Some of us had hopes for a broader improvement in Sino-Japanese relations with the arrival of the Hatoyama government and the recession of the LDP into minority status. After all, when you have a new political party that isn’t barnacled by the historical stigma of Sugamo-scented folks like Kishi Nobusuke and Shigemitsu Mamoru, it’s easier to talk about apologizing and looking forward. And hopes can thus legitimately be raised that the Sino-Japanese relationship can hone in on serious contemporary problems such as global warming and the need for economic community in East Asia.
Ah, fantasy! While the governments go about their business, the Chinese internet and media is taking hardly any time at all to whittle away at whatever goodwill the Hatoyama government managed to engender with its (in the Chinese context) ill-timed electoral victory in late September. (I say ill-timed because the Chinese media was so obsessively focused on the October 1 anniversary preparations that the various conciliatory things said by Hatoyama and his pro-China stance was easily drowned out by the fireworks.) Obviously troubles with the deep structure of Sino-Japanese relations on the people-to-people basis are going to remain prevalent in China.
An image of a dog having been hit in traffic in China sparked off a major debate among China’s netizens and much criticism of Japan for it having been presented on the Japanese internet as proof of China’s heartlessness.
Believe it or not, this was the lead story today on the “international” section of the Huanqiu Shibao‘s website. And a wonderful FOX-News style push poll heads the story: “Should we accept the criticism of the Japanese internet users?” Gee, what patriotic person couldn’t but resolutely press “No!” while snuffing out that cigarette, slumped over in a modern day opium den (excuse me, 网吧) in a dazzling Chinese city like Luoyang?
As a retort, the Chinese netizens did some research on Japanese slaughter of dolphins. A host of blood-red photos like this one and some very vituperative statements about Japan’s heartlessness are on this Huanqiu BBS.
Fortunately by way of relief we have some mild admiration by Huanqiu Shibao for the upcoming showing of a Nanking Massacre documentary next month in Tokyo.
Huanqiu’s special correspondent in Japan, Sun Xiuping (孙秀萍） reports that the film, entitled “Nanjing: Fractured Memory 《南京———被割裂的记忆》,” was co-produced in Osaka and includes Chinese civilian and Japanese soldier experiences, both victims and victimizers. One of the Japanese producers, about age 30, describes how his grandfather was a Japanese soldier who had never talked about the war until just before his death. Of course, we learn that the production was itself beset by “harassment by Japanese right-wing groups during filming” (在拍摄期间受到了日本右翼的骚扰).
But get into the comments on this and other Japan-related stories and it is something else altogether —
The first commenter on the film report sets the tone:
Or, “Let us work together to become strong, and twenty years from now we can go to make a Tokyo Massacre. Thank you.”
Responding to a slightly different story, one very active netizen who depicts himself with this icon and posts a ton about Japan stated his immoderate view:
Or, “All Japanese people are insane with fascism! The time is not distant when these two characters for ‘Japan’ will be wiped off the world map!”
In a different BBS, the same user further shows off his nationalistic colors with a boot-licking sycophantic praise of fomer PRC Premier Zhu Rongji for having scolded the Japanese back in the year 2000. What a great leader! he shouts, oblivious to the deep reserves of hatred felt toward Zhu by scores of 50-something industrial workers in the northeast laid off in the late 1990s by Zhu’s economic reforms and the shedding of SOEs (state-owned industries). But, the poster argues, Zhu’s greatness is obvious, as he brought down the price of a can of Coca-Cola on the mainland.
And the poster gets backed up by people whose avatars look like this, advocating that China remain vigilant about Japan’s desire to retake Diaoyu Island:
It is enthusiasts like this fellow who on Huanqiu’s BBS posted more than 800 entries of research on Japanese war criminals this past August.
In a big story that has not yet made it into the Anglophone press, the mayor of Nagoya, the sister city of Nanking, made statements questioning the number of people killed in the Nanking Massacre, reported here in Chinese. China insists on 300,000, but the mayor, it appears, has a hard time accepting even 30,000 as a viable figure. In fact, he appears to believe that Americans basically fabricated the Nanking Massacre as a pretext for justifying the atomic bombings of Japan.
This is a fairly explosive story! But all that I can find on it in English thus far is an account of a corroborating dinner conversation between the mayor and an Italian NGO head in Japan last month:
Yesterday night we had dinner with the mayor of Nagoya. He’s a brilliant, funny, smart guy; truly a reformer with humour. We had a gorgeous dinner in a smart restaurant and sat down a tatami drinking hot sake. Everything looked perfect until we started talking about the Second World War. Naturally I initiated the argument that while everybody has seen the pics of the bombings in Germany, I’ve never seen anything about Japan except for the nuclear bombs launched in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
When you travel across the country you realize that not much has been left of historical Japan. Even the castles on the top of the mountains have been torn down. This is strange for such a society that is so respectful of the past and traditions. The country must have been heavily bombed. The Americans wanted to humiliate the people by destroying their tradition. This is plausible.
The problem came when we started talking about the evil Americans who made the Japanese look violent and wild by inventing stories such as the Nanking massacre (also known as the Nanjing Massacre). It was explained to me that many Japanese people argue that the event was not true but produced for American propaganda to justify the atomic bombs.
At that point I felt the cultural distance and didn’t know what to replicate. I must confess I don’t know much about Nanking but I compared the accusations with the denial of the German concentration camps. It might be wrong but that was the feeling. Fortunately, Stephen diverted the discussion on to the food. Wise Brit! [Some video of the mayor on Japanese TV is available here.]
On the Nanking front, we have a debate between Huanqiu and what it describes as the “right-wing Japanese newspaper” 《产经新闻》 about its December 2008 front-page photo attempting to debunk the Japanese bombing of Shanghai in 1937. And more intriguing, there is this story about a South Korean scholar who debates with Chinese netizens about Korean participation in the Nanking Massacre. No comments are allowed by Xinhua on the latter story!
Fortunately, a patriotic overseas Chinese in the US, Lu Zhaoning (鲁照宁) has made available 70 unique photos of the Sino-Japanese war and the Nanking massacre. War memory and pan-Chinese sentiment like this can be seen in a longer documentary from 1995 by Nanking television reporters on YouTube. This is very significant stuff, as is the film “In the Name of the Emperor,” available here in Japanese subtitles.
And now we have some gloating that American masses are demanding that Japan apologize for the Nanking massacre as a condition of being considered a viable country for future Olympic Games. Wouldn’t it have been nice if China had been forced to implement a big unit on Cultural Revolution history in all of its high schools as a condition of hosting the 2008 Olympic Games? Or would that make everyone want to barf? Of course, killing your own professors is, we can all agree, an “internal affair” which is rather inevitable, and cyclical, and thus should and cannot stir the indignation of the Chinese people.
Facing history? Or just ramming down into the same old ruts? Something to keep an eye on. What if Japan genuinely changed? What if everyone bowed deeply, acknowledged China as the center of the world, and got on with their postwar lives? Would Chinese netizens be capable of noticing?