Ahn Jung-geun‘s 1909 assassination of Japanese colonial official Hirobumi Ito made him a lasting icon in the history of Korean resistance to Japan, as well as a hero to many. Ito, a four-time Prime Minister of Japan, was serving as the first resident-governor of Korea when he was killed at a train station in Harbin in northeast China. Harbin is also the focal point of a fiery diplomatic fight over Ahn’s legacy, where China and South Korea have collaborated on the construction a memorial to Ahn.The collaboration and memorial have drawn a harsh rebuke from Japan, which considers Ahn a “terrorist” and the memorial “not conducive to building peace and stability.” China and South Korea, however, view Ahn a little differently, as the BBC reports:
China said that Ahn was a “famous anti-Japanese high-minded person” and South Korea’s foreign ministry said Ahn was a “widely respected figure”, describing the assassination as a “courageous act”…South Korea’s foreign ministry said it hoped the museum would “set the path for genuine peace and co-operation based on correct historical awareness”.
The Ahn memorial joins Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine in the spotlight of the ongoing fight between China, South Korea, and Japan over East Asian history. These monuments help the region’s leaders boost their nationalist credentials and, broadly, national pride. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, for example, frequently argues that Japanese citizens should express pride in their history rather than apologizing for past sins to appease neighboring countries. In China and South Korea, nationalism frequently has an anti-Japanese tint.Wether it’s in competing interpretations of history or in military expansion, East Asia’s three most important and powerful countries just aren’t on the same page. To make matters worse, reports are emerging the Abe’s party has quietly removed the “pledge never to wage war again” from its charter and added a new phrase to “bolster veneration (for the war dead).” Already China and South Korea have condemned the change.