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East Asia history book sets facts right
By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-06-10 00:28

Three years. Three countries. Three languages. One book.

The history books in three languanges are shown in this photo taken on June 9, 2005. [newsphoto] 
Scholars and publishers from China, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) yesterday unveiled the Chinese edition of "The Contemporary and Modern History of Three East Asian Countries", a book that aims to set the record straight about what happened in, and between, the three neighbouring countries.

It may seem like a riposte to the controversial Japanese history textbook that whitewashes Japan's war-time atrocities but compilers of the new book downplayed the association.

"This is not a rebuttal of that textbook," said Bu Ping, deputy director of the Institute of Modern History under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), the Chinese participant in the joint project.

"When we started three years ago, the textbook issue was not as hot as it is today," said Xie Shouguang, president of the Social Sciences Academic Press (SSAP), a CASS subsidiary and the publisher of the Chinese version.

The book, which targets high-school students and young readers, employs a lucid writing style in giving a "comprehensive and objective account" of the modern history of the three countries, especially acts of aggression by Japan and resistance by the other two nations.

"Only when we clarify what happened in the past can we walk out of the shadow of confrontation," said Yoon Hwy-Tak, professor of Chinese history at South Korea's East Asian University and a participant in the project.

"Japan has to reflect on its war-time behaviour and apologize to the victims first. It has to compensate for the damage," Yoon said.

The project began in 2002 when researchers from the three countries attended an event in Nanjing. All participants yesterday emphasized the significance of a "joint history book".

"A lot of historical facts are in the hands of historians, but not really known to the public or the media," said Li Wei, deputy director of the foreign affairs bureau of CASS. "For example, our press generally talks about chemical weapons 'abandoned' in China's northeast by Japanese troops. If you study the issue, you'll know they were not 'abandoned' but 'stored' there."

Masahi Umeda, a representative of Kohbunken Co, publisher of the Japanese edition, mentioned that, in his country, some suspected it was never possible for historians of the three countries to reach a consensus about historical facts and the interpretations of them. "We have proved to them that it is possible."

The writers and publishers acknowledged that there were "fierce disputes" during the writing process, but everyone showed respect for the facts.

"When there were diverse versions, we would give the different sources," said Bu Ping.

A case in point is the number of victims from the Nanjing Massacre. The book gives two numbers: 340,000 and 200,000, from the Nanjing trial and the Tokyo trial respectively.

But one thing the editors and writers easily agreed upon was the "common attitude towards history", which is "hope for peace, progress and development".

"We join hands to build an East Asia without the spectre of war. In order to appreciate the gift of peace, we need to understand the wars that broke out among us," said Professor Yoon of Korea.

Book as 'supplementary reading

Strictly speaking, this is not a "textbook", but "supplementary reading". "It is designed to supplement current textbooks, not to replace them," said Xie Shouguang, the Chinese publisher.

"Textbooks have to go through a rigorous process of official approval, which our book did not in any of the three countries," explained Xie. But in China and the ROK, it has got government endorsement.

"This is a non-governmental project, which reflects grassroots efforts at educating the young about history. We got involved when the writing was almost done," said Li Wei, the CASS official. "They started without any sponsors or subsidies."

Xie added that it was a purely "commercial" project, which depends on sales volume to turn a profit.

"Our first print run is 20,000 copies, and it has gone within two days. My conservative estimate for the total run is 100,000-200,000 copies," Xie predicted.

The Korean and Japanese versions, which came out a little earlier, have also churned out 20,000 copies each. The number is high for this kind of book in their countries, said Yoon and Umeda, and they plan to raise the print run in the near future.

Both Yoon and Xie said that they were soliciting corporate donors who would buy in bulk and donate the books to schools.

Xie disclosed that he was in discussion with publishers from overseas who were interested in the rights to the traditional-Chinese, English and Esperanto versions of the book.

Umeda explained that, in Japan, the book appeals more to adults than children. "We have the general public as our market, and parents who read the book will influence their children," he said.

"Ever since the Japanese edition came out a week ago, my phone has been ringing off the hook. We've got a lot of encouragement from our readers," he said. "I'm honoured to be part of this historic project."

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