War Memory vs. Hello Kitty: New Nanking Scholarship and Japanese SDF Calendar Girls (Updated)

Consider the following: Western scholars and pundits who accuse the Chinese Communist Party of constantly promoting anti-Japanese nationalism might actually be wrong.

If in fact China is capable of changing rapidly its political stance toward Japan, “the history issue” may not overly cloud Beijing’s vision at every turn.  Having encouraged popular anti-Japanese nationalism, the CCP may be able to reel it back in when necessary, as today, when a willing Japanese partner government exists.   It’s at least worth considering, particularly for authors like myself who deal with these issues in the print world.  For many authors, the coin of the realm is the assumption that China has always hated, and will always hate, Japan, and that the CCP is a politically insecure force for whom anti-Japanese nationalism is an irresistible implement.  Certainly that assumption helps to sell books.

A good recent example I’m slowing working my through is Michaël Parzan’s Le massacre de Nankin 1937: Entre mémoire, oubli et négation [The Nanking Massacre 1937: Between Memory, Forgetting, and Negation] (Lonrai: Denoël, 2007).

Prologue: [pp. 19-21, translated by Adam Cathcart]

On the 15th of August 2006, on a pale morning and under a beating rain, the Prime Minister of Japan Jinichiro Koizumi, wearing the clothes of official habit — a night-blue vest under a tail coat over grey pants — proceeded to a Shinto shrine and donned a ceremonial kimono, moving through the galleries which ringed the Shinto sanctuary.  Established in 1868 under the reign of Emperor Mutsuhito, during the Meiji Restoration which itself inaugurated the archipelago’s prodigious economic development but also the will to power which rapidly became debouched into a brutal colonial policy, the Yasukuni Shrine is situated in the heart of Tokyo, not far from the verdant park which lines the imperial palace.  Escourted by a cohort of bodyguards clad in black costume, Koizumi, before entering the temple, placed his two hands together in a sign of meditation before bowing his head forward many times.  Since the beginning of his mandate until the previous month, this was the sixth time that the Japanese Prime Minister prayed at the temple holding the “souls” of more than 2,400,000 Japanese who had died for their country between 1868 and 1945.  The resulting conflict with China and South Korea seemed ultimately directed (by Koizumi, having stirred it up) at radicalizing the extreme right.  Actually, the 15th of August marked the 61st anniverary of the Japanese surrender.  And, among the venerated “souls” of soldiers in the Yasukuni sanctuary, figured 14 war criminals, the “Class A”s condemned to death in 1945 [sic – it’s 1948] at the Tokyo Tribunal — the Asian equivilent to the Nuremberg trial.  Among them, the Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, responsible for the war of aggression whose intrigues swept through Asia, Japan’s colonies aligned with the Axis, and, along with him, General Iwane Matsui, executed in 1948 for his responsibility in the Nanking Massacre which in the course of six weeks at the end of 1937 created between 200,000 and 300,000 victims among the city’s population.

This visit of the Japanese Prime Minister to Yasukuni Shrine, symbol of miltarism and Japanese expansionism, provoked a violent reaction of indignation through all of Asia, and paricularly in China which recalls the war of invation and the Nanking Massacre as an open wound, which cannot be solved with financial compensation.  Worse still: through several generations, the general tendency in Japan is to neglect or minimize the crimes of the imperial army, the greatest of which were the terrible damages inflicted on China during the sack of Nanking, the old capital.

For its part, Beijing does not lose an opportunity to fan nationalistic anti-Japanese sentiments among its population, encouraging demonstrations which do not lack for for provocations of Japan.  With cries of “Death to Japan!” “Riben guizi! [Japanese devils]!”, more than dozens of thousands of Chinese descended on the streets of Beijing to denounce their island neighbor [conspuer le voisin insulaire] and beat their flags in front of the television cameras.

In the city commemorating the surrender, on 14 August 2006, Koisumi prefaced his visit to Yasukuni shrine with a  declaration which justified his pilgrimage as “done to show respect and to to recognize those, and their families, who have offered their lives for our nation.”  Afterwords, he said “At the same time, if Bush asked me not to go, I would still do the same.”  In the revisionist overstatement which responds to one nationalism by reviving another, the issue of memory cannot be avoided in addressing the conflict.  What really happened in Nanking, the Guomindang capital, over the course of winter, 1937?

CCP Softening Views of Japanese Militarism

Today the Huanqiu Shibao’s front webpage carries a highly interesting photo gallery of women of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF).  So we get images like this:

This image was featured on the Huanqiu's front page

The rest of the gallery is available here.

Naturally readers left behind several pages of comments which are sometimes predictable, other times bizarre.  In other words, the photos brought out a somewhat confusing mish-mash of internet nationalism.  The original reader comments are pretty comical, but the phrase “if all Japanese were female soldiers like this, it would be fine” seemed to be the most original.

SDF cuteness, naturally, coexists with more immense and lasting themes in the Chinese press and consciousness, respectively.  The Huanqiu’s big Japan news page carries as a lead article 中日就南京大屠杀牺牲人数起争执 推迟研究报告, which describes how a joint Sino-Japanese research team is convening today (Dec. 24) in Nanjing for the purpose of producing a common report on casualties/martyrs from the 1937-38 massacre.   The report is scheduled for publication this coming January.  With things this sensitive going on, perhaps the calendar girls are serving their intended purpose for both sides.


On December 26, Huanqiu carries a new gallery of “Japanese black society Yakuza women with tattoos,” a

via Huanqiu Shibao

nother of the continuing string of Japan-related postings on Huanqiu which oscillate on that fine line between informed critique, stereotype fuel, and idiotic fascination. As one commentator remarked with either sublime irony or total naivite, “So Japan still has underground societies; isn’t it great that none of these exist in China?”  It seems clear in any case that Zhongyang / the Central Committee is pushing for a more wide-ranging discussion among China’s youth about Japan.


  1. Re: underground societies:

    Which underground societies still function in mainland China? I was under the impression that the CPC is pretty obsessive on maintaining their monopoly on violence. At least, if nothing else, it seems as though Chinese gangsters have low visibility, which is probably the trait that distinguishes them from the Yakuza.

  2. Those are actually gravure idols, not in the JSDF. Google they’re names…Yumi Sugimoto and Kana Tsugihara at least.

  3. ouch, sorry, it’s “their” not “they’re” of course. One of those mistakes i always criticize other people for 😉

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