Since learning that I am very likely going to study Chinese in Taiwan this summer I have naturally been paying closer attention to the situation in and around that country. Naturally any story on the relations between the Republic Of China (ROC, aka Taiwan) and Japan is an eye-catcher, especially one as dramatic as a major Taiwanese politician visiting Japan’s controversial Yasukuni shrine. Today’sTaipei Times reports that Shu Chin-chiang (蘇進強), chairman of the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) political party made a “pilgrimage” to the controversial Yasukumi Shrine. Incidentally, although the English language press is not pointing it out, the Japanese media describes Shu’s TSU party as part of the ‘pro independence’ faction in almost headline.
Shu immediately came under fire at home for the visit where he was accused of dignifying Japan’s militarism in the early 20th century.
Shu, dressed in a business suit, was cheered on by supporters who unfurled the flags of Japan and his party as he entered the Yasukuni shrine which is dedicated to 2.5 million war dead, including 14 convicted war criminals.
The latter figure is slightly innacurate. The shrine is dedicated to all Japanese war dead (including soldiers drafted or recruited from former colonies such as Taiwan and Korea), and this function is all-inclusive, actually including over 1000 Japanese soldiers convicted as war criminals. The controversy does not stem so much from the fact that the shrine lists include executed war criminals, but from the fact that in 1978, decades after the war’s conclusion, 13 class A war criminals were enshrined as ‘martyrs,’ and the shrine issued a statement saying that these men had been wrongfully convicted. Wikipedia has a good summary of this basic controversy.
He called on Asians to “move beyond the grudges and animosity of the past.”
“As one Taiwanese and as a leader of a political party I have come here to pay my respect to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for Japan,” Shu said.
It may be perfectly reasonable for Shu to honor the long neglected Taiwanese dead, but to point out that they “sacrificed their lives for Japan” seems to me to be a mistake.
“At the same time, as one Taiwanese, I have come here to pay my respect for 28,000 Taiwanese,” whose names are enshrined, he said.
Supporters said it was the first known visit to Yasukuni in modern times by a party leader from Taiwan, which was ruled by Japan from 1895 to 1945.
I believe that this is actually the first formal visit to Yasukuni by a leader from ANY former colony, if not from any Asian country period.
The Yasukuni shrine controversially lists the names of 28,000 Taiwanese and 21,000 Korean soldiers, most of whom were forced into service under Japan’s colonial rule.
The holy site also lists the names of Japanese civilians who died in fighting.
The populist Koizumi has visited the shrine four times since August 2001, saying he has the right as a Japanese person to choose how to honor the dead.
What has been overlooked in virtually every article I have seen on the Yasukuni issue is that even the Emperor himself has refused to visit Yasukuni Shrine since their special recognition of class A war criminals was made public over 25 years ago. It’s a little ironic that the very symbol of right wing Japan has taken a stand against the nationalists while the “populist Koizumi” evokes international ire by pandering to the rightists.
In Taipei, Aboriginal legislator Kao-Chin Su-mei (高金素梅) angrily objected to Shu’s pilgrimage.
“Japan launched over 160 battles to destroy Taiwan’s Aboriginal tribes during its 51-year colony on the island,” he said in a statement.
“We strongly protest the TSU visiting the Yasukuni Shrine,” he said. “It is already an insult to Taiwan’s Aboriginal people that our soldiers were enshrined there.”
TSU spokesman Chen Chien-ming (陳建銘) said that Su’s visit was timed ahead of today’s holiday to honor the dead, called Tomb-Sweeping Day.
“We do not agree with the acts and invasions of the Japanese militarism [during World War II] but we should not let hatred persist,” Chen said in Taipei.
I tend to agree with Chen. Certainly Japan’s behavior during their imperialist period was reprehensible and unforgiveable-but the generation responsible for that is largely dead and gone and it is hardly serving anyone to bring up old grievances to damage relations with one of the few strong allies (or at least near-allies) that Taiwan may have against China. Not to say that the past should not be addressed, but it should be studied as history, not for politicians to use as emotional bait during election season.