My Take

It's the 20m Chinese dead that deserve commemoration

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 August, 2015, 2:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 August, 2015, 2:01am

In Chinese communist mythology, the party led by Mao Zedong was the backbone of the national resistance against Japan's invasion during the second world war.

This is being trumpeted in the lead-up to the September 3 commemoration of the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender.

But among mainstream historians, it is generally agreed Mao's Communist soldiers played a far less significant role than the Nationalist armies under Chiang Kai-shek in the brutal war with Japan. One estimate - quoted in a recent book, China's War with Japan by historian Rana Mitter - finds that 90 per cent of Chinese military casualties fighting Japan belonged to Chiang's Nationalist, rather than Mao's Communist, armies. This has momentous consequences for post-war China beyond communist pride and myth-making.

First Chiang's White Terror and civil war wiped out all the sophisticated intellectuals and idealists who initially led the Communist Party. That paved the way for vicious and battle-hardened country bumpkins and an autodidact like Mao to claim leadership.

Then, before the war with Japan, Chiang started modernising the state. But all such Nationalist attempts at modernisation and state-building lay in ruins by 1945 after fighting the Japanese.

Without a strong and modern state and army, the Nationalists couldn't fight the Communists.

So, in a moment of charity and honesty, and also extreme egomania, Mao received a Japanese delegation in the early 1960s but played down an apology it offered for atrocities committed against Chinese. He said the Japanese invasion "created the conditions for our victory in the war of liberation. If I ought to thank anyone, it should be the Japanese".

Mao should, of course, also thank Chiang for wiping out all the more worthy communist leaders and intellectuals for him to take power. But I suspect we won't be hearing much about that from all the hoopla over the 70th anniversary of victory. It does give you a whole new perspective when you hear Beijing denouncing Japan for not being sincere enough in apologising or expressing regrets.

Up to 20 million Chinese died in the war. It's they who deserve the commemoration.