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Comic book of extreme views a bestseller

By Kwan Weng Kin, The Straits Times, 2 March 2001

The Japanese edition of controversial comic book Taiwan Discourse has sold 240,000 copies since it first appeared in bookstores last October

TOKYO - Japanese troops liberated South-east Asia from white colonial powers in World War II, the Nanjing massacre never took place, and the Japanese civilisation is the oldest and best in the world.

Such outrageous themes flow readily from the pen of popular but highly controversial comic-book author Yoshinori Kobayashi.

His book Taiwan Discourse, whose denial of comfort women among other things has angered Taiwanese women's groups, academics and lawmakers, is but the latest in a series of best-selling comic books by the author that not only seek to entertain but also unabashedly sell his often right-leaning views.

Since it first appeared in bookstores here last October, the Japanese edition of Taiwan Discourse has sold 240,000 copies, easily making the top 10 bestsellers' list.

Half the book comes from previously published material.

That includes chapters describing in enormous detail Mr Kobayashi's interviews with former Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui and President Chen Shui-bian.

The second half contains a sympathetic account of Taiwan's history, particularly Japan's colonial rule of the island in the first half of the 20th century.

Although the book reportedly has the support of pro-Japan and pro- independence quarters in Taiwan, critics there have blasted it as being 'subjective and contrary to historical facts in many places'.

The Chinese edition of the book was released last month in Taiwan.

In the book, Mr Shi Wen-lung, an adviser to President Chen, tells Mr Kobayashi that some Taiwanese comfort women were not forced to become sexual slaves for the Japanese military.

Instead, he blamed families living in abject poverty at the time for selling off their teenage daughters, and even suggested that many of the girls volunteered to become comfort women.

'As comfort women, they had a proper income and could save. Moreover, they had regular health checks, so they cannot complain.

'And unlike at ordinary brothels, Japanese soldiers used condoms,' Mr Shi was quoted as saying.

Beyond skimpy reports of the furore that the comic book has caused in Taiwan, the Japanese press has so far refrained from discussing its contents.

Experts here point out that the factual accuracy of comic books has rarely been an issue in Japan.

But they added that the danger with Mr Kobaya- shi's books, including Taiwan Discourse, is that his fans - most of them young and often gullible - may not be able to sift fact from fiction.

Taiwan Discourse also takes a strong stance in support of independence for Taiwan and not so subtly denigrates China while at the same time painting the island in the most glowing colours.