A Chinese academic institute has spent 40 years trying to complete and publish “The History of the Republic of China” in 36 volumes. But one question keeps pestering Chinese historians involved in this grand project: What time should they refer to as the “end” of the Republic of China?
The ROC was defeated by the Communists in mainland China in 1949 and fled to Taiwan, where it has survived — and even thrived — ever since.
The Academy of Social Sciences’ work on a “complete version of the history of the ROC” has met with numerous difficulties, mainly because of the continued existence of the ROC in Taiwan, where President Ma Ying-jeou has floated a controversial idea of signing a peace pact with the mainland.
Following are excerpts of a report by the China Times, a major Taiwanese newspaper, on this issue:
To understand a history book, one must understand the historical and geographical backgrounds of its writers or editors.
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has published a 36-volume series on “The History of the Republic of China” recently, in the centennial year of the Xinhai Revolution of 1911, which toppled China’s last imperial dynasty and created Asia’s first Republic — the ROC.
Although Jin Yiling, an executive of the academy’s Institute of Modern History, categorically stresses that the compilation of the 36 volumes was not an “official effort” and not “politically motivated,” the very opening question he has met in answer to Taiwanese reporters covering this event was:
“The ROC is still there, so how can you try to write us into history?”
To put it into historical perspective, 1971 — when the ROC withdrew from the U.N. — was the first time Communist China attempted to write about the history of the ROC.
At that time, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai put forth a plan to write on the history of the ROC, and Li Xin, then-deputy director of the academy’s Institute of Modern History, was charged with its implementation.
Such a project would naturally involve the history of the Kuomintang (KMT), the history of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the history of the ROC.
As China was in the midst of the tumultuous Cultural Revolution in which any opinion was susceptible to charges of “counter-revolutionary thought,” Li proposed that the project be carried out from a Marxist standpoint — that it is both necessary and possible to elaborate on the rise and fall of the ROC, “the last dynasty in China’s long history of social exploitation.” The proposal was given a green light.
Because the KMT government led by Chiang Kai-shek was doing well in Taiwan, Li’s team was often questioned and even suffered political intervention.
In 1981, the first volume was published. In 1983, the CPC’s propaganda chief, Deng Liqun, told Li that it was quite well done — so much so that some people suspected that “you guys were trying to create an impression of ‘two Chinas.'”
According to Han Xinfu, a research fellow at the academy’s Institute of Modern History, big changes were made to the “major events” list of 1949.
For instance, on the item of Sept. 26 in that section, one historical fact was added: “Zhou Enlai asked six senior revolutionaries of the Xinhai Uprising whether to abbreviate the People’s Republic of China into ‘ROC.’ Of the six, only Huang Yanpei insisted on doing so.”
Another sensitive issue in the compilation of this series concerns the evaluation of former KMT officials in China.
Wang Chaoguang, the institute’s deputy director, said some of the offspring of those KMT officials are still alive in China, with quite a number of them having had “unhappy experiences” of being persecuted during the anti-rightist campaigns of the 1950s and during the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.
When history books have described KMT forces as the major forces fighting the Japanese invaders during the second Sino-Japanese War of 1937-145, some Communist leaders have been unhappy, questioning if the editors were trying to paint the Communist troops as “negative” forces in China’s fight against Japanese aggression.
With the recent rapprochement between the KMT and the CPC, the perspectives from which to look at China’s modern history have changed accordingly.
Still, Han expressed regret that the editors did not use the term “the National Army” to replace “the Nationalist or KMT Army” in the history books.
“We can only do our best to respect the historical facts within the allowable boundaries,” Han said.
The most knotty issue, of course, is: When did the ROC end?
Yang Tianshi, a Chinese expert on modern history, said, however, that “this is not an issue that can be solved by historians.”
Then, by whom can the issue be solved?! Politicians? Offsprings trying to do so for another centennial celebration?! Be very careful of what’s published or covered on the media. Sometimes the truth, being threatened or distorted by politics or ideology, is not what’s presented.