Crappy Japanese Textbook Sparks Protests in Korea, China

Well, it’s happened again. From the BBC report:

Japan has approved a set of new school history text books whose version of past events has already sparked complaints from South Korea and China.

One of the eight texts is an updated version of a book which triggered diplomatic protests in 2001.

Seoul said the new books sought to glorify Japan’s war-time past, a continuing source of regional tension.

It goes on for a while about the problems in the new book, the protests, the history of Japanese Imperialism and so on, but what is to me the most important fact is buried towards the end of the article.

This book is currently in use in fewer than 0.1% of Japan’s schools, but this time the authors are hoping for a better response.

Why is the adoption rate of this textbook so low? I think the answer is clear-few teachers are interested in giving their students a piece of shit biased textbook that overlooks such major historical facts! The protestors would have a valid position if this was a government issued textbook, but they are blatantly misunderstanding the situation.

In Japan textbooks are not written by the government. In the case of this history book, the author is a minor right-wing group named The Society For the Creation of New Textbooks,
which is no more catchy in Japanese. The job of the Ministry of Education in Japan is not to choose the textbooks that schools use, but to check the content that they do have for factual accuracy, not to mandate exactly what they teach. This is a marked contrast to the situation in all of the protesting countries, where primary school textbooks are created and issued by the government. [Update: Nora Park tells me that textbooks in South Korea are actually written by private companies following government guidelines.] The Japanese Ministery of Education in fact approves a number of textbooks, from which public schools are free to choose.

But this raises the question of why? Why do they have this semi-controlled market, instead of either opening up the market completely or just mandating textbooks? I can’t answer that, but I do think that they should reconsider the practice. Clearly their vetting process does nothing to keep utterly worthless textbooks off the market, and contributes to one of Japan’s worst ongoing diplomatic crises in years. If the book in question was simply on the market, instead of sort of govermnent approved would this even raise eyebrows in Beijing or Seoul?

Oh, and does anyone else find it interesting that there have been no protests in Japan’s other major former colony, Taiwan? Could their feelings for Japan actually be that much friendlier?

For some more, hopefully not too biased, information on the Nanjing Massacre itself, see as always the Wikipedia article.

13 thoughts on “Crappy Japanese Textbook Sparks Protests in Korea, China”

  1. Re Taiwan, I think their feelings actually ARE that much friendlier. They aren’t pumped with anti-Japanese propaganda from the cradle to the grave, as Koreans and Chinese are, and they realize that the textbooks aren’t worth sacrificing the already-scant political relations they enjoy with Japan.

  2. Because I suddenly felt the need to laugh, I decided to check, a pro-NK news site. Here’s their story on the textbooks:

    Japan’s Moves to Tamper with Its History under Fire

    Jong Jong Ryol, director of the Korean National Educational Institute in Japan, made public a statement condemning Japan for its reckless moves to tamper with its history on Mar. 25.

    We can never tolerate the Japanese reactionaries’ despicable moves to distort its history nor can we remain a passive onlooker to the fact that their distortion of history has reached such a grave phase where it is perpetrated by Japanese politicians in an organized manner, the statement noted, and continued:

    The crime-woven history of Japan proves itself that the education in the wrong history among young people is bound to drive Japan to a war of aggression, plunder and then to ruin.

    The Japanese reactionaries should honestly admit the monstrous crimes committed by Japan in the past, sincerely apologize for them and stop at once their reckless moves to tamper with its history.

  3. Have a look at this site:

    Scroll down to the politics section and click on the link titled, “TSU HEAD VISITS YASUKUNI SHRINE IN JAPAN.”

    Here’s a sample:

    A delegation from the opposition Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) visited
    the Yasukuni Shrine in Japan Monday to pay their respects to the
    Taiwanese and Japanese war dead enshrined there.

    TSU Chairman Su Chin-Chiang and his 10-member entourage arrived at
    the shrine and was greeted by the shrine’s abbot, who ushered them
    into the main hall of the shrine to pay their respects.

    Su told journalists accompanying him on the trip that he visited the
    shrine to show his party’s respect for the 28,000 Taiwanese who died as
    Japanese soldiers during World War II when Taiwan was ruled by Japan
    as well as Japanese who sacrificed for their country.

  4. And by the way. The history text book is God-awful and I would be angry too if I were Chinese, Korean, or even Japanese for that matter. It reads like a Pat Buchanan book.

  5. It reads like a Pat Buchanan book.

    Yeah, pretty much. Well, except that Pat Buchanan’s books argue against the US fighting in World War I (and some of them against fighting in WWII), whereas this book is pretty much to defend Japan fighting in WWII. “Objectively pro-fascist” you can call it either way, I suppose, in the spirit of George Orwell. (Though people might complain if you call others who oppose other wars on fasicsts as “objectively pro-fascist.”)

  6. This is a marked contrast to the situation in all of the protesting countries, where primary school textbooks are created and issued by the government.

    this statement is not correct. in south korea, private publishing companies set up textbooks on their own along government-approved curriculum guidelines and then they are approved or not approved by the government.

    there are left-wing textbooks and right-wing textbooks, some with a degree of similar ideological taint.

  7. Ok, thanks for the clarification Nora. I guess the person who had told me that didn’t know what they were talking about after all.

  8. The Chinese protest of the text book made it into Lewis Black’s segment on last night’s The Daily Show. He was actually talking about the ground rules of a good protest. Namely that your flag has to be “big and wavy” and that the other guy’s flag needs to be “small and compbustable.” Obviously, because it’s a comedy show, he boiled it down to a dispute about the innacuracy of a Japanese text book that the Chinese citizens could only have learned about through media controlled by the government, which is well known for propagandizing.

  9. Well Nanashi, thank you for the link to that painfully slow moving piece of flash ‘animation’. Would it really hurt to present information in the form of a simple text page? Truly the powerpoint mindset has spread like a virus throughout the world.

    Ahem. Actually it does give a nice example of one of the liberal textbooks in use in Japan, but presenting an example of one good textbook is doing nothing but skirting the issue. Saying that there’s not a problem with history education in Japan because not all the high schools suck is like saying that the US shouldn’t be embarassed by the Kansas board of education because some lucky kids in Boston get to attend a school that is willing to teach them about evolution.

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