Explained: Anti-Japanese sentiment in China

Anti-Japanese sentiment is not a new phenomenon in China. The recent assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has highlighted the persistence of anti-Japanese sentiment in China.

As world leaders expressed shock and regret at the former prime minister’s assassination, Chinese social media users expressed joy and celebrated Abe’s death.

Some restaurants in China offered discounts to mark the “happy” occasion. Others celebrated the attacker as a “hero”. Some visitors to Chinese pubs have dressed up as assassins.

A Chinese reporter who reported the assassination from Japan was humiliated and castigated for shedding tears.

The roots of anti-Japanese sentiment can be traced back to the Japanese invasion of China. For centuries, the Chinese have considered themselves the “Middle Empire”. Japan adopted Buddhism, the script in which Japanese is written today, and many other Chinese cultural practices.

For the Chinese, Japanese culture has always been an endorsement of “superior” Chinese culture. Japan’s invasion of China was humiliating and horrifying. After the invasion, most Chinese people wondered, “How can this small island below us invade us?”

Successive generations of Chinese policy makers have capitalized on this national trauma and humiliation to forge a new contemporary Chinese identity, with the shared experience of trauma uniting the Chinese.

Students in Chinese schools to this day must relive the horror of the rape of Nanjing at the hands of Japanese imperialists. The reluctance of contemporary Japanese politicians such as Shinzo Abe to acknowledge war crimes further fuels anti-Japanese sentiment. China is not alone.

The reluctance of Japanese politicians to acknowledge the existence of comfort women during the Japanese occupation of Korea is even to this day a major source of resentment against Japan in South Korea. The comfort women were Korean women taken as sex slaves by the Japanese occupying forces.

While the callous comments in China after the assassination of Shinzo Abe seem petulant and uncivilized to most countries in the world, Japanese politicians’ refusal to acknowledge war crimes seems immoral to the Chinese. And unlike most societies that suffered from European colonialism, where the time of suffering is perceived as something that happened in the distant past, in China, due to “patriotic education”, the time of suffering seems very recent.

“In the minds of those who celebrated his death, Abe was not a human being who was tragically killed, but a symbol of remorseless Japanese imperialism,” said Yaqiu Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch. FT.

“Official propaganda instilled hatred of Japan for its crimes in World War II, and the image of Japan as an enemy became firmly entrenched in most people’s minds, despite the large amount of aid and investment that Japan has provided to China since the beginning of [China’s] reform period,” says Henry Gao, a China specialist at Singapore Management University.

The relationship between China and Japan is far from simple. A few years ago, when anti-Japanese protests on the Senkaku Islands gripped China, Japanese anime remained popular in China.

Japanese cartoons remain extremely popular in China. It’s not uncommon for Chinese students to read about Japanese atrocities in China and then go home to watch Pokemon over lunch.

During the anti-Japanese protest on Senkaku, many Chinese demanded a boycott of Japanese brands. Some, however, continued to visit Japanese clothing brands to shop for last season’s collection, stomping on a Japanese flag as they entered the store.

If you visit Tokyo, you will notice that the most common language on the streets after Japanese is Mandarin. Thanks to the geographical proximity, middle-class Chinese tourists love to visit Japan. The sight of young Chinese people sipping green tea from their water bottle while visiting Japanese tourist sites is quite common.

What is also common is that these same Chinese tourists see Japan as an “attack dog” of Americans. The proverbial 51st state of the United States, with no backbone of its own, no guilt for war crimes and an unwillingness to accept reality and respect resurgent China.

If Japan ever succeeds in changing its constitution, then this anti-Japanese sentiment will also translate into official Chinese policy. The fear of a militarized Japan awakens the unpleasant wounds of the past. One could imagine that over time, anti-Japanese sentiment will dilute in China. For better or for worse, the opposite has happened, thanks to the rise of nationalism in China. For now, it seems unlikely that anti-Japanese sentiment will dilute anytime soon.

Although the recent barrage of comments after Abe’s assassination has been a cause of embarrassment for China, it is certainly more convenient for Beijing that the Chinese people’s anger be directed at a foreign nation rather than at the CCP. .

James Palmer, associate editor of Foreign Police mentions an interesting incident in his Twitter feed that gives some insight into the nature of anti-Japanese sentiment in China.

“In 2017, a young woman from Nanjing has nightmares about the Nanjing Massacre. In an *extremely* misplaced act of spiritual compassion, she apparently decides that the souls of Japanese people who participated in the massacre should to be prayed for, so she pays for five memorial plaques at a Buddhist temple in Nanjing—four of which are Japanese war criminals who were involved in the massacre, and one of which is an American missionary who saved people.

“Now the monks at the temple she pays for this obviously have no idea who these people are. The Japanese names rendered in Chinese look Chinese, basically, and although they are criminals of known war, they are not, like Hitler, famous. Think SS officer.

“She goes back to her job as a nurse and eventually leaves to become a lay Buddhist. The tablets sit there for five years, no one notices them, until a sharp-eyed tourist spots them and takes a photo featuring them. highlighting the names. online snapshot fury. 600 million views on Weibo! Claims that it is a Japanese plot to desecrate the memory of the dead. a huge hunt begins in Nanjing, the monks are all punished, so that *nine* local officials.

“It leads to an outpouring of anti-Japanese anger. A bunch of cultural events are canceled. It also causes the religious affairs department – ​​now part of the United Front Labor Department since 2018 – to order all temples to self-rectify., etc. In the meantime, the government has managed to track down the woman who paid for the tablets and accused her of “arguing and causing trouble” for “we want to arrest you but you have not committed a crime”.

“The discovery that it was a stray Chinese doesn’t seem to have done much to quell the anger, although there has been some frustration with the cancellation of anime conventions etc.

“Anyway, what that means is that if you’re a Buddhist and now want to go and pay your local temple to pray for your grandmother’s soul, they now have to send the name to the local government and probably also, so to speak, due diligence themselves.”

He also said, “It’s worth reflecting on what the constant telling of stories of atrocities and revenge does to people, especially in degraded forms of popular entertainment.”

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