Grade Five students in Jiangsu province became the first on the mainland to receive official textbooks detailing the Nanking Massacre – a painful chapter of history that has been a sticking point between China and Japan.
The 55-page textbook comprises 10 stories about the Japanese military's invasion of the former Chinese capital, which today uses the post-war pinyin spelling Nanjing, on December 13, 1937, marking the start of a six-week spree of destruction, rape and killings.
China says about 300,000 Chinese civilians and soldiers were killed during that period. Some foreign academics put the death count lower, including China historian Jonathan Spence, who estimates that 42,000 soldiers and citizens were killed and 20,000 women raped, many of whom later died.
While the subject has been taught in schools before, this is the first time authorities have released a textbook specially dedicated to the incident.
But for the children, photos and language deemed too gruesome were taken out, according to Zhu Chengshan, curator of the memorial museum.
Released in time for the start of the new semester on Monday, the textbook was compiled by the education bureau and experts at the memorial museum for massacre victims in Nanjing, Jiangsu’s capital city, according to news website thepaper.cn.
The release comes as China’s top leaders are set to attend a ceremony in Beijing on Wednesday morning to commemorate the 69th anniversary of the country’s victory in the anti-Japanese War, or the second Sino-Japanese war that ended in 1945.
Zhu told the news website that he brought up the idea of compiling a textbook for students after the country’s legislature in February designated December 13 as the day of remembrance for Nanking Massacre victims.
He also suggested Chinese primary school students, like counterparts in nations that have experienced war atrocities, should learn about this kind of history at an early stage.
”I’m inspired by Auschwitz [in Poland] and Israel. Their pupils above Grade Three all have reading materials or textbooks about massacres. And all the teachers are well-trained about the history. More than 80 per cent of students know the history very well,” he was quoted as saying.
”Our country is far behind in such public education,” Zhu said.
Textbooks for middle school and high school students have also been compiled and will be handed out to students in Jiangsu province for free before the day of remembrance. The textbooks may be required reading for all students in mainland China in the future.
The Japanese government has disputed the Nanking Massacre accounts, calling it propaganda.
In June, China applied for the inclusion of the 1937 Nanking Massacre and the history of “comfort women” in wartime Japanese military brothels in the Unesco Memory of the World programme. Japan furiously demanded a retraction.
China had already released a cache of documents it says were letters written by Japanese soldiers, newspaper articles, and military files unearthed in the early 1950s, which include information about comfort women.
While Japan gave an apology to comfort women in 1993, nationalist politicians in Japan have urged Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to water it down, given “there is no evidence of large-scale coercion” by the government or military, Reuters reported. Abe refused to revise the apology.
Apart from frequent disputes about wartime history, fraught relations between Japan and China in recent months were also aggravated by their battle over a cluster of islands in the East China Sea called the Diaoyus in Chinese and Senkakus by Japan, which currently occupies the islands.