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This essay was originally published at the China Policy Institute Blog at the University of Nottingham on 15 December 2014, under the title ‘Xi Jinping’s Nanking Massacre Commemoration and China’s Anti-Japanese Calendar,’ and is republished here with permission.
2014 has been a banner year for the Chinese Communist Party’s politics of historical commemoration of the War of Resistance against Japan (1937-1945). As the Party has faced a host of internal challenges to its legitimacy from within and around its periphery, Xi Jinping and the CCP have remained steadfast in maintaining public momentum in their ongoing struggle with the Abe government in Tokyo.
Unable to check Abe and his cohort’s perceived moves toward the fringes of historical revisionism, the CCP has responded by doing what it already knows how to do: It has raised the volume of critique and further globalized the ongoing Sino-Japanese history dispute. China has moved to reinforce its own existing state memes about the war with Japan through investment in education, more money being poured into anti-Japanese museums, mandating more quasi-relevant television programs and movies, and the dissemination of history education/propaganda. Beijing has also recognized how receptive the global community is to the narrative of wholesale Chinese victimization at Japanese hands during the Second World War and prior.
The recent establishment of two new national commemorative dates in China intended to criticize Japan reflects the CCP’s doubling down on the wartime victimization discourse. The Chinese People’s Congress decreed on 27 February 2014 that the PRC would henceforth create two new public days of commemoration, falling on 30 September (‘Martyrs’ Day’) and 13 December (‘National Memorial Day for Nanjing Massacre Victims’).
Recent scholarship by Chang-Tai Hung, who has written extensively on nationalism and mobilization culture in both Republican and Communist China, logically told The New York Times that the construction of the new dates on the public calendar was in part an effort by the PRC to maintain the initiative when it comes to dealing with Japan.
Xi Jinping’s appearance at the 13 December memorial event was particularly carefully choreographed, and formed the spine of the entire country’s media narrative for that day. In his speech (full text) at the Memorial Hall for the Victims of the Nanking Massacre, Xi’s language was fittingly emotive and pictorial. He evoked the ‘foul wind and bloody rain [腥风血雨]‘ of the Japanese occupation of the city in 1937-38. While his speech did not dwell excessively on Japanese atrocities, depictions of these were readily supplied by state media. Xi’s tour around the massive Memorial Hall included a look at its grisly photos. Survivor accounts on television did more of the heavy lifting, and a hard-working television crew from Jiangsu TV kept the flame burning all morning.
For listeners concerned with trends in Chinese history writing, Xi’s speech was striking insofar as it marked the full obliteration between any historiographical reticence by the CCP to embrace the Republic of China and its imperatives, at least when it comes to the war with Japan. Xi’s description of the war itself is a case in point:
On 7 July 1937, The Japanese invaders unleashed a full-scale invasion [of China], bringing huge destruction to the Chinese people, burning down Chinese cities and villages, spreading destruction in the four cardinal directions, extinguishing Chinese lives, exacerbating difficulties, bringing hunger and death across thousands of li of Chinese territory.
Xi even decried the fact that one-third of all the architecture in the city was destroyed in the invasion of Nanjing. The fact that Nanjing was the capital of the Republic of China, an entity which prior to the Second United Front had been devoted to the very destruction of the Chinese Communisty Party, is elided over here. The need to imply a United Front with the Kuomintang today means that the historical United Front is no longer of interest to the CCP or as part of war memory.
Xi’s inclusion of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East was hardly surprising, but his endorsement of the work done by Nanjing military court run by Shi Mei’ao from 1946-1949 was quite revealing, insofar as it indicates how PRC legal scholars are absorbing the precedents of the ROC very much as their own. Historical ROC/Guomindang imperatives and policies are being rapidly absorbed by the CCP with respect not just to Tibet, but to the South China Sea territorial issue. The identification of the People’s Republic of China with the Tokyo Trials and Guomindang-led legal initiatives during the Chinese civil war should perhaps not be considered a surprise.
As with so many other aspects of Xi Jinping’s propaganda, there was present in Nanjing on 13 December kind of uncomfortable mixture of modern dictatorship, simplified nods to any given ancient Chinese practice that might be considered useful, and reprising of ideas that would be more at home in China’s Destiny than Quotations from Chairman Mao. The main example here is the large bronze tripod unveiled by Xi at the ceremony, which ‘symbolizes national wealth’ and future prosperity. This was incongruous in the extreme, and an obvious bid to graft the familiar ‘strong nation, wealthy military’ narrative onto the unrelenting pessimism and humiliation narrative that Nanking invariably represents. We are the peaceful ones here seems to be the secondary message. Again, it was a gesture more reminiscent of Chiang Kai-shek (or Li Hongzhang) than Mao Zedong.
Under Xi Jinping, the anti-Japanese commemoration calendar in China is now getting rather full. In addition to the implicit dates of commemoration of anti-Japanese demonstrations (4 May 1919, 9 December 1935), one wonders if the 7 July anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident and full-scale Japanese invasion of China was somehow inadequate to embrace the national humiliation narrative.
This post is my own small commemoration of July 7 in the Chinese context; it is a bit of a centaur in that the first half is rather traditional scholar-style analysis of what we might call “the politics of memory” in the PRC, while the second half is a somewhat quirky story of frustrated Sino-Japanese love on the train tracks of Frankfurt, Germany. The latter story is about one Chinese man’s personal quest for “Wiedergutmachung,” or repairing wrongs from the past. In any event, I hope that one of these halves, if not both, are of interest to readers.
Meta-Narratives of the Sino-Japanese War (War of Resistance) in Beijing
Although it may seem an obvious statement to make, there is a qualitative difference that exists between a state-controlled media and a free press. In China, the existence of the state (interpreted quite naturally now as the endurance of the rule of the Chinese Communist Party and its imperatives) at the helm of print, online, and broadcast media lends a certain uniform quality to the discussion of Japan.
This is particularly true in the early days of any given July. After the weathering what is always a nervous spring, culminating with the discomfort of 4 June, early July is high season for Party commemorations.
The CCP invariably follows its own July 1 birthday with the commemoration of the “July 7 Incident,” otherwise known as the “Marco Polo Bridge Incident” of 1937 which triggered all-out war between China and Japan and led, a little over six months later, to the slaughter at Nanking.
In 1937, the CCP leadership was holed up in remote and dry northern Shanxi province and Mao was carving out essay after essay about such things as guerrilla warfare and protracted war.
Today, the PRC foreign-affairs media apparatus is anything but holed up: it is vast and well-funded, and, if it lacks Mao’s flair for literary originality, it remains more productive than ever, and, although such occasions are rare, can even display flashes of tactical brilliance.
Such brilliance, however, must be uniform and in keeping with the dominant themes laid out for emphasis from “the center.”
And thus the story of China’s immense and detailed relationship with Japan is leveled down into an essential binary emphasizing a highly certain interpretation of the past. (Cracks exist of course, like when a small publishing house gets a scholarly monograph into the bookstores about a prominent intellectual wartime collaborator; exceptions also exist when Chinese state media is asked to promote a warming trend with Japan, even though such trends are invariably temporary.)
Generally speaking, Chinese individuals are useful to this binary narrative only insofar as they highlight the needs of patriotic education.
As depicted in state media, the ideal Chinese citizen should be ever mindful of the atrocities committed by Japanese troops in China before 1945, expectant of an apology from both the Japanese state and individual Japanese, and grateful for the armed resistance of the CCP (and, now, secondarily, because policy with Taiwan allows it) the Guomindang armies.
There are various difficulties with the above situation which other scholars like Takeshi Yoshida, Peter Hayes Gries, Joshua Fogel, and Rana Mitter have already pointed out, but I would like to add one to the list:
State media hampers the emergence of individual voices whose stories are discordant with the “main melody” of Party commemoration, and in so doing, homogenizes the discourse of Sino-Japanese relations to an inordinate degree.
In other words, by controlling the past and orienting us continually toward it in full-on aggrieved patriotic mode in the hopes of strengthening its own legitimacy, the CCP cuts off the possibility of more subtle shifts in the discourse about Japan.
Certainly one could argue that individual voices in China can be heard today, that there are millions of blogs (let a hundred schools of thought contend!), and that individuals with positive things to say about Japan – or with attitudes toward Japanese individuals which are not defined by the political relations and historical strains between the two states – are allowed to emerge.
This is, however, quite a different thing than the views of such an individual gaining entrée into one of the country’s largest and most influential newspapers, such as we find in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 4 July, 2011. I found the following essay to be pleasantly unusual in the cacophonous chorus of voices about Japan which arises continually out of our favorite harmonious society. In any event, I think you will see what I mean.
C. Wang and Christine Holch, “Crazy, But Right: His Judgment of an Intensive Search for a Young Woman Whom He Met on the Train,” chrismon (supplementary magazine to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 4 July 2011) July 2011, p. 54. [Translated from the German by Adam Cathcart.]
I had seen off a friend at the Frankfurt Airport who was on their way back to Peking, and then, going down an escalator to the S-Bahn, I saw her standing in front of me: a young Asian woman with the difficult task of trying to lift two rolling suitcases and a carry-on bag without clipping the floor. Perhaps, I thought, she is in Germany for the first time – as I was once, when I came here from China in order to study in Marburg.
Because the S-Bahn was about to go, I quickly decided to give her some help, and grabbed the biggest suitcase. It weighed about 30 kilo. Yes, she had come straight out of Tokio, and her mom had packed lots of Japanese food for her, she told me as we stood across from one another in the S-Bahn. We talked, and there was a wonderful connection between the two of us. As if we had already known one another for a long time.
She lived in Frankfurt, she said, and even told me the name of the city quarter – but the S-Bahn was so loud that I could not understand. Out of hope, I didn’t ask her again about it. So that she didn’t feel pressured, I put the biggest suitcase between us. Besides that, the political relations between China and Japan are bad, and she wanted to meet a Chinese person more positively.
As we got to the main train station I lugged her suitcase out the door of the car and asked her if I could help her further. “No, thanks, it will work fine,” she said. Perhaps she said that because she was thinking “He has to go on to Marburg; I don’t want to slow him down.” And I thought: “She shouldn’t feel obligated.” We in Asia are always thinking for the other person. [Wir in Asien denken ja immer fuer den anderen.]
So I jumped back into my S-Bahn car, and the doors closed. But the train didn’t go any further. So that the situation didn’t become painful, I looked at the floor. I thought, “Why doesn’t she go away?” I raised my head: she was standing there in front of the door, looking at me and winking. The S-Bahn took off, and she winked and winked. And then it became clear to me: I fell in love with her. If she hadn’t have winked so much, she would have remained a normal person for me.
At the next station I got out and went back in the other direction. She had gone on. I didn’t know who she was, where she lived, or what she was doing in Frankfurt. Also, I hadn’t told her my name, because in East Asia, when you help someone, it is considered appropriate not to tell them your name unless they ask. I didn’t know if she loved me in return. But I know that she found me sympathetic. And hopeful. I would simply be very happy to see her again.
So I set before myself the task of seeking her. [Also fing ich an, sie zu suchen.] Before my exams I went to Frankfurt and hung up small posters in which I asked if anyone knew a young Japanese woman who had arrived in Frankfurt on the twelfth of November from Tokio and who arrived at the main train station on the S8 at 3:30 p.m. Because Germany is capitalist, I took out a small loan to help find her. I hung up a good 1300 notices on signposts, in the universities, in Japanese instutions; I threw notices into mailboxes with Japanese names. And I started a homepage: www.nihonjin.de.
Maybe this made her nervous. But she could write to me from a fake e-mail address! Best of all, with a photo of her big suitcase, so that I could be sure it was her. She could tell me that I had put a notice into the mailbox of her boyfriend. She could also write that she doesn’t want to know me any more. That would be hard, but I would accept it; I don’t want to disturb her in her life. Then I could give up this search. Now I think all the time: she doesn’t know that I am looking for her.
I have regretted not asking her name in the S-Bahn. But what I did after that, I did the right thing: crazy, but right. In spite of that, now I am giving up my search. Also because I am in the middle of my final exams. I have sent up a signal, and now I have to wait, whether she finds it or whether I get no answer at all.
When I love again, I don’t plan to seek my love, certainly not in this way. This is something that a person does only once in his life.
Chinese netizens may be lavishing more attention on the South Korean pop star Rain (who, apparently, seeks nothing less than to abscond with Confucius’ bones to Seoul), but the Sino-Japanese relationship continues apace, with attendant action on the Chinese internet.
1. Transnational Nanking Massacre Research Team Completes Part One
The Sino-Japanese Joint Research Team has concluded the first stage of its work in Tokyo and has issued an interim report. The team has agreed in principle that Japan was indeed engaged in a “war of aggression” and that the Nanking Massacre should be titled as such, and noted as a crime against humanity. Bu Ping, head of modern history at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the preeminent global authority on Japanese chemical weapons use in China, is leading the Chinese delegation. His statement praised the Japanese delegation for their objectivity and the dispassionate nature of the joint discussions.
This is where things get interesting.
Netizen comments on the story are nothing short of livid: Hasn’t it already been established that Japan’s actions in Nanking were illegal and that Japan invaded China in a war that had everything to do with aggressive imperialism and nothing to do with anti-colonial liberation?
Because I know Bu Ping personally (and am fairly in awe of his prodigious, interesting, and genuinely significant work as a scholar), I think this friction is worth thinking upon. Perhaps, as others have noted, the people writing on Huanqiu’s BBS are pure crackpots, knee-jerk nationalists, losers who are pre-programmed to attack Japan and call the Japanese names. Peter Hays Gries has done some great research on “China’s new nationalism,” but I don’t know that he or anyone else has done enough work on nationalism on the Huanqiu (or Qingnian Cankao) BBS to quantify that. In the meantime, besides watching CCTV or reviewing the latest big books (as Danwei.org seems able to do), these boards function as a kind of public square in China. In a country where open debate is sometimes hard to discern on less interactive media like television or newspapers, this action is still worth checking out.
I would add as a final thought here that the netizens aren’t attacking Bu Ping directly, but they don’t appear to be terribly aware of why he’s a credible voice on the issue of Japanese war crimes, which gets to bigger issues of credibility and the internet generally.
After all, how is a distinguished professor supposed to respond to comments like this?:
Researching whatever: Isn’t little Japan still mad with its own greatness? [We] need to occupy Japan, capture the Emperor alive, bomb and destroy Japan, and afterwards, we can write the beautiful history of the 21st century as one where Japan is destroyed and falls! [Rough translation]
How has digital culture impacted images of Japan among Chinese youth, anyway? Isn’t anyone writing a book or a series of articles about gamer culture, BBS culture, the cultures of the Chinese internet cafes and the image of Japan within all three? I’m certainly not there yet, but at the moment it feels like a lacuna exists. I’ll laugh with joy when the KangRi Zhanzheng Yanjiu journal (War of Anti-Japanese Resistance Journal) in Beijing issues such a piece.
2. Online conversations are continuing regarding Japanese war crimes.
This one BBS posting from August 2009, entitled “Japanese War Criminals of the Second World War,” has been picking up response after response, and this thread is now laden with discussion of, and data about, Japanese war crimes in China. It’s one to watch, and the Huanqiu Shibao is subtly keeping it on the agenda through little linklets on its regular discussion boards.
3. Parsing Words: Debating Verbs in the War of Resistance
Were Japanese armies in East Asia engaged in “invasion” or “liberation”? This discussion board takes on the question and assertions by Japanese revisionists.
4. Critiques of Japanese Society as a Means of Promoting Reform in China
This story about sexual harassment of women in Japanese companies is a signal example of how what might be pigeonholed as “anti-Japanese news” is in fact a complex critique of the PRC. Once you get past the surly photos of Japanese males going way over the line of propriety, what you get in this article is a long argument for the power of unions and workers’ association to counter various abuse of white-collar workers.
The principle of self-criticism is still active in China; what is particularly interesting is how news about China’s neighbors triggers that impulse in various ways. Even North Korea prompts introspection!
Let’s just not touch the Cold War’s impact though, shall we?
5. Japanese reports reveal schism re: postwar developments.
Whereas Xinhua is pushing a harmonious line regarding the meetings in Nanjing to readers on the mainland, in fact the joint research discussions reached a very important impasse: According to Mainichi Shimbun, China refuses to get into discussion of the postwar:
Following Thursday’s meeting, University of Tokyo Graduate School professor Shinichi Kitaoka, who headed the Japanese research team, and Bu Ping, director of the Institute of Modern History at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, held a press conference to release the preface of the report.
“It is difficult to take up issues that are directly connected to our times. There is a great difference in views between Japan and China over such issues as the Cold War, the Korean War and the Peace Treaty signed in San Francisco,” Kitaoka said.
Bu agreed: “We need to take it into consideration what effect it would have on the public (to take up those issues).”
As I happen to have a book manuscript and some fresh publications going on anti-Japanese sentiment in the early postwar (1945-1952), I suppose this makes my work potentially, and sadly, significant.
So much of Sartre’s Le Mort dans l’Âme is pessimistic, full of spite for the French army and regime, the very opposite of United Front literature in wartime China. Yet, at the conclusion of part two of the book, the hero of the entire triology, Mathieu, the socialist professor, gets himself a gun.
The resistance thus takes shape, assumes reality: the intellectual has taken up arms.
The apogee, in a tower, firing away at the faceless invaders, he meets his death. In a book full of drnken, careless capitulation, Mathieu salvages the nation and consecrates memory through his violence:
Il s’approacha du papapet et se mit a tirer debout. C’etait une énorme revanche; chaque coup de feu le vengeait d’un ancien scruple. Un coup sur Lola que je n’ai pas osé voler, un coup sur Marcelle que j’aurais dû plaquer, un coup sur Odette que je n’ai pas voulu baiser. Celui-ci pour les livres que je n’ai pas osé écrire, celui-là pour les voyages que je me suis refusés, et autre sur tous les types, en bloc; que j’avais envie de détester et que j’ai essayé de comprendre.
One of the issues with which I am grappling as a scholar concerns the idea of a defeated country in war, and the tenacity of psychologies of resistance and defeat (the myth, perhaps, of the first, and the deniability of the second).
For instance, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) today promotes an interpretation of the War of Resistance (1937-1945), essentially the Chinese theater of the Second World War, as an unequivocal victory. But evidence from the early postwar period cries out for a different interpretation, quite naturally.
On the other side of myths of resistance are realities of collaboration. Among the most stunning examples in Europe was recently called forth by the bilingual wordsmith Jonathan Littell’s adroit, virtuosic, and altogether disturbing analysis of Léon Degrelle, the Belgian Rexist-turned-SS officer-invader-of-Russia, Le Sec et l’Humide)….
I anticipate having some more updates to the Degrelle thread via posts in the coming months, because it is a worthy subject for aspiring comparativists of collaboration such as myself.
Somewhere in between these poles lies the experiences of millions and the key to understanding psychologies of victory and defeat, if they can be understood at all.
This morning, dry and sparse, I finished reading the final installment in Sartre’s trilogy, Le Chemins de la Liberté III: La Mort dans l’Âme [Ways of Freedom III: Death through the Heart ].
Fortunately for the curious, a great deal of internet-based analysis of this trilogy and its characters and ideology already exists. Isabelle Grell’s work analyzes Sartre’s construction of women in the trilogy, a task, she adds, which is significant because Sartre “carried around these characters for fourteen years.” (Grell’s monograph on the trilogy appears to be rich and authoritative; she also appears to have a German Facebook page whereby one can chat with her about it.) Benedicte O’Donohoe reminds us that Sartre, while writing the work and being associated with free-wheeling avant-gardism, was in fact living with his mother and being heavily influenced by the creative advice of Simone de Beauvoir.
From this point in the post forward, I think I will just attempt to blast through my various thoughts regarding the text, hoping that at a later date I might order things up better or, more to the point, incorporate more of the French original prose. (Somehow I neglected to even conceive of this notion — that in reading English, one was reading through a screen — when I first read La Nausee in my nineteenth year of life in the still-formidable Philosophy Department at St. Olaf College.) But no matter, advance!
After an opening chapter set in a bar in New York City, where the forthcoming German occupation of France is being lamented, Sartre places the reader on Sunday, June 16 in the French countryside. Immediately the notion of personal responsibility for the impending French defeat is raised as a leitmotif:
“Where are we? Lying in the grass. Eight city slickers in the country, eight civilians in uniform, rolled up in pairs in army blankets, lying on a spread of canvas in the middle of a vegetable garden. We’ve lost the war; they gave it to us to do something with it and we’ve lost it. It had slipped through their fingers and got itself lost somewhere up north with a great crash.” [p. 42]
Like Chinese intellectuals in the 1930s, it seems that someone else will be doing the fighting; that all the patriotic slogans and impassioned essays, and yes, even the donning of a uniform does not lead one to actually fight. For the battles are elsewhere in the lost and immense north.
Mathieu, the primary protagonist, opens his eyes with revelations that are both liberatingly optimistic and crushingly mordant:
“Another morning was slowly gathering like a drop of light, which would fall on the earth and drench it with gold. The Germans are in Paris and we have lost the war. Another morning, another beginning. The world’s first morning, like every other morning; everything waiting to be done, all the future in the sky. He freed on hand from the blankets and scratched his ear: the future didn’t concern him, that was for others to bother about.” [p. 43]
Mathieu notes that he has no future, but then turns to the realization that time was still passing, and that he had no purpose more specifically: “Years and years still to be lived; years to be killed.” Killing time, truly! [p. 43]
Sartre writes persuasively and persistently about war’s effect on otherwise unnoticed societal concepts such as time and work, the sinews of daily life. When one is turned away from one’s work, when one is simply waiting for the Germans to arrive so that the trains will run again, foreign rule is not seen as an imposition only. The bureaucratic needs of a society, of individuals, will brook only so much by way of delay. Though he does not note such explicitly, this state of affairs clearly favors the occupiers.
“They had lost the war much as a man loses an hour — without noticing it.” [p. 44]
Mathieu, smarting at the pain of shaving with an old blade, imagines the glorious beard he will grow once he becomes a prisoner [p. 49], and he then again recognizes the beauty of nature: “His heart was in leage with the dawn, the dew, the shadows. Deep within him was a feeling as of a feast day…a table spread on the lawn, the warm droning of sugar-drunk wasps.” [pp. 49-50]
Hostility toward regular soldiers of any nationality comes up several times in the text. The first appears to be from the mouth of an old man, who states “Funny sort of war…It’s the civilians who get killed, and the soldiers who get off free.” [p. 50]. What an anthem! The old man turns out to be an Alsatian (Sartre’s live-in maid at the time was also from Alsace, recall), and he becomes a bit indignant when the younger French imply that Germans, given their common humanity, would certainly not “chopping off the hands of kids.” “He’s filling us up with propaganda from the other war!” chortles Schwartz in response. [p. 51] This is a sentence that I particularly enjoy; it reveals the desire of the relatively young to break from the old wars and imagine that things will be different, while the repetition of propaganda themes from previous conflicts comes all too easily back among others.
“It’s damn funny,” thought Mathieu…He gazed into nothingness and thought: “I’m a Frenchman,” and he found that damn funny, for the first time in his life. “It’s damn funny. We have never really seen France; we have only been in it. France was the air we breathed, the lure of the earth, elbow room, seeing the kind of things we see, feeling so certain that the world was created fro man; it was always so natural to be French, it was the simplest, most economical way in the world to feel oneself universal. No explanations were required; it was for the others, the Germans, the English, the Belgians, to explain by what misfortune or fault none of them was quite human.
And now France is lying on her back, and we can take a good look at her, we can see her like a large broken-down piece of machinery, and we think: That is it — it was an accident of geography, an accident of history. We are still French, but it no longer seems natural. It needed no more than an accident to make us realize that we were merely accidental.
Schwartz thinks that he is accidental, he no longer understands himself, he finds himself embarrassing. He thinks: ‘How can a man be French?’ He thinks: ‘With a little luck I might have been born a German.’ And then his face takes on a hard look and he sits listening to the onward surge of his adoptive country; he is waiting for the glittering armies that will celebrate his change of heart; he sits waiting for the moment when he may trade our defeat for their victory, when it will seem natural to him to be victorious and German.” [pp. 53-54; bold fonts and paragraph breaks inserted by A.C.]