In China, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender from the Second World War will bring public holidays and a military parade that will shut down the city’s airport, one of the busiest on earth.
In North Korea, people will wake up to a new time zone.
The 70th anniversary of the end of fighting has prompted an outpouring of global remembrance – but nowhere are the plans more outsized than in Asia.
The creation of “Pyongyang Time” by North Korea, which will involve setting back clocks half an hour on Aug. 15, ranks among the most bizarre efforts to rekindle public anger against the horrors of what state media called “the brigandish Japanese imperialists.”
North Korea said it was a step toward reversing one of the last of Japan’s indignities, which in the 1940s included expunging the Korean language from schools as a way to extinguish the national identity.
“The wicked Japanese imperialists committed such unpardonable crimes as depriving Korea of even its standard time while mercilessly trampling down its land,” the Korean Central News Agency wrote on Friday.
Other nations are staging their own elaborate remembrances.
China’s anniversary schedule includes delaying the start of school nationally, inaugurating new national holidays and hosting vast numbers of commemorative events, most notably a Beijing military parade.
In South Korea, the government has planned dozens of events, including joint soccer matches with the North and cultural heritage exhibitions. It will also begin restoration of a historic rail line to North Korea.
Taiwan has planned its own military display, as well as a permanent exhibition to memorialize Taiwanese women used as sex slaves by the Japanese army.
Some of the efforts smack of governments using history to bolster their political standing. China, for example, “needs to incite nationalism and patriotism to bring people closer to the government” to counteract public displeasure, said Zhang Lifan, a Chinese historian and frequent critic of the Communist Party. “It’s a question of political need.”
North Korea has similar reasons – and there is no denying the symbolic power of time, which has often been linked with foreign occupation and national independence.
In Europe, as the Nazi regime spread, both Portugal and Spain switched to German time, the latter as a gesture to Hitler by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. After the war, Portugal switched back but Spain remained – an oddity that legislators there have recently sought to overturn, arguing Spain is losing out on productivity by being on the geographically wrong time.
Following its annexation by Russia, Crimea last year moved its clocks two hours to Moscow time. Samoa under U.S. influence long ago sets its clocks closer to California – but in 2011, to better align itself with Pacific nations, jumped across the dateline toward Australia and China, losing an entire day in the process.
Time under Japanese occupation followed a similar pattern. Tokyo imposed its own time on Malaysia, Taiwan and Singapore, as well as the Korean peninsula. After the Second World War, each country reverted to more longitude-appropriate time, although the Koreas eventually moved back to the Japanese clock.
The natural time zone for Pyongyang and Seoul was set during imperial times, at a half-hour distance from both Tokyo and Beijing – a kind of temporal place in the middle that matches the peninsula’s spot on the map.
It’s that time North Korea is returning to.
South Korean officials pointed to potential problems, including at jointly-run industrial zones.
“In the longer term, there may be some fallout for efforts to unify standards and reduce differences between the two sides,” Unification Ministry official Jeong Joon-Hee said.
But for Pyongyang, the propaganda value is obvious.
“It’s a way of saying, ‘we’re the true Koreans,’” said Simon Cockerell, the general manager for Koryo Tours, which brings travellers to North Korea – even if it is likely to be soon forgotten inside the country’s borders.
“The average North Korean never leaves the country, so it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference,” he said.
- With reporting by Yu Mei
Editor's Note: The original newspaper and an earlier digital version of this story incorrectly referred to "latitude-appropriate time" rather than "longitude-appropriate time." This digital version has been corrected.Report Typo/Error