity, now decried as...


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