History has become both a source and focus of rising tensions in East Asia in recent decades, revolving around controversies over ‘distorted’ interpretations of the past, most notoriously over ‘revisionist’ histories of invasion and the whitewashing or denial of atrocities. Japan has, unsurprisingly, been regarded by its neighbors as the primary perpetrator, both in history and in its retelling in revisionist textbooks, but it has by no means been the only offender, and ‘history wars’ have become increasingly common within and between other countries in the region. In this paper, Alisa Jones examines the phenomenon of ‘historical revisionism’ in East Asian textbooks and the - primarily domestic - ideological, political and pedagogical purposes it serves. Analyzing often contradictory depictions of victims and perpetrators, heroes and villains, winners and losers, she demonstrates how textbooks convey (others’) guilt/inferiority and (our) innocence/superiority, and how they attempt to defend or legitimize present political projects and territorial claims, win hearts and minds, and shape the values and beliefs of future citizens.
Alisa Jones is the Northeast Asia History Fellow at Shorenstein APARC, Stanford University. She received her degrees from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and the University of Leeds, specializing in the history and politics of modern and contemporary China. Her research and scholarly publications focus on the politics and practice of historiography and history education in East Asia, in particular on the ways in which the past has been commemorated, revised and contested in both domestic and international arenas. She is currently working on several related projects, examining the goals and content of history and citizenship education as well as the ways in which other public and private mechanisms (such as the legal system, patriotic campaigns, the media, the internet) have been used and abused to define the parameters of acceptable debate about the past and the claims on the citizens of the present and future it represents.