Books

A positive look at the Nationalist Party

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Obscured by the recent media commotion over right-wing Japanese historical revisionism and the subsequent publication of a multilateral history text was the appearance in mainland China of a revised history of the anti-Japanese war.

National Martyrs (国殇), by Zhang Hongtao, is subtitled A record of KMT frontal battles in the War of Resistance, and it details battles fought by the Nationalist government during the first phase of the war against Japan, from the Mukden Incident in 1931 until the fall of Wuhan in 1938. Chinese histories of the war typically concentrate on the guerrilla campaigns run by the Communists behind Japanese lines in the second phase of the war. The more conventional battles fought by Nationalist forces in the southern part of the country have seen treatments in more specific, individual texts, but in general overviews they are minimized or ignored.

According to an official at the Department of Book Publication at the Central Administration of Press and Publication, books commemorating the War of Resistance still primarily promote the leadership role of the Communist Party during the war. The 60th anniversary of the end of WWII, and more importantly, the visit of KMT chairman Lien Chan to the mainland, provided the necessary circumstances for the appearance of National Martyrs.

Originally published in 1994 under the title Burning Sun and co-authored by Zhang Pukuan, the book went through two printings before it "could no longer be printed," according to Oriental Outlook magazine. This year, the censors gave their blessing to a reissue of a revised edition, with only Zhang Hongtao named as author. The title was also changed to the more patriotic National Martyrs, the name of a poem often attributed to Qu Yuan, the great patriotic statesman of the ancient kingdom of Chu.

Speaking to PhoenixTV, the book's managing editor Tang Deyang explains the rationale behind a positive view of the Nationalists:

The Nationalist war of resistance also had successes; Nationalists were Chinese, too! The late leader Mao Zedong himself said, "From the Marco Polo Bridge Incident on 7 July 1937 until the fall of Wuhan in October 1938, the Nationalist government worked relatively hard at combating the Japanese."

Quite a ringing endorsement.

Nevertheless, this is part of a trend toward a broader picture of the resistance. Whereas middle school history texts of the past would concentrate solely on battles fought by the Communist forces in the northern part of the country, recent revisions of the curriculum have begun to describe victories won by the Nationalists and offer profiles of important Nationalist figures who later became enemies during the civil war.

Articles reporting on the book's publication remark on how it reflects an enlightened view of history on the part of a "gentler, more tolerant" ruling party. Oriental Outlook quotes Director Zhang of the Office of Party History at the Shanghai City Party School:

The reissue of this book reflects China's progress. At present we tend to affirm the victories won by the Nationalist Party in frontal battles, like the Battle of Taierzhuang and the Defense of Shanghai, but naturally we don't affirm their utter failure in 1944. If you say that in the past there has been an avoidance of this period of history, then right now there is a gradual move to approach it more closely.

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