The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has taken down a history course Web page after a 19th century wood-print image of Japanese soldiers beheading Chinese prisoners sparked complaints from Chinese students and led to an apology from one of the course's professors.
The “Visualizing Cultures” course, which uses images from the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, was spotlighted Sunday on MIT's home page.
It was pulled late Tuesday afternoon, and the school hosted a forum Wednesday for students, particularly those in MIT’s Chinese community, to voice concerns.
The course was created by Pulitzer Prize-winning history professor John Dower and linguistics professor Shigeru Miyagawa, who posted an apology on his Web page.
“I deeply regret that some of the images on the Visualizing Cultures website have offended you,” Miyagawa said in a statement that was read at the forum. “This was never my intention. I am genuinely sorry that this has caused you pain.”
Calls to the offices of Miyagawa and Dower were redirected to the MIT president’s office.
No disciplinary action is planned, MIT spokeswoman Pam Dumas said.
“They have MIT’s strongest support,” she said. “The use of the images as part of the course is not an endorsement of the events. This is a scholarly course. It's the free exploration of ideas.”
Site pulled temporarily
Dumas said the site was pulled only temporarily, and that the professors and the Chinese community at MIT are discussing ways to add more context to the images.
The image that angered students depicts Japanese soldiers lining up Chinese prisoners to be beheaded. It is an example of how the Japanese used propaganda to advance political agendas, but critics said that explanation was buried in an accompanying text.
The MIT Chinese Student and Scholar Association, in a letter to MIT President Susan Hockfield, called for “proper historical context” at the top of the page, and asked for a posted warning that the images are graphic and racist.
“We do understand the historical significance of these wood prints, and respect the authors’ academic freedom to pursue this study,” the letter stated. “However, we are appalled at the lack of accessible explanations and the proper historical context that ought to accompany these images.”
Phrases in the beheading image deride the Chinese people, the student group letter said. Japan won the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, which was a battle against China over control of Korea.
The undergraduate course is being taught this semester. There are 20 students. The images have been posted for six months, Dumas said. Complaints began after MIT spotlighted the course on its “opencourseware” Web site, which posts course materials as a free resource for anyone online.
Dower and Miyagawa, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Japan, are tenured professors, Dumas said. Dower won the nonfiction Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for his book “Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II.”