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Bias In History

When I saw Dan Brown’s quote “History is always written by winners”, it made me think whether he was correct; is history only written by winners? If so, is there bias in history because it is only written by winners? My real life situation is that Taiwanese history textbooks show bias in the information included and the view of the situation included. Whether information should be included in textbooks, or if both sides of an event should be included can be seen in a well-known event known as the ‘February 28 incident’, which is commonly part of many Chinese textbooks and syllabi.

In the event, thousands of Taiwanese died at the hand of Chinese Nationalist forces. The event happened during 1947-48 when Taiwan was finally freed from Japan’s control and they welcomed the Chinese National forces as their hope, but soon their joy was changed into sorrow and anger when they saw what the troops had done. As soon as the troops had arrived, they started executing people; in particular scholars, lawyers, doctors, students and local leaders who protest to their ruling. In this event, 18,000 to 28,000 were killed, however, the event was not even mentioned in history textbooks.

Only negative effects that were caused by the Japanese ruling were mentioned, whereas the positive effects of the Japanese in Taiwan were never mentioned. This may be due to the fact that the government could put what they’d like for students to learn in the textbooks and omit what they didn’t want students to learn. This shows that though there are two sides to such an event, history can be manipulated so that one side may never be heard. Through the real life situation, I came up with the knowledge question (KQ): “Is all history biased? ”

From the question, there are some words that need to be defined: What is history? History is the study of past events, which means not only the past, but human interaction in the past. For this reason, history has constantly been updated and reviewed, however, history is more than just the assembling of facts of past events; it is an attempt to understand in a critical way, the course and consequence of events. Bias is defined as an inclination or prejudice for, or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair. Some questions from this to consider are: does bias effect history as well?

Is history full of bias? History is biased to a large extent as history is created from the knowledge and evidence of different sources, both primary and secondary, and later analysed and edited as well, thus being modified and changed throughout the process. Therefore, my claim is that to a large extent, history is biased. As Samuel Butler (1835-1902) says, “God cannot alter the past though historians can. ” History can be changed through the different biases of various historians depending on what they assume and publish. History can be changed by what was seen of past events.

To keep record of said events, it was effective to immediately take note of the event, however, history can be easily changed due to the subjective viewpoint of the author. When you’re living through an event it may seem genuinely open and you can’t be sure on how it may eventually turn out, but when looking back on them, it is very hard to avoid the feeling that they’re inevitable and couldn’t have happened in any other way. This can easily link to hindsight bias. An example is that in March 1980, the US president Jimmy Carter sought to rescue seventy Americans who were being held hostage in Iran.

The mission aborted as a sandstorm disabled half of the helicopter that was being used. The Journalist records it as “doomed from the start” but they wrote that after knowing the rescue had failed. Another common bias in history is conformational bias. A bad historian may be tempted to simply search for evidence to support his theory yet a good historian is likely to do the opposite and actively seek facts that goes against his hypothesis. Another important bias that affects history is national bias. Historians view other nations’ version of events with a predetermined perspective that casts a more favoured light upon themselves.

An example that includes both national bias and conformational bias is that even during the same events, such as World War 2, each country had proof that would place the blame on others, while allowing little to no fault to fall upon themselves. My knowledge claim can be seen through the real life situation of the Japanese views and Korean Views on the assassination of Ito Hirobumi by Dr. Ahn for the sake of the Korean nation. The situation was brought up on the news in 2014, when China unveiled a memorial to Korean national Hero Dr. Ahn.

In the news, both countries view on the situation was mentioned. Dr. Ahn is viewed as a hero in Korea, whereas Hirobumi was viewed as a tyrant. Alternatively, through the Japanese perspective, Hirobumi is viewed as a saviour while Dr. Ahn, the person who killed the saviour, is the enemy of the whole country. In this real life situation, bias can clearly be seen when comparing the two’s view on same event. Although at times history can seem completely biased, there still can be evidence provided that history isn’t biased. My counter claim is that to a small extent history is not biased.

An example that history is not bias can be shown in timelines, even though there can be many difference in the view of one historical events, most of the time, the timeline of the historical situations would correspond to each other. This can be seen in the event of Vietnam war, Vietnam – 1962-75 US-1959-75 South Korea- 1964-1973, China-1964-69. Although they all have different view to such event, their recorded timeline are still fairly close to one another. Another example of history is not bias is that, there may be some histories that are more propagandist and emotional, whilst others are accurate and objective, thus it is not biased.

This can be seen when third parties that are not included in historical events recite more objective evidence rather than those involved. A real life situation to support the counter-claim is, for example, looking at a British website about a Chinese event, such as the event when King Ying Zheng became the first emperor. While there are both positive and negative views from Chinese historians, they argue about whether to classify King Yeng Zheng as good or bad, thus their work is subjective. Yet through British sources, the event was stated through a very objective view.

Some Chinese historians describe him as cruel, like previous legends, but the British only view him as the first emperor of China, or the first to build the great wall, and the quick collapse of his empire after his death. In conclusion, history is biased to a large extent. This can be seen in the real life situation, Taiwanese textbooks only showed one side of the event can show that the view’s of the event is subjective, and by doing so, it could also be understand that historians only conformed to one side of the event and not the other.

Another bias that could be included in Taiwanese textbooks is hindsight bias, as Chinese government took over Taiwan, they would change what had really happened during the period when Taiwan is under the colonial of Japanese, they would be written as the winner as they are in charge now, Just like The US president Jimmy Carter’s case, the event could be rewritten after knowing the result. Though I have said history is not bias to a small extent, I bellied that more often then not, history would continuous to be biased due to the subjective nature of the publishing of history.

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