If you weren’t already aware, there is a war going on at this very moment. It’s a war over history and how it is retold. The main protagonist, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has mobilised a vast army of propagandists to hijack post World War Two (WW2) history and retell it in a light that will serve it going forward.

In China, all modern history going back as far as the 1830s and the first Colonial Wars fall under the remit of propaganda departments, not historians. The CCP carefully guards recent Chinese history making sure every aspect serves its narrative of a glorious Communist Party triumphing in the face of adversity against a multitude of foreign and internal aggressors. If you live in China, not accepting this creed of history will have you labeled as a traitor to the Chinese race. This idea is succinctly demonstrated in our democracy battles here in Hong Kong, where behind the scenes shadowy, CCP stalwarts demand that any future leader of the international city must first, love China. In such a politically charged climate everyone knows this to mean, a candidate must have a historical and current world view as dictated by CCP propaganda.

Battle of the narratives

It is, however, not uncommon in the least for dictatorships to want to control their history. What makes this ‘history war’ more pertinent is that the CCP is now actively seeking to usurp the established history of the West. In democratic nations, history can rarely become a complete propaganda tool of governments. Fortunately in the West, history develops organically, and any student of the subject is free to read and write as broadly as they wish and come to their conclusions. This all-comers approach to history may have the benefit of compiling historical accounts that are rich in variety and context, but it can leave it vulnerable to the more aggressive, state-sponsored history that is now coming out of China. For other than in the minds of those that wish to care, there are no appointed guardians or crafters of Western history.

70th anniversary WWII
Photo: victory70.gov.hk.

In creating the new holiday celebrating the victory of “The Chinese people’s war of resistance against Japanese aggression” it is not the first time the CCP propaganda machine has hijacked history. Another example of this arises in the Colonial Wars fought between Britain and China during the 1800s. The CCP has successfully taken this history and made it into an entire propaganda tool for its very existence. Erstwhile in the main, British historians and citizens care little about such wars and care not whether the history has been misconstrued. Meaning, even though Britain was a principle protagonist in these important historical events, the tempo of the “Opium Wars” belongs to China. Britons have long since given up caring whether the wars are accurately portrayed or not; not so on the Mainland. In China, the CCP narrative of what took place makes up a significant part of their national psyche and now has the power to mobilise millions of people to act, or even go to war.

WWII hong kong battle
Photo: Wikicommons.

With the history of British Colonialism in China thoroughly under the control of the CCP propaganda machine, the net is now being widened to include WW2. In today’s world, the generally accepted history of WW2 doesn’t serve the current Chinese leadership’s goals. The CCP played almost no part in the crafting of the modern World Order that has endured for seventy years. For the modern day CCP leadership there are uncomfortable truths that fly in direct contradiction to the image they now wish to portray as an heir to the Chinese civilisation and benign leader and protector of the global status-quo. These contradictions become glaring when considering the CCP’s ongoing and bitter rivalry with Japan. Hence the mobilisation of the CCP’s powerful propaganda apparatus to rewrite, obscure and hijack history once again in the shape of this odious public holiday and parade.

Victim mentality

The central theme from CCP propagandists is that it is Japan that still threatens the long preserved stability in Asia due to a revival of right-wing militarism and new, naval expansionist desires in the seas that surround China. The hidden propaganda behind this new holiday and parade wishes to portray China as both the victim and the only saviour for Asia from another impending wave of Japanese nationalism and military expansion.

This line of thought is an easy sell in China as citizens have been brought up on an aggressive diet of anti-Japanese sentiment since pre-school. However, in a globalised world, it is no longer enough to goose-step the Chinese masses into a hate-frenzy over ‘Little Japan’. Instead, the historical perceptions of other nations need to be altered to create a global mass-line in step with CCP ideology. The primary function of the propaganda is to drive wedges between Japan and any would-be allies that may come to its aid in any future debacles. The CCP propagandists are now in overdrive reminding anyone who cares to listen about Japan’s past wartime atrocities and how they are in flagrant violation of war-time agreements like the Potsdam Declaration.

Certainly, no credible commentator could refute that Japan’s militarism didn’t bring calamity to Asia during WW2 and especially China. However WW2 and Japanese militarism came to a decisive end in 1945 and since then Japan has played more than a constructive role in creating the global order that we live in today. Not so the Chinese Communist Party. Therefore, if the new CCP propaganda implores us to assess modern Japan through the lens of its past deeds, then we must also hold China and its ruling party to that same rigid standard.

japan war china
Photo: ECNS.

So how does Japan and the CCP match-up in creating the world we find ourselves in today?

After WW2, a broken and occupied Japan was forced to engage with the new world order, orbiting around the newly created United Nations. In this post-war environment Japan, just like modern China, was allowed to rise to become a great industrial nation. To the point that by the late 1980s, the West was in fear that Japan would become the most powerful economy in the world. During this time, Japan, despite its pacifist constitution was also allowed to build up a potent military force under the mantle of the Japanese Self-Defence Force (JSDF).

Since its creation, the JSDF has been constitutionally shackled from engaging in offensive operations, but this takes nothing away from its lethal potential. During the Cold War, Japan served as a stalwart ally against the USSR in the Pacific Ocean and has been widely recognised for decades as one of the most technically capable armies in the world.

In fact, since WW2 the three most powerful navies have routinely been reported as the United States, Japan and Britain. The point being that the modern JSDF packs no less of a punch today than it did in the previous decades since the end of the war.

As Japan began to reach its zenith of power, there was never any hint that it would try to change the status-quo it had been forced into after the war. Since WW2, Japan has been allowed to rise to become the world’s second-largest economy, decline and then meander through a twenty-year-plus economic malaise. Neither in its ascension, its decline or its economic stagnation were there ever signs that Japan wanted to get back on its imperial horse and impose itself militarily upon the people of Asia. It’s only now when the CCP propaganda machine is maximising its long tentacles into Western media organisations and academia that we hear such things as, Japan wishes to challenge the peaceful, global order. Or Japan is breaking wartime agreements that ensure the peace in Asia.

The CCP’s glass house

With such accusations in mind, let’s now look at the CCP and contemplate how they fare in recent global history. For if we are to believe the barrage of propaganda that is coming out of China, past deeds heavily influence a country’s actions. Or as in the case of Japan, once an imperialist, fascist aggressor, always an imperialist, fascist aggressor.

So, let’s apply this same logic to the Chinese Communists Party. The first thing that is startlingly obvious is that the CCP took no meaningful part in either the fighting of WW2 or any post-war agreements to make a lasting peace. Outside of CCP controlled China, it is widely accepted that the communist armies acted only as skirmish armies harassing the occupying, second-tier, Japanese armies deep within the Chinese hinterlands. While it was the Nationalist Chinese Army and, of course, the Allies that took the real fight to Imperial Japan and ultimately defeated it. This is why you see Chiang Kai-Shek, leader of the Chinese Nationalist Armies, sitting at the same table as Churchill and Roosevelt. Certainly, there’s no imaginable or plausible history that would have Mao or Zhou Enlai sitting at the same table as the Allies in Cairo. It is whimsical to believe that the CCP would even survive WW2 if the colonial countries hadn’t brought their full force to bear upon Imperial Japan. It is without question that the system that destroyed Imperial Japan and removed it from the Chinese Mainland was not a communist utopia of peasant soldiers. But capitalism and democracy mobilising a powerful war machine to reduce Japan to rubble.

wwii cenotaph hong kong
Photo: Wikicommons.

Based upon these very elementary historical facts the pertinent question is then what did the CCP do once peace in Asia had been restored? Did it become a stalwart defender of Asian peace and a builder of trust and stability as it now tries to portray itself? No, it did the exact opposite and went to war with the newly created United Nations over Korea. China remains one of the only sovereign countries that fought a war with the United Nations and to this day, this war is celebrated as a great victory. By a communist slight-of-hand the CCP portrays this war as yet another victory over colonialism and the evergreen, capitalist bogeyman the United States. But the Korean War was never a war between the US and China or colonialism. It was a war between China representing global communism and the United Nations representing a new global order based upon democratic, liberal values and the newly signed United Nations Charter.

On top of this one of the primary missions of the CCP has always been to overthrow capitalism in a global, revolution and install socialism. China actively supports regimes that are in direct contravention of global norms, as dictated by the UN Charter, such as Syria, Iran, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Myanmar (maybe not now), Sudan, Cambodia, Cuba and Maoists in Nepal and northern India. Even after the UN carried out an independent report on the human rights violations in North Korea, the CCP categorically ruled out sanctioning the hermit kingdom in any way. Effectively hobbling the UN in its principal duty as a defender of basic rights for people of the world.

Peace and harmony?

The CCP also wishes to remind everyone who will listen that it was Japan that invaded many Asian countries during WW2, but since the destruction of Imperial Japan, who has Japan invaded or attacked? Obviously the answer is zero. To be fair, Japan does have long-standing island disputes with Russia, South Korea and of course China. However, these disputes are unlikely to start wars with Korea or Russia. It’s only the dispute with China and specifically the dispute over the uninhabited rocks making up the Diaoyutai/Senkakus islands that have the potential for a kinetic war.

Conversely, since the end of WW2 and the creation of the new global order who has CCP invaded or fought with other than the previously mentioned United Nations? Well as far as occupying other’s land, Tibet and East Turkestan are the most obvious. Countries may openly acknowledge that Tibet and East Turkestan, now Xinjiang, are part of China, but the reality is that the significant proportions of Tibetans and Uighurs believe they live in an occupied land and would break free from China if it were possible. At this moment, decades after their effective liberations, these two provinces remain in de-facto, military lockdown. On top of these very obvious occupations, China has had border wars with Taiwan, India, Vietnam and Russia. With the later almost going nuclear, twice! Hardly a track record of peace and harmony for the region.

military parade
The Chinese the Guard of Honor in 1992. Photo: News.cn.

Detractors may argue that China’s record of war pales into insignificance when compared to the US and its Allies, but this isn’t about the US and/or other democracies. Democracies are not adverse to war and don’t hide this fact behind erroneous and false ideas of peace and harmony. Democracies are propped up with the threat of war. If one thinks this is wrong and objects to this style of rule then fine, but that’s a different argument. The issue being discussed here is since the ending of WW2, which country Japan or China, has been the most credible keeper of peace and the status-quo in Asia?

Clearly China loses unequivocally on this point too, with at least five significant military skirmishes since WW2 with its neighbours to Japan’s zero, with more border disputes festering in open sight. The Philippines now stands as the most obvious country to run afoul of CCP’s cantankerous ways and the US Defence treaty is the only thing preventing the Philippines from suffering a severe mauling at the hands of the increasingly itchy PLA Navy. Japan may have invaded and brought calamity upon the Philippines in 1941, but in 2015, The Philippines fears China, not Japan. It’s a no-brainer for most Filipinos that their future fortunes, as an independent, sovereign nation, lie within the protection of their old enemies, Japan and the United States, and not with Xi Jinping’s new China.

In answer to this, the CCP could argue that China is a big country that inherited many problems created by other meddling countries and based on size alone, it’s fractious relationships with its neighbours are minor. Even if we were to allow such arbitrary airbrushing of important history to pass, the CCP still stands bare as serial dismantler of global norms. In the last thirty years the ringing of tills from workshop China may have drowned out the revolutionary zeal. But it wasn’t too long ago, just 49years (Japanese Imperialism was quashed 70 years ago), that the CCP launched an unrelenting attack upon Asian culture.

Chinese Characteristics

The CCP may not want anyone to talk too much about the Great Cultural Revolution, but today it is more important than ever, especially when we are being asked to choose who should ‘lead Asia’ and define its history gonig forward.

For if we were perusing the CVs of potential Asian leaders, it would quickly become apparent that those in charge of China today were all party to the systematic destruction of thousands of years of their own culture. While the rest of the world was wondering whether to smoke marijuana and chilling out to The Beatles or The Beach Boys, the 1960s Chinese generation, that which now rules China today, was actively destroying their own culture under the vague mantle of achieving socialism with Chinese Characteristics. That’s the very same slogan that Xi Jinping reiterates every time he’s put in front of a microphone these days such as, we must move towards democracy under the guidance of socialism with Chinese characteristics. The PLA needs to modernise, guided by socialism with Chinese characteristics. The Chinese economy needs to reform taking into account Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. Behind the media hype, Xi is doing nothing more than regurgitating same tried and tested formula that brought the world two of the 20th century’s greatest calamities, The Great Leap Forward, up to 30million dead and The Great Cultural Revolution, upwards of 400,000 dead and thousands of years of culture destroyed.

tiananmen square
Photo: Wikicommons.

This indefinable term, socialism with Chinese characteristics is, in fact, a euphemism for the absolute power of the CCP and a license to do whatever it takes to maintain control. Its indefinability and vagueness is why it suited Mao when he created the calamities of the fifties, sixties and seventies. Why it served Deng Xiaoping when he cracked down on protesters in the eighties and why it suits Xi Jinping’s uncertain China today. The CCP has not changed. Cities may have been built, and the wealth available to China may have increased, but the leaders are still singing from the same flawed songbook. And it is highly likely that a future Asia, lead by Xi Jinping’s CCP will do exactly what it says on the tin. Or, justify more power abuse under the obscure mantle of socialism with Chinese characteristics. The evidence for this is all around us and highlighted succinctly in this battle over WW2 history. Unfortunately, this bitter war over history may eventually be the prelude to a real war. So, it can not be underestimated as it affects everyone.

It is a little-known fact that in the not so distant past, scholars and academics from both Japan and China sat down with each other and drafted up a shared history that could be taught both in China and Japan. However, this ‘shared’ history lies on a shelf somewhere collecting dust. Why would such a needed and valuable collaboration be mothballed? Is it because Japanese right-wingers still refuse to accept their WW2 atrocities? No, it’s because CCP left-wingers find the sections on China too sensitive to publish on the Mainland. And so the battle for who controls Asia’s history will continue with little regard for compromise, truth or facts. History is now a strategic weapon with little room for compromise and he who can control it may one day control Asia.

Richard is a freelance writer and long term resident of Hong Kong. He has a Master's Degree in Chinese Studies from CUHK and describes himself as a noisy muser on all things China. He has travelled extensively in Western China and once owned a trekking lodge high on the Tibetan border. He has a raw style of Opinion Journalism, with special interests in the South China Seas and deciphering Hong Kong's Localist/Independence groups.