UNESCO strikes political nerve with Nanking Massacre documents

Reposted from the Japan Times article.

Written by Reiji Yoshida

October 19, 2015

A fierce battle is raging over UNESCO’s stewardship of history.

Last week, Japan — the biggest donor to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — created an international stir by threatening to suspend or reduce its financial contributions after the body accepted what China claims are historical documents about the 1937 Nanking Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanking, for inscription into its Memory of the World register.

What is the Memory of the World program? And why are China and Japan battling over the details of the wartime atrocity?

What is the purpose of the Memory of the World program?

UNESCO launched the program in 1992 to fully preserve, protect and make permanently accessible documentary heritage with due recognition, according to the U.N. body’s website.

UNESCO provides assistance to preserve historical materials,such as hand-written documents, photos, paintings, movies and other forms of records left across the world.

So far 348 items in various categories have been registered, including the world’s oldest existing copy of the Quran, the archives of the Dutch East India Company, the hand-written musical score of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, and the original “Diary of Anne Frank.”

From Japan, five items have been registered, including documents on the Keicho Period Mission to Europe in the 17th century, materials related to the internment and repatriation of Japanese held in Siberia after the end of World War II, and historical documents archived at Toji Temple in Kyoto dated from 763 to 1711.

UNESCO helps make registered materials more accessible, for example, by creating digitized copies and catalogs that are accessible over the Internet.

How are the nominated documents screened?

The International Advisory Committee, which consists of 14 experts appointed by the director-general of UNESCO, screens the applications. Countries, municipalities, private groups or individuals are all allowed to file nomination applications.

The IAC then makes recommendations for registration that are usually endorsed by the director-general.

The 14 experts, who serve in a personal capacity, are “chosen for their authority in the field of the safeguarding of documentary heritage,” according to UNESCO’s website.

The director-general convenes IAC sessions every two years.

Japan criticized UNESCO’s screening process as opaque and biased. Why?

Japanese officials argued that the historical materials being presented are not verified as authentic by third-party historians or other countries involved in political rows over the materials.

Tokyo and Beijing have been at odds over historical evidence on the weekslong massacre, in particular the number of estimated victims slaughtered after the Japanese army occupied Nanking in December 1937.

The city is now pronounced Nanjing.

The Chinese government claims that about 300,000 Chinese were massacred and numerous women raped by Imperial Japanese soldiers.

The Japanese government does not deny that its troops murdered noncombatants and looted the city, but instead claims that the number cannot be determined by historical evidence.

Despite the rhetorical dueling, Japan was not even allowed to review the documents China submitted, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said last week.

“The (screening process) takes place amid concealment and secrecy,” Suga alleged at a morning news conference on Oct. 13.

Is the process unfair?

According to Koichiro Matsuura, former director-general of UNESCO, the Memory of the World program is not based on any international treaty.

Thus UNESCO does not disclose all of the materials submitted for nomination, or the minutes of the advisory committee’s deliberations. Nor does it listen to the opinions of countries potentially related to the materials nominated, the former diplomat said in a recent interview with Kyodo News.

By contrast, UNESCO’S World Heritage program, which documents such cultural and natural heritage as architectural and monumental works, is based on an international convention, and the registration process involves deliberation by member countries.

In addition, the preliminary reviews of the heritage program’s advisory panel are disclosed, too, Matsuura pointed out.

“The system (used by the Memory of the World program) is still immature,” he reportedly said.

Historians note that Tokyo admits the Rape of Nanking occurred. So why is it so upset with China and UNESCO?

Japanese politicians and bureaucrats believe that China, even 70 years after the end of the war, is still trying to use Japan’s wartime misdeeds for propaganda and diplomatic purposes.

Toward that end, China has often exaggerated or even fabricated the particulars of Japan’s wartime atrocities to weaken its diplomatic position, they say.

Some nationalist politicians and intellectuals meanwhile maintain the massacre never took place, making the contentious issue even more sensitive in Japanese political circles. This has apparently encouraged the Cabinet of nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to take a tougher stance against UNESCO.

Mainstream Japanese historians believe the Imperial Japanese Army slaughtered numerous captured Chinese soldiers and noncombatants, based on historical materials written by the soldiers. These include records of battles written during or shortly after Japan occupied the city.

Their estimates range from 40,000 to 200,000 victims.

They also agree that no existing evidence can provide a tally of the actual number of deaths with pinpoint accuracy.


The Link’s: March 16 – 29, 2015

Two weeks of news folks, and it’s heavy stuff. I hope you find it all as interesting as I did.

Miss Universe Japan 2015, Ariana Miyamoto.

Big news for the world order as 3 major European powers and US allies—Germany, France, and Italy—have declared that they will join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). This global banking institution is viewed by the US as a direct rival to the World Bank and the other Bretton Woods institutions set up at the end of World War II, and could “reshape the global balance of power”. The United States has lobbied its allies not to join. South Korea is expected to join, but Japan, the US’s closest ally in Asia, is not.

Meanwhile, China and Japan held their first high-level security talks in four years. The talks come as tensions have risen over recent territorial disputes and disagreements over Japan’s acknowledgement (or lack thereof ) of past war aggressions.

An op/ed in the Japan Times points out the stark contrast in racial politics in Japan citing the fact that the performance of a controversial pop group who appears in blackface (an act repulsive to many Westerners, especially Americans) almost made it onto television, while in the same week the nation’s top beauty pageant crowned a half-black woman as the new Miss Universe Japan. The author’s main point, set within the context of the newsworthy Miss Universe Japan outcome, was to examine the fact that the pulling of the blackface performance was not considered “news” by the nation’s media, and was thus not deeply examined as to why it may be considered inappropriate in today’s media marketplace.

This article in the Washington Post examines the astounding rate of China’s cement consumption, a figure so high that it “stunned Bill Gates,” who wrote about this phenomenon in his blog. According to the article China’s cement consumption in the 3 years between 2010 and 2012 was about 140 percent of U.S. consumption for the entire 20th century! The article goes over the reasons for this astonishing rate of cement consumption, citing China’s massive building boom and rapid urbanization. China is urbanizing at a much faster rate than the US did in the 20th century. “In 2009, China had 221 cities with more than a million people in them, compared with only 35 in Europe” (and only 9 in the US as of 2013 ), and the Pearl River Delta megalopolis had 42 million inhabitants in 2010 (up to 80 million in as of 2014 ). “By some estimates, half of China’s infrastructure has been built since 2000,” but the article points out that often quality is sacrificed when it comes to this rapid building and the environment often suffers as well. As a counterpoint the article also mentions that this building boom has led to great economic growth and reduction of poverty.

Shanghai’s Pudong Financial District in 1987 and 2013.

Debate ensues over a plan to build a massive sea-wall to protect Japan’s coastline from devastation by future tsunamis. The government plans to construct 440 concrete walls along 230 miles of coastline in Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, the areas hit hardest by the tsunami in 2011. The £5billion plan ($7.4billion, ¥886billion) has garnered opposition among local residents.

And finally, this piece in the Japan Times discusses the rigid methods of Japan’s post-war education system—whereby students spend their young lives vigorously studying for hellish entrance exams—and how Japan’s education minister, Hakubun Shimomura, is planning to reform this system and bring in a more Western approach to examinations. The article also contrasts Shimomura’s reform goals with his conservative stance on Japan’s war-memory, a hotly debated issue in current regional politics.

The Week’s Links: Feb. 2-8, 2015

TA flight GE235
Transasia Airlines flight GE235 plunges out of the sky in Taiwan’s capitol city, Taipei.

Holy cow!! Early in the week a commercial airplane was caught on camera as it plunged out of the sky into a river in the city of Taipei, Taiwan. Watch the hair-raising video of the moment Transasia flight GE235 drops out of the sky and clips a taxi on the freeway with its wing.

The annual Sapporo Snow Festival is underway and an amazing—and massive—Star Wars-themed snow sculpture was built by no less than the Japanese army. The huge snow sculpture depicts Darth Vader and a couple of storm troopers, flanked by the Death Star and a TIE fighter, all looking quite badass.

An article in the Japan Times talks about a new trend of apathy or fatalism amongst Japan’s youth. The article describes the growing feeling among Japanese young people today that effort is not rewarded by success in their society and that there is no point in even trying anymore, and analyzes the possible reasons why this outlook is so prevalent.

And, this article posted at Gaijin Pot discusses the paradox of Japan’s religiosity and atheism. In a country where the number of people reporting affiliation with a particular religion equals two times the actual population—and up to half of those also report being non-religious—it would seem that there is a conundrum on our hands.

A young Japanese woman taking a smoke-break on Coming-of-Age Day. A look of apathy and fatalist resignation on her face? Or just thinking about some stuff?


The week’s links: Jan. 11-18, 2015

Greetings all. Here is a selection of links that I came across this week. Enjoy.

The blog, GaijinPot, dishes out some Japan travel tips with their list of the top 5 must see places in Japan for 2015.

China’s new and very popular television drama, The Empress of China, has been the object of censorship due to the overwhelming amount of cleavage in the show. The period drama was taken off the air temporarily, only to reappear with all of the cleavage cropped out of the shots. The move has drawn widespread ridicule on the Chinese web. The BBC reports.

The New York Times reports on the efforts being made across China to restore many of its ancient relics which are threatened by widespread industrial pollution. Cleanup efforts are underway to restore the colossal Buddhist sculptures at the Yungang and Longmen Grottoes which have been covered in a thick layer of coal dust, and ancient Ming Dynasty structures may be being eroded by acid rain.

The infamous Yakuza crime syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi, turns 100 years old, and it’s history is being recounted in serials by popular Yakuza-centered fanzines according to the Japan Times.