I am something of a history buff (or at least, I try my best to be), so when someone gets history wrong, I tend to get . . . oh, how to phrase this? . . . annoyed. To be sure, honest mistakes are sometimes made when discussing history, and your humble servant makes those mistakes as well (too often, for your humble servant’s own tastes). But while the occasional error is understandable, when history is deliberately misread for political purposes, then the civilized response to such a misreading is–and ought to be–outrage.
The undoubted star of China’s giant military parade marking 70 years since Japan’s World War II defeat — and countless television shows on the conflict — will be the ruling Communist Party, celebrating a victory historians say was largely won by others.
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It will all be overseen by President Xi Jinping — head of the People’s Liberation Army, the ruling party and the government — in what commentators say is an effort to bend history to bolster the Party’s legitimacy.
The parade aims to dramatise “this idea that without the Communist Party, there would be no new China”, said Willy Lam, an expert on Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“Xi Jinping and the Communist Party wants to claim the credit for vanquishing the Japanese, even though there is a big question mark over this claim,” he added.
In official materials given to journalists ahead of the event, the Communist Party is described as the “leader” of China’s resistance, with its guerrillas fighting “the main form of the war against Japan”.
But the major battles in China were fought by the forces of the Nationalist government of the time, led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, the Communists’ bitter enemy.
Mao Zedong’s army went on to defeat him in 1949 after a civil war, leaving Chiang exiled to Taiwan.
Ever since, the role of the Nationalists has been largely played down in the official narrative.
For Beijing pastrymaker TT Chen, the Communist Party’s distortion of history is an affront to his family — two of his uncles held senior positions in the Nationalist regime.
“I don’t consider the parade patriotic, I think it’s a show of ignorance,” he said.
It most certainly is. And it is more than a little worrying that a country with pretensions towards superpower status is led by a government that both seeks to maintain a perpetual totalitarian grip on power, and seeks to change and whitewash historical narratives in order to more easily propagandize its political message to the rest of the Chinese populace. It is far easier to know where one stands and to avoid dramatic and disastrous geopolitical miscalculations if one deals with a government that is open, transparent, and intellectually honest. The Chinese government is none of these things. And that should worry the rest of us.