Modern Asian Studies

Part II: Remembering China's War with Japan: The Wartime Generation in Post-war China and East Asia

Remember History, Not Hatred: Collective Remembrance of China's War of Resistance to Japan*


a1 The University of Sydney, Department of Government and International Relations, Merewether Building (H04), New South Wales 2006, Australia, Email:


Chinese leaders have repeatedly insisted upon the contemporary relevance of the ‘War of Resistance to Japan’ (1937–1945). However, the content of the official history of the war and the lessons drawn from it have changed dramatically from 1949 through 2010. This paper begins by reviewing theories of collective remembrance and then covers four historical periods: China's ‘benevolent amnesia’ on Japan's wartime atrocities before 1982; China's patriotic education campaign from the mid-1980s; the rise of history activism in China in the late 1990s; and the post-2005 reversal in official rhetoric on Japan and the wartime past. It concludes that, while the party-state retains an impressive capacity to shape the narratives of critical periods of modern Chinese history, Chinese leaders are likely to find themselves increasingly constrained by domestic forces and by external events beyond their control.

(Online publication March 01 2011)


* A fellowship with the China's War with Japan programme at Oxford University supported the research and writing of this paper. I am also grateful to David Goodman, Yinan He, Rana Mitter, Aaron Moore, Daniela Stockmann, and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments and suggestions. The conference where this paper was presented was organized by the China's War with Japan programme at Oxford University, funded by the Leverhulme Trust ( [accessed 21 December, 2010]).