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MIT shuts controversial website

Chinese students rap war image

MIT pulled down a course website yesterday and apologized to members of the Chinese community after some students complained about a picture of Chinese prisoners being lined up by Japanese soldiers to be beheaded.

The image from the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, posted on a website for a course called ''Visualizing Cultures," was intended as an example of how the Japanese used propaganda to advance political agendas, school officials said.

But students and other critics said that the explanation was not displayed prominently enough.

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 woodprints 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."

In a statement released yesterday, the university officials said they ''deeply regret that a section of this website has caused distress and pain to members of the Chinese community."

At the same time, however, university officials also said that the course's instructors -- professor John Dower, a Pulitzer Prize-winning member of the history faculty, and professor Shigeru Miyagawa of linguistics and of foreign languages and literatures -- ''have MIT's strongest support."

'' 'Visualizing Cultures' is an important and pioneering undertaking by two esteemed members of our faculty," the statement said.

MIT officials said that 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 undergraduate course is being taught this semester. Complaints began after MIT spotlighted the course on its ''Opencourseware" website, which posts course materials as a free resource.

Dower and Miyagawa, a naturalized US citizen born in Japan, are tenured professors. Dower won the nonfiction Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for his book ''Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II."

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