The Japanese occupation of China in the 1930s and 1940s is still such a live issue in Chinese politics because of the length and brutality of the occupation.
The worst single incident was the “rape of Nanjing” which took place in 1937.
At least 300,000 people were killed when the Japanese army captured this city, tens of thousands of them soldiers who had surrendered. Civilians were massacred in particularly vicious ways, such as burning them alive.
But there were thousands of smaller similar atrocities — every man in a village killed, every woman raped.
And the Japanese airforce targeted civilians deliberately in a way that wasn’t seen in Europe until the bombing of Guernica.
Germ warfare was used across wide areas of northern China, and one Japanese campaign was called the “three alls” — kill all, burn all and destroy all. Over 30 million people died because of the war and the famines it created.
The Japanese occupation of China began in 1930 when its forces invaded the north east, and spread gradually across the north and along the southern coast.
The nationalist government failed to defend people against the invasion, or to organise any real fightback. It was the Chinese Communist Party which did most to resist, and in the process built an army which was able to take power in 1949.
That’s why Japanese schoolbooks playing down the “rape of Nanjing” can spark such violent protests.
For the Chinese government today anti-Japanese nationalism is a useful safety valve — but the anger unleashed can easily turn against it.