David Lan Pham

Yasukuni and Mao Zedong: Two symbols


December 26, 2013 was the 120th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s birthday in China.  On that day Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni Temple, a year after his second premiership.  The Yasukuni Temple and Mao Zedong become two symbols of two East Asian economic and military powers which are at risk of war due to the dispute of sovereignty on Senkaku Islands called Diaoyu by the Chinese, and to the birth of Chinese ADIZ (Air Defense and Identification Zones) overlapping the Senkaku air space.

Symbol of the Yasukuni temple

The Yasukuni Temple is a Shintoist Temple worshipping 2.5 million souls of Japanese samurais and soldiers including General Hideki Tojo (1884-1948), Japanese Prime Minister during WWII.  General Tojo was the symbol of Japanese militarism.  He played a big role in the Japanese imperial expansion in WWII.  He was executed as a war criminal in 1948.  The old name of the temple was Tokyo Shokonsha that was changed to Yasukuni Jinja in 1879.  The Yasukuni Temple is in Chiyota, Tokyo.

The Yasukuni Temple was built in 1869 on the orders of Mikado Meiji to worship the souls of the samurais supporting the Meiji’s reform by fighting the conservatives supporting Shogun Yoshinobu in the Boshin War (War in the year of the Dragon – 1868), and of the soldiers sacrificing their lives to repress the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877 led by Saigo Takamori (1828-1877).  Saigo Takamori was the samurais’ leader loyal to the Mikado and the Bushido.  He supported the Mikado but he seemed not to like the Westernized reform for fear that the samurais’ role should not exist any more.  He suggested to conquer Korea as the reform began.  His proposal was rejected.  He returned to Satsuma to open a Military School to train the samurais using Western weapons just to preserve the Japanese Bushido spirit.  The Military School attracted some 20,000 - 30,000 cadets, who scared the Mikado, who, in his turn, deemed that Saigo founded the Military School  to prepare for a rebellion.  The Imperial soldiers were sent to the South to repress the Satsuma Rebellion.  Saigo was seriously wounded.  He asked his subordinates to behead him so that the Imperial Army did not know anything about him.  The battle of Shiroyama was a bloody one in which the last samurais used their death to show their Bushido spirit after nine years of Meiji’s reform.   In 1889 Mikado Meiji pardoned Saigo Takamori.  In 1893 a bronze statue of Saigo Takamori with a dog  was erected at Ueno Park, Tokyo, in memory of the last samurais’ leader.

The Yasukuni Temple also worship Japanese soldiers sacrificing their lives in the Sino-Japanese war in the Korean peninsula in 1894, in the Russo-Japanese war in Manchuria  in 1904 and Russo-Japanese naval battle of Tsushima in 1905, in the Sino-Japanese war from 1937 to 1945, in the armed clashes with the Americans, British, French and Dutch respectively in the Philippines, Malaysia and Burma, Indochina,  and Indonesia during WWII.

The Japanese Bushido was assimilated to fascism, militarism when the Japanese established their protectorate in Korea (1910-1945), occupied Taiwan after the signing of the Shimonoseki treaty in 1895, founded Manchukuo in 1932, invaded China in 1937, and conquered the Southeast Asian countries from 1940 to 1945.

Since 1978 Emperors Hirohito and Akihito haven’t visited the Yasukuni Temple not to displease the neighboring countries such as China and Korea.  The Chinese seem to never forget the massacre of Nanjing.  The visit of the Yasukuni Temple by Prime Minister Abe likely reminded the Koreans of the historic wound of the past:  35 years of Japanese domination in Korea and the nightmare of sex slavery during WWII.  The Japanese government apologized to the Chinese and Korean peoples for their historic mistakes during the war.  Japan paid war compensation to the Republic of Vietnam by constructing the Da Nhim Dam.  It compensated to the Korean comfort women for its regrettable mistakes during WWII etc.  Japan gained sympathy from the Southeast Asian countries through its economic aid and its radio sets, TV sets, refrigerators, motorcycles, cars that are durable, pretty but the price is reasonable.

In 1985 Prime Minister Yashuhiro Nakasone was bitterly criticized by the domestic and foreign opinions after his visit to the Yasukuni Temple.  From 2001 to 2006 Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited the Yasukuni Temple every year.  His visit displeased China and South Korea.  Koizumi was admired by the Japanese people.  He was friendly with American President Bush II.  After he left the government his successor, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, didn’t visit the temple for fear of offending China.  Abe was Prime Minister in less than a year (2006-2007).  He would like to keep good diplomatic, economic and commercial relations with Beijing.

Economic and military blossoming of the People’s Republic of China made the Japanese leaders thoughtful.  Japan loses its rank as the world second economic power to the People’s Republic of China.  The latter reorganizes and strengthens its army, develops its Navy, builds warships, buys an aircraft carrier from Ukraine.  It launches satellite to the moon.  It makes airplanes, tanks, missiles, weapons by stealing Russian technology etc.  China had no invention, no contribution to the world community in the field of sciences and technology, but China can make everything.  It was rumored that China bought high technology from the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Israel.   The People’s Republic of China threatens its neighboring countries in Southeast Asia by giving itself sovereignty on 80% of the East Sea (3 million km2) including some hundred islands (coral islands, rock islands) and shoals in the Ox’ Tongue it drew from the Philippines to Indonesia.  The People’s Republic of China has territorial dispute with the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei.  From 2010 on, it was firm to claim sovereignty on the Senkaku Islands called Diaoyu by the Chinese to sound out Japanese reaction and military strength.  Chinese vessels and planes intruded into Senkaku’s sea and air space.  On November 23, 2013 Beijing unilaterally announced the 300,000km2 ADIZ (Air Defense and Identification Zones) overlapping Senkaku and South Korean Ieodo Rock! 

East Asian ‘jungle’ has two tigers.  The Japanese tiger is old.  The Chinese one was sick and skinny.  It is eating nutritive food.  Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Temple on Mao’s birthday appeared to be a message stating that the old tiger is not afraid of the convalescent tiger in spite of 20- year economic difficulties and the loss of its rank as the world second economic power.  The Chinese leaders such as Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping used the economic blossoming to develop military industries in order to  stimulate Chinese nationalism.  Some lawless moves such as drawing the Ox’ Tongue in the East Sea, claiming sovereignty on 3 million km2 of sea and islands inside the Ox’ Tongue, in the Yellow Sea (South Korean Ieodo Rock) and East China Sea (Senkaku Islands administered by Japan) pleased Chinese pride but they made the world community uncomfortable when facing lawless behavior from ONE of the FIVE POWERS having right of veto at the UNO Assembly.   These Chinese lawless moves revive Japanese nationalism and their Bushido.   Japan saw Abe at the Yasukuni Temple, the increase of the defense budget, and the plan of purchasing new weaponry  for its self defense.  The Japanese ought to fight to defend itself in case of Chinese attack with or without American assistance.

To the Japanese Shintoism is their traditional religion.  The Yasukuni Temple is the symbol of Japanese nationalism, veneration toward the Mikado, and military strength.  The Japanese, who sacrificed their lives for their Fatherland and the Mikado, were honored, memorialized and worshipped.  Abe’s grand father, Nobusuka Kishi, was imprisoned by the Americans as a war criminal after WWII.  He was freed and became Prime Minister.  Soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army in WWII are worshipped in the Yasukuni Temple including the souls of 1,000 war criminals.  Of them the most important person was Prime Minister Tojo, who commanded the Imperial Army to invade China, and ordered the attack of Pearl Harbor in December, 1941 when he was Prime Minister.  Soldiers of the Imperial Army consisted of the Japanese, Manchurians, Koreans, Taiwanese.  In the past years former Taiwanese President Lee Teng Hui visited the Yasukuni Temple in remembrance of his brother fighting for the Japanese Imperial Army in WWII.

Beijing and Seoul reacted angrily to Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Temple.  Their reaction reflected their fear of the resurrection of Japanese militarism. Japan has territorial disputes with Russia on Kuril Islands, with South Korea on Dokdo Islands or Liancourt Rocks (Takeshima: bamboo island), with Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China on Senkaku Islands called Diaoyu by the Chinese.

The United States worried a lot about Abe’s hardness which would lead to the Sino-Japanese war to send the US to a very difficult situation because of the Americano-Japanese treaty of Security of 1951 and the Mutual Cooperation and Security Treaty of 1960.  It seems that the US and EU worry about the rebirth of Japanese militarism which sent the US, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands to the nightmare in the Pacific Front during WWII.  In October 2013, Secretary of State Kerry, and Secretary of Defense Hagel arrived in Japan.  They visited the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery in Tokyo.  Prime Minister Abe didn’t visit the Yasukuni Temple while some Ministers and Congressmen were there. 

Although occupied by Japan in WWII the Southeast Asian countries did not react strongly to Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Temple.  In the 1940s they were colonies of the US, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands.

In Vietnam the government of Tran Trong Kim was pro-Japanese.  King Bao Dai declared independence after the Japanese coup of March 09, 1945.  Weren’t the Journey to the East Movement headed by Phan Boi Chau and Cuong De and the National Restoration Alliance Association influenced by Japan?  Didn’t the doctrine of Great East Asia Co-Prosperity  influence the Vietnamese scholars studying history and finding out that they had Dai Co Viet, Dai Viet, Dai Nam as their country’s names?  Dai Viet was the country’s name lasting eight centuries.  It was marked by splendid and glorious pages of history under the Ly, Later Le and Tay Son dynasties.  Ngo Dinh Diem, Tran Van An, Nhat Linh Nguyen Tuong Tam (Dai Viet Dan Chinh), Le Van Hoach, Tran Quang Vinh, Nguyen Hoa Hiep, Ngo Dinh Khoi (Ngo Dinh Diem’s brother), Huynh Van Phuong (Trotskyite), Le Van Vien etc. were pro-Japanese.  In 1945 the Southern Viet Minh weren’t strong enough to seize power in Sai Gon.  Tran Van Giau, Duong Bach Mai, Nguyen Van Tao, Nguyen Van Tran received political training from Moscow but they didn’t have popular forces.  They grabbed power thanks to the Thanh Nien Tien Phong (Vanguard Youth) led by Dr. Pham Ngoc Thach.  Tran Van Giau threatened the leaders of Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, Binh Xuyen... to ask them to lean toward the Viet Minh.  Otherwise they should be sentenced by the Allies as war criminals for siding with the Japanese.  Le Van Vien, the Binh Xuyen leader, leaned toward the Viet Minh.

Like King Bao Dai, Lao King Sisavangvong and Cambodian King Sihanouk declared independence after the Japanese coup of March 09, 1945.  In Cambodia Prime Minister Son Ngoc Thanh was considered pro-Japanese.

In the Philippines Aguinaldo, President Jose Laurel (1891-1959) were pro-Japanese.

In Burma, General Aung San was trained by the Japanese.  He was a revolutionary struggling for independence of Burma after receiving Japanese military training on Hainan Island.  The mistreatment of British prisoners of war by the Japanese soldiers  in The Bridge on the River Kwai (Le Pont de la Rivière Kwai)excited the hatred for the Japanese.  Maybe, to a certain extent, the Burmese people didn’t share the same feeling.

In WWII Thai Marshal Phibul Songram had friendly relations with Japan. 

So did Sukarno, a revolutionary and future President of Indonesia.

The Japanese didn’t invade India.  But Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-1945) liked their militarism and Great Asia Co-Prosperity.

53% of the Southeast Asia peoples believed the Japanese helped them liberate their countries from the yokes of the White Imperialists. 

47% of them didn’t think so.

The symbol of President Mao

Mao Zedong was born on December 26, 1893 in Shaoshan, Hunan, into in rich farming family.  His mother, a fervent Buddhist follower, was illiterate.  His father was an elementary school student.  His religious faith was poor.  So was his love.  He was harsh with his wife and children.  Mao Zedong opposed his father while loving his mother and siblings including his adoptive younger sister.  Mao was studious but his father wanted his children to work in the rice fields.  His simple dream was that farming made their life better.  In his youth Mao left his family for Changsha where he spent some years in High School.  He graduated from the School of Pedagogy.  Mao wasn’t a collegiate.  He liked reading books and thought a lot of his country under the Qing.  Mao Zedong wasn’t the founder of the Chinese Communist Party.  He knew Marxism after he worked at the Library of the University of Beijing.  It was his boss Li Dazhao, Professor of History and Librarian, who taught him Marxism in 1919.  The Chinese Communist Party was founded in 1921 in the French concession in Shanghai by Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao.  Mao Zedong was among the early adherents of the Chinese Communist Party.  He safeguarded it and became its leader after it was brutally repressed by Chiang Kaishek’s troops in 1927.  The first Nationalist-Communist Alliance ended.  Li Dazhao was executed by the Guomindang.  Mao  didn’t follow the guide line of the Comintern blindly.  He created his own Communism called Maoism centering on the farming class and on using the rural areas to encircle the cities.  90% of the Chinese population were farmers living in the rural areas while 10% of the total population were urban.  Mao succeeded in founding the Soviet Republic of Jiangxi in 1931, launching the Long March (1934-1935), building the second Nationalist-Communist Alliance (1936) to resist the Japanese, intensifying the Communist party’s influence in the masses and in the Guomindang Army, and resuming and winning the Nationalist-Communist civil war (1946-1949).

In the Chinese people’s eyes, Mao Zedong was a thinker, a strategist, a Communist revolutionary, the Father of the People’s Republic of China, the symbol of Chinese strength and honor (fighting the American and UN troops in Korea; invading Tibet; Sino-Indian war; Sino-Soviet war on Damansky Island; nuclear bomb test; artificial satellite; invading the Paracel Islands; dispute of leadership with the Soviet Union).

Mainland China celebrated the 120th anniversary of Mao’s birthday on December 26, 2013.  Two thousand statues of Mao were erected in China.  Some are made of  gold, jade or granite.  In Shaoshan the villagers consider Mao Zedong a God.  They come to the statue of Mao to pray and to ask for good health, good luck, and good future.  In Shenzen a 16 million-dollar gilded jade statue of Mao was erected.  A gold statue was erected in Beijing on the occasion of the 120th anniversary of Great Chairman Mao’s birthday.  In March, 2013 Xi Jinping was President of the People’s Republic of China and Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party.  He revives the Mao’s era with criticism and self-criticism  Facing the danger of rocketing corruption the Chinese people  jump to the conclusion that there was no corruption under Chairman Mao’s leadership!!  Xi Jinping tried to please public opinions by banning the shark fin soup in the banquets and by imprisoning  some corrupted Communist cadres to show that Chinese society is healthy and clean under his leadership while the whole country erected huge and expensive  jade, gold or granite statues of Mao.  In appearance, the 120th anniversary of Mao’s birthday, that of the Father of the People’s Republic of China, would be splendid and solemn.  In reality there was no military parade.  People let off less firework than they did during the Olympic Games in 2008.  In his speech, Xi Jinping showed his cautious respect to Chairman Mao.  He didn’t consider Mao God.  Mao is the symbol of the Chinese Communist Party and of the Chinese people’s pride.  But the blossoming of the People’s Republic of China didn’t come from either Mao’s thoughts and leadership or Marxism-Leninism.  It came from Deng Xiaoping’s white and black cat theory known as Dengxiaopingism.  It was Deng’s flexibility and pragmatism.  During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) Deng was Mao’s victim.  General Secretary of the Party, he was sent to the countryside to be a mechanician.

Mao was responsible for the failure of the Great Lap Forward that caused the death of 40 million Chinese from starvation from 1959 to 1962.  Mao was unsuccessful to implement his ambition of keeping up with  the British industries in 15 years. 

The Cultural Revolution launched by Mao Zedong and his wife Jiang Qing killed 2/3 of Mao’s comrades, who fought side by side with him in the time of the Soviet Republic of Jiangxi, the Long March, the resistance against the Japanese, the Nationalist-Communist Civil War (1946-1949).  Almost Senior officials were humiliated, tortured to death or sent to the countryside for forced labor by the Red Guards.  Some committed suicide.  Bo Xilai and Xi Jinping’s fathers were victims of the Cultural Revolution.  Almost historic and cultural sites were destroyed by the Red Guards.  Ten million people found their death during the Cultural Revolution (torture, starvation, humiliation, suicide etc.).  Liu Shaoqi, President and the People’s Republic of China, Marshal Peng Dehuai, Marshal He Long, Marshal Lin Biao, Vice President and Minister of Defense... found their miserable and humiliating death during the Cultural Revolution.  Lin Biao was very active in the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.  In 1971 his plane was shot down in Mongolia.  He was accused of betraying Chairman Mao!

If Mao Zedong is a good symbol, why did Bo Xilai face trial for, when he was Mayor of Chongqing, songs sung by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution were heard everyday?  The leaders of China thank Chairman Mao for strengthening the Party to help them keep power and to perpetuate it.  But it is difficult for them to return to the Mao’s era for nobody can combine the incompatible elements:  dictatorship-democracy, conservatism-progressivism, prosperity, wealth-poverty, starvation.  Yasukuni and Mao Zedong are two symbols.  Which one is more stable and heavier?  It‘s up to the feelings from the Japanese and Chinese peoples.  The red color appears and disappears from both the symbols.  It’s the color of blood and fire of war.


David Lan Pham, F.A.B.I.


Cái Đình - 2014